Gurren Lagann

GURREN LAGANN

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: I have so much love for the premise of Gurren Lagann. Simon is a poor repressed laborer of the Giha village who is looked down on for being spineless. Luckily for him he has the special ability to harness the drilling powers needed to revolutionize the world! This show is an excellent parody/remastering of the age old idea of growing up to be the very best at what you do, and in this case that’s drilling. What makes this series work so well is that it takes the idea of a person’s will being a power source and owns it. Simon and his band of friends fight battle after battle against the evil Spiral King’s Gunmen in order to regain the right to live above ground.

What I found awkward about the series was the huge time shift, which doesn’t happen exactly at the half way point, but shortly after it. Seven years pass and the tables have turned to reveal the true nature of the spiral energy. I’m still not sure how I feel about the aged characters and how they developed, but the resolution for the spiral energy is so intriguing that I didn’t sweat the small stuff.

Clearly, you should love the time skip. For one thing, I love to see characters age, which is why I read fanfiction. For another, it does such good things to the plot. We get to do something new instead of merely following the same plot devices as every mecha anime out there.

PLOT: Whitney explained the basic plot of the first two-thirds of Gurren Lagann pretty well: characters are oppressed, and then they gain friends and fight that oppression, eventually winning. Because of this basic premise, Gurren Lagann mostly follows the same formula as many other shounen anime. There’s the central group of characters who use mecha to fight the bad guys, and they have some episodic battles that involve finding ways to defeat various villains. This first part of the show is definitely enjoyable, as Gainax figured out ages ago how to make mecha anime a great time; however, it’s not why I love the show.

I love this show for the time skip, which allows it to tread new ground. Instead of just ending when the bad guys are defeated, we get to see a society get built and deal with its politics. Romances and characters can be explored further, beyond just the central cast. Most importantly, though, we begin to question whether the Spiral King was actually such a bad guy as the characters have to deal with the influx of spiral energy from so many humans thriving on the surface.

Essentially, I think of Gurren Lagann as the shounen counterpart of Clannad ~After Story~, because I like them for the same reasons. Both series take you beyond the normal stopping point for anime and deal with the difficulties of becoming an adult and doing the hard work after the initial victory. It’s rare to have a mecha anime that covers the reconstruction that occurs after victory, and I love the nuance that it brings to the series.

I think the problem is that there is never an easy way to do a time skip. Something is always going to feel forced and/or awkward, and this series is no exception to the rule.

SETTING: Day after day Simon drills through the ground to build new tunnels for the inhabitants of underground village Giha. Space is scarce and the only dream Simon has is to one day go above ground. Within the first episode we get to see this reality as Simon discovers a mecha which he uses to fight for his freedom. The majority of the show takes place above ground following Simon and his friends as they explore the desert-like landscape to defeat once and for all the Spiral King and his Gunmen.

As I mentioned there is a time skip and we get to see how quickly the world repopulates and industrializes itself. Within years the world is already at the peak of reaching a million people. There is a bit of intergalactic interplay as well, but mostly Gurren Lagann is driven by plot rather than location, that is once you get above ground. I wouldn’t say the setting makes this series better, but it’s the only real logical way to make it work.

SETTING: I appreciate this show’s setting for being a different take than most mecha anime. So many mecha shows compare living on the ground to living in space, so I like the dichotomy between living underground and being on the surface that we see here. Furthermore, this leads to great imagery of Simon digging, and his first view of the surface makes you appreciate how beautiful it is up here.

Beyond that initial setting, the show’s settings are fairly standard. Like Whitney says, it only makes sense that they start out on the ground, and a barren desert parallels nicely with the lack of humans on the surface. Once they create a real civilization, we see the appropriate cities. And when they go into space for their final battles, we get great space scenes and cool ships. The settings are definitely forced by the plot, but Gainax does a great job of making the most of them, which is really why Gurren Lagann’s such a fun show in the first place.

CHARACTERS: Despite all my mentions of Simon, he isn’t the only character. Just as with all shounen anime there is an enormous cast of characters. You get a bit of interaction with the 20+ cast, but really you only get to know about 4-6 characters well. The highlight of character development is between Simon and his “big brother” Kamina who encourages him and motivates him throughout the series to fight for what’s best.

In slightly lesser roles are the big-breasted gunman Yoko and the mysterious, freaky-eyed Nia. They serve as the female counterparts to the men and help to move the plot forward. Despite their appearances, they are strong female characters and work well within the show.

Really I have no complaints when it comes to characters. They don’t read as being “types” and are very charismatic. Shounen shows are usually very good at making characters that are lovable, and Gurren Lagann falls straight into this generalization.

Man, have I got to disagree with you here, as I definitely think the characters fall into types. They work to transcend them, yes, but you have to admit that Yoko wouldn’t be in this show if every generic shounen anime didn’t need a busty, scantily-clad female. Gurren Lagann doesn’t escape shounen tropes, but it does a good job of making them a blast.

CHARACTERS: As in any mecha show, you get a huge cast of characters, most of whom are instantly likable. In this case, you start with the timid Simon, who grows up nicely throughout the show. The infinitely-meme-able Kamina helps him develop, and I love their interactions. Of course, both of these guys have their love interests: Nia for Simon, and Yoko for Kamina. I always knew I was going to like these characters, because it’s the nature of the genre, so I don’t feel like I need to talk about them much. I will quickly second Whitney’s comment about Yoko and Nia being strong women, but then, women in shounen anime tend to be bad ass anyway.

As with the plot, I appreciate when Gurren Lagann does a good job of playing by the rules of its genre, but I love when it goes beyond them. Once again, the time skip helps with this. In the final third of the show, the introverted Rossiu gets a great deal of development that makes him the most interesting character in the show for me. I really like that the show went there instead of only developing the central cast because, while I do ship the hell out of Simon and Nia, the English grad student in me loves a complex character who makes you think and talk.

I’ll second your comment on Rossiu. The secondary characters in general are treated nicely and in ways that aren’t too formulaic.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: What is not to like about how Gurren Lagann is drawn? It is beautifully stylized. It’s super over the top in a way that many other shows fail to achieve to be. The character designs are unique and lively. There is no question the show reads as a parody, but in a way that you can’t help but love the show designs for the exact same reasons you love the shows it is mocking.

Even the animation is over the top with the action scenes showcasing mecha warbling around unrealistically as characters pummel each other with “spiral energy”.

I suppose as a side note I’ll just mention that the one little tiny problem I have with character design is Nia. What is with that kid’s eyes? They are so creepy.

You would have a problem with Nia’s eyes, wouldn’t you? I bet you don’t like the blue shadow on her blonde hair, either.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: All you really need to know about Gurren Lagann is that it’s animated by Gainax. Yes, the Gainax who made Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL. This means they’ve got inventive animation nailed down, and the show bursts with the animators’ energy. Battles are always visually stunning, especially the final battles of the series that take place on a galactic level. I’ve heard it only gets better in the movies, but I can’t face spending $50+ for a rehash of the show that only adds in some more ridiculous animation. Maybe someone can make a case for why I need to watch them….

Anyway, because this is animated by Gainax, the series does face animation issues at times when the budget is thinned out by taking care of the action scenes. In particular, I remember an episode where Yoko’s boobs were seriously deflated. I know that characters go off model when budgets are tight, but doing that so much as to hurt your fanservice? Ouch. Gurren Lagann is spectacular when it looks good, but it does face hard times, too.

Pictures, or it didn’t happen.

Go rewatch episode 9.

OVERALL: If you haven’t seen Gurren Lagann, what are you doing here? Go out, buy it, and watch it immediately! And if you’ve seen it already, you already know how awesome it is, and don’t really need me to tell you.

In all seriousness this series is a wonderful exploration of the shounen genre. For everyone who grew up watching Pokemon and Dragonball Z (or whatever equivalents that are on the air waves nowadays), Gurren Lagann not only brings back the beautiful nostalgia of our various youths, but appropriates it into a new way that older audiences can fully appreciate. And it manages to finish in only 27 episodes!

OVERALL: I’ve heard people say that Gurren Lagann makes a good entry point for the mecha genre. Certainly, it was the first mecha anime my boyfriend watched, and he loved the hell out of it. However, I think it’s an even better experience if you’re already familiar with the genre and know its major tropes. While it’s a blast for newbies, a knowledgeable audience can guess where it’s going and appreciate all of the ways that it twists your expectations to make the show better. For example, I never would’ve seen the major character death coming because of genre standards. Same thing goes for the time skip. Though Gurren Lagann’s a great mecha show for making the essential elements of the type so fun and accessible, it’s a great anime for going beyond those tropes and pushing the boundaries of what mecha anime can be like.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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2 thoughts on “Gurren Lagann

  1. Also, in case anyone is interested. Stereo Otaku has a twitter feed. Our page is http://www.twitter.com/stereootaku Usually we post updates when reviews are done. Lately Crystal and I have been commenting back and forth on FB on current shows we are watching and we’ve decided to do twitter reviews for single episodes we are currently watching. Mostly it’ll be stuff that won’t have a future review posted on here. – W

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