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Gunbuster vs Die Buster - The Gattai Moive
Adored by anime lovers everywhere Gainax is one of the most prominent publishers of fine programming around. With titles like Nadia, Neon Genesis, and Royal Space Force under its belt that statement should come as no surprise. Within the past year Bandai Visual explored their Gunbuster franchise but recently they have packed both the original and sequel together for one heck of a science fiction experience.
Entitled Gunbuster Vs. Diebuster Aim for the Top! The Gattai Movie it's safe to say that newcomers and uninitiated may be confused. What Aims for the Top? What is a Gattai Movie? And just why are Gunbuster and Diebuster fighting? To be quite honest I really don't know why it was pieced together like that. In Japan the original Gunbuster was named Aim for the Top! Gunbuster while Diebuster was actually Aim for the Top 2!. "Gattai" means combine or unite in Japanese so essentially the English title is a way of combining both the original and sequel. At any rate, my personal experience has taught me not to judge an anime by its title and that policy has led to the discovery of some enjoyable shows; this being one of them.
The interesting thing about both Gunbuster and Diebuster (Gunbuster 2 if you will) is that they take place 12,000 years apart from each other. The connections between the series are very subtle and to be quite honest they stand apart rather well. Now, you may be wondering why I called these films "series". A little more background information about each movie reveals that they were originally six episode OVAs. This presentation sees them combined together for a somewhat more fluid experience. The result is virtually flawless though it is easy to identify where the breaks are in storytelling.
In the original film Gunbuster the story follows a bumbling girl named Noriko Takaya who can't seem to do anything right. She doesn't possess the ability to pilot a mecha (or buster) appropriately and more often than not she comes across as clumsy and inept. A short way into the story Noriko is actually chosen to be an elite pilot for the military and enlisted to combat against some insect-like aliens who have waged war on our very existence. Naturally this doesn't sit well with her assigned partner Kazumi Amano at first since Noriko is little more than dead weight and will probably get her killed.
Just as we're beginning to question why the heck this charming klutz has been chosen her "coach" informs Amano of Noriko's lineage. Basically she's the daughter of one Admiral Takaya who was a revered hero during the early part of the war. Takaya was also the one who saved Koichiro "Coach" Ohta from certain annihilation back in the day. Now that Noriko is all grown up Coach sees the potential in her for greatness and through that dedication he shoves her onto the frontline to see what she comes up with. It's somewhat illogical but understandable as it's her emotions and fears that are the only things holding back her potential.
Out in space things change for Noriko as she faces death at every turn and eventually stands up to pilot Gunbuster when all hope seems lost. Essentially Gunbuster is the biggest, baddest mecha ever created by humans and she single handedly saves the remaining Earth fleet from destruction. This is a common theme as the alien horde continues to push towards our untimely death. The bad guys show up somewhere in space which forces Noriko and company to go on a mission and destroy them. It doesn't matter how many aliens there are because as long as the humans have Gunbuster there's no question about our victory.
Our constant winning makes the show anticlimactic though I have to admit that it proved to be entertaining throughout. In many ways I felt like this series was similar to Tekkaman Blade though Gunbuster had an undeniable amount of charm to it. While the former was somewhat rigid and serious the latter seemed almost jovial in comparison; a trend that continues into Diebuster.
Now, it's worth mentioning that throughout Gunbuster the series explores the way we travel through space and how it impacts our lives. So much in science fiction is made of time passing the same no matter where you are but in this series a few seconds during travel means months pass back home on Earth. For instance, while Noriko is aging at a normal rate from our perspective and remains seventeen, her friend back home grows up completely and years pass. This adds a very interesting element to her character though I have to say that it's not explored deeply enough to be completely satisfying. It feels more like a way to flesh out the background of the series.
Like I had mentioned, the sequel Diebuster doesn't have a whole lot to do with Gunbuster. Taking place 12,000 years in the future the follow up still features giant robots and big space battles as well as the exploration of humanity and morality. This time around the attention is paid to a girl named Nono who aspires to be one of the best pilots of the Topless, which is essentially a group of buster pilots that fights space monsters. Nono and Noriko possess many similarities, the least of which being Nono's idolization of Lal'C who is a highly skilled pilot.
The plot in Diebuster feels kind of close to Gunbuster in that Nono must rise above preconceptions and personal demons to become the hero the galaxy needs her to be. It explores many facets of her personality and what it means for a girl to be forced to step into her role. The alien conflict originates from some events on Gunbuster though all around I felt that the plot was fairly straightforward. Thanks to the manner with which its characters are developed this sequel somewhat more felt fleshed out but overall the two films were relatively close in tone.
In the end if you're a fan of Gainax or science fiction in general then Gunbuster Vs. Diebuster Aim for the Top! The Gattai Movie is an easy buy. Both films, (or OVAs if you will) are highly entertaining and offer interesting insight into space exploration as well as fun battles to be fought. The exploration of the material only goes so far but the franchise is left open for future incarnations should there be a desire to revisit it. Like other Bandai Visual releases $80 is a huge price to swallow for three hours of anime. The cost of their DVDs may be in line with Japan but considering the rest of the field in America is priced significantly lower they may just be charging themselves out of the market. Cost aside this is still a fun release and if you can afford it you'll be entertained.
Considering Gunbuster was originally released twenty years ago you have to take the video presentation with a grain of salt. There're quite a few flaws in the transfer from speckle to blurring and film grain. With that being said though I must admit that the original master seems to have held up very well. Colors appear vibrant and natural, the animation is a throwback to the glory days of anime, and despite the flaws everything is presented charmingly. There is a shift part of the way through from colored full frame to black and white anamorphic widescreen but that's simply the way the series was produced. It's a tad strange at first but if you have an open mind you'll appreciate it for artistic value.
On the flipside Diebuster was released in 2006 so the video quality is significantly better in just about every way. The lines are strong throughout and there is no grain or compression to complain about. Overall this is a very good looking release from Bandai Visual and it serves as a way to view the evolution of anime in the past twenty years.
Like all other Bandai Visual releases no English dub was offered with either of these films. The original Japanese dub is perfectly suitable for the material and to be quite honest I typically always go Japanese when I watch anime anyway. I'm sure many out there would take issue at the no English thing but if you're dropping $80 for this release then you most likely don't care. Technically speaking the 2.0 and 5.1 presentations are very good and the sense of immersion for the surround track is very impressive at times. All around this is a clean sounding release with no flaws to complain about though at times the show can come across as being slightly underwhelming.
Packed in with the two discs are 12 art cards with sketch and final production images, a pair of art booklets, and a test that grades your knowledge of both films. Aside from that stuff the only features you're going to find on both discs are character profiles with some information about the series. It's kind of disappointing from the DVD standpoint because a comparison between the two films or a look at the universe would have been appreciated. As it stands the printed material is nice but it's merely fluff compared to other Bandai Visual releases.
If you can stomach the $80 MSRP then you'll most likely find a place for both Gunbuster and Diebuster in your heart. Each film is highly entertaining with interesting characters and a familiar, yet powerful premise. If you love quality anime or consider yourself a fan of Gainax then picking this up is a no-brainer. Bandai Visual has really been going out of their way to bring quality anime to the States but it's unfortunately exclusive thanks to the overall cost. That doesn't detract from the quality of these films though and they come highly recommended.