In the end, neither the genki girl nor the tsundere can keep up with the super idol mecha pilot.
Let’s clear one thing up right away: this is not a matter of declaring a best girl. I will not insult Diebuster with such frivolities. An earlier title for this piece read “Tycho Science is the Best Thing about Diebuster,” and while that statement is true it’s also not the point. Or, rather, it lacks the nuance to make it worth examining. It’s not just that Tycho is the best thing about Diebuster; it’s that she exemplifies more concretely, more satisfyingly, and more completely one of the core themes of this show—and does so in a way that blows the doors off of every other episode of this show.
I think Bobduh does an excellent job of unpacking the importance of youth and running out of time as a major theme in Diebuster, so I won’t retread that ground here, but I do want to point out that Tycho isn’t really bound by the same paradigm that Nicolas, Casio, or Lal’C are. By the time we meet her, she’s already become disillusioned with her powers, having seen in crushing personal terms the limits that already exist around her. She has already run out of time, because her clock was the lifetime of the friend she loved and couldn’t save. Although she is a Topless, she begins as someone who has already lost hold of the glorious summit of her youth—a summit that, really, never existed for her.
But Tychos reclaims it, in a way that’s new and fresh and unattached to the ephemeral powers of the Topless. To put it simply: she grows up. She grasps maturity that the other characters in Diebuster can only dream of. And she does so while reinventing the super idol archetype she inhabits, too.
The Tycho who is so powerfully put together and so absurdly peerless throughout the second half of Diebuster (a half, I should add, that’s markedly less good than the first—more on that later) doesn’t exist when we first meet her. The first form of Tycho Science, super idol-type mecha pilot, is a petty, foolish, second-place whiner of a character defined only by her need to be better at blowing up space monsters than Lal’C. After brief moments of her lazing around on a floating ball and eating a popsicle, our first introduction to her is her royally screwing up an important mission because she has be number one. It’s fairly classic beat and it would be endearing enough on its own if it weren’t juxtaposed against the enormity and seriousness of the stage—i.e. defending humanity from the space monsters.
Diebuster doesn’t let Tycho off the hook for this. Her brashness has real and immediate consequences, as it puts the Jupiter mission one Buster Machine short before it even starts—and, in the larger contest, robs humanity of a significant portion of its overall defense against the space monsters. As far as fails go in Diebuster, I suppose it’s one of the lesser ones (the Serpentine Twins reviving the fluctuating gravity wells’ assault, Nicolas’ ugly desperate attempt to recover his youth by attacking Nono), but even so, the look’s not a good one.
The neat thing is that Diebuster could have stopped there with Tycho, could have allowed her to be only be aiming for the Top in her limited, self-centered way. She could have been only the super idol ala The iDOLM@STER‘s Miki Hoshii who wants to sparkle in her time, leaving Nono unchallenged as the pure ideal of Toplessness. But it doesn’t, which leaves the back door open for Tycho to sneak in. This cute but annoying emblem of youthful ambition for ambition and personal satisfaction’s sake is revealed to be a fraud. Up until the reveal of Tycho’s motivations, all our suspicions are confirmed—she’s a sore loser, unkind to Nono, and won’t even pretend to try to grant the wishes of children. On the surface, she’s no super idol, just a fool playing at a game she can’t win.
And I love the shallowness she projects, because it sets up her triumph so beautifully. Just as her failure is a mere shadow of the failures of others in the show, so her triumphant defense of Jupiter against the space monster swarm is comparatively small when weighed against the feats Nono and Lal’C achieve in the fourth, fifth, and sixth episodes. From the outside, everything about her is little. But this littleness is the key that unlocks the floodgates of awesome that allow her to blast away all of her competitors. In an overblown show ruled by loudness and bombast, the smallness of Tycho’s moments causes her to stand out. And because she runs counter to the narrative of lost youth that the other Topless walk, she puts the rest of the show on notice that you can’t always sell a theme on hard work and guts alone.
As it happens, hard work and guts don’t mean much to Tycho within Diebuster‘s narrative either. Such things fail her even as a Topless, and are similarly irrelevant to her later redemption. She is the anti-Nono, the anti-Lal’C, bound by the past and careless of the future because of it. But she doesn’t need me to say that for her—she says it all herself.
Topless abilities can’t make people happy!
Can you use Topless abilities to heal the sick?
Can you use Topless abilities to eliminate crime? Or stop wars?
Can your Topless abilities let you meet someone who died?
The pause and pained grin before she delivers the final line say it all. There are some things, whether you be Topless or Buster Machine or the gutsiest person in the world, that cannot be done. In comparison with Nono’s idealism, Tycho might seem pessimistic, but it’s really just realism (albeit coated in the bitterness of cynicism). Loss has made her free of the illusions of the Topless, as both a character and an actor within the show’s thematic structure.
The fact that Tycho’s arc comes from real and personally grounded place is what makes this all work. The reason Diebuster‘s second half is a floaty collection of intimated emotional and thematic ideas is because it has no such grounding. While Nono comes to a similar moment of individual empowerment in episode 4 (please read wendeego’s excellent post for a more charitable and intelligent interpretation), I mistrust her proclamation of enlightenment—”Surely, a true Buster Machine pilot has a Buster Machine inside the heart!”—because comes after she gains her power. Nono’s struggles up to that point are poignant, but the sheer loudness of her appearance in front of Lal’C and Tycho on Titan (“Buster Machine March” plays) can’t obscure the fact that the revelation that she is Buster Machine #7 is a only superficially awesome one where the emotional wires behind aren’t wound tightly enough to really support it.
In contrast, despite having its own share of yelling and explosions, Tycho’s Buster Machine moment is far quieter. The track that plays in the background of Tycho’s resurgence and defense of Jupiter is called “Buster Machine no Tamashii” (“The Soul of a Buster Machine”). At least as far as I’m concerned, this is a fundamentally different thing than Nono’s declaration that she has a Buster Machine in her heart. Maybe for Yoji Enokido it means the same thing, but not for me. A heart is appropriate for the heat and the physicality of Nono’s passion, but the source of Tycho’s true character is temporally distant—and is thus more ephemeral and immaterial. And this is born out in their respective transformations because while Nono’s awakening is of a literal kind, Tycho’s is spiritual.
There’s a moment in this beautiful sequence that I find particularly moving (at 0:27 and 0:28 in the clip), where a shot Tycho in the cockpit of Quarte-Vingt-Dix cuts to a similarly composed shot of the Buster Machine’s head. Both also use the same slow zoom, which creates the impression that they are, truly, one and the same. The soul of a Buster Machine indeed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because before Tycho comes to this moment of unity with her Buster Machine, we’re first shown the entirety of her backstory, the cause of her guilt, and her disillusionment with the whole idea of being a Topless. The timing of the flashback is perfect. Thanks to Tycho’s earlier conversation with Lal’C, we already know what she feels and have been given the chance to understand that, even if we don’t fully understand the source, it’s real. The flashback then forces us to experience it all ourselves. The warmth of the love, the hope, the brown and bitter despair, and everything that flows forth from that moment—it all becomes real for us to.
This is the weight Tycho carries, and yet…
And yet, when the time to truly take action comes, she’s willing to throw away the sign of her guilt, ready to lose the thing that’s been driving all this time—just to save some kids. When it comes down to it, even if she doesn’t believe in the power she has, she’s willing to use it anyways. Even if it means hurting herself, even if using her powers to save others causes her to feel like she’s dishonoring the memory of the one she couldn’t save, she’s ready to lose something of herself to defend others. As Nono says, she wanted to save the children.
And Quarte-Vingt-Dix responds.
Everything after that is just the victory lap. Tycho doesn’t have a Buster Machine in her heart—her very soul is that of a Buster Machine. Who she is is analogous to what the Buster Machines are. As she pilots the mecha out into space, she radiates all her insecurities and all her maturity at once.
That second line destroyed me. How long has Tycho been trapped by her past, ringed in by despair and obligation to the ghost of the boy she loved? And yet in the moment of reaching out to save Jupiter, she understands, “This is for me.” She finally gets it. But her growth doesn’t even stop there.
Although she threw away the earrings, Nono gathers them up and (obviously) returns them to Tycho. And Tycho continues to wear the earrings—they reappear in the very next episode and on all the way through her final scene as an adult. It’s another form of maturity, to understand you don’t have to throw away your past entirely to move on from it. Ridding herself of the earrings in the critical moment gives Tycho the burst she needs to overcome the depressive inertia that’s plagued her for years, but afterwards she’s still able to keep them—no longer as open wounds, but now as visible scars of healing. It’s an incredible arc that brings her to a stunning strength of personhood.
And yet, dramatic as it all is, there’s an undercurrent of quietness there too. Tycho’s deep pain is afforded a solemn dignity, as is her decision to move beyond it and her ability to exist in her new present without ridding herself of her past. Everything freezes, and the moment hangs in time and space. Somehow when I saw the incredible scale of Quarte-Vingt-Dix’s Buster Smash, I was only thinking about how big Tycho’s soul must be.
I could have been happy with just this episode, but Diebuster goes on to show Tycho’s quiet maturity in small bits throughout the second half. Especially in contrast to the other Topless, it’s amusing to see how they’re mostly unaware of how much Tycho has outdistanced them in the world of growing up. Lal’C taunts Tycho about giving up on her quest to be the number one Topless, but all it serves to do is to note that Lal’C enjoyed the attention Tycho lavished on her while trying to take her spot. Tycho is beyond such juvenile concerns by now, and continues to display her new-found identity throughout—whether as an encouraging force in Lal’C and Nono’s relationship or one who remembers her fallen comrades or a leader for the other Topless.
The thesis of Diebuster may very well be “to grow up means to lose something,” and Tycho Science truly is the fullest expression of all this. In a show obsessed with the glories and darknesses of youth, power, and adolescent sexuality, she stands apart because the thing she loses in her step towards adulthood is not some abstract ability symbolic of youth, but the simple feelings of grief and guilt. There is a “realness” to Tycho’s personal tragedy that all the gyrations and howling of the other Topless cannot compete with, and thus the articulation of it through the medium of Buster Machines merely serves to provide a physical projection of the emotional story (as opposed to being the the framework for both, as it is for every other character in the show).
Does this alone make Tycho the best part of Diebuster? Given how floaty the character arcs in the rest of Diebuster are (it’s a tragedy how flat the atmospherically brilliant first half of Diebuster‘s final episode lands due to this) the substance of her arc is thrillingly real. Comparatively, she is real gravity in the midst of weightlessness of outer space. And it’s Tycho who leads the way, at least thematically, for the rest of the Topless out of the violence of adolescence and into the steadiness of self-understanding.
One of the coolest thing about the kinds of shows associated with Golden Era Gainax anime is their treatment of space’s vast emptiness as something to be filled up, taken over, devoured by the voracious appetite of humankind’s spirit. Gunbuster does this with both time and space, Gurren Lagann with space on an absurd scale. In these shows, it’s not enough for mankind to merely occupy the abyss of the galaxy in physical terms; there must also be a corresponding triumph of life, energy, and will.
But Tycho Science isn’t about any of that, despite Diebuster as a whole having similar aspirations. Near the end of Diebuster‘s final episode, she offers the following sentiment to Lal’C: “Neither of us are at the age where people make wishes any more…” It’s a rather ambiguous statement, but for Tycho I can only seeing it mean one thing. Who needs to make wishes when you can go out and make something of yourself on your own power? It many ways, Tycho only truly becomes free once her power have left power forever. Having saved herself, she has saved the world—and now the entire world, from Pluto to Sirius, is open to her.