Awhile back I wrote a post about Gunbuster's Noriko Takaya. In it, I waxed philosophical about the change Noriko goes through in the span of six episodes (and several thousand years). Noriko's (and subsequently Gunbuster's) mantra of "Hard work and guts" and its heart-on-its-sleeve emotions affected me deeply. I also believe it gave the show an eager, unique personality that few shows ever achieve.
Clearly I'm not the only person to have this emotional attachment, as the show has a following on both sides of the ocean despite its age and dated cultural references. For reasons that are apparent at its end, Gunbuster remained sequel-less for 16 years as Gainax moved on in the industry. However, as part of their 20th anniversary in 2004, Gainax surprised the fandom by releasing a six-episode sequel called Diebuster with several members of the FLCL team at the helm.
Follow me after the jump to learn more about this contentious sequel and why you should watch it, no matter what the internet has to say.
Diebuster / Gunbuster 2
Created by GAINAX
Published by Bandai Visual
Released May / June 2007
It should come as no surprise that mecha fans damn near blew up after Diebuster's announcement. Many of these complaints revolved around the look of Diebuster and that still remains the shows main complaint. Invariably if a Gun- or Diebuster thread pops up in a message board you'll have a bitter poster who'll flame the living hell out of the show, no matter what direction the thread was originally on. You'll then have newer anime fans volley back with the weak "newer animation = better animation" argument and then the whole thing devolves into the electronic equivalent apes flinging verbal poo at each other.
Tt never fails to amaze me how any sort of change will rattle people, even in something as simple as a robot show. News flash: A change in style does not automatically make a show crappy. The inverse is also true; just because the character designs were drawn up while you floating in a fallopian tube doesn't make it crappy either. Seriously, using the animation argument is the Godwin's Law of anime fandom. Unless it's legitimately leveled, I feel that any possibility for a logical discussion goes out the window. Anyway, that's an entirely different point and I'm here to talk about Diebuster, not the habits of the wild anonymous.
Diebuster tells the story of Nono, a county bumpkin / gynoid in the far, far future played by Yukari Fukui (Nia, Gurren Lagann). Like any young and naive girl, Nono wants to be like her idol, a legendary girl named Nonoriri. In order to achieve her dreams, Nono moves from a snowy farm into the big city armed only with her suitcase, an amusing ability to split things in half and Nonoriri's motto: Anything is possible with hard work and guts.
Nono makes it to into town only to find that she's going to need A LOT more hard work to get anywhere. This means a crappy part-time job at a bar frequented by low-level mech jockeys. Amid a fair amount of sexual harassment, another young girl named Lal'C Mellk Mal walks in and off-handily stops the idiot pilots from bothering the flustered Nono by summoning a part of her mech. Turns out that Lal'C, voiced to standoffish perfection by Maaya Sakamoto (Escaflowne, Kara no Kyokai, Kuroshitsuji, Ouran Host Club) is part of an elite group of pilot called the Topless, who pilot the massive Buster Machines. Nono immediately takes a shine to Lal'C and starts following her around.
Much like Gunbuster, the meat of the show aren't the incredible robot-on-space-monster battles, but the dynamics of the Nono/Lal'C friendship. At the beginning of the show it's clear that Lal'C is the battle-hardened and cynical Onee-sama while Nono is the fresh-faced country girl with huge aspirations. As Nono discovers more about herself, and the origins of Nonoriri, the balance of the relationship starts to drastically tilt. Through Nono, Lal'C gains a person who cares for her not just for her Topless position or kill count, but as a legitimate big sister. You see and feel the emotional hole in Lal'C's heart when she realizes how much Nono means to her when it's too late. Only then does Lal'C drop her pretenses and shows the audience that she's a girl too, no different then Nono.
These emotional struggles are backed by some of the most impressive fighting sequences I've seen in any mecha anime. Completely removing any basis in reality, all of the Buster Machines perform some of the most extravagant techniques and over-the-top maneuvers while fighting the Space Monsters, planet-side or in the depths of space. Thesense of scale with these battles, especially when a Buster Machine fights a ginormous Space Monster near the outside of our solar system, is superb and gives you an idea of the horrors the Topless have to fight. Only the original and a few other shows like Gao Gai Gar and Gurren Lagann have bigger scopes and stakes.
Speaking of Gurren Lagann, you can see a lot of Gainax's modern-day super robot revival in Diebuster. Besides having Fukui in voice acting roles and Shigeto Koyama in design, both shows share an earnest desire to push beyond life's strifes be the best. Both feel like labors of love done by huge fans of the genre who've been dying to do something completely different. It is likely if you like one you will like the other.
I've been working hard to try and keep spoilers out of this write up mostly because a lot of Diebuster's best parts are its connections with Gunbuster. The show begins with a few minor references to the original, but by the fifth and sixth episodes Noriko and Kazami's actions in Gunbuster have dire implications in Diebuster. Although you don't haven't need seen Gunbuster to understand and enjoy Diebuster, it helps so you can understand what humanity has done to save itself. The ending also made me spill MANLY TEARS for
Finding Diebuster can be a bit of a pain since the Bandai Visual that did the licensing is no more. There are a couple of places that you can find the three DVDs at their original ridiculous Bandai Visual prices, but if you go to Right Stuf you can find each disk for $20.
Diebuster is a must see for anybody with any interest in robots, Gainax or stories of growing up. With its beautiful animation, bombastic robot designs and touching story it does appeal to people of many persuasions. I would say that Diebuster is one of the few "disconnected" sequels that manages to not only improve on aspects of the original work but make the original better. By the end of the sixth episode, I not only loved Diebuster but found that I loved Gunbuster even more. There's a scene with Lal'C in the last 10 minutes that is probably my favorite call-back in any show I've seen.
"Anything is possible with hard work and guts?" You're damn right!
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