Gurren Lagann – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

 

Similar: Kill la Kill

Eureka Seven

Martian Successor Nadesico

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 27 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Energetic in concept and delivery.
  • Kamina is great.
  • Good art and animation, most of the time.
  • Progression.
  • The sexual humour.

Negatives:

  • New abilities spring out of nowhere and get out of control.
  • Bit too much stating the obvious.
  • Dissonance between the serious violence and comedic violence.
  • The action drags.

Alright, take four. I keep hearing of how great this anime is, how funny, how touching, and how developed the characters are, so it’s time to finish this. Gurren Lagann has not been an easy series for me to get into. I have watched the first few episodes three times already, and yet never had the urge to go further. Was it goofy mech designs? Or the flat protagonist? Perhaps the lack of context and reason to care? A combination of all three, I suspect, made Gurren Lagann a challenge. Now that I have finished it for review, what do I think? It’s good…not great, but good.

In a desert world where mankind lives underground, shy kid Simon works as a digger, trusty drill ever-turning in search of treasure. Life is simple, too simple for the likes of Kamina, who ropes Simon into drilling for the surface, where promises of adventure and excitement await. However, a mech-like Beastman attacks their underground village. With the help of their trusty midget mech Lagann and surface dwelling sniper Yoko, they fight of the creature. So begins their fight to regain control of the surface.

I must pause to address the early episodes. The first episode itself is fine – establishes the characters, their situation, and has the call to adventure – but what follows put me to sleep several times. Little but action occupies the show’s first third (could even say two thirds), Now, action isn’t a problem – I love action; however, it needs motive beyond ‘to win/kill the enemy’ – that motive is a given in any action sequence. What lies beyond that base motive? Is an answer at stake? Will a mystery see resolution? Where’s the urgency? These fights become so repetitive in stake, strategy, and execution – enemy appears, they butt heads; enemy appears, they butt heads; and repeat. It doesn’t help that Simon has no dimension to begin with. I get that the hero’s journey starts with a weak hero, but the hero should be interesting and worth cheering for. He’s not annoying or any such thing; he’s just nothing, not a protagonist until the turning point. After that, he’s a good character, yet there were no traces of this early on.

Kamina, on the other hand, carries the early episodes. He’s also weak, a young man chasing his father’s shadow, but makes up for it with humour, overconfidence, and “advice” on being a man in combat. I see they wanted contrast between Kamina and Simon, though unfortunately gave all characterisation to one party. I didn’t buy his romance with Yoko, however. It felt like a Hollywood action film where they get together simply because they are the main male and female. Delete a few scenes, and I wouldn’t have known it was romance instead of friendship.

The humour suffers from a similar imbalance to characterisation. On one side, the non-action humour is hilarious, particularly when pertaining to sex; to the other side, the Looney Tunes action humour doesn’t mesh well with the serious violence – Tom & Jerry humour in Mad Max. The further Gurren Lagann progresses, the less this is a problem.

That could be said about everything in this anime, whether referring to characters, action, mech design, antagonists, or humour. Gurren Lagann’s acts go from low to medium to high in story/character quality. Sadly, one issue that persists is the tendency to make up new rules as it goes along – “this mech can suddenly use this new power,” and such. Working outside the established rules only weakens the impact of victories. Before long, I found myself expecting some newly invented rule to solve the latest dilemma. I wasn’t wrong.

In the end, it boils down to one simple fact: Gurren Lagann is for a younger audience. This is the shounen for those younger viewers who don’t want to suffer hundreds of episodes in a tedious battle anime. Gurren Lagann is of a higher quality than those as well. For myself, I have seen so many anime/TV series/films/games at this point, that if the action is too straightforward, I can’t maintain interest. If I didn’t watch Gurren Lagann for review, I would have left it at a few episodes and not felt like I was missing much.

Art – High

Jarring inconsistency is the art’s greatest problem. At times, the animation is plentiful, fluid, and colourful; other times, the frame rate halves and characters lose all detail. It’s either great or terrible.

Sound – High

Both languages bring the same level of energy and character to the performances. I wish the non-lyrical music weren’t quite so generic like your average action-adventure anime. Characters talk to the camera to state the obvious too often.

Story – High

Dwellers from below ground come to the surface to fight against monsters, unaware much greater threats lurk beyond the horizon. While Gurren Lagann falters several times, it is an overall fun and energetic adventure.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For action fans. With Gurren Lagann aimed at a younger audience, it may not hook older viewers. Give it 3-5 episodes; if the characters don’t make you stay, then it won’t be for you.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Terrible Start

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10 thoughts on “Gurren Lagann – Anime Review”

  1. I’ve been poking around this anime because everyone in the community claim it’s similar to Kill la Kill. As such, great review full of incite for a curious chap like myself! Quick question: Did you prefer this over Kill la Kill, if so, why?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I prefer Gurren Lagann over Kill la Kill. At first, I thought I would prefer KLK, as it got to the point faster and the action was better; however, KLK ends up being all action with little story, which I found tiring after the tenth fight. Gurren Lagann’s final third brings a lot more story.

      The two are similar in style, action, and humour, though KLK is more light-hearted overall. If you like one, you will probably enjoy the other, at least enough to give it a try.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I see, that about KLK was very true: explosive start, wading in the middle, and a decent ending, though lacking some drive. Looking back, it was pretty light-hearted. For the parts where it did get gritty, I wonder if Gurren Lagann takes a step further and implements then a bit better. I’ll definitely add this to the watch list! Thank you very much for answering so quickly.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As a little nitpick the negatives you listed could be attributed to any action anime.

    As for the anime itself I was surprised how much I liked it. As someone who just can’t get into mecha (it’s freakin boring) this broke the mold and made me interested. When I first watched it I finished within 3 days of starting I think, although ever since then I haven’t seen it all the way through. My rewatching usually ends before the time skip, or rather first time skip, so I understand your difficulty getting through it, although I think my low points of the show are different than yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The action dragging could almost be attributed to any action series; however, a great action series uses character drama and escalation to keep the action interesting. In Lagann, it doesn’t escalate between fights. Rather, it’s a plateau for the first 7 episodes, then it jumps up the mountain to escalate before it plateaus again for another third of the series. Only in the final third do you see the escalation and character drama in every episode – compare the final third to the previous episodes and one can easily see this.

      Yes, Lagann is quite different from Mecha anime – it’s why I barely mentioned the mechs, for in the prototypical Mecha anime, a lot of the story and action is about the mechs themselves – the mechs are more important than the characters some times. Every Gundam series uses a mech (or several) as the catalyst for conflict, for example. Then you have the other genre of mech anime (the sort few people actually refer to as Mecha anime – Code Geass and the like), where the mechs are merely enhancements to the characters like a gun or a sword. These types aren’t about the mechs; the writer just thought mechs made for cool weapons instead of tanks and planes, in essence. So yes, I am not surprised Lagann appealed to you despite your disinterest in typical Mecha anime. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Like

  3. I loved this show personally, although I do understand I may have been riding a DBZ nostalgia high. (It was strangely reminiscent of that level of WTF is going on now, I loved it)。

    My only comment would be, it was fantastic for such a short series, however I do agree with you saying that its for a younger audience who do not want to watch a longer battle anime (or myself….not sure what that says about me). I think it would have struggled over a longer period of time. I think watching it escalate over the 27 episodes was hilarious, but could you imagine watching this over 500 so episodes, where it starts off like a fist fight at the first episode and they end up throwing galaxies at each other? It would be a ridiculous contrast, and not in the “so ridiculous its hilarious” way that I found it in 27 episodes.

    No positives at the end though for this? Not even just for the sheer ridiculousness of the fights? Not even one little badge….just one?

    great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 500 episodes would have been overkill – no chance they could sustain it.

      The badges are for the those that reach an astounding level in a given category. While I found several good qualities in Gurren Lagann, no single one stood out enough for an award.

      Thank you, good to know you enjoyed the anime!

      Like

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