Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Why not?

GUEST REVIEW BY BOXING OCTOPUS AND LOTHOS

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann doesn’t have anything extra special about it. We have a young boy who is influenced by his older male friend to become awesome one day and do whatever he wants; a strong female character with a ridiculously large gun and very small bikini; an obnoxiously weak love interest female character; a few dozen ancillary characters that are poorly set up; bad guys that do really well at first, and then fail miserably; giant robots that combine with each other and fight other giant robots; interstellar combat; and made up animals like hippos covered in grapes. It would seem that there is nothing spectacular about Gurren Lagann. However, this show goes from mildly entertaining in the first few episodes to so absurd I can’t not watch the next episode even though I know it’s going to be awful in the end.

I really wanted Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann to be good. Once the show gets rolling the off the wall antics, kinetic animation style, and overall tone of the show will probably remind viewers of FLCL (also by Gainax). The mech designs are cartoony but at the same time pretty cool. Now, I liked FLCL a lot, and I know it tended to be a loved it or hated it type of show and that’s how I think most people are going to react to Gurren Lagann. Really the show draws a lot of parallels to FLCL when you think about it. The characters of Naota and Simon are quite similar, both start out being rather bored with their lives and pretty much just go through the actions of living every day. Then they meet someone by chance who is so far from the norm they can’t help but feel inspired by them. In Naota’s case it was Haruko, for Simon it’s Kamina. They follow this person on their adventures and begin to crave a more meaningful and fuller life. Through them they learn what it is to be a man and stand up for themselves, even if it means doing something they don’t really want to do. I would say probably the main difference between the two shows is that FLCL never really takes itself seriously, they know the stuff going on is ridiculous and don’t really try to explain it in a serious manner. Gurren Lagann, however, likely due to being more than six episodes, attempts to weave a deeper plot but in the end doesn’t really end up explaining any of it. For me that’s why I think I enjoyed FLCL much more than the whole of Gurren Lagann despite the shows being rather similar in presentation.

The show revolves around Simon, the weak and annoying boy from the beginning of the show, and his attempt to overcome impossible odds to let humans live on the surface world which is guarded by comically stupid beast men. He and his older friend Kamina find a robot in their underground village which Simon can pilot and immediately have to use it to fight off another giant robot that has crashed through the earth and into their village, probably crushing several innocent people to death. Luckily, a bouncy, young, gun-happy girl named Yoko comes to help them. They all become great friends. They then join up with some other characters and do some pretty ridiculous stuff.

Simon and crew fight to make a life on the surface world, meeting confrontation with the forces of Lord Genome (the beastmen) and after repeated successes decide to take their fight right to the beastmen capital, the seat of Lord Genome. However, after their battle there they are given an ominous warning foretelling the eventual downfall of all mankind from an even bigger threat than the beastmen, which is the basis of the last half of the series. There are a lot of characters in Gurren Lagann. We have the main characters of Simon, Kamina, and Yoko at the start and then a recurring villain named Viral, and a shadowy overlord who is mentioned but we know very little about called Lord Genome. Quickly the cast swells to over 20 recurring characters, some of which have more pivotal roles in the plot and get some actual introduction, others just “appear” and are assumed to just be part of the team performing some function. The story takes place over a relatively long time-frame so it makes sense that there would be a fair number of characters, but it is disappointing that you really don’t get to learn anything about a lot of the characters in the series. We’re introduced to Nia, a girl who Simon happens upon about a third of the way through the series, who acts as the constant optimist through much of the series but is otherwise there to act as the damsal in distress. She’s not a total sack of moe, which is nice, but she’s not really a dynamic character either. Really, few of the characters in the series display much in the way of growth except maybe Simon.

So, I will now share with you how to make it through all 27 episodes of Gurren Lagann:

  • Watch the first 20 episodes. This step isn’t actually necessary unless you want to know a few of the characters’ backgrounds. Many characters don’t have backgrounds at all and are introduced on the fly for no apparent reason, so you may skip this step to save time.
  • Then anytime anything happens that makes no sense, creates a plot hole, makes you wonder “Why the Hell didn’t they just do that in the first place?,” or leads to any other confusion, just say to yourself “Why not?”

I will now demonstrate this method in action. Hey, that robot can rip holes in the time space continuum and use it to travel to whatever thing it focuses on. Why not? That bad robot just took two universes and smashed them together, creating a big bang type reaction, and then threw it at that good robot. Why not? Why is that giant robot wearing sunglasses that he can throw at bad robots? Why not? Wait, shouldn’t they all be dead by now? Why are they still alive? Why not? Did that kid’s pet just spontaneously evolve for no reason, not even to advance the plot? Why not?

Music doesn’t make or break a show for me by any means, but it is something which can really add a lot to a show if it’s good. In FLCL all the music was done by the same group, even though the style of music varied a lot it still had a sense of cohesion and the tone of the songs chosen really reflected in an auditory sense the tone of what was happening at that time. Either through the singer’s raw emotion in the lyrics, the bouncy upbeat rhythm, or a wistful and melancholy piece, the songs chosen as the soundtrack for a particular scene just really worked well in FLCL. But in Gurren Lagann the music is silly and nothing spectacular. It’s definitely no Pillows. The soundtrack is done by various artists, and while some pieces fit the action, others are just bland or at worst seem really out of place. When you have music that really fits it seems like they animated the action for the music. When something doesn’t fit so well it at best seems like they made the music for the animation, at worst it seems like they just picked some music to be playing in the background that doesn’t really have anything to do with what’s happening on the screen. For me this takes away from the action on screen, and like I said, while it doesn’t turn a mediocre show into something great, or turn a great show into crap, it’s just something which can affect my overall enjoyment of the show.

The final 7 episodes become a montage of “one-uppings” that far exceed the realm of being highly implausible and venture more into the absurdly ridiculous. Though, they are highly entertaining to watch, don’t try to tie together any of the events with logic, there is none. Don’t try to form any sense of cohesion between past events and what’s currently happening, there isn’t any. Just sit back, shut off your brain, and enjoy the ride.

Why the Hell not? If you think about this show too much, you may have an aneurysm. If you watch the entire show, you may be disappointed in it overall, but if you only watch the last 7 episodes it will at least be entertaining. The one benefit that I can find to watching the entire show is that you can then watch the Gurren Lagann Parallel Works videos, where the roles and time periods of characters are altered for some short animated segments. Otherwise, Gurren Lagann is a hilariously unexpected disappointment.

Why did Gainax think it was necessary to run this show for 27 episodes, make at least one movie, and these OVA things? Why not? Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was a show I really wanted to be good, and it started out being good, but it then all collapsed under its own weight and leaves the viewer with a bunch of nonsensical junk at the end. Albeit highly entertaining junk, it just leaves one with the feeling of an incomplete and either rushed or contrived ending. So much so that it makes one wonder what the other 20 episodes were for since they apparently didn’t really matter.

Top 5 WTF?! Moments in Anime
5. Most of FLCL
4. The mushrooms episode of Cowboy Bebop
3. NaruTaru and the “test tube” incident
2. Last 3 episodes of Gurren Lagann
1. Shinji and comatose Asuka in End of Evangelion

7 thoughts on “Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Why not?

  1. phatbhuda says:

    I like Gurren Lagann. You’re “Why not?” mechanism isn’t necessary though. The whole idea behind all the exxagerated feats is “fighting spirit”. My assumption is that the writers of GL purposefully took it to the extremes. Heroes very often do imossible things. Why? Fighting spirit, chi, manly strength, true love, whatever. It gives then the ability to do impossible things.

    In GL, Spiral Power is an all powerful magical force that depends on the wielder’s will for strength. Compare it to Green Lanterns or The Force.

    I enjoyed the entire show for what it is: a super awesome giant robot combat show that doesn’t feature little kids the whole time. Simon atleast grows up.

  2. Lazarus Long says:

    If you were disappointed with GL, then you obviously took it WAAAAAAYYY too seriously. This show is about the awesome power of a man’s soul FLAMING TOWARDS DESTINY. It is the absolute pinnacle of shonen-robot-anime stereotype. Everything transforms, everything blows up, the good guys always win at the last second in a burst of crazy fighting spirit, big tits, big guns, completely purposefully nonsensical (which Leeron admits constantly) explanations for how stuff works. I mean, they made a city the size of Tokyo in 7 years! How can you even THINK about taking it seriously?

    Sure, it might not be as psychologically introspective as FLCL, or as well thought out as Death Note, but it certainly packs the action to the absolute possible maximum and kept me strapped to my seat for the whole ride. Two robots so huge they are throwing entire GALAXIES at eachother? What about that doesn’t get your blood pumping?

    And what’s wrong with the first 20? I like Episode 6 (the Bathhouse) and Episode 8 (Kamina) better than ANY of the post time-skip episodes, except possibly the finale. There’s a lot of foreshadowing there (“see that moon, simon? One day your drill will pierce that moon and the heavens beyond!”). The whole Spiral King actually protecting humanity by sealing them up underground, because of the sheer unstoppable force of spiral energy in mass quantity. One man alone is weak, but a mob can be more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Simon’s realization that he’ll never be exactly like Kamina, but if he believes in himself he can do great things.

    Hell, I’d say you have to be a robot yourself to not be moved by the notion of “Believe in me because I believe in you, but more importantly, believe in the YOU that believes in YOURSELF.”

    Anyway, I love Gurren Lagann, every bit of it, with the fiery passion of a man’s raging soul. With every turn of the drill, we move one step further, never backing down, no matter how long it takes! If there is a wall in front of us, WE WILL BREAK THROUGH!! WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK WE ARE??!!

  3. Lothos says:

    @phatbudda:

    I don’t want my review to sound like I didn’t enjoy watching the show, I was thoroughly entertained by it to the point where I watched probably a dozen episodes in a day because I wanted to see what hilarity ensued and how they could possibly out do their previous antics. However, I was overall disappointed by the series because it would flip flop between having hints of an actual developing plot, and then a mantage of random nonsense. I know I might sound hypocritical due to the fact that I liked FLCL a lot, but did not hold the same regard for Gurren Lagann when the shows are so similar. There is however one big difference, Gurren Lagann dragged it on for an extra 21 episodes. That’s roughly 7 hours longer than FLCL. For me there just wasn’t enough substance in the show to warrant an additional 7 hours of the same nonsense. While I might hazard to say that FLCL took the same premise and did it better, it’s mostly that FLCL never really took itself seriously whereas Gurren Lagann did at times.

    @Lazarus Long:

    It’s not that I didn’t “get” it, it’s I was simply disappointed by what there was to get since there seemed to be so much more potential for the show. Sure it made me laugh and made me want to see what happened next, but only because I wanted to see what outlandish thing they would do next. There seemed to be a deeper plot developing, revealing the history of the planet and those that came before the current inhabitants, Lord Genome’s role in everything, the anti-spirals, etc. Yet it all culminated into a montage of one uppings that just through loose, very loose mind you, association had any relation to the plot they had developed earlier in the series.

    Again, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the show, it’s just that I think it could have been so much better. That’s what disappoints me.

  4. Jagger says:

    The two anime that Gurren Lagann often gets compared to are Evangelion and FLCL. In my opinion, Gurren-Lagann is superior to both of these anime, not just in terms of entertainment but also in terms of meaningfulness. In fact, I would even say Gurren-Lagann is probably the most meaningful anime I’ve ever seen.

    Gurren-Lagann was never meant to follow in the footsteps of Evangelion or FLCL, but if anything, Gurren-Lagann is the antithesis to these shows, as it was created in response to the increasingly cynical, nihilistic and dystopian views of humanity commonly found in Evangelion and many other science fiction. Gurren-Lagann responds to these negative views on humanity with a simple yet powerful message: hope. Gurren-Lagann doesn’t need large amounts of religious symbolism to get its point across either, but it does so using just one symbol: a spiral.

    You should read the following article for a more detailed analysis on Gurren-Lagann’s themes and symbolism:

    http://wtf.animeblogger.net/?p=140

    In summary: What lies beneath the flamboyant surface of Gurren-Lagann is a vast amount of thematic depth and meaning that goes beyond the confines of the plot itself.

  5. leminlyme says:

    “The final 7 episodes become a montage of “one-uppings” that far exceed the realm of being highly implausible and venture more into the absurdly ridiculous. Though, they are highly entertaining to watch, don’t try to tie together any of the events with logic, there is none. Don’t try to form any sense of cohesion between past events and what’s currently happening, there isn’t any. Just sit back, shut off your brain, and enjoy the ride.”

    While the massive advancements were out of left field, they all had a scientific logic to everything. I like that about a show. It can be fantasy and sci-fi all it wants, but to stay in the realms of realism. Realism as a concept not a definition. How all their stuff made sense, how the space talk, continum breaking warping blah blah blahness all made (lamens) scientific sense, and how awesome it is to depict a civilization one upping God and going from monkeys on the ground to intergalactic universal disrupting monkeys in space in a mere 7 days vs 7 days to make one measely little universe. ;)

    Sidenote: GL set a record for me. Least characters hated in a series. Only person i truly hated was the retard with the giant lips who hammered on the same button that seemed to always shoot 10billion missiles randomly at the enemy at innapropriate times. Do not want…

    Also, the tragedy amount in this series is uber awesome. it’s what hooked my interest well. Made Kamina so well liked, parading him infront of the viewer and making him that awesome badass hero character. Then figuritively, cocking the pistol, saying any last words, and blowing his head off. :D

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