"Gunbuster vs. Diebuster": Not Quite a Clip Show, But Close
I don’t know as much about the Gunbuster franchise as others, but as I understand it, Gunbuster vs. Diebuster consists of the two OAVs (one from 1988, the other from 2004) condensed into two feature length films as a theatrical double header. That means this double feature may not be the best purchase option for everyone, especially those who want to see a work in its entirety, and I must admit I was quite confused in spots. The features don’t exactly gloss over important plot details or anything, but at times they do have that rushed feelings that makes you feel like you’re being thrown into the thick of things, and when you combine that with the liberal use of hard sci-fi terminology, it meant I had a hard time getting into or following the two films as well as I’d hoped.
This is especially disappointing as I’ve heard nothing but good things about the original Gunbuster and, to a lesser extent, Diebuster (a.k.a. Gunbuster 2). The original apparently was pretty revolutionary for its time, with a unique approach to both the mecha and space opera genres. Partly that was because it focused more on the pilots’ interpersonal relationships than on the battles themselves. This is clearly seen many times in Gunbuster: in Noriko Takaya’s struggles with self-confidence; in Kazumi Ota’s quarrels with her husband (which affect her flight performance); and in the accusations by Noriko’s classmates that she got to be top pilot only out of nepotism. It also uses cool hard sci-fi elements like time dilation, which is the phenomenon of time appearing to move at the same rate during high speed travel, even though those traveling at normal speed will see more time go by than the speedy travelers realize. This actually factors heavily into the plot, which makes for not only interesting concepts but for good drama, as Noriko realizes how much she misses by being in space on all these missions while life on Earth rapidly passes her by. While these sorts of themes are more commonplace today, apparently they weren’t in 1988. Newer anime fans who only watch newer series and movies may find it generic, but that’s not really fair or accurate, because at the time, it wasn’t generic.
Diebuster wasn’t quite as revolutionary with its genre-bending, and in my opinion, its ending isn’t quite as memorable or moving as Gunbuster‘s. Nevertheless, it’s a bit lighter in tone than Gunbuster, so tacking it onto Gunbuster gives the former a bit of needed comic relief. Also, countless anime titles have been released in the almost two decades since the original Gunbuster. It takes more and more to impress anime fans these days, to give them something they haven’t seen before, especially visually. And Gunbuster 2, in many ways, succeeds at presenting something that is fairly unique.
Gunbuster and Diebuster, appropriately, have similar plots. Both deal with teenagers who become fighter pilots and battle against alien invaders. In Gunbuster‘s case, it’s schoolgirl Noriko Takaya, while Diebuster features clumsy waitress Nono. But the executions are quite different. This is especially true of the animation styles, though that’s not surprising since they came out a good decade and a half apart and have different directors (the first was done by Hideaki Anno, while the sequel was done by Kazuya Tsurumaki). Gunbuster has old school character designs: detail lines on more rounded, realistic faces; high detail (easily evident in big explosions); and battle scenes towards the end using sketches to represent action, which would be revisited in Eva a few years later. By contrast, Diebuster has more stylized and angular designs; wild and spastic “cartoony” animation; extreme camera angles and poses; frenetic action and storyboarding reminiscent of FLCL; and louder colors. Both styles have their merits. Even better, the twenty-year-old Gunbuster looks excellent, thanks to a picture restoration. If it weren’t for its art style, you’d swear it was brand new.
DVD special features are limited, mostly consisting of character profiles and staff bios. Thankfully, there’s more special material in the collector’s box, which holds both DVD cases as well as a host of cards containing character art and synopses. As with all Bandai Visual titles, the DVDs contain no dubs, though in Gunbuster‘s case, producing a dub would be more trouble than it’s worth, due to the loss of materials necessary for such a track. It’s disappointing that the newer Diebuster doesn’t include a dub, though.
Having not seen the OAVs, which have far more material, I’m not 100% sure whether to recommend Gunbuster vs. Diebuster. However, I would assume that most would probably want to seek out the OAVs instead, as they have more story, which probably makes it easier to follow things and allows more time to get invested into the characters. The deluxe edition of Gunbuster also has more special material. For those who already own the Gunbuster OAVs, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this one, as it’d be like buying it again while getting far less. Who can I recommend this to? Well, if you don’t care about seeing everything, I wholeheartedly recommend Gunbuster vs. Diebuster. Buying Gunbuster and Diebuster volumes 1-3 would cost you about $165, while this double feature only costs about $60. That’s a savings of over $100 right there, money which you can use to—I dunno, buy a few weeks’ worth of gas.