Diebuster: An Unpredictable Reality

Remember last year when I did Anno August and I reviewed Gunbuster: The Movie? After such a long time, I’m taking a dip back into that universe to watch Diebuster. Again, but for blog purpose time. Plus, I really wanted to watch it. It’s really easy to say that Gunbuster is what put Studio Gainax on the map. I mean, you can look at what Gainax worked on before and around Gunbuster then compare them to their later works. Which ones seems like the major influence in how Gainax computed from there? Gunbuster obviously. To celebrate Gainax’s 20 years, Gainax produced Diebuster. Not a throwback series, but one celebrating Gunbuster through the thoughts and feelings from early 2000’s Gainax tropes and thoughts. Was it successful? I think so, but that’s a simple answer that seems somewhat controversial. This post is my much more complicated answer. Hopefully with more nuance? Nah.

About 12,000 years after the finale of Gunbuster, Diebuster starts. An airheaded and clumsy girl by the name of Nono who lives in the country left her home to seek her hand at becoming a Gunbuster pilot. Or to be specific, a Topless pilot just like her idol Nonoriri (Noriko Takaya) from the original, unstoppable Gunbuster team. Of course, reality hits her hard at first. She finds work at a maid café before going on her dream. While star pilots stop by there to oogle Nono, she is constantly clumsy and break things which deducts her pay. She demands to stay there anyway. One day, one of the topless pilots by the name of Lal’c Melk Mark stops by and saves her. A person that is a part of the Topless unit (in terms of power and inspiration, not clothes. Though….) and is everything Nono wants to be. Of course, that’s when Nono’s dream really starts to take place.

L to R: That one guy, Tycho Science, Lal’c, and NoNo

Nono instantly attaches herself to Lal’c the instant she leaves the bar. Of course, that’s when a space monster attacks. Lal’c shows off her Gunbuster unit that appears out of thin air after she takes off the tag on her head. Somehow, Lal’c takes the monster up into space where it is revealed that Nono is a robot when she helps defeat the monster with her Inazuma Kick. Episode one was a wild ride, everyone. It showed off its own universe where humanity also lives on mars and space monsters are still out there, but at much smaller and easier to handle now. Oh, that’s a plot point for later. Oops, may have given away something. I feel like I am going to spoil the ride and not the journey too much with this post anyway so I am just giving into that notion completely. The adventure of Nono the robot and Lal’c start from here.

You can probably guess this already from what I’ve said, but Diebuster is what happens when you combine the dna of Gunbuster and FLCL together. Hell, Buster Machines even come out of people’s heads which is very FLCL. (I need to watch that again soon, don’t I?). Considering that this series takes place 12,000-ish years after the original, the director Tsuramaki could do whatever he wants to do. We never see anything around the universe besides Earth in the OG series, so there is a lot of playroom for experimentation. Something this show does a lot. Gunbuster was very old school science fictiony series with slowly developing super robot elements and just Diebuster dug into the super robot realm instantly differentiating it. We see the world of the topless fraternity through Nono’s robotic eyes. Where she has this idealistic version of what topless are from her thoughts of Nonoriri and then the reality where Topless are far from the ideal in reality. Especially one named Tycho. Nono pushed Lal’c to be more heroic and Tycho to see the positivity of what being Topless means.

One concept I haven’t brought up is the idea that you can only be topless member with your own Gunbuster for a limited amount of time. Once you are 18 and grown up, you lose your power for that level of greatness in that world. Wow, that’s not so subtle is it? An idea that permeates throughout all of Diebuster. With that idea, Diebuster ends up how you expect it to be. Lots of people jealous because they can’t fight anymore. The real space monsters of yester year show up, all chaos breaks loose, but a light named Lal’c the planet mover shows up. With, as you would expect it, Nono being unveiled as a Gunbuster machine herself. That’s right. Not a pilot, but a machine itself. The world was saved for Noriko and Kazumi to return to. I know this is spoilers, but did you expect this show to end any other way? Just know that the journey itself is pretty great even if it can be frustrating sometimes.

The most interesting take for Diebuster for me was the meta elements were handled. Not just the studio Gainax references that all their series come with. Though, I think I can make the case that they aren’t as prevalent in Diebuster as they are in their other series. Diebuster was always going to be there because the whole point is for it to a sequel to Gunbuster and FLCL just naturally comes with it. There is even a little bit of Neon Genesis Evangelion thrown into the mix too. I’m sure I am missing a lot of references to other series in its run, but I feel like Diebuster handles this element a lot because of it puts these references into people and characterizes them in unique, organic ways. It really fits into the much more casual tone the anime is going for.

The fraternity

If you don’t believe me, Nono and Lal’c fit that bill for me. I already mentioned how Nono was the spirit of Gunbuster, right? That’s her character. She carries the ideals and speaches of what makes a Gunbuster and Topless special and unique. Nono believed them so much that she herself because she’s a Buster machine. Buster machine #7 to be exact. On the other hand, Lal’c is the personification of the people watching Diebuster without knowing Gunbuster. With that slowly injected ideals of what Gunbuster is while the show is going on through Nano’s speeches and constant talk of dreams and ideals. That’s sort of why the two never really understood or saw each other eye to eye until the very end of the show where they worked together for real in the end. That conflict of recent fans vs Gunbuster is the very heart and soul of Diebuster itself and it was done through characters that felt like characters. Not platforms for bad ideals.

The major proof of concept for this idea of meta comes from a third character which came into prominence in the third episode of all place. Her name is Tycho Science and she is another topless pilot to throw into the mix to flesh out the world a little more. Yes, Tycho Science is an actual name and she should be in a gundam series piloting a gundam like a bad ass ace. But anyway, she is the living embodiment of Neon Genesis Evangelion if it was one character. Her character design is almost very Rei like with the white/blue hair and red eyes and has the doubts and fears of Shinji in questioning why she should be a pilot. Nono is the person who pushes Tycho into finding her own truth into why she should be a member of the topless unit. It just aids in my theory that Gainax spent their years after Eva apologizing by giving the Shinji character a better mentor figure. It isn’t needed honestly because Eva set out what it intended to do well, but they did face some backlash…

There are some weaknesses to Diebuster being only six episodes. For instance, the rest of the side characters who are held down by their older legacy of being a topless and are either hurt by it or seeking to return to it are male and are pushed against by that in different levels. They are layered, just held back from just being too similar to each other with a small breaking point. There is also that meta aspect to it for them that pushes the show a little too far? Like, Diebuster has a female cast written by Gainax, right? There is some fetishizing to the intended male audience that Gainax goes for. Though, it is good yuri material. Plus, there are time skips from episode to episode so the status quo almost always need to constantly be reestablished. All those are left over from the Gunbuster formula that the show replicates for its 20th anniversary, so these limitations are par for the course. What Diebuster does with the time limits are amazing.

Diebuster looks very different from Gunbuster and I think that makes it a lot better honestly. There are obvious infleunces, but the technology has advanced greatly in the 12,000-ish years since Gunbuster. There have been more then a few updates to technology since 12,000 years ago. Like, the computers and way too many monitors old technology of yester year are replaced with the more minimalist and touch screen technology of today. Not to mention how the character designs are a little looser and more cartoonish like most 2000’s Gainax series were. Picture TTGL and FLCL and you can kind of get what the feeling is. Yet, the world feels grounded in one way or another with tons of locations in different planets the show spreads you in from episode to episode. You can tell that people actually live in this universe amongst the planets unlike Gunbuster where people were Earth bound. The movements of planets looked amazing.

The mecha designs and space monsters, besides when Nono just becomes a Gunbuster machine, stay true to a lot of the original Gunbuster design principals. We just see a lot of the combinations and varieties of those flavors from the original Buster machine with all sorts of different abilities and design complications. Some of them with very stupid powers that can make things colder then absolute zero and some just having lots and lots of guns. In general, this feels like a natural way to progress from the original Gunbuster design. You know, even if it’s pretty cliqued in how anime does things like that in general. The movements of the mecha were pretty fluid. Some cg was obvious, but it never feels too off. The mecha and show itself look great and moved great. Glad they put this work together.

Diebuster is such a fun show to watch and think about. I’ve done that a lot since this rewatch. Maybe my opinion would be different if I had full access to Gunbuster instead of just the movie so I would have the whole experience instead of half the experience. It’s hard to tell honestly, but I can tell you this. I like seeing other people playing around with somewhat already established universes in their own ways. It’s why I liked some of the sequel Star Wars films when they were doing something different than what you expect them to do. (So basically, The Last Jedi.) Watching things and knowing what is going to happen when it’s copying something else is boring to me because I don’t want more of the same. I want something different with the heart of the original series and Diebuster delivered on that in spades. Not without some problems though, but there are limitations from having six-episode series instead of a full cour or two cour. Doesn’t matter here. This was a solid watch to me.


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