I am going to invoke the authority of both Noriko and the iconic crossed arms stance of Aim for the Top! (or Gunbuster or Top o Nerae! or whatever you feel like) as I say this potentially controversial statement:
As a long-time fan of Gunbuster, Diebuster is amazing.
There. The deed is done. I put them on the same level. Now come, Galactic Monsters!
Gunbuster is simultaneously a paean to and a pastiche of anime, an apex of sorts of fanfiction, where Hideaki Anno and the rest of Gainax took bits and pieces from anime they loved and synthesized their tribute to it; their own attempt, as it were, at aiming for the top. By and large they succeeded; the story of Noriko, who gains inner strength even as she remains perpetually 15 due to the effects of time dilation, has endured and maintained its popularity in the twenty years since the release of the first episode. But this post is not about Aim for the Top!: Gunbuster. This post is about Aim for the Top! 2: Diebuster.
At first glance, Diebuster is an entirely different beast than its predecessor: the world of Gunbuster is fairly straightforward and relatively grounded in science (even going so far as to include, as omake, science lessons), whereas Diebuster almost immediately dispenses with any pretension of scientific accuracy and stretches the suspension of disbelief to the limit (and then some). If Gunbuster is reality, then Diebuster is surreality. Gunbuster is about the strengths of youth; Diebuster, its weaknesses. And yet, even with the very different moods that both engender in the viewer, the spirit remains the same, if manifested two very different ways in two very different decades.
Whereas Gunbuster had Noriko remaining forever 15 throughout its 12,000 year span, and therefore able to claim the strengths and idealism of youth, Diebuster offers us the Topless Squadron: young teenagers who are the only humans powerful enough to pilot the Buster Machines, but remain sealed. But they cannot leave the solar system due to the Red Milky Way of the Space Monsters, and so they cannot enjoy the time dilating effects as Noriko did, and so they are left, stranded, to grow up in a world where they must age and lose their ability as Topless, and then continue living as hollow shells of normal humans, bereft of the power they once tasted. Some adjust to this new reality well, others poorly, but none are left unaffected–and none particularly feel like giving up what they will eventually lose.
Enter Nono. As a robot, Nono’s mental age is perpetually locked somewhere around the age of 9, even as her body ages over ten millennia. As a result, she is perpetually Topless, the ideal state for the currently disaffected Topless who immediately share some degree of envy for her. She idolizes who she refers to as Nonoriri (Noriko), who she freely admits she has never seen, and who functions as a sort of God for her. Although Nono is capable of amazing feats of physical strength–the moment, for instance, at the end of the first episode where she ripped her shirt exactly as Noriko did and unleashed a Lightning Kick on the hapless Space Monster caused so much inter-generational fanboy glee for me that words may not suffice–her true strength lies not in the physical but in the interpersonal. Ebullient, childish, and cheerful to a fault, Nono invites the members of the Topless Squadron to reacquaint themselves with idealism and engage in a bit of introspection. Nowhere is this more evident in episode 3, where Nono confronts the floundering, apathetic, and pained Tycho, leading Tycho to awaken the newest Buster Machine and subsequently work through her own catharsis.
But Nono’s true identity is not that of an ordinary robot, but of Buster Machine #7, a humanoid Buster Machine that can also command and control the drone-like Buster Squad (or the Space Monsters as I haven’t really gotten quite clear on to what Nono’s henchmen are). As Buster Machine #7, Nono is ridiculously powerful, but also ridiculously uncontrollable. She barrages with immature passion and complete disregard for herself; even as the enormous Diebuster, her lack of focus prevents her from defeating the gravity well Space Monster that has attached itself to Noriko’s singularity. In short, her massive potential for physical power is largely ineffectual. But Nono / Buster Machine #7 sums it up best: a true Nonoriri has a Buster Machine in her heart–providing, coincidentally, a handy explanation for her own interpersonal abilities. That which drives a Buster Machine–a symbol for the ability to effect change globally, locally, or, perhaps most importantly, personally–is not age but feelings, feelings that tend to be ground out of people as they grow older. It makes explicit themes of Gunbuster: Noriko did not have limitless power due to youth, per se, but from the pure, idealistic nature of her heart fostered by youth. Rather than the Buster Machines enacting change, it is the humans piloting the Buster Machine that enact the change.
But it doesn’t stop there. Lal’C, the Kazumi to Nono’s Noriko and closer to the main character of Diebuster than Nono is, has her own role to play. Nono’s power as Buster Machine #7 are, indeed, limitless, but it takes Lal’C–after Dix-Neuf removes the horn that blocked access to the true cockpit in its brain–to provide focus and guidance for the unfocused Nono. It’s the perfect balance: the aimless thrashings of a passionate heart that is sometimes effectual and sometimes not, and the unfeeling mind that is reluctant to grasp passion and is therefore restricted in what the intellect can do alone. Paired together in the form of a Double Lightning Kick, the two are far more powerful than they are separate. And, in the end, even though Nono vanishes into a singularity in order to prevent the destruction of the solar system that she and Lal’C fought to protect, she leaves behind with Lal’C the Buster Machine that powers her heart. Nono, in the end, is weaker and more ephemeral than the ideal eternal Topless of the first half, but what she brings about has lasting impact: true eternal Toplessness and a sense of purpose.
As a sort of postscript, it should be known that I wrote this entire post with my arms crossed.
I also suggest reading (with your arms crossed, of course) the excellent Gunbuster liner essays in the DVD set [->] (there are three essays), which I’m sure you have if you own the DVD set and I’m sure you haven’t if you don’t own the DVD set. (Surely someone has scanned or at least typed them up somewhere for those with less scruples to intellectually enjoy? If not they should be).
Also, Pontifus’s post on Diebuster and ironimythical theory [->] often has nothing whatsoever to do with Diebuster in specific but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have points that could abet an understanding of Diebuster and possibly other things (or at least prove to be smashingly and intellectually entertaining, as only Northrup Frye + Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann can be).