I just watched Diebuster, and I was incredibly pleased with it in every way. It was just a fantastic Super Robot show, one that blended truly amazing visuals with fun characters, hype moments, and a simple plot. It reaffirmed how good Gainax once was, and it really made me happy that I’ve started to go back and look at a bunch of classic anime. But what stands out the most is how it’s a sequel to Gunbuster, a show I had watched just one day before, and the ways in which it managed to be a satisfying sequel to a show widely regarded as one of anime’s great classics.
Diebuster is certainly a sequel to Gunbuster, but I don’t know that I would call it a direct sequel. It’s set in the same universe certainly, it occurs afterwards, and it even brings up concepts from the original, but no characters from Gunbuster actually show up despite being mentioned at times. This show was not a continuation of Gunbuster’s ending because a continuation of Gunbuster’s ending was utterly unnecessary. Gunbuster had an absolutely perfect ending, and Gainax knew that, so they didn’t try to continue off of that. Instead, they made their own thing, something that fits the themes and ideas of Gunbuster while only really tying into it at the end in a way that only improved the original.
I think Diebuster can be a guide for what sequels should look like moving forward. Let’s take the FLCL sequel. Lots of people are complaining about it, and I can understand why. FLCL is regarded as a classic series, so it makes sense that people are nervous that it’s getting a sequel. I didn’t love FLCL the first time I watched it, so maybe I’m not one to speak here, but I don’t think the sequel is a guaranteed disaster the way some people do. Diebuster was made by Gainax sure, but it was made by a different team and director, and as much as it stuck to the spirit of Gunbuster, it was quite different stylistically. And yet, people absolutely recognize it as a rightful sequel to the original series. FLCL could absolutely do the same thing and I think people need to have more hope in it.
Observing this has led me to believe that the thing that matters most in a sequel is the same thing that matters most in an adaptation — preserving the spirit of the original work. Of course, a sequel has to avoid things like breaking any of the main rules established in the first series or it’ll ruin the suspension of disbelief, but ultimately it seems that the goal for any derivative work should be the same.
Diebuster did a great job with this. It still focused on the main theme of Gunbuster, the idea that hard work and guts could achieve anything, ultimately using that theme to tell a very different story. Sure, the way it connected with Gunbuster at the end was fantastic and guaranteed that I’ll look at both shows when listing my favorite endings, but that’s not what made it a good sequel. What made it a good sequel was simply the fact that it really nailed the stuff that made Gunbuster good and did it again without feeling like it was just a repeat of the original. I understand that doing that can be hard, but it definitely pays off.
I’m obviously not trying to say that every sequel should follow the same path as Diebuster. That’s not really possible for a lot of series, and there are going to be times where you want your sequel to be a lot more direct. But I think it’s definitely true that in a sequel, the soul of the original series is what should be prioritized. The soul is what people came to love in the first place and it’s what people remember. A series which merely followed the events of its predecessor while entirely lacking its heart would be boring at best and a massive disappointment at worst.
I’m also not saying that every show needs a sequel or even should have one. The way Gunbuster ended very specifically left room for Diebuster to occur, something that isn’t going to be true for every series. Some endings are just done and we don’t need more. I don’t want a sequel to Haibane Renmei for instance; that story is over. But when we do get sequels I want them to follow in the vein of Diebuster. Copy the spirit, not the story. That’s how you truly make a great sequel and a great work of art.