Shizuka ItouYu KobayashiGunbusterYuko Kaida
Gunbuster 2
Also known as: Aim for the Top 2: Diebuster
Medium: OVA, series
Year: 2004
Director: Kazuya Tsurumaki
Studio: Bandai Visual, GAINAX, Victor Entertainment
Actor: Maaya Sakamoto, Mitsuo Iwata, Miyuki Sawashiro, Yukari Fukui, Takumi Yamazaki, Akio Suyama, Hideyuki Umezu, Nozomu Sasaki, Sanae Kobayashi, Shizuka Itou, Youko Honna, Yu Kobayashi, Yuki Matsuoka, Yuko Kaida
Keywords: Gunbuster, anime, SF, robot girl, mecha
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 6 episodes
Website category: Anime early 00s
Review date: 21 March 2010
Well, that was a mess. It's from the people who brought you FLCL, which means director Kazuya Tsurumaki, scriptwriter Yoji Enokido, producer Hironori Sato and character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a chaotic load of gibberish, because it does make sense and (despite appearances) tell a coherent story in a fascinating SF universe with lots of ideas and cool stuff. However I don't think I can do better at this point than to quote Tsurumaki: "We all have differing opinions on how this new series should go. Sato likes hot-blooded sports shows, while Enokido wants to do a story about an average boy coming to realize his own weaknesses and fighting to make a better life for himself, like in Evangelion and Nadia. What I want to do is combine a bunch of technical sci-fi concepts with an indescribably weird mood."
The resulting series feels like they got their way, but by taking turns. It starts out as one kind of anime and ends up as a completely different one, with plenty of anime cliches along the way. Did I like it? No. Did I like bits of it? Yes, a lot. Would I recommend it? Not really. By all means check it out, but be prepared for it to have turned into a load of bollocks by the end.
It's both dependent on the original Gunbuster and entirely unlike it. It's not even aiming at the same kind of storytelling, yet it ends up containing enough visual and story references that I'd advise against seeing it unless you've watched (or rewatched) the original recently. There wouldn't be any point. Episode six will be impenetrable unless you can quote chapter and verse on what happened to Noriko Takaya and Kazumi Amano in the original, not to mention preferably being able to recognise homages in special attacks, costume, spaceship design and method of tearing open your top to expose your left breast. They don't even explain. They just assume you know what they're talking about and proceed from there.
Caveat: I might be wrong. Maybe there are explanations and I missed them! I'm not even being frivolous there, since the cosmology, laws of physics and plot developments of the Gunbuster 2 universe are presented in sufficiently dense exposition that at one point I had to rewind and watch something a second time to make sure I was clear on the implications. This is a big problem for anyone who's simply bought the Bandai Visual DVDs and wants to watch a good story, but it should be borne in mind that OVAs in Japan are released episode by episode at a hefty price and so it doesn't seem unreasonable to be considering those customers who'll put each one under the microscope and have rewatched it a few times before the next release comes out. However the upshot of all this was that I discovered a few things about the plot from reading up on the internet afterwards that I'd missed from actually watching the episodes. If you like dense SF, this is for you.
The story's weak, though. The characters are anime cliches, with Nono being an indestructibly energetic and optimistic airhead of the kind who'd normally be clamping like a limpet on to a bland male in a harem show. The twist here is that it's not a boyfriend. There's very little romance in this show (albeit a fair bit of nudity), with what we do get being mostly undertones. Instead Nono's clampee is one Lal'C Mellk Mal, who's yet another anime cliche and indistinguishable from all her fellow pilots. They're sullen teenage psychics who'd sooner stick pins in their eyes than be happy or enthusiastic, but despite her rudeness and best efforts Lal'C Mellk Mal ends up responding to Nono's, etc. We've seen this before too. The show's trying to build its emotional character arc around these two, but unfortunately it's: (a) fairly hackneyed anime formula, (b) irrelevant to the rest of the plot, and (c) being undermined by the outrageously huge SF stuff.
However when I say "outrageously huge", you have no idea. It's like the production team were having a bet. The power and threat levels get big, then enormous, then "you have got to be kidding me"... and that's only level 3 out of about eight or nine. I think I was already flabbergasted at around 4. You might think you've seen giant robots fighting space monsters before, but you haven't. Not like this. If you watch SF to be shown things you've never seen before, then bingo.
This looks stunning. It's not even just visuals, since there are SF ideas to go with it, e.g. the Red Milky Way. However this doesn't go particularly well with human-level drama with Nono and Lal'C Mellk Mal, although they do better than you'd think at combining them. Nono turns out to have quite a backstory and the story ends up taking her somewhere extreme, which I suspect I might enjoy better on a rewatch when I'd already know the broad outlines of what's going on and could thus see past the cryptic, back-and-forth way in which it's communicated.
It looks very 21st century. The character designs don't have the classical, time-consuming 1980s look of the original, instead being more cartoonish in the modern style, with lots of computer-generated vehicles and space tech. It's good, though. Don't get me wrong. There are some beautiful background paintings, for instance. The main visual similarity with the original would be their fanservice levels, including nipples. Admittedly I don't remember Gunbuster having the creepy otaku fetish stuff of Gunbuster 2's first episode (maid outfits, frilly knickers, etc.), but I shouldn't think anyone was claiming in 1988 that Noriko's uniform was a triumph for feminism. It's just a different style of exploitation. However you've got to admire the brazen way in which a show called "Aim for the Top 2" decides to call its ace psychic pilots the Topless and then has Nono misinterpret this in exactly the way you're thinking. "I want to be Topless and fight space monsters!"
Incidentally, the opening title sequence reminded me of Cutey Honey. After all, 2004 was also the year in which Anno Hideaki, the original Gunbuster director, released his live-action Cutey Honey movie with Eriko Sato and then Gainax made a three-part OVA adaptation. It's the way in which it's shamelessly celebrating the female form, via wild action and bouncy music in a way that looks like psychedelic 70s pop art.
Overall, you can't deny the level of effort, imagination and strangeness that's gone into this. I enjoyed a lot of it, even though it's nowhere near as immediately powerful and accessible as its predecessor. The first disc was fun and left me happily looking forward to the second one. Unfortunately it just kept getting bigger and more abstract until it lost me, although now I'm tempted to put it on again and give it the concentrated attention that I suspect it's demanding. For me its most emotional moments were all borrowed, when it's making connections with the original. It's fascinating, in its way, but it won't be remembered down the decades like Gunbuster.