Anime Reviews: Gurren Lagann
With its dynamic characters and mind-bending action scenes, Gurren Lagann is a dazzling throwback to the sci-fi epics of yesteryear.
Title: Gurren Lagann a.k.a. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann a.k.a. Break-Through Heaven Gurren Lagann
Series Length: 27 episodes
Air Dates: 4/01/2007 to 9/30/2007
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, Yoko's ludicrous cleavage)
Summary: In the distant future, humanity has been forced underground. In the squalid Jiha Village, Simon is a teenage boy who knows nothing but digging, but is constantly being recruited into the antics of his "big bro," Kamina, who believes a surface world exists beyond and above their underground pit. With the help of a small mecha, unearthed by Simon, the two of them resolve to make it through to the surface, and everything else beyond.
The Good: Eye-popping animation; large cast of characters infused with passion and soul; ridiculously manic action sequences; ear candy all around
The Bad: The story is pretty simplistic; the second half takes a little while to adjust to; guaranteed to infuriate physicists
The Ugly: Episode 4 is a train wreck
Oh, Gurren Lagann. I love you so much, and yet you're so ridiculous that it hurts. This is definitely an anime for those who want to relive the glory days of 80s epic giant robot/space operas while not rewatching Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam for the umpteenth time, as well as anyone who likes their action big and their characters even bigger--truly, Gurren Lagann is the logical extreme of Romanticist thought, in that everything must be on a grand scale and everything must hinge on the efforts of the few, and I'm perfectly okay with that.
The very first thing you'll notice about this series is that, as is usual for GAINAX, the animation budget is astronomical. Everything is fluid, everything is crisp, everything moves irregularly and sporadically, and everything is infused with so much life that it nearly bursts through your screen; and then, there's the characters being animated. Big personalities are put on display and we come to care for these characters almost right away (even though the people we're empathizing with and cheering for are a rabble-rousing punk and a socially-awkward worker drone), and it's all because of the wonderful writing and direction put into them. In lesser hands, these characters would have been grating or uninteresting, but in the competent clutches of GAINAX, they've become modern anime icons.
All of this manic energy is channeled into the action sequences, as well, at times looking like a Saturday morning cartoon--only, you know, with the risk of death still looming overhead--and other times, bearing down with so much intensity that you feel as if our heroes' giant mech fists are going to mow YOU down along with the bad guys onscreen. And to aid this lifelike energy even further, the music and voice acting are beyond-the-impossible phenomenal. With songs ranging from breathtakingly-sweeping orchestral swells to fist-pumping hard rock to...operatic arias...layered...with...hip-hop...? Okay, it doesn't sound like it would work, but it does! You'll just have to wait and see for yourself!
And now, it is with great sorrow that I must discuss where Gurren Lagann falls short (because that means I have to acknowledge that it's fallen short somewhere). First off, in the words of internet reviewer JesuOtaku, "This show is DUUUUUUUMMMMB." As with many other action anime, our heroes' only solution to everything is to blow it up with drills--it makes sense in context--and if it can't be blown up with a drill, you blow it up with an even bigger drill, and so on. This is true from the very first scrape to the final epic showdown. Of course, it's obvious that GAINAX never intended for the show to be particularly deep and this is the kind of thing they were aiming for, but it needs to be mentioned nonetheless. Secondly, there is the series' second half,(what fans refer to as the Time Skip arc), which is perfectly fine and there's nothing technically wrong with it, but at first it feels almost absolutely nothing like the 15 episodes that preceded it. The change of tone is definitely jarring, and if you don't know it's coming, it will confound you.
And finally, the only truly indisputable, concrete flaw with this series: the 4th episode. The very instant it begins, you can tell something is wrong. Something has gone awry. The animation suddenly turns into garbage, the characters look like bad doodles of their former selves, and they themselves act very out of character (Kamina throwing potentially-lethal rocks at Simon? What the hell?). Unfortunately, it's an episode you can't skip because it introduces Kittan and his 3 sisters (Kiyoh, Kiyal, and Kinon), and they play a pretty important role in the story. Luckily for me, as well as all of you, this madness only lasts a single episode, and #5 returns to the slick and fluid look of the rest of the series. At first people began to think GAINAX had gone overbudget again, but they prove afterward, especially in the final episode for which roughly 10% of the series' total budget was saved, that money was not an issue. Episode 4 was merely the result of the director being sick and letting his understudy take over. Said understudy was quickly fired.
Sure, the story is pretty simple and dumb, the second half takes a bit of getting used to, and the physics during the last few episodes defy all logic and reason and will make your brain implode, but I implore you: watch Gurren Lagann! There is no other anime anywhere filled with as much joy and passion as you'll find here, and I know for a fact that if you just go into it as you would a summer blockbuster movie (like The Avengers), you will have the time of your life.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Gurren Lagann is simplistic and ridiculous, but extremely strong characters and artistic mastery on all fronts are more than enough to compensate.