What do you get when you dice up a side of Gunbuster, a filet of FLCL, a quarter pound of Gurren Lagann, dollop in some Love Live! Sunshine!!, drop the mess into a blender, and press the “crush” button? A cloyingly sweet puree known as Aim for the Top 2: Diebuster. Gainax takes Hideaki Anno’s call to “Aim for the Top” and tosses it into the garbage heap of history, instead opting to go Over the Top in terms of flash and Under the Radar in terms of plot coherency. The unashamed self-plagiarists end up At The Bottom–churning out a moe simulacrum of the 1989 classic.
Nono, a would-be pilot with the “kawaii” habit of referring to herself in the third-person, makes her way to the city in hopes of enlisting in the illustrious “Space Fleet.” In the process, she encounters some lecherous mech pilots with a penchant for sexual abuse. Undeterred, Nono navigates life’s twists and turns by emulating the annoyingness of the legendary Nonoriri (a confabulated reference to Gunbuster’s Noriko). Like her predecessor, Nono tags along with a token ace pilot–Lal’C. Through no merit of her own, the pink-haired numbskull Inuzama Kicks her way into the mecha fraternity known as the Topless. Yes–she Aims for the Topless. Thus Gainax sets the table for a shot-for-shot remake of its source material–Nono and Lal’C = Noriko and Kazumi–the ditzy wanna-be and the “Onee-sama.”
The art style takes meticulous notes from director Tsuramaki Kazuya’s previous success, FLCL–a quirky, motorcycle-laden, hornfest imprinted in otaku cultural memory. The CGI, plastic and low on polygon count, detracts from the otherwise innovative mecha and space monster designs–wild takes on the orchid-carrots of yore. When the animators ditch the computer modelling and focus on 2D-rendered fight sequences, the physics-defying-Buster-Beam-explosion-beatdowns set the heart ablaze. Pack a pair of sunglasses before viewing, because the sparkle and flash put the Porygon Incident to shame. The visuals in Diebuster lay the groundwork for the even more dazzling Gurren Lagann three years later.
That said, characters carry narrative, and our protagonist defies likability. The writers and characters alike view Nono as an object. As a robot, she removes the guilt from the male gaze via her dehumanization. As Nicola comments to Casio (busy adding Nono-based imagery to his spank-bank), “a mecha girl’s moe is totally different from a loli girl’s moe, huh?” Indeed, Gainax burdens itself with legitimizing various moe obsessions and/or otaku fetishes throughout the majority of the six-episode OVA, taking extended breaks to feature various officers and grown men groaning and/or blushing at Nono’s forever-compromised outfits. Camera’s zoom in on Nono’s ill-covered figure every ten to fifteen seconds–a vein-popping annoyance to any reviewer trying to suss out a modicum of substance from the plot. The show relegates itself to only-in-a-dark-room-while-eating-Cheetos viewing territory–Akira Fudou from Devilman Crybaby might even pass on a public viewing.
Unfortunately, the writers forget to supply Diebuster with a plot. Instead they fashion a narrative ping-pong ball, popping through stolen Gunbuster themes and spotlighting Nono’s attempts to impress Lal’C by destroying things in space. Kazuya serves viewers a mixed salad of irritating characters–the scheming “Serpentine Twins” eat stinky crabs, Lal’C has the personality of an eggplant, Tycho, the Jung Freud of the Diebuster world (has no further motivation than to surpass Lal’C’s kill count), Casio the hentai mechanic, Nicola, the generic ace–character arc: “I was once good at shooting stuff, but now I’m not, so I guess I’ll try to rape Nono.” The viewer must snack on a smattering of disjointed, unrelated, and aggressively boring Topless missions before the eye candy (hopefully) arrives.
The climax approaches as Nono acquires her own Buster Machine. With the intellect of Stephen Hawking and the spy savvy of James Bond, she sneaks into a top-secret excavation site. Luckily, the Serpentine Twins capture her, understand her motivations instinctively, and instruct her to travel to Pluto and go grab a Buster that crashed there twenty years ago. Simple enough–a pink-haired-dodo-brained-robot can manage the journey alone, right? Anyone familiar with Gunbuster already senses the arbitrary nature of the scenario–a set-up for Nono’s inevitable crank-it-to-eleven moment later on. Her only real preparation for the inevitable summoning of her powers manifests in a set of five sit-ups and a ten second jog on the treadmill.
Buckle up, because the plot enters “full-makey-sensey-mode” as the scientists explain that the Super Deluxe Hyper Monster Defense Mode (a bunch of machines that shoot stuff) designed to protect humanity from the space monsters evolved into space monster clones (because that helps with defense, apparently)–turns out, humans and space monsters share the same evil, nefarious spirit, so the defense system mistook the Topless for the enemy. Whoops, cosmic misunderstanding! Luckily, the fake space monster militia only needed a little Nono in their lives. She magical-girl-transforms into Buster Machine No. 7, the central control unit for the wayward Defense System–the most powerful war machine to ever exist.
Like Gunbuster before it, Diebuster enters episode five with a time-skip and brief repose. The Topless fall from grace when the military realizes that the real space monsters can obliterate their mecha with little more than a sneeze. Yet Nono’s plight–a naive crusade for understanding and camaraderie–cannot transcend her one-dimensionality. If the writers spent more time developing Nono’s pathos and less time calculating the physics of her erogenous zones, perhaps her struggles would hold more weight. Out of options, Gainax chooses to complete their Gunbuster-aping by, once again, sacralizing the Power of Friendship and good ol’ fashioned hard work, but not without a lil’ sacrifice thrown in for good measure. What kind of sacrifice? Nothing special–just attaching rockets to the Earth and sending it on a crash course for the final space monster’s gaping maw.
After all, Noriko and Kazumi dilated time to save the world, losing everything they knew and held dear. Nono and Lal’C? Well, they do the exact same thing, but, determined to outdo themselves, Gainax replicates the Noriko “de-topping” maneuver not once, but twice. And not only do the Busters defeat the space monster, but they usher in the “next big bang” in the process (which Nono… absorbs). Liked the ending of Gunbuster? How about witnessing it from the perspective of those on Earth? In fact, Gunbuster fans could watch the last ten minutes of the sequel and save themselves dozens of brain-cells.
Unlike Gunbuster, which contained some compelling character arcs, good depictions of battle stress and fatigue, and well-integrated implications of time dilation, Diebuster offers nothing but flash, cheese, smut, and rehashed motifs–only worth watching for the strobing battle raves. Though the audience does catch a glimpse at the inevitable end of the Gainax Protoganist Evolutionary Chain:
The Gainax staff use Diebuster as a testing ground for the far-superior Gurren Lagann. Darkness comes before the morning, and this sandbox world of incoherent mech battles, borderline hentai, and undeveloped characters precedes the once-legendary studio’s final piece of quality work. This reviewer begs his readers to preserve their sanity–watch either Gunbuster or Gurren Lagann, but not the middling tripe jammed between. Tsurumaki fails to replicate the success of FLCL and instead Aims for the Bottom–an Inazuma Kick in the collective groin of the Gunbuster faithful who expected better.
Good For: moe-ists, ADHD-simulations, ignoring until someone finds the Gurren Lagann Blu-rays.
Bad For: Gainax’s reputation.
And, please remember:
~ Don’t Shoot the Messenger