Reviewby Theron Martin,
Nono dreams of one day becoming a space pilot, so she abandons her master and snowy mountain home for the city. To support herself she winds up becoming a waitress at a diner, where her only real talent proves to be splitting things. A chance encounter with Lal'C, one of the elite Topless who use superhuman energy-channeling abilities and giant mecha called Buster Machines to combat space monsters, inspires her to want to become a Topless herself, and unwittingly getting caught in a battle between a space monster and Lal'C's Dix-Neuf (her Buster Machine) brings her into space, where she gets to prove her worth and earn her opportunity.
Contrary to what its name suggests, Gunbuster 2 (aka Aim For The Top! 2 aka Diebuster) is more a reimagining of the original Gunbuster than a true sequel. It retains the original's status as an homage to classic giant robot mecha and does repeat some key story elements: the klutzy but determined lead female character, who is obsessed with making it to space, connects with an older girl and winds up becoming involved with giant mecha and space monsters; mecha named Busters are involved; and the notable catch phrase (“hard work and guts”) is the same. The style, execution, and cast of characters are quite different, however, and no plot continuity has shown so far, so a viewer does not need to have any experience or familiarity with the original to understand and enjoy this one. All one needs is an appreciation for classic mecha action, for that's what this is: an energetic, bombastic, stylish update to the giant robot genre done by Gainax as part of their 20th anniversary project. And while its first volume may not have the depth of many of Gainax's other titles, it certainly does not lack for entertainment value.
The plot, such as it is, is irrelevant so far, as are the mechanics of how all this stuff about giant robots and space monsters actually works. Viewers are best off not trying to strain their brain to figure out the “why” or “how” of the events depicted and just let themselves get absorbed in the “what.” This is entertainment which focuses solely on being bold, enthusiastic, and fun, and it does all of those exceedingly well. Giant mecha make bold poses and perform incredible and flashy attacks, inventive space monsters wreak havoc, characters traipse around in silly-looking uniforms, and occasional opportunities for fan service pop up; fans of the original may find one scene where Nono rips her shirt open as she prepare for an attack to be reminiscent of a scene in the original where her counterpart Noriko does the same. Not present are the innumerable pop culture and anime/manga references that peppered the original, but plenty enough else transpires to keep a viewer involved.
Some hints are dropped that there may actually be some deeper issues, such as a correlation between the appearance of the space monsters and the Topless or how Topless have an “expiration date” on their abilities, but those are not delved into much in these two episodes. Also at issue is whether or not Nono is actually a robot, who she claims to be inspired by, and a romance, but again, at this stage of the series those are more side points than key elements. Some have been inclined to read lesbian undertones into the Nono/Lal'C connection, but at this point that is more wishful thinking than actual subtext. 54 minutes of programming just isn't enough time to delve into all of that and still have this much action.
The most immediately striking aspects of the production are its visual style and quality. Anyone who has seen even one episode of FLCL will immediately recognize the stylistic similarities between the two, as the nature of the character designs and the way everything moves in the action scenes so resembles the work in FLCL that one could almost mistake this series for an extension of that one. Given that this series reunites the director and character designers for FLCL (Kazuya Tsurumaki and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, respectively), though, that shouldn't be surprising. The artistry does stake out new territory with its bright and lush look and bizarre costume designs, while using mecha and monster designs with more of a classic feel. Astute viewers may catch numerous visual eccentricities, such as the space suit that looks like a plush dog, a rotary-dial phone on a spaceship, or a man in a dinosaur suit riding an escalator in the background of one scene. More importantly, though, the animation creates spectacular scenes of motion and flawlessly-integrated CG effects contribute towards the best overall visual effect Gainax has had in any of its series in many, many years.
The soundtrack, available in 2.0 or 5.1 versions, specializes in soaring dramatic themes which harken back to earlier days of classic cinematic sci-fi and anime giant robot productions, while also mixing some newer rock-tinged pieces and a few gentler bits. It works especially well at backing key action scenes and provides an ideal complement to its visuals at most times. The jazzy, grooving opener “Groovin' Magic,” which begins with episode 2, should strongly remind veteran fans of the opener to Chobits, while the closer “Stardust Tears” provides a nice, light J-rock cap to both episodes. Japanese voice work proves effective at capturing the spirit of the characters, the original series, and the genre.
The disc for the first volume offers two Extras: a textless ending and a 29-minute live-action piece which intersperses a review with the director with “Fraternity Press” bits, which involve Nono's seiyuu Yukari Fukui and a hand puppet version of one of the mecha having inane side conversations. (Notably, company trailers are not included.) The former is worth watching because of the insight it gives into some of the themes the director was trying to work into the series, while the latter is worth watching because the cosplaying Ms. Fukui is quite attractive. It also retains the original Japanese credits for both the opener and closer, with the English translations only available in the included 20-page liner booklet. Also to be found in the booklet are more staff interviews, character profiles and pictures, and the first two installments of the Science Lesson that appeared with the original Gunbuster, only this time in print form rather than animated form.
As they did with their earlier release of the original series, Bandai Visual has decided to release this one without a dub, apparently assuming it would primarily be of interest only to hard-core fans. While the lack of a dub is disappointing and certain to reduce its marketability to wider audiences, it is, at least, acceptable to allow this title to get a North American release. Less acceptable is the occasional spelling error or bit of clumsy wording in the amateurishly-fonted subtitles, and less acceptable still is the $39.99 price point for a two-episode volume with a half-hour worth of extras, especially given the lack of a dub, a deluxe box, figurines, or other special treatment which goes above and beyond normal anime releases. Comments made by Japanese Bandai Visual executives who have been questioned about this by fans have suggested that they lacked a proper understanding of how much anime marketing in the U.S. differs from the way it works in Japan. If this is, indeed, the case, then it's a shame that they will have to burn such a good and significant series to learn their lesson.
Gunbuster 2 joined Animation Runner Kuromi 2 as one of the two Notable Entries (essentially a top-of-category award) in the OVA category of the 2005 Tokyo International Anime Fair. It did not win its high placing on name recognition alone; strong technical merits, an interesting visual style, and lots of highly entertaining content would make it a high-priority view if it wasn't for its unfortunate overpricing.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Highly entertaining, good and distinctive visuals.
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