It’s not just reserved to the feeling you get eating one of their delicious tomatoes! It’s that energetic and warm feeling you get watching something produced by the talented staff that have called it their home over the years. Nowadays the studio is a shell of its former self, with many of its staff members moving on to form studios such as Studio Khara and Studio Trigger.
Even with this in mind, Gainax’s impact on anime and the fans is undeniably huge, and what brings me to Gunbuster and Diebuster.
Gunbuster is in my eyes one of the most important anime ever made. Released as a series of OVAs over 1988 and 1989, it personifies everything that makes anime special. To understand this, you only have to look back at the formation of Gainax. Many studios arose as off-shoots of larger companies, mainly being founded from a business side rather than a love for the art. Gainax was different, however. Gainax was founded in the early 1980s by a bunch of university students. Their first projects was to create opening animations for the Daicon III and IV conventions. Quite simply they were a bunch of hugely passionate anime fans. They set out to create anime influenced by the things they love, whilst still leaving a huge creative foot print of their own.
The influence of other anime is very evident in Gunbuster. It takes many of its plot, characters, and visual quirks from the much beloved sports anime Ace o Nerae!. Comparing them side-by-side, it’s easy to dismiss Gunbuster as a rip-off of Ace o Nerae set in space. However, this would be doing it a great disservice to the love and passion put into it. The colours, backgrounds and attention to detail put into the designs of the characters and world are all breathtaking. I often found myself just pausing on certain frames just to sit back in awe of it all. The fantastic storyboarding and layouts especially help in creating one of the most vibrant space mecha anime out there. Gunbuster is an absolute pleasure to look at.
Despite this, Gunbuster is also extremely wonky when it comes to the actual meat of its content. I feel like its early episodes give a poor insight to its characters and themes. We’re introduced to many characters who seem interesting, but never find out too much about them. Many plot threads to explore characters and their relationships with each other are introduced, but many are pushed to the wayside or end abruptly. It also can’t seem to find a cohesive tone to set on, presenting a whole number of different themes it wants to explore without nailing exactly which direction it wants to take. By the end of episode 4, I was left with a feeling of watching something that has a lot of ideas and passion, but lacking the effective presentation to really make it hit home.
But then Episode 5 and 6 happens, and it hits it out of the park.
Gunbuster episode 5 and 6 are really special. Not only does it stay focused on a specific direction, but the initial emotional core and intrigue of the characters really gets fleshed out. It explores just how far people will go, both emotionally and psychologically, to save themselves and humanity. It brings up many questions ranging from what effect time has on people and their relationships, to whether humanity should accept their fate if they’re on the brink of extinction. It’s captivating to see Noriko, Amano and others trying to come to terms with these questions.
The final episode also ties it all together to deliver an extremely satisfying conclusion. Instantly attention grabbing by being in black and white, it shows the darkest and brightest sides of humanity. Black holes, sacrifice and disaster on a galactic scale. They’re all brought up in this episode and is heart breaking yet intriguing to watch. This is in contrast to the final scenes, which are heartwarming and left me deeply moved. There’s a reason why the colour decides to kick back in for it, as it shows humanity at its best. Overall, Gunbuster is an extremely wonky piece of work, but one that has sheer determination and passion. By the end of it, it’s hard not to have been entranced by it.
With an anime as beloved as Gunbuster, whilst also embodying what makes Gainax as a studio so special in the first place, it’s no surprise that for the studio’s 20th anniversary project they produced a sequel: Diebuster.
What Diebuster lacks in detail, it makes up with charisma. If Gunbuster is the prototype for Neon Genesis Evangelion, then Diebuster is definitely the prototype for Gurren Lagann. Thematically it follows many of the same beats as Gunbuster. Nono is the living embodiment of hard work and passion, and it’s hard not to find her endearing because of it. Her relationship with the other main character, Lal’c, is also extremely charming and the chemistry between them is fun to watch. Diebuster’s energy is also amplified by the animation, which is rather loose and always feels like it’s moving.
It also explores the limits humanity will go once again. What makes it different this time however is that there’s more of an emphasis on youth and running out of time, rather than the age and time gaps in Gunbuster. The first half of Diebuster explores people’s dreams and wishes, whilst also learning from the mistakes of the past. The second half then thrusts them into a life or death battle, with fights that are of a gigantic scale. It’s bombastic, but also feels like it has a focused direction. It’s as equal poignant to watch as it is exciting. The ending is fantastic, and ties together both the story Diebuster itself tells and its relationship with Gunbuster perfectly.
Which one do I prefer? Well, Diebuster. However I feel like comparing the two is a bit unfair to each other. Both represent a different era of anime in both storytelling and presentation. Instead I feel it’s more productive to look at them as a complete package. It’s in a very unique, if unintentional, position where it’s managed to tell a story across generations. For that reason alone they’re both worth watching, but their broader impact on Gainax is also interesting. Being a fan of Evangelion and Gurren Lagann going into it, seeing how Gunbuster and Diebuster helped to form their respective anime was also nice to see. I came in already in love with “Gainax Spirit”, and I have a even bigger appreciation of it now.
If you’ve ever related to the emotional issues of Shinji, or been inspired by the heroism of Simon, then you owe it to yourself to watch these two love letters to the medium.