I absolutely cannot believe I waited this long to watch Diebuster. I have never been more annoyed with past-me accepting the views of other critics as gospel truth, regardless of how “big time” the critic or how vehemently expressed the opinion. In many ways, this notion of freeing myself from previously held biases and expectations has been the story of my fandom in 2015. It was a year of trying things I’d been led to believe were not good and…and actually liking them. By the middle of the year, I was re-evaluating a lot of my previously adopted standards and filters.
BUT…that doesn’t have much to do with the anime at hand.
So, I did a kinda scattershot podcast about Diebuster in late November. I shared a lot of my opinions about the series there, but I didn’t exhaust my thoughts on it by any means. So, I’m going to briefly discuss one of the coolest aspects of a show with tons of coolest aspects, namely its ability to be read as two separate stories.
Diebuster viewers can choose to read the anime as a story of Nono, a go-get-em robot girl with big dreams of becoming a mecha pilot, or they can decide to read it as being about the more emotionally complicated L’arc Mellk Mal, the famous and prodigious Buster Machine pilot. Both characters receive a ton of screen time, and each experiences a tonally different journey than the other.
Nono’s arc is similar to that of Noriko from the original Gunbuster. Noriko went from ordinary girl to the savior of humanity through hard work and guts, and Nono applies this attitude to her own life. However, unlike Noriko, Nono doesn’t have a coach, and, while she does train, we see her doing chores and mecha upkeep far more often. Nono’s strength lies in her resolve; she believes so strongly in her own dream. In order to finally achieve it, Nono journeys far far away from her team mates, even despite protests from her idol, L’arc. Nono receives the ‘power overwhelming” which allows her to save humanity, but, by becoming so powerful, she loses her innocence. She has moments of doubt, but ultimately Nono’s story is a message that the human heart holds as much power and potential as the big bang.
On the other hand, viewers can choose to interpret Diebuster as the story of L’arc. In this case, instead of a rags-to-riches story like Nono’s, you’re treated to something more emotionally volatile. L’arc begins the series as the anointed savior of humanity with an admiring Nono clinging to her, but several events occur during Diebuster which drastically shift the political landscape, placing L’arc in some very different circumstances than she starts out in. She is a much more inward-facing character than Nono. She internalizes everything that happens to her, and there are plenty of great mood scenes in which an angst-filled L’arc is brooding or attempting to distract herself from her own loneliness. L’arc is a lonely girl; this is one of her defining and persistent characteristics, whether she is being treated like royalty or has been discarded by humanity as irrelevant. Though she plays her part in many mecha battles, I think the core conceit of L’arc’s story is: lonely person making a real connection with someone else (Nono). This story is much more grounded, and therefore, much more relatable, so I can understand why people gravitate toward L’arc.
Again, this is only one facet of why Diebuster is so good. It’s a really important anime for historical reasons, but also a damn entertaining one. But, if you haven’t seen it, don’t take my word as gospel; go find out for yourself!