Archive for June, 2009

Aim for the Top! 2: A True Nonoriri Has a Buster Machine in Her Heart!



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 GunbusterDiebuster 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).

Kamichu!: Remembering “Love is Missing”

Kamichu! has long been one of my all-time favorite series, a series that manages to nail the slice-of-life aesthetic while also infusing it with a bit of Ghibli-esque magic. I love all the epiodes, but I have a special affection for “Love is Missing” (DVD episode 11). While being a very strong testament to familial ties as well as a lovely testing-the-limits-of-sister-bonds episode, it also happens to showcase the odd chemistry between Shokichi and Miko. Why do I care about Shokichi and Miko when Yurie and Kenji are perfectly servicable characters, you might ask?

Because they’re awesome, that’s why.

Yurie and Kenji are a cute couple, in the sense that Yurie is too shy to ever really say anything to Kenji about her feelings (because she’s, well, Yurie). Kenji, meanwhile, is utterly oblivious to the world at large, and charmingly so. It’s rather simple for me to identify with both of them, as I have had a shyness factor perilously close to Yurie’s (and now only dangerously close to Yurie’s), and I can get as oblivious as Kenji sometimes (most times I’m only slightly more than half as oblivious as he is, though, thankfully). And while I really like Yurie and Kenji as a couple, they somehow do not hold a candle to Shokichi and Miko.

Shokichi and Miko are both the kind of people who very very obviously know that they like the other, but cannot bring it to themselves to really say it. So, instead, what should normally be a very obvious relationship between two people who like one another instead becomes a relationship so awkward I can’t help but adore it. Nowhere is this awkwardness more palpable than in “Love is Missing”, sticking the two of them in Hiroshima alone together, in a situation where they are both obviously there together because of how they feel about one another (Miko having asked Shokichi to accompany her upon her running-away endeavor, and Shokichi willingly going and refusing to return home, abandoning her) and yet still reluctant to let their own feelings become too obvious to the other. Cue twenty or so minutes of awkward romance and truancy action and you end up with an OGT that is little more than a puddle on the floor. A blissful puddle, but a puddle nonetheless.

I’m not entirely certain if this post has any kind of point (or can ever actually have a point even if pressed hard enough to have one) other than 1) still not dead yet 2) having the long-sought-after fanboying over “Love is Missing” and Kamichu! n general that I’ve wanted to do for almost a year but hadn’t been able to due to having loaned my DVDs to a friend for nine months and 3) mentioning a plan to rewatch the series again with perhaps a closer eye towards each episode’s general theme, if only because starting to finish up the last rewatch made me acutely aware of the potential for verbiosity there.

Or, barring that, I can just watch it again because it seems to really be what I need right now, anime-wise.

Were you waiting for a brain-busting revelation? You only get this one [->], I’m afraid. A terrible let-down, I’m sure.

Hakaba Kitaro: Dances With Mononoke

I think the world needs more Denki Groove OP themes. [->] And I couldn’t resist the bad title joke-pun once I thought of it.

Hakaba Kitaro is probably the closest I’ll get to reading the original Mizuki Shigeru GeGeGe no Kitaro manga (unless some kind soul is translating it in some capacity that I am not aware of), which isn’t exactly a bad thing. I went into the series expecting a grim, gritty kind of horror, a complete 180 from the kid-friendly GeGeGe franchise–in other words, I was expecting more of Poltergeist rather than Ghostbusters. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to see that, contrary to my baseless expectations due to unfamiliarity (and a bit of misleading pre-airing descriptions) that the whimsical nature of GeGeGe was retained, simply with a darker edge.

Essentially a short episodic showcase for various monsters of various countries’ traditions seen through the eye of Shigeru (and , Hakaba moves quickly from incident to incident. Despite the episodic structure, the series maintains a linear flow, with each episode playing off elements left unexplored in the previous episode and frequently setting up the story for the next episode. Each episode also usually ends in some kind of ironic twist for the central side characters, especially when they refuse to pay heed to Kitaro’s advice regarding nearly everything. Human characters who become interested in the paranormal generally end up getting sucked into hell or some other terrible fate through their own actions (a notable exception being Shigeru himself in a mind-bending meta-episode), and the unfortunate yokai who cross Kitaro’s path also tend to get their comeuppance as victims of themselves more than anything else.

The big draw is less “what happens” in each episode so much as reveling in the left-of-center takes on mythical monsters, partly in the personalities and partly in the artistic designs (a werewolf becomes, for instance, a refined and cultivated gentleman from England–top hat, monocle, and all). Not to mention that frequently the monsters themselves are just plain bizarre: the Water God episode, for instance, has the Water God breaking loose and wreaking havoc by dissolving people (but leaving their finely made Italian swimsuits). Vampire trees, guitar-playing Johnny-in-the-Mists, and catgirls taken literally (I hold an undying love for Neko Musume in all of her incarnations) all make an appearance in the surreal rogue’s gallery. The only major recurring characters are Kitaro, his father, and the utterly disgusting Rat Man; others fade in and out, staying for a couple episodes at most.

Yes, Shigeru actually draws like this. The 50s were awesome.

Yes, Shigeru actually draws like this. The 50s/60s were awesome.

Visually, the series is a treat: Takashi Kurahashi stays fairly close to Shigeru’s original art style and updates it somewhat for a 00s audience while (of course) still being the same texture-obsessed Kurashashi Mononoke fans know and love. The OP sequence consists entirely of panels from the original manga (or panels drawn to resemble the original manga, I cannot tell which), which are all eventually shown in the series proper. Even discarding the more progressive elements of the artistic direction, Hakaba Kitaro is still quite the standout in modern-day series, and even modern-day adaptations of older (or “visually anachronistic”) series. It almost feels to me like older art styles in their modern-day adaptations sometimes seem to suffer bereft of the cel animation charm, for some reason, but Hakaba Kitaro dodges this issue, possibly because Kurahashi’s style gives it a more “cel” feel in digital. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

On a totally different note, it’s worth noting that Kitaro is a throughly likable character despite being, for most of the series, a thoroughly disturbing individual. As the last member of the Ghost Tribe (save for his father, who is now a bipedal eyeball) I wasn’t expecting him to be about posies and poems, mind, but he’s exactly the kind of child you’d walk to the other side of the street to avoid. In the single episode of the most recent GeGeGe remake I watched, Kitaro’s personality is vastly different–in GeGeGe he seems to be more of the rogue outcast from yokai society who insists on helping humans deal with the more malicious yokai. In Hakaba he seems to be less friendly so much as acting more in his own interest, generally lacking a shred of altruism. It’s a different kind of “anti-hero” than I seem to be used to, almost an anti-anti-hero: most anti-heroes seems to be loathsome of morals but suave of manner, whereas Kitaro is loathsome of manner (and sometimes of moral), but underneath it he’s just a normal kid who doesn’t really know what to do. Except he isn’t normal. And his morals are different. Sometimes. It’s hard to explain, provided I’m not making it up (again).

A rare moment of boyish charm for Kitaro. Such is the power of Neko Musume.

Hakaba Kitaro manages to capture the essence of a beloved classic manga series without being unduly alienating to a modern audience. It’s  a nostalgic piece of Japanese childhood for half a century revisited and updated for those who reluctantly grew up. I can’t really pass any judgement on to how accurately it might have captured the feel of the original manga, but it’s definitely satisfied my curiosity while piquing my interest, which is the least one can expect of a series such as this.

Well, that, and more Neko Musume. (Please?)


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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June 2009