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Anime Review 19: Gurren Lagann, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and Darker Than Black

Updated on August 27, 2011

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was recommended to me by two friends, one of whom said it was the best anime ever. I don't know if it impressed me quite that much, but I found a lot to like about it. At first I thought, okay, this is your basic mech show, Recycled Underground/ With Drills, right? But even going from the simplistic premise, the show offers a lot in terms of action, story, comedy, and interesting characters.

The show starts off in this subterranean village controlled by a stubborn elder. Although the elder insists the "surface" doesn't exist, one young man, Kamina, is determined to go there, claiming his father had once made it there. Simon (pronounced "SEE-mon" in the English dub and "Shi-mon" in the Japanese version) is a boy whom Kamina sort of adopts as his younger brother. Simon finds a huge mech face in an underground tunnel he dug secretly. The mech is just a head with small arms and legs attached and a drill. When Simon, with the encouragement of Kamina and the help of a strange gun-toting girl named Yoko, learns to pilot it, this drill becomes their ticket to the surface!

Kamina, Simon, and their little pet mole soon learn though that life on the surface is not the paradise they expected. First, it's a desolate wasteland. Second, the surface is prowled from sunrise to sunset by these demonic human-like creatures called Beast Men, who pilot mechs called Gun Men. This is the reason why most humans in this world live in underground villages. However, Kamina, determined to be heroic and manly, jumps inside one of the Gun Men and takes it for himself. Then he's able to combine it with Simon's mech (using his smaller mech as the head), and since he named one Gurren and the other Lagann, they form Gurren Lagann. The plot then revolves around the main characters' struggle to fight the Beast Men and survive in their harsh environment. After tasting the freedom of the surface and seeing blue skies and stars, they won't give up and go back underground without a fight. I think the symbolism associated with freedom at price of security will really resonate with American audiences.

(Kamina has blue hair, red shades and cape, and white bandage-like martial arts... thingies... on his stomach and arms...? And he shouts a lot about "manliness" and pursues freedom at any cost, despite other characters thinking him brash or stupid? What are they trying to say here?) Anyway, the surface is a dangerous place and so only through guts and determination will they be able to overcome the Beast Men and survive.

My favorite episode so far was one where they discover another underground village where everyone is basically a cult that worships a Gun Man head as a god. They observe strict rules, all wearing white robes, and if their population exceeds 50 people, someone in the village has to go to the surface. Kamina, Simon, Yoko, and a gay man named Leeron end up having to stay with them, and Kamina gets into fights with the village elder, who insists that the "face god" is some kind of mystical protector and that the "surface" is similarly a mystical paradise. After fighting a Gun Man in the village using the Gurren Lagann mech, they end up taking two orphaned kids to the surface with them when they leave, as twins were recently born there and they won't allow more than 50 people.

Fights that take place underground are a great in my opinion because they make interesting use of darkness. I think Gainax likes to use darkness; in Evangelion many of the fights take place at night or underground, and in FLCL much of the crazy stuff seems to happen at night. In my opinion, Gurren Lagann is more comprehensible and easier to follow than those shows, but is still very funny and interesting. A friend also believes it has a better ending than Evangelion. And although the main character, Simon, is a boy with Shinji and Takkun-ish fear and hesitation towards things at first, I think he becomes less reluctant to be a mech pilot and kick ass over time and overcomes this, with much encouragement from Kamina. This is basically a funny show that doesn't take itself too seriously. And I love that about it.

Is it sweeping the country? I saw a lot of Kamina and Yoko cosplayers in the pictures my friends showed me from A-Cen!

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

I honestly could not bear to watch more after two episodes.

TV Tropes says that this show goes in a whole new direction after a few episodes and becomes a mech series. This makes me sad about what I perceive as a fault of the way I review shows, only watching 5 episodes of each. In this case, the string of Magical Girl genre clichés, from a Cardcaptor Sakura wand to a talking cat to magic glowing circles and cliché-looking (and not in any way morally ambiguous or even humanoid) was all too much for my poor little brain to handle. But it looks as though if you have the constitution to get past the horrible sugar poisoning and deja vu you get when you watch the beginning, the rest of the show might be all right when they bring on the giant robots. I believe that this series also boasts sequels that might be better than the original. However, I can't say much about it because I lacked the willpower necessary to watch more than two episodes of it, like I said. I hope someone reading this has seen it and will tell me if it's really any good past that point. And give me an episode number, so I don't have to gag on too many saccharine and predictable episodes before getting to the good stuff.

Darker Than Black

Darker Than Black

I liked this show. My main beef with it was that it's a little confusing. Keeping track of all the characters and who has what powers and why and keep everyone straight in my head got a little tricky. Other than that, it's an excellent show, with good animation, espionage and international intrigue, people with cool powers, and badass police.

The story takes place in modern or near-future times and revolves around certain individuals called Contractors. These are individuals with strange powers, who must pay for these powers by losing their humanity; most contractors can kill hundreds or thousands of people without thinking about it twice. Most governments keep the existence of contractors under wraps, and thus, law enforcement and spy agencies from various countries are involved in tracking them, monitoring their actions, and attempting to kill, control, or research them. Each contractor seems slightly different, and there are a few rare types, including one girl who had no control over her powers and was horrified when she inadvertently caused the deaths of her father and sister. It kind of reminded me of X-Men, but without the flashy spandex costumes or over-the-top angst. On the police side of things, it also reminds me of Batman.


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    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 6 years ago from Illinois

      I definitely think Madoka has it beat in terms of being the best example of deviation from the cliches of the genre. I also prefer a show that knows what the hell it's going to be from the onset. Lyrical Nanoha seems like poor planning on the part of the creators.

    • cepheid profile image

      cepheid 6 years ago from Estonia

      Mahou shoujo lyrical nanoha is another deviation of the mahou shoujo genre so you can't really expect the usual magical girl stuff. I watched it as result of being stunned by how madoka magika bended the magical girl norm. It's not the best you can find but I think it isn't really that bad at all.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 6 years ago from Illinois

      Fixed! Yes, one thing that interests me about Darker than Black is how all the Contractors pay for their powers.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 6 years ago from Illinois

      Yeah it seems like a good show. I'm glad I saw this because all that stuff I wrote about Gurren Lagann got accidentally deleted!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 6 years ago from New Jersey

      I agree Darker Than Black was a little confusing at first, but by the end of the series it all made sense. I wish they made more episodes for more character and plot development. I also liked learning what each contractor's payment was.