Gunbuster 2: Over the Top!!! || V-Day Special Review

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!”

Nono


Afterword

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!

– Takuto

Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!!! || V-Day Special Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the Fall 2006 anime film “Gunbuster,” animated by Gainax, directed by Hideaki Anno, and based on the original story by Toshio Okada. More specifically, this is a review of the series recap film, which is adapted from the 1988 OVA series of the same name.


To the Stars

In the near future, humanity has shot for the stars, and space travel for the elite defending the Earth is commonplace. Just as an expedition to the furthest reaches of the galaxy gets underway, however, giant space monsters lurking in the darkest depths of the universe devastate the ship and her crew. Unresponsive to human communication of any kind, the space monsters attack indiscriminately. Soon, they will arrive upon the defenseless planet Earth.

Shortly after the discover of these horrifying aliens, Noriko Takaya, the daughter of a famous deceased space captain, enters a training school for the space fleet. Although her talents as a pilot are questionable, Noriko remains determined to aim for the top. At school, Noriko comes into contact with her polar opposite: the cool, beautiful, and intelligent Kazumi Amano. Noriko reveres Kazumi in the highest for now, but the unlikely pair make an unexpectedly good team as they attempt to save mankind from the space monsters. Together, two girls bravely dare to cross the blank abysses of space and time—piloting their giant robots of justice—and all for the sake of love.

Gunbuster revolutionized the giant robot anime game when it burst onto the scene in the ’80s. Many fans adore the film’s straightforward story and quality production, and I can’t blame them. Gunbuster seamlessly weaves together action and comedy with a high octane, high stakes sci-fi mecha plot set in space. Plus, the main characters are enrolled in a military school, which just fuels the tensions that could take place between girls, teachers, and the higher echelons of power. No doubt, human drama is a central theme in Gunbuster. Despite the conflicts, the characters manage to set aside their feelings (or resolve them outright) to focus on the vital mission at hand, and I really respect that about the entire cast.

As the light years between Noriko and Earth continue to expand, we see a different face to Gunbuster. The tone shift from cutesy high school life in the film’s beginning to the epic and gritty final battle of the film’s climax occurs exponentially with each big mission, almost like a play in three acts. Anticipation and anxiety snowball until the film’s last couple seconds which resolve the burning question at hand: Just how much has Earth changed by the time we return home? Thankfully, the answer was worth the wait. I could think of few better ways to end a film such as this one.

A Human Drama

Much of the narrative focus of Gunbuster centers on the development of our two leads. Noriko is a bag of surprises. She’s sweet and headstrong, yet also incredibly insecure. This leads Noriko to frequent episodes of self doubt, which usually requires either her idol Kazumi, her coach Ota, or her own strong-willed spirit to pull her out and steer her back on the path. Noriko is not the best mecha pilot in her class, and she and everybody else knows it. But, a space captain’s daughter does not give up so easily. Piloting the Gunbuster, Noriko is a force to be reckoned with, a real fury with fire in her eyes.

I love characters like Noriko that dare to explore the sleeping potential within themselves, but I love onee-san figures like Kazumi Amano even more. When I tell you that Kazumi is a WOMAN, I’ll have you believe it. Tall, graceful, and adorned by her signature long, deep blue hair, Kazumi is the archetypical pretty lady, a bishoujo worth looking up to. All the men and women swoon when their beloved “Onee-san” comes strolling down the halls (they literally call her this, I’m not joking), and wow does she live up to the reputation as a skilled pilot and respectable upperclassman.

Related to drama, another theme Gunbuster explores is time. More specifically, how does the rapid passage of time in space affect the relationships between the girls and their friends and lovers back on Earth? Is that feeling of constantly living “in the past” heavy enough to crush the human spirit? Couple that with the expansive distance from Earth that only seems to lengthen as the story progresses and you have a pretty mean premise—no one wants to watch their loved ones grow old. Similarly, it hurts to feel “stuck” in a relatively young body while your friends and classmates age significantly before your eyes.

To our valiant pilots, a 10-minute mission at the edge of the galaxy is tantamount to six months back on Earth. It’s not fair. And the only endearing sentiment from it all comes from those few souls who are able to cling to their memories and send their prayers to the pilots fighting for all their lives. That act, in itself, takes serious guts.

The Classic GAINAX Look

Visually, the aesthetic for Gunbuster is about as classic as one can get for an ’80s sci-fi anime. These kinds of vintage watches harbor a unique quality to them that can’t be reproduced today, and I’m actually glad the grainy feel is still somewhat intact in the Blu-ray of the film. Don’t get me wrong—the explosive action and fluid character motions are top notch and look quite nice after all these years. The same goes for the big-haired, fun, and memorable character designs. It’s just that Gunbuster carries itself differently than even mecha anime of its time, and I appreciate all the hard work that went into making the title one for the history books. Naturally, we can lend much of the film’s timeless look to Anno’s solid, artistic, and iconic directing style.

Likewise, the sound department remains strong, some of the gun and laser effects feeling especially retro sci-fi. It’s worth mentioning Rei Sakuma’s vocal performance as Kazumi Amano, as she quite honestly cemented the “big sister” vocal tone and personality for me. A legendary and beloved seiyuu for sure. Also deserving of my respect is Kouhei Tanaka’s work on the soundtrack, as I couldn’t imagine the Gunbuster gearing up for its final takeoff without Tanaka’s signature score. His music in Gunbuster suits the militaristic anthem energy needed to command your ears, but also the heroic techno pop to hype you up. I’m going to have to go listen to the soundtrack after writing this review!

A Saga Through the Stars

Where has Gunbuster been my entire life? This was the main thought running through my head as I sat through every glorious minute of this classic mecha film. As a huge Eva fanboy, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed Gunbuster in its fullest. I loved the delicate character drama worked up between these two fantastic female characters. The film moves at a quick pace to make up for the full six-episode length that the OVA series had, but that doesn’t stop Gunbuster from elaborating on nearly every point it raises, as well as providing a satisfying conclusion to this saga through the stars.

GAINAX will always have a special place in my heart. The studio brought us not only Evangelion, but also other faves like Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Nadia, Dantalian, Gunbuster‘s sequel series, Diebuster, and so many more. Some works are a hit, others are a miss. But Gunbuster is a hit, and a surefire one at that. In fact, Gunbuster is one of the studio’s first major works that is still being discussed today. To have longevity over three decades is a feat in itself. Going into its fourth decade, I hope the franchise will continue to invite fans back, old and new, to the magnificent tale about overcoming all odds and always, always, aiming for the very top.


“History will come to judge us. All we can do is survive at any cost.”

Kazumi Amano


Afterword

I really, really, enjoyed my time with this throwback watch. My only regret is that I didn’t watch the original OVA series first, as it has yet to be licensed in the states. I suppose this could be a blessing, though. Now I’ll get to watch Diebuster, the Diebuster film, and then tag back to the OG series if I feel like wanting to revisit the story (and put up with finding a site to stream it off, yeesh). Until then, however, Gunbuster is a certified “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe, a rating reserved only for the best of the best—and dare I say those titles which sit at the very top. Certainly, I owe the series this much, as I can already foresee this film being an annual watch of mine for a long time to come. 🙂

Have you ever watched Gunbuster or any of the Gunbuster films? Let me know your thoughts and stories in the comments! My next review will be over the series’ sequel, Diebuster, so please look forward to it. Thanks for reading my V-Day Special review (albeit it came a little late), and ’til next time!

– Takuto

The V-Day Sci-Fi Special Returns for 2020!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

It’s that joyous time of the year again, a season of love and spending time with the one you cherish most—or in my case, locking myself in my room and binging anime until the wee hours of the morning!

The mecha gods also bless the cycle with back-to-back giant robot franchises for this annual celebration. Can’t remember what we’ve done in the past? Here’s a refresher for ya!

2013 ~ Steins;Gate

2014 ~ Kokoro Connect (I think . . . )

2015 ~ Neon Genesis Evangelion

2016 ~ The Rose of Versailles

2017 ~ Ghost in the Shell

2018 ~ Haikyuu!!

2019 ~ RahXephon

And for this year, the big 20-20, we’ve got an extra special title on the menu. Give it up for . . . *drumroll~~~~~*

2020 ~ Gunbuster

YAY!!! There it is, my next adventure awaiting me ahead!! Guys, I’ve been holding off on this precious piece of Gainax history ever since watching the groundbreaking Evangelion as the V-Day feature for 2015. FIVE years later, Gainax takes the stage once again with a classic mecha title that I’m sure to enjoy with all my heart.

This year’s V-Day special will actually take place during next weekend, February 21-23, on account of the fact that I am busy performing at a Valentine’s Concert this weekend!

In terms of watching methods, fear not! I recently picked up all of the DVDs and Blu-rays I’ll need to marathon the Gunbuster franchise in the RightStuf holiday sale (with exception to the 1988 series, which I’ll hopefully find online) so everything will be viewed in the best quality that I could get a hold of. Oh yeah, we’re ready for this one.

So until next weekend, spend these next couple of days with the ones you love most. And if you’re rockin’ it single like many of us are, TREAT YO SELF, and use this holiday for some self-care—you deserve it!

Much love and chocolates from me~!

– Takuto

The V-Day Sci-Fi Special Returns for 2019!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

It’s officially February 14th, the day of love and romance, and I’m looking forward to spending another V-day alone this year. Oh, no, wait, don’t get me wrong—I actually prefer it this way!

Every year since 2013 I’ve tried to give myself some “me” time around the middle of February. I like to think of it as self care. After all, what’s wrong with celebrating the love for oneself?

Anyway, although it’s traditionally been a sci-fi title (odd genre choice, I know), I have mixed it up a few times, 2018’s V-Day special being a sports anime. The point is that the holiday is dedicated to cracking open a decently sized franchise and all its pieces. As a refresher, here’s been the past selections:

2013 ~ Steins;Gate

2014 ~ Kokoro Connect (I think . . . )

2015 ~ Neon Genesis Evangelion

2016 ~ The Rose of Versailles

2017 ~ Ghost in the Shell

2018 ~ Haikyuu!!

Now, having actually just recently finished Haikyuu!!‘s third season (whoops!), I can proudly erase my board (which has had the episode listing on it since last February, yikes) and move on to announce the V-Day Special anime of 2019. And guess what? We’re returning to sci-fi classics. Aww yeah, give it up for . . .

2019 ~ RahXephon

Wooohooo!!! I’ve been wanting to watch this show ever since I figured out what Evangelion was and noticed everyone always kept comparing the two shows. Well, now it’s time to unearth another long-lost sci-fi classic uncover what secrets it holds. It looks so bizarre TBH and that excites me immensely. As you can see, I’m clearly well-prepared, heh:

IMG_0942.jpg

This year’s V-Day special will actually begin this upcoming weekend, and the marathon will last three days: Friday the 15th through Sunday the 17th. RahXephon will be streamed in English via Amazon’s Prime Video services. In the event something goes wrong, one of the alternatives I have picked out will be selected instead. Since I am a student, hopefully I’ll be able to make time for both homework and the binge-watching.

As always with this thing, I’m looking forward to stockpiling the sweets and locking myself in my room for three days straight, haha! Please enjoy this time of the year with someone (or something) that you love, and be sure to make time for yourself, too! Following the marathon, a review will eventually be published, so I look forward to reporting my findings in that.

Until then, much love and chocolates from me!

– Takuto