Anime Reviews: Gurren Lagann the Movie: The Lights in the Sky are Stars
Though more competent than its predecessor, The Lights in the Sky are Stars still fails to adequately develop its cast and tell its story properly.
Title: Gurren Lagann the Movie: The Lights in the Sky are Stars a.k.a. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Lagann-hen a.k.a. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann the Movie: Spiral Stone Chapter
Film Length: 126 minutes
Air Dates: 4/25/2009
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, brief partial nudity)
Summary: With the defeat of his four generals, the Spiral King Lordgenome steps forward to accept Team Gurren's challenge. After a long and grueling battle, Simon claims victory over humanity's nemesis, but the Spiral King offers a mysterious omen with his passing: When mankind reaches space, the Moon will become Hell's messenger and the world of the Spiral will meet its end. And with that, humanity's long battle to reclaim the surface is over, allowing men and women from all over to finally live under the sky without the fear of death looming overhead. Seven years later, mankind's capital, Kamina City, launches an observation probe into space to gather information about the moon, but the machine is destroyed by an unknown force, and the Spiral King's final prediction has begun to come to light. Now, Simon and the others must confront this unknown threat before humanity is wiped out.
The Good: Does a better job with its material than the previous film; new animation fits nicely
The Bad: Still lazily reuses 70% of its animation; poor pacing; egregiously excessive climax
The Ugly: Somehow manages to make Gurren Lagann's final battle boring
If you are familiar with Gurren Lagann, think of the original TV series as a story told by someone who wanted to tell an uplifting, fist-pumping feel-good tale of a ragtag group of heroes triumphing over impossible odds. And now think of this movie as that guy who walks up to him and says, "Skip all that boring talking crap, and have more explosions! And make everything bigger-er and epic-er!" Congratulations--you now know everything there is to know about The Lights in the Sky are Stars. For those of you not familiar with the original series, forget about this mess and go get familiar with it. Even if this film is better than its predecessor, it's still not a replacement for the original, and this time it doesn't even have the benefit of being a 2-hour litmus test add-on whatchamacallit. So, without further ado, let's take a look.
Firstly, I will give Lights credit for being more productive with its time, leaving in many of the more important character moments while preserving key action sequences. Even though we kinda have no idea who some of these characters are, since they got next to zero screentime in Childhood's End, each character does get at least a few defining moments in the spotlight.
Also, with fewer events to cover, the film's narrative has a much smoother flow to it, so even if the first film left you in the dark after it sprinted past you, this film at least gives you the courtesy of letting you know what's going on. I'm sure it also helps that Lights doesn't skip entire episodes wholesale like Childhood's End did. After all, I'm sure it wasn't important that we know who Kittan, Kiyoh, Kiyal, Kinon, Gimmy, Darry, and Rossiu are--oh wait, yes it was. Oh well, too late now. Hope you paid attention last time!
The other nice thing I can say about Lights is that, this time, the new scenes actually fit in well with the existing material. While mostly concentrated around the film's climax, or episode 27 of the original series, the new animation with its mind-bending budget perfectly complements the mind-bending budget of the already-existing scenes, creating a whirlwind of mind-bending budget madness. Other than that, GAINAX made a conscious effort to make sure any new material actually resembled everything around it this time, so at least there aren't any extremely jarring moments present, unlike the previous film.
But there exists a flip-side to that positive aspect of the movie: even though the new animation meshes well with the old, that still means the majority of the film is comprised of recycled animation. I mean, come on, GAINAX! You have money now! This isn't 1998, and you're not barely making ends meet in-between episodes of Kare Kano--you're a veritable monolith of modern anime! WHY ARE YOU RECYCLING FILM-LENGTH STRETCHES OF ANIMATION WHEN YOU COULD ANIMATE THESE MOVIES FROM SCRATCH SEVERAL TIMES OVER WITHOUT ANY INCONVENIENCE?!
It really does boggle the mind sometimes. You know what else boggles the mind? Managing to screw up the pacing in a Gurren Lagann movie. I mean, the original series had a bit of a lull from episodes 17 through 21, but that was an effective exercise in displaying the difference in tone between the two halves of the series. In Lights, however, this slower period comprises half the film, and then all of a sudden the plot speeds ahead like a bullet train, and then hits a dead halt yet again during the climax.
Oh, and by the way, this film's climax sucks. It goes on way, way, way too long, and seems to persist only to one-up the original series' climax (which was flawless, by the way). Part of this may just be personal preference, but dammit! In the TV series, there were only a few main characters left, so there was a lot more tension and dread during the conflict, and altogether, the final battle lasted about 7 minutes, with roughly half of that being the series' climax. In Lights? The climax itself lasts nearly 8 minutes, and the complete final battle nearly 13 minutes. This is too long.
William Shakespeare once said, "Brevity is the soul of wit," and while I'm sure giant robot battles were the furthest thing from his mind, it applies perfectly--the fight was exciting in the original series, in part because of how quickly it all went down, but when you artificially prolong it with extra crap, it becomes boring. By having it last forever, a fight between a several-galaxy-tall fiery giant robot and an extra-dimensional eldritch horror of the same height that combines galaxies to recreate the Big Bang can, indeed, be made boring.
So, no. Don't waste your time with these movies. Watch the original Gurren Lagann instead. If they had made these films into a trilogy, added some new material or changed some aspects of the story (or hell, tell an alternate version), and reanimated it entirely from scratch, I'm sure that would actually have been something worthwhile to watch instead of this lazy rehash we got in its place. I will recommend the original series up and down, all day and all night, but even though Childhood's End and The Lights in the Sky are Stars are nowhere close to the worst anime films ever made, they're still not worth even a moment of your time.
Final Score: 5 out of 10. Clever integration of new material and an altogether more coherent narrative flow fail to make up for the fact that The Lights in the Sky are Stars, like its predecessor, is a lazy cash-in retelling that cannot even begin to adequately replace the original TV series.