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Dated 2 July 2005: Diebuster

Nono
Nono

I am really enjoying Top wo Nerae 2 - Die Buster. It doesn't seem to be generating very much positive buzz, but the things it does well it does very well indeed. Plus it has Yoshiyuki Sadamoto as the character designer and animation director, and I am a sucker for his work.

Larc
Larc

The first Top wo Nerae - Gunbuster OAV set the bar very high (particularly in how it meshed giant robots and emotional resonance), gathering more and more steam with each episode. The second series is only halfway through, so it remains to be seen how it will measure up in comparison.

Larc and Nono
Larc and Nono

It is my understanding that Manga Entertainment has lost the Gunbuster license. Thank God. They did nothing with it for years. I suppose that was a bit of a blessing, seeing as how any Gunbuster DVDs Manga might have put out surely would have been fucked up something royal in some stupid, easily-avoidable way. Someone talk Geneon into acquiring both Top wo Nerae titles so they can get proper releases, please. But I digress.

Larc and Nono
Larc and Nono

The first episode of Top wo Nerae 2 (Aim For the Top II) is beautifully cinematic. I suspect most of the people who dismissed the new series outright after viewing the first episode never gave it a fair shake, watching a low-res 640x360 fansub—windowed, no doubt—on a computer monitor while devoting the bulk of their attention to IRC. They missed out. Even the establishing shots in the opening minutes alone look great. I want to watch this again in a movie theater, not on a television.

Larc
Larc comes to Nono's rescue

Matching the beautiful Sadamoto eye candy every step of the way is a great orchestral score—nothing fancy, but quite rich and grand all the same. It is appropriately epic at times and nicely compliments a show with so much heritage before it.

Dix-Neuf
Dix-Neuf

After the serious opening minutes, the first episode of Top wo Nerae 2 develops a comic sensibility, introducing the viewer to its lead character Nono, a young girl with an ambitious dream of becoming a space pilot. She is a long way off from her goal, though. In addition to lacking the approximately 15 years of education and training necessary, she does not seem to have the faculties for the job. Neither is she any good at her current job (which explains her maid outfit in the first episode...mostly). In fact, her primary talent appears to be an uncanny ability to break things.

Larc and Nono
Larc and Nono

Those of you familiar with the original Top wo Nerae (more commonly known among English-speaking fans as Gunbuster) may see some similarities with Noriko in her spiritual successor, Nono. Naturally, if there is going to be a Noriko, there has to be an Onee-sama. Enter Larc (or Raruku, if animenewsnetwork.com is correct). Larc is a Topless—an elite space pilot of a Buster Machine.

Dix-Neuf and Larc
Dix-Neuf and Larc

Larc sets Nono straight very quickly. To be an elite space pilot, it is not the years of education and training that matter. The important thing is to be Topless—and it doesn't appear Nono has what it takes. To Nono's credit, this revelation does not crush her dreams. Rather, she quickly aims even higher by switching her focus towards becoming a Topless. (I guess you could say she decides to Aim For the Top, eh.) Although, she does initially misconstrue Larc's meaning, Nono becomes steadfast at adopting Larc as her onee-sama.

Nono
Nono

Smoothly voiced by Maaya Sakamoto, Larc accepts her onee-sama role somewhat reluctantly. Larc in general is more laid back and unassuming than her Gunbuster counterpart. She keeps a lower profile, so all this onee-sama business is new for her. Personally, I feel making the towering Nono's onee-sama so petite and understated was a good move. It is a simple way to add something new to the dynamic, but it works well here.

Larc
Larc summons Dix-Neuf

Top wo Nerae 2 does a lot of things very well—many of them very simple in concept, but wildly entertaining in execution. For example, Larc thrusting her arm to the sky while summoning her buster machine with a shout is perfection. Likewise, Nono's somewhat embarrassed introduction to Fraternity at the end of episode two classically closes out the episode with a couplet that seques to the very catchy ED. (The OP, "Groovin' Magic" is quite good as well. Those of you familiar with H.264 and the Matroska container can view the OP here (512x288, 7.7MB), and the ED here (512x288, 7.8MB).

Chiko
Chiko

Episode three arrived in the middle of June 2005. It is a character development episode, and focuses primarily on Chiko (or possibly Tykho). Chiko is awesome, although I suspect most people will probably hate her. I dunno; I guess I just keep adding to my ever-growing roster of anime characters with deep-seated emotional problems—characters that everyone hates, but I tend to favor. (E.g., Poor Flay was merely misunderstood. She didn't deserve all the animosity.)

Chiko
Chiko

I attribute a lot of Chiko's appeal to the quality work of her voice actress, Miyuki Sawashiro, who is playing her spot-on. I am not really familiar with her work, and was surprised to discover she voices both Puchiko from Di Gi Charat and Mint from Galaxy Angel. Chiko does not sound like either of those characters, but rather is carving out her own niche with both sharp, curt interjections and somewhat droll statements. All in all, the voice plays out very well, and adds to my conviction in insisting that Chiko receive more screen time.

Nono and Chiko
Nono and Chiko

I can not really predict if Top wo Nerae 2 will manage to achieve the same impact as its superb predecessor, but even if the best I can hope for is further alternation between epic cinematic moments and giant robot fights somewhat reminiscent of the last few episodes of FLCL (seriously, most of the action is very much a combination of FLCL zaniness with staples from the original Gunbuster (complete with INAZUMA KICK), I shall still be anxiously awaiting the remaining episodes, and eager for a DVD box set.

Dated 3 July 2006: Gunbuster

Gainax Gunbuster splash page
Gainax Gunbuster splash page.

From the Best-News-I've-Heard-All-Day Department: Bandai has given full power to its inertial canceler and finally revealed that it holds the North American license to Gainax's fully awesome six-episode series, Top wo Nerae, better known by its English title: Gunbuster.

Gunbuster

I'm glad someone rescued this title from the Manga Entertainment tar pits, and nigh on ecstatic that it was Bandai. I can't think of any other company to which I'd rather entrust the Top wo Nerae license.

Dated 15 January 2010: Maybe they'll take my advice for the second Macross Frontier movie

Nanase and Ranka
The Nyan Nyan waitress uniform is downright dirty.

The Macross Frontier folks should have just squeezed Nanase into a Buster Machine. Clear that Vajra problem right up.

Sheryl Nome
At least we'll still have Sheryl Nome and her ridiculous outfits.

Actually, I heard Nanase's character was retconned out of existence entirely for the first Frontier movie, The False Diva, alas. Does this mean the only character to wear the Neo Nyan Nyan waitress outfit is Ranka? That's no good.

Dated 1 October 2011: There is no need to watch Shakugan no Shana II before watching the third season

Shana
Shana scenes suck when her hair isn't on fire.

I generally strongly discourage people from skipping seasons. Typically they do it so they can follow something shiny and new and/or watch something at the same time as their friends so they'll have something to talk about. This can lead to very poor decisions, such as watching Diebuster before watching Gunbuster, or watching Shikabane Hime: Kuro without watching Shikabane Hime: Aka. I have less of an issue with people skipping previous Mobile Suit Gundam seasons (at least for series in different continuities) since there are so damn many of them, or skipping previous Macross iterations, although I do insist on people watching the original Cho Jiku Yosai Macross; do not be tempted to lean on Do You Remember Love? instead. Good movie, but really not a substitute for the original series—not at all.

Carmel's head thingy
Carmel's head thingy had the best lines.

But while I feel it is wrong on principle to skip seasons, especially when one's reasons for doing so fall in the "shiny and new" camp, I can make an exception for Shakugan no Shana II. I watched 24 episodes of this second Shana season because I enjoyed the first season and wanted to give the upcoming third season a try. This may have been a mistake. Shana II is every bit as awful as its reputation warned me. Shana II is 24 episodes of tedium occasionally interrupted by insipid fights. It is WORSE THAN COSPRAYERS, I finished Shana II with great reluctance. It was never ever actually BAD in the way Limeiro CROSS or Macademi Wasshoi! were truly bad; it just wasn't ever compelling, or even interesting.

Kazumi
Kazumi has a little trouble with her jeans.

To put things into perspective, the multi-episode climactic battle at the end of Shana II kept giving me flashbacks to the Demonbane anime. Now, Demonbane is by no means good, but I have to say that it was at least more interesting than Shana II. This is especially true of the fights. I've long harped on J.C. Staff and its poor track record when it comes to animating fight scenes (excellent Azumanga Daioh snowball fight notwithstanding), but I remember even the worst Demonbane fights against the shrieking mad scientist to be more engaging than climactic season finale fight scene against the shrieking mad scientist of Shana II. And I'm not just saying that because Mr. Eroge Protagonist from the Demonbane anime had to soul kiss a book every time to make his giant robot go. Well, he didn't have to, probably. He just did. But I digress. Shakugan no Shana II is a horror, and I will be amazed if Shana III requires any foreknowledge of its preceeding season's events. Yeah, I'll still at least start Shakugan no Shana III. It's too late to turn back now. Who knows, maybe the odd-numbered seasons will be good.

Dated 5 April 2013: Little Witch Academia was not the best anime I watched last week

Akko and Diana
How do you know she's a witch?

Little Witch Academia is an excellent short movie from the Anime Mirai 2013 project. In the case of Little Witch Academia, young animators benefited from the tutelage of former Gainax members now with Studio Trigger. The resulting project is a charming well-animated story reminiscent of the underrated Mahou Shoujo Tai Alice1 (2004-2005). I give Little Witch Academia a solid recommendation and look forward to more great things from Studio Trigger. I'm also curious if the rest of the Anime Mirai efforts are as good. With titles such as Death Billiards, how can they not be?

Noriko
Blue-Headband Noriko > Yellow-Headband Noriko.

All right, so why wasn't Little Witch Academia the best anime I watched all week? Well, it so happens I re-watched Top wo Nerae and Top wo Nerae 22 the same week. Considering I hold Top wo Nerae in such high regard, it's surprising how little I've written about it in over 11 years of anime blogging. (Similarly, there's basically no mention of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann on this site either, although in Gurren Lagann's case, it was because it aired during a period when the only anime that I was watching were Macross 7 and Tokimeki Memorial ~Only Love~.)

Nono
Sure is a step up from her old job cracking dishes at a maid-uniform diner.

You know where I'm going with this, right? Some of the individuals responsible for Little Witch Academia were involved with Top wo Nerae 2 (and Gurren Lagann) while they were with Gainax, so the pedigree is certainly there. Little Witch Academia turning out so well will surely add fuel to fellow former-Gainax fanboy flames. (Although I still have hope for post-diaspora, current-Gainax, Gainax actual.)

Yoko
Yoko is 14.

Speaking of Gurren Lagann, pre-orders for the Region A complete box set of Blu-ray discs are now available for an eye-opening $550 or so. For that kind of money, I certainly hope they are not upscales only marginally better than the DVDs. I'm not certain, but I seem to recall hearing that neither Gurren Lagann nor Top wo Nerae 2 were produced in full HD resolutions (because they were made in that unfortunate transitional period after traditional cells but before full HD digital work). If true, this at least explains why the Blu-rips of Top wo Nerae 2 are only small improvements over my R1 DVDs at best. Still, I waited a long time for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Blu-rays before ultimately purchasing the R1 DVDs last year or so. Now that Blu-rays are nearly upon us, I'm tempted to repurchase them—just not five-hundred-fifty-dollars tempted.


Note 1: Officially known as The Adventures of Tweeny Witches in English.

Note 2: Also called GunBuster and Diebuster, respectively, but Diebuster is officially titled GunBuster 2 on the R1 DVDs because people are jackasses.