Die Busting a Gun

As you may recall, not too long ago I watched Gunbuster in preparation to watch its sequel: Gunbuster 2: Diebuster. If you’re wondering what would possess me to want to watch a sequel to something I hadn’t seen the original of, well, you clearly didn’t read that earlier post. It’s because Gunbuster 2 is being directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, the lunatic/genius responsible for FLCL.

Well, now that I’ve watched the first five (out of six) episodes of Gunbuster 2, how is it? Does it live up to its predecessors? How does it stand on its own? When will Gainax release the final episode? Read on, as I will expound on 75% of those questions below.

At first, the connections between Gunbuster 2 and its predecessor are unclear. While they both involve people piloting Buster Machines to fight enigmatic space monsters, for the first few episodes the plot similarities end there. Gunbuster 2 takes place hundreds, if not thousands, of years after the original Gunbuster. The breakneck pace of technological advancement seen in the original series seems to have abated, and mankind has resigned itself to staying within the confines of the solar system. Nevertheless, space monsters have infiltrated the solar system and continue to threaten mankind. And the only people capable of repelling the alien menace are topless.

Wait, it’s not that kind of show. Let me explain.

In Gunbuster 2, “topless” (a noun) refers to someone with the innate ability to pilot a Buster Machine to its full potential. The unusual name is a twist on the original Gunbuster’s “Top Division.” It’s not fully explained what toplessness consists of, but there are a few clues offered. Toplessness fades with age, it emanates from the forehead, and can be blocked by wearing a seal on said forehead. Topless abilities include perfoming “exotic maneuvers” with a Buster Machine (your typical called attacks) and the ability open a portal and warp your Buster Machine to your present location. Toplessness and one’s state of undress are orthogonal, despite one character’s initial confusion.

At this point, fans of FLCL will find this brand of toplessness familiar. One of the many unusual plot points in FLCL was using people’s heads to open up interstellar portals that robots or guitars could emerge from, and one of the characters tried to prevent this by wearing obviously fake eyebrows at all times. While forehead portals aren’t the only FLCLism to appear in Gunbuster 2, their appearance, along with other fanciful elements and designs, drops off sharply after the first episode. For example, cats being used as communications devices and main character Nono’s ability to accidentally break almost anything in half (from dinner plates to industrial refrigerators) both get left on the cutting room floor after the first episode. There’s still creative and unusual designs to be found, of course, but it’s toned down considerably. One wonders if the creators thought the first episode’s strangeness was too deliberate and forced, and scaled it back afterwards. You could even say that it becomes less FLCL and more Gunbuster as the series progresses. This is Gunbuster 2, not FLCL 2, after all.

And being Gunbuster 2, while the storyline connections to the original series aren’t elaborated on until several episodes in, there are plenty of nods and references to Gunbuster to be found throughout, the aforementioned use of “topless” being just one example. Besides passing references, there are several scenes that parallel ones in Gunbuster, though frequently they end up playing out quite differently. The plot does tie in to the original eventually, and like Gunbuster takes a turn for the darker about halfway through, though the details are definitely spoilers I shan’t divulge here. And despite taking place long after the events in Gunbuster, there is continuity to be found; for example, Jupiter has been replaced by a massive space station built out of an old spaceship, and there’s a small trans-Plutonian black hole named Exelio in the outer reaches of the solar system. Despite initial appearances, this isn’t just a giant-robots-versus-monsters show with the Gunbuster name bolted on as an afterthought.

Back to the plot, which I got sidetracked from talking about toplesses. The story follows Nono, a naïve, starry-eyed (both literally and figuratively) girl who runs away from home with dreams of piloting a Buster Machine and fighting the space monsters. Of course, she’s lacking in everything that Fraternity is looking for (namely, toplessness), and she ends up cleaning dishes at a nearby diner. There, Nono crosses paths with Lark, the lead topless, who saves her from being harassed by some grunt mech operators. Nono sees Lark as her role model, despite Lark’s not caring and seeing Nono as a nuisance at best. Nevertheless, Nono manages to help Lark defeat a space monster discovered on the Martian surface, and as a result finds a place in Fraternity doing, well, janitorial work. After that, Nono keeps trying to become a Buster Machine pilot so she can be a Nonoriri, something which nobody has any idea what she’s babbling about (and not until episode 5 are any hints presented). To avoid dropping any spoilers, that’s all the plot summary you’re getting.

So, in the penultimate analysis, Gunbuster 2 is entertaining in its own right. The visuals look great, the music’s pretty good (complete with an annoyingly catchy opening theme), and the story, once it gets into gear, is pretty decent. You don’t really need to have seen Gunbuster to enjoy it, though it’d help you at least catch the numerous references to it. It’s certainly no FLCL (but then, what else is?) and, especially considering the initial confusion as to what it’s trying to be, doesn’t top the original Gunbuster (whether or not that’s its aim[1]). Nevertheless, it’s a good series in its own right.

Now I just have to wait however many months it takes for Gainax to release the final episode (late August, apparently) and for it to get fansubbed to see how it all ends.

[1] You see, because the Japanese title of the original series is “Aim for the Top: Gunbuster”, and I said that if it aimed to top Gunbuster, it… oh, forget it.

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