Monday, June 20, 2016

Gurren Lagann Review

Outside of Rage Against the Machine, Dragonforce, and some epic anime soundtracks, there are few things in this world that can get my blood boiling (insert One Piece: Burning Blood joke here). Thankfully, Gurren Lagann (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) is one of those things. While it does have a slower start after a very fast and energetic first episode, each time this series hits it stride it hits it in such a way that you'll be flung out of your seat cheering our heroes on. It's cheesy, bright, has great music, and is really quite one of a kind. 
My first journey through Gurren Lagann is a bit of a strained one. The series starts off rather slow and only hits its first major note near the tenth episode. Plus, Episode 4 is infamous for being radically different in terms of animation (the director let a friend of his do the episode as a favor). I think that threw me off and I didn't watch it again for a while. Once I decided to pick it back up?

Uh. Yeah. It happened. 

Anyway, Gurren Lagann is a 2007 anime original series taking place in a distant future where the Earth's population has dwindled into the hundreds of thousands. Humanity lives in underground villages, with some even believing that the surface world doesn't exist. Up above on the surface are the Beastmen who pilot mechas and terrorize any humans they come across. 

Our main stars are Simon, Kamina, and Yoko Litner. Simon is a young boy who, for most of his life, dug holes with his trusty drill to help expand the village. When he happens across a small mecha in the village, affectionately called Lagann, his world changes and he is thrust into the surface battle with the Beastmen. Pushing him along all the way is Kamina, who Simon calls "Bro" despite there being no blood relation between them. 

Kamina is the ultimate male...specimen? Being? Entity? I don't even really know how to describe Kamina. He raves on and on about fighting spirit and masculinity, though he isn't a misogynist since he treats Yoko like an equal for how brave she is. Kamina is basically the bravest and stupidest person on the planet, but he's also an incredible inspiration for Simon. His character can get annoying after a while, but you learn to live with it and love Kamina for it, since he helps push Simon along and get him out of his shell. 

Yoko is our main female lead and she's arguably one of the coolest female characters in anime. She never takes anyone's crap and is just as effective within Team Gurren (Simon, Kamina, Yoko) despite not having a mecha of her own, instead using a powerful ion rifle. She's the best shot on the surface without a doubt and is incredibly respected among the other freedom fighters. 

There are some other side characters, like Nia, Rossiu, and Viral who play major parts of the story in the second half. Viral plays the role of an on-again off-again villain for Simon and Kamina and really comes into his own during the second half of the series. Nia is a great character at the start but sort of fades into the background more as the story progresses, though there are interesting narrative reasons for it. It almost seems like the writers try to push Rossiu into the limelight but it never really worked out for me and Rossiu came off as more annoying than helpful. 

Most of the other minor characters stand out because of interesting personality traits or quirks but aren't the most developed. Still, because of these quirks they're fun to have around and their presence is felt in a positive way whenever they're back on screen with the main members of Team Gurren. 

The story isn't all that strong, but I don't think it needs to be. Gurren Lagann, similar to Dragon Ball Z (up through the Cell Games Saga, anyway), is a coming of age story. Simon must come into his own as a great hero much like how Gohan would step up and replace his father as the Earth's greatest defender. Both have loving motherly figures and mentors that inspire everyone else around them, despite the fact that the narrative around them aren't all that compelling. Gurren Lagann is basically a story of "go here, do this, now go there and do that" and, in the early episodes, is formulaic until Simon starts to develop way more into his own person. 

It does start to falter a little more in the second half because they do try to weave many things together. Rather than a simple plot it becomes needlessly complicated and some characters start to act incredibly strange and it all comes pretty much out of nowhere. The second half is where some people sort of lose it, I've heard, but things become way over the top and pretty awesome in my opinion. 

Gurren Lagann is really all about the action and about the heart of the action. These characters fight for themselves and for their friends. Maybe it's because I'm such a big fan of Shounen anime and "Power Rangers" that I'm a sucker for these sorts of things, but I don't care. The fight in Gurren Lagann are superb, with each mech having its own style and method of battle and as the enemies grow we see Team Gurren struggling to keep up and make their own way in the battle. Characters are screaming, things are exploding. 

As the series progresses the battles get even more over-the-top insane to the point where if I told you what the final fight wouldn't believe me. But it is amazing

I also love the message behind Gurren Lagann, which is always often repeated: drill for the heavens. Don't stop until you make it there. Never stop fighting. It's cheesy, yeah, but the characters believe in these ideals so fiercely and are so dedicated to it that you can't help but feel like you're with them, like you're on Team Gurren as well. When they suffer, you suffer, and when they're punching through various monsters and mechas you're swinging away as well. 

One thing that seriously helps this out is the music. The opening theme song is one of the best in all of anime and gets you so pumped up for the show. Every time I hear that song I get just a big swell of energy in me. The fight music is intense and epic and loud as it has to be, and the two different versions of "Libera Me From Hell" are awesome. One is orchestral and badass while the other invokes feelings of triumph and glory. Plus, the song itself is what the series is all about: "Do the impossible, see the invisible" "Touch the untouchable, break the unbreakable." It's a fantastic song that I definitely recommend you check out (I prefer the more upbeat version). 

There are some things that are a bit much for me, like all the fan-service they have and in particular with Yoko. We're supposed to be taking her seriously and yet every episode it seems there's something up with her cleavage and it pulls you out of everything. Sometimes they are a bit too goofy in battle and, like I said, Kamina's constant preaching is a bit annoying when he rambles on too long. 

But overall, Gurren Lagann is nothing short of an anime classic, one of the best I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch it. It'll get you pumped up fast with exciting action, an incredible music score, bright animation and art, and characters that you get behind in a heartbeat. It's one of those shows that just thinking about it gets me excited, and when I finished, I felt a big gaping hole in my soul that hasn't been filled yet (though Kill La Kill, developed by the same studio, came close). 

Now if you'll excuse me *puts in headphones*...I've got some music to listen to. *blasts opening theme on repeat forever*

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Twitter: @seanovan13
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