It’s funny to think that the very first work by Hideaki Anno I ever saw was Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster, or, Aim For the Top! Gunbuster and not Evangelion, what he is better known for. It’s even more surprising that I hadn’t even watched Eva fully until this past summer when it released on Netflix.
Gunbuster was Hideaki Anno’s directorial debut. A high-concept super-robot show that in many ways was the breeding ground for concepts and character dynamics that would later be fleshed out more in Evangelion. It’s looked back on as a classic of the ’80s.
16 years later, Kazuya Tsurumaki, the director famous for FLCL, made a sequel to Gunbuster, titled Top wo Nerae 2! Diebuster, which was different and I mean, very different. However, it was just as good as – if not arguably better than – its predecessor.
Unfortunately, its hard to find a physical copy of either that has both shows, each one six episodes long. For the longest time I wondered when either show would be released in their complete glory. After seeing a photo on twitter of someone’s Blu-ray collection, I realized they already both already had. The same Gainax 20th Anniversary line of which an Evangelion Blu-ray was part of had produced a Gunbuster/Diebuster OVA collection. Upon learning its existence I didn’t hesitate to buy it.
Oftentimes with sequels to classics, there is a lot of skepticism among fans. They can be divided over which is better, and yet, both shows are not only received well on their own but as a pair. They are often seen as equals that complement each other. It’s a rare occurrence indeed. The question becomes: How did two shows from radically different creators manage such a success? Furthermore, is one truly better than the other?
When you take an established property with a certain level of fame in the cultural gestalt and try to do it again, you are asking for criticism. Remakes have these nasty labels attached to them because in principal a worthwhile piece of art should be able to stand on its own. Why remake something when the old work still exists?
Apart from being a cash-grab, maybe to update art that is arguably out of date and hasn’t aged well. Better yet, perhaps the remake signifies an intention to take a work in another direction to use the original’s framing device in a new innovative way. Either way, it’s easy to divide people over a new vision. Too close to the original and it seems pointless, but too different and it could be seen as a betrayal.
But what happens when the same mind behind the original comes back to remake his work, albeit with new help? Hideaki Anno’s classic Neon Genesis Evangelion certainly gained fame over the years despite how infamous it was at the time. The psychological drama fueled by Anno’s anguish made it legendary and yet Anno felt there was more to be done.
Anno split off from Gainax and together with his underling, Kazuya Tsurumaki, he decided to “rebuild” Evangelion. These films have been praised and lambasted in equal measure over the years. Most often people find an issue with the lack of thoughtful psychological pathos that made NGE‘s characters so real despite the premise. You can find plenty who will praise the visuals of the rebuilds, but many who will argue it doesn’t make up for what is lost.
But is there nothing here of value? Are these films not without some quality that is superior to the originals? I like to think that isn’t the case and after finally watching them recently, I think there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with these films. With the fourth and presumably final film coming in 2020, now is the perfect time to ask, what did the rebuilds get right?