Thursday, May 6, 2010

Anime Review: Gurren Lagann



My journey to re-kindle my love affair with anime continues. Last time probably should not have countered: Last Exile, as I said before, was a show I was very familiar with and thus didn’t jive with the mission statement of these anime reviews I'm trying to do (Shows and whatnot that I haven’t seen before). Today we get back on track with what has been considered one of the most important anime of the past decade, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Now I had watched the first, fourth and fifth episodes of this cartoon years ago when I was still attending the WMU Anime Addicts meetings and those alone were enough to make me extremely uninterested in watching any more. Has my opinion changed now that I’ve watched the whole thing?

WARNING: This review contains some spoilers. On that note I am kind of vague throughout mainly to avoid ruining any important aspects/details of the series. Bear with me.

Kamina brought a sword to a Giant Robot fight...

...And won.

The first thing I should mention about this series is that it was done by Gainax, which is the studio well known for doing Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL but more on that later. Simon is a young digger who lives in an underground village. He’s completely content to keep his head down and just dig to help expand the village day in and day out. Kamina is the village delinquent who dreams of going to the supposedly fictional place called “The Surface” which he claims he saw with his missing father when he was a child. Together they make up “Team Gurren” which seems to mainly involve Kamina dragging Simon on some harebrained scheme or another. One day Simon, while digging as he is want to do, finds what appears to be a giant pilotable robot head. Almost immediately after this discovery the village is attacked by a larger giant robot battling a giant rifle wielding girl named Boobs McGee Yoko Littner. Simon is convinced by his “blood brother” to use the smaller mech to battle the intruder while also leading to the three’s escape to beyond their subterranean village. However the surface is not nearly as optimistic as Kamina hoped as it appears to be crawling with enemy robots out to kill all humans who escape from the underground. Oops.

How should I describe this series as a whole? This show is what happens when you take Giant Robots, throw out logic and replace it with BECAUSE IT’S COOL, and insert the “Hot-Blooded Ace Pilot” archetype found in giant robot stories with the volume way the hell up. Gurren Lagann should be a train wreck, but good lord did it work out! This show is compelling, it features dynamic characters that change and grow over time, great physical comedy while trending darker waters storyline wise and Giant Robots fighting each other on a constantly escalating scale. I mentioned Evangelion before. It’s interesting that Gainax worked on both shows since Eva is considered to be the ultimate deconstruction of the Giant Robot genre. Gurren Lagann on the other hand celebrates the genre, reconstructing much of what Gainax tried to tear down ten years earlier. These shows are basically polar opposites of each other, as well. While Eva ended up being a dark and depressing ride in hearse filled with religious imagery and complex psychological profiling which ultimately turned into to a twenty-car pileup of pretentious B.S. Gurren Lagann ends up being a roller coaster ride that’s just fun, easy on the brain, and with a satisfying conclusion that makes sense in regards to the world they created.

Simon the Digger aka "The Anti-Shinji"

Looking at Gurren Lagann on its own merit we find that it’s surprisingly deep. It utilizes so much slapstick in the beginning of the series that it’d be easy to assume it was a parody. It blends action and comedy while not really sacrificing the other. It’s also extremely MANLY. Kamina may be one of the manliest protagonists in anime, especially considering that he actually doesn’t do a whole lot of “winning”, and his speeches throughout the series are enough to move whole armies to tears of passion (aka “MANLY TEARS”). The show also runs exactly the right pace it needed to. It actually felt a lot longer than it actually was (27 Episodes) which is something a lot of shows tend to screw up. This is partly done by the fact that the series is basically split into four different parts/storylines: Part One introduces the major protagonist and sets them on their first goal, Part Two continues them on their path as they grow as characters while the conflict continues to escalate, Part Three involves a Time Skip which shakes up the status quo, and Part Four is the (MANLY) finale. I don’t want to give the ending away but I will say that I literally sat at the edge of my seat every episode of this show and when I finally got to the end I got an over the top, yet very emotional, conclusion that left me saying “That’ll do pig” while trying to hide my weeping from my roommates.

Like any good piece of fiction it lives and dies by the strength of its characters and happily the cast of this show are more or less excellent. If anime is taught in academia somewhere I hope Kamina is used as a “literary” example. I loved how he ticked, with his speeches and borderline insane reckless abandon and overall eccentric nanture. How he was used throughout the series was incredibly appropriate and any time he was on screen or even just mentioned it was powerful. Simon is no slouch either. I honestly can’t think of a character in an anime I’ve seen that developed so much so naturally and organically. By the time the series ends he’s a completely different person, but you never once feel like it was forced. More importantly their relationship to each other, a key plot point throughout the show, is deeply touching and emotional. Theirs is a friendship you will likely never have, but if you are lucky enough to find it you will have someone will do anything possible and even beyond the impossible to ensure that they have your back at all times no matter the circumstances. Yoko is pretty good as well. She’s tough, throws herself with the boys in the thick of combat and is presented with having skills that neither Simon nor Kamina have but are important in order to routinely defeat their enemies. On the other hand she wears nothing but a skimpy bikini that show off her gigantic tits. Yeah. So personality wise she’s strong female character that I like, but she’s also Miss Fan Service which bugs me. Also she doesn’t have nearly the development the other two have until much later in the series and even then it’s lacking.

It's Guy Love!

The other supporting characters are varied and pleasing to watch. From the stoic Rossiu to the straight forward thinking Kittan to the Simon and Kamina’s rival Viral (Get it?! It’s “Rival” spelled sideways!!!!) the cast was filled with a variety of interesting and fairly complex people who you got to watch grow and change over the course of the series (Although Leeron is clearly a gay stereotype and his presence was kind of upsetting in that regard). Hell, even Team Mascot Boota the mole-pig plays a great role, if surreal. Nia, a later arrival in the show, is okay I suppose though she’s more like a plot device than anything. Unfortunately the secondary characters in Team Gurren who are introduced during the first couple of parts are horribly underutilized to the point that some of them don’t even get named right away. They end up being used as window dressing and not much else.

Also I should point out that the animation in this show is piss poor. Oh man…it’s bad, and sometimes it dips even worse depending on the episode’s tone. It, with its physical humor style, reminded me of the anime Dead Leaves. That’s a very bad thing, folks. I will say that it was overall worse than The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye. The action sequences suffer a bit from this as well as there are a lot of still frames with speed lines to imply movement and enough stock footage for me to take notice. The science utilized is as soft as anything you’ll find. The Gurren Lagann super robot can do anything; literally anything the pilot wants. And the explanation is extremely weak, but even that you don’t get until very late in the series. Of course that absolutely didn’t bother me because whenever the mech did something cool I simply threw my fist up and screamed “Alright, Damn it!!!” The silly tone of the first two parts is balanced out by a darker one starting in Part Three and it may be somewhat jarring if you prefer silly to serious. Frankly these issues ultimately meant nothing to me as I watched the show. They were minor concerns, or at least they felt like minor ones, that were quickly ignored. The show was strong enough that these problems are not noticeable so long as you’re not nitpicky.

Well hey there, Boobs. I see you brought Yoko along

(This was the least naughty pic I could find. Yuck!)

I am unsure if I am capable of expressing just how much I loved Gurren Lagann, especially since I wasn’t sure if I would even kind of like it. It’s not that complex and the art is garbage but it had my undivided attention throughout the entire run and had me cheering with excitement and anticipation with every passing episode. To make this clear the last show that had me doing that was Trigun ten years ago. Yes, I just compared Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann to Trigun, one of the best anime ever written. And the ending here is better. Yeah I said it. With themes of deep friendship, brotherhood and self-worth, as well as being a showcase for character growth, and of course GIANT ROBOTS, this show has just about everything you could want in an action cartoon.

Drill Baby Drill

I really didn’t want to rank it this high, but every time I tried to give it Four Pandas I felt like I was underselling it. Therefore this anime gets 5 Adorable Pandas out of 5, my highest awarded score. It’s not a perfect show, but it stands much taller than most anime I’ve ever seen and deserves a spot on your shelf next to Cowboy Bebop and FLCL. This is highly recommended and I’m afraid my words can’t do it justice.


Pros

-THIS DRILL WILL PIERCE THE HEAVENS SO LONG AS I BELIEVE IN THE YOU THAT BELIEVES IN ME!!!!!!!!

-Possibly features my two favorite anime protagonists: Kamina and Simon

-Surprisingly emotional affair

-Great physical comedy keeps things nice and easy going throughout most of the series

-The overall likability of the show distracts you from its flaws

Cons

-Downright upsetting art style (At least to me)

-Secondary characters could have used more to do

-If you don’t care for Soft Science-Fiction you will hate this show (If just for the scale of the robots)

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, I've never been a huge fan of anime, but this is honestly one of my favorite anime shows of all time!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Indeed, "kick the logic and do the impossible"
    the science fiction side is suck, but I ended up love this anime :D

    ReplyDelete