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