Japanese Title: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Similar: Kill la Kill
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 27 episodes
- Energetic in concept and delivery.
- Kamina is great.
- Good art and animation, most of the time.
- The sexual humour.
- 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.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)