A brief spoiler-free review of the six-episode OVA series “Diebuster,” localized in English as “Gunbuster 2,” animated by Gainax, directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, and based on the original story by Youji Enokido. The series aired between 2004 and 2006 as a project to commemerate the studio’s 20th anniversary.
The Enemy Returns
Generations have passed since the war with the Space Monsters began. Though some can recount the heroics of one brave young girl and her role in saving the galaxy, the Space Monsters have since started up their attack once again, and humanity continues its fight against them. Only this time, humanity relies on the “Topless”—a group of elite space pilots whose special powers allow them to pilot the Buster Machines—for their safety against the enemy.
Nono, an energetic yet helpless girl from a small town on Mars, has heard the tales of the legendary space pilot “Nono-Riri,” and she wishes with all her heart to follow in the footsteps of her idol. Although she understands little about the dangers that lie on this path, Nono’s ambition will propel her to making her dream a reality. Right before Nono embarks on this journey that’ll shake the galaxy to its core, she happens upon the lonely yet powerful Topless pilot Lal’C. It is from their fateful meeting that Nono decides to gamble everything on following Lal’C to the very top of the world—and whatever lies beyond the darkness of space.
Diebuster joined the mecha genre in 2006 as the sequel to the classic Gunbuster OVA series (and thus it is also is called Gunbuster 2). With enhanced visual quality, heightened action scenes, and even increased nudity (just the tiddies, mind you), it’s no surprise that Diebuster was warmly welcomed by fans. I will add that the six-episode OVA series also hedges on the more abstract side of its genre compared to the typical mecha grounded in militaristic philosophy. Like its predecessor, Diebuster features a lovable and memorable cast of colorful characters, and the drama that washes between them is even more eruptive than before.
From Mars to the Stars
Nono is a mecha fanboy’s dream “anime girl” protagonist. She’s a tall, beautiful, gullible, and fun-loving girl who optimistically views the world with two blue eyes wide open. Her signature pink hair and striking red outfit (whether a maid costume, pilot attire, or some other evolution of space suit) instantly draws attention to her energetic spirit. Against the bleak and mysterious abyss of space, Nono stands out as a fiery, shining star. She’s clumsy and a bit of a dork, but her perseverance and ambition are second to none. As a callback to Gunbuster‘s Noriko, Nono is an endearing lead who would make a wonderful friend to anyone willing to lend a hand.
On the other hand, the series’ second female protagonist, Lal’C Melk Mark (pronounced “Lalk”) is as stubborn as a brick wall. For a majority of the series, Lal’C is reserved, self-confident, and self-absorbed, often lost in her own thoughts. Her topnotch piloting skills—while outwardly cool to Nono—further serve to isolate Lal’C from her pilot peers as the idol of the “Fraternity” in which they all belong. In her solitude, Lal’C turns to Dix-Neuf, the oldest of the Buster Machines and her partner on the battlefield. Speaking of, let’s talk about the neat giant robots of Diebuster.
Whereas Gunbuster had the titular robot as its only standout mecha, Diebuster features an elaborate mecha system with its own hierarchy and history. For instance, the French numbering of each Buster Machine refers to the wave in which it was released (e.g., the 30s are upgrades of the 20s, while the 40s have new features entirely). This does not mean a higher number is a stronger unit, however, as a pilot’s skill also determines the overall success of the team. Also unique to these mechs is that each Buster Machine is equipped with an A.I. interface that allows it to exclusively connect to a single Topless.
Though they cannot speak, the Buster Machine typically shares physical characteristics with its pilot. Dix-Neuf supports a horn through its head which limits its fighting potential, much like Lal’C’s own untapped potential. Similarly, the bratty, impulsive, and cold rival to Lal’C, Tycho Science, eventually comes to pilot Quatre-Vingt-Dix, which is known for its deep freeze blast abilities. And of course, in the midst of all this cool mecha business we have Nono, who’s willing to fly to Pluto and back for her own Buster Machine. (I’m not joking, she literally travels to the edge of the Milky Way just to earn her own seat in the cockpit. Such determination!!)
The “Rebuild” of Gunbuster
Really, this statement is a bit backwards, as Gunbuster 2 came over a year before the first Evangelion Rebuild film, Evangelion 1.0, was released. But the logic is similar: Much of the same creative force who made the old ’80s classic reunited to bring Gunbuster back to the big screen. Thus, Diebuster was born from the fires of this commemoration project. Likewise, the sequel series boasts many of the same animation upgrades and praise that the Rebuild series did for Neon Genesis Evangelion (including new CG designs, bold character designs, and vivid action sequences).
As a result, Diebuster is a ton of fun to watch. The wild animation style captures the same energy of Gurren Lagann with the added mechanical and technical cleanliness of the Eva Rebuild films. As someone who’s been searching for a spiritual successor (or in this case, predecessor) to the Rebuild series, Diebuster delivered phenomenally in the visual department.
Kohei Tanaka’s music also supports the tone of Diebuster just as well as his work did for Gunbuster. If anything, Tanaka’s soundtrack work here exceeds his previous, as the balance between blasting military anthems and chill tropical downtime is further emphasized. There’s a stronger sense of “main theme” in Tanaka’s soundtrack this time around as well, which makes listening to this theme evolve over the course of the series beautifully heart-wrenching. I wish more directors and studios would hire Tanaka on, as his dramatic scores truly compliment any setting they are placed in!
While I’m here, let me shamelessly plug the series’ OP “Groovin’ Magic” by ROUND TABLE (feat. Nino) that had me dancing before every episode like a fool. This is one of those many instances where Diebuster plays with conflicting tones, and this OP, if anything, is symbolic of the series’ very spirit. I heard this song so many years ago, and I was surprised to discover that it belonged to Gunbuster of all franchises!
A Risky Sequel
A true sequel from title to plot and even certain character motivations, Diebuster is a thrill ride to the very end. Where Diebuster far exceeds its predecessor, however, is in the bombastic nature of its story. If Gunbuster is a story about aiming for the top, then Diebuster is a sequel that is “over the top” in every comparable way. The pilots are stronger, the mechas are mightier, the animation is crazier, the music is louder—really, if Gunbuster did one thing big, Diebuster succeeds in doing it bigger. And yet, I’m still quite fond of the comparably smaller (if still considerably large) original story of Gunbuster. I can totally understand why one might be turned off by the series’ even zanier plot and execution. Diebuster takes risks—huge risks, some of which don’t pay off as well as others. Plus, the series is . . . weird, and it’s sometimes needlessly hard to follow. It will be hit or miss.
That all said, if you loved the first installment, you’ll more than likely find something to enjoy about the second. I like old anime sci-fi films, so Gunbuster became a quick fave of mine. However, I also love ridiculously explosive action set pieces featuring cool mecha designs and kickass fighting spirit. Given that, it’s no surprise I enjoyed Diebuster, too.
Diebuster throws caution to the wind and attempts to retell a legendary tale which as already been told once before, and I love how unapologetically fun and unique the series tries to be—-all while paralleling the iconic moments which made me fall in love with this world of giant robots, space aliens, and girls with guts in the first place.
“True strength resides in those who believe in their power to the very end!”
Finishing this review, I already want to write another post about Diebuster. Unlike Gunbuster, there are so many moving parts to this short series that make it an engaging watch. Were it not for the pamphlet guides that came with my DVD releases, a good deal of the world-building elements would’ve flown right over my head. I’m so thankful that this series got a physical release. (And at $2 apiece for each of the three DVD sets, what luck!)
Maybe I’ll revisit Diebuster again after watching the recap film. But, should this be the end for now, I should let you know that although I appreciate the Gunbuster film more as an artistic piece, the Gunbuster 2 OVA series still deserves the “Cafe Mocha” rating! It’s my own seal of approval which basically tells all of you that I hold it in the highest esteem, and would certainly recommend it to mecha and sci-fi action fans. What do you like most about Diebuster, and do you prefer the sequel to the classic prequel? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading part two of my V-Day Special reviews, and ’til next time!