Heaven-Piercing, Spirit-Raising Goodness: The “Gurren Lagann” Anime Series

Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

Gainax is the studio responsible for such anime as Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL (both of which I’ve reviewed already).  Both anime series involve giant mecha, reluctant young men as hero protagonists, and some crazy epic battles.

But whereas Evangelion was more of a deconstruction of the mecha genre and FLCL was pure comedy mixed in with a coming of age story, there is another anime that falls somewhere in the middle, showing us the horrors of war and at the same time promising kick-ass battles, larger-than-life heroics, and mecha that get bigger and bigger and bigger with each episode.

This then is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.

The Story: A Young Man Kicks Reason To The Curb And Does The Impossible

Just who the hell do you think he is?! Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

Simon and Kamina are two young men who abandon their underground village and make an expedition onto the surface world.  They soon learn about the Beastmen who keep the human race underground and oppressed, using their giant mecha–known as “Gunmen”–to enforce their will.  Simon and Kamina soon obtain their own mecha, which combine to form a giant mechanism called Gurren Lagann.  And so Team Gurren is born, as they gather allies to take on the Beastmen, their Spiral King, and later on, the Anti-Spirals.

Throughout the show, Simon has to deal with his reliance on his “bro” Kamina and his own sense of self-worth, especially when it comes to fighting battles and protecting the people he cares about.  Eventually, the show becomes not just about Simon proving his value and strength to the world, but all of humanity doing the same.

The Cast: Good Men, Beast Men, And Monsters From Far Beyond

Despite appearances, Kamina is NOT the protagonist in this series. Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

Simon the Digger is our young protagonist, a boy who’s good with a drill and who has to step up in the face of so many battles for humanity’s fate.  Kamina, meanwhile, is the living embodiment of “fighting spirit,” a decent character but far more archetypal.  They’re balanced nicely by the prominent female characters, the sharpshooting heroine Yoko and the incredibly innocent princess Nia.  There are also a ton of other characters, some of whom get backstory and developing personalities–like Kittan, Rossiu, Viral, or Lordgenome–while others keep showing up just because.

Honestly, of all the antagonists, my favorite was Viral, since he was always after a worthy opponent like Kamina.  And as for the protagonists… Simon was great, hands-down, and so are Yoko and Kamina, but my truly favorite character is Simon’s pet pig-mole Boota.  All he can say is his name, but he’s always fun to watch and more determined than even Simon to fighting the good fight.

It’s amazing how hard it was to find an image of him that wasn’t in Yoko’s cleavage. Copyright © 2007 by Gainax.

The Style: There’s No Such Thing As “Over-The-Top” Here

Much like Fooly Cooly, Gainax made Gurren Lagann with a lot of love.  At times, the animation doesn’t really stick with anything realistic and goes for more comedic or “grotesque” styles, but otherwise, we get very grand, very ornate Gunmen roaming and duking it out across a naturally pretty landscape.

And when there isn’t realism, there’s grandiosity.  You want giant mecha?  How about city-sized mecha!  You want fighting spirit?  How about mecha and cities that are powered by nothing else!  You want alien threats?  How about ones who have to be rendered in 3-D animation just to stand out from everyone else!  Logic takes a backseat to artistic flair in this series and boy is there a lot of it.

Final Verdict: Plenty Of Spirit, Plenty Of Passion

I will admit that, at times, some of the plot in Gurren Lagann seemed to take itself a bit too seriously (you’ll know what I mean when you start hearing about “Spiral energy” in the Anti-Spiral arc).  It’s not terrible in that regard, just hard to take seriously when you consider how ridiculous in scale things can be; at least Fooly Cooly knew it was being ridiculous and just went right along.

But there is a lot of inspiring and well-rendered action for this show.  There’s epic battles, passionate romances, characters discovering their heroism, and dramatic deaths aplenty.  The show itself runs on fighting spirit and seeks to infuse that ethos into every single scene and detail.

I can’t think how else to end this review except with a tribute by a fellow fan called The Azure Crow (whose abridged series of Gurren Lagann you should totally check out).

Rhapsodist Edit: Sadly, The Azure Crow’s account and the video posted above are no longer available due to being taken down by YouTube for copyright infringement.  As ever, the struggle for fan-inspired art in Web 2.0 goes on.

Bibliography: Gurren Lagann (anime).  Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi.  Written by Kazuki Nakashima.  Gainax (studio).  Bandai Entertainment.  April 1, 2007 – September 30, 2007.

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