Friday, 31 August 2007 00:00

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (TV, 2007)

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I've said before that generally, Mecha anime aren't really my niche. Now and then I see something that seems like it might be interesting, and take a look at it, but for the most part, I tend toward other genres. So, when Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann went past in my feeder, I didn't pay too much attention. It wasn't, in fact, until after four weeks of listening to Drakstern rave about the series in #TenchiFF that I finally took the time to see what was up. If you like your characters to be laid back, level headed... sane, you might as well stop reading now... Because sane is not a term that can be honestly applied to the better part of the cast of TTGL.


Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann follows the story of a young man named Simon, in a world where humans have been driven underground to survive, if you can really call what they do surviving. Humans live in a few dozen scattered 'villages' deep underground, digging what they need out of the earth and in general living a pretty sad lot. What else can you do, when the only thing above you is a few million tons of dirt and stone? Well actually, there is one human that intends to see that change, by the name of Kamina, the leader of the 'Gurren Brigade.' This vast sounding group is, in fact, made up of Kamina, Simon, and two other orphans, with a simple goal... to drill until they pierce the sky. Yeah yeah, I know... we'll come back to that later.

Normally I'd go into the basics of the first episode for you here. Instead, I think that I'll spend some time discussing Kamina, because in order to really review TTGL, I think I have to spend some time on him. You see, Kamina is what qualifies as a Juggernaut. He has absolutely no ability to deal with reality - quite to the contrary, not only doesn't he deal with it, he actively goes about replacing it with his own. He is, in all honesty, that most dangerous kind of person: an true idealist. Not the sort that stands there on Sunday morning preaching to you what you should be thinking and doing in order to make the world a better place and ensure yourself a spot in heaven. Not the sort that promises good roads, low taxes, and better health care with one mouth while kissing up to the precise opposite with another. Kamina is the sort of insane idealist that not only sees where he wants to go... but has the determination, stupidity, and sheer dumb luck to get there, dragging everybody else kicking and screaming - or not - along with him.

The really frightening thing, though, the one that really throws you for a loop about Kamina... The bastard is actually right. Not like Vash from Trigun, trying to sell humanity's dark side just so everybody can get along, never mind they'd be miserable for it. Despite the fact that Kamina just doesn't rate all that high on the intelligence scale, he has that unique quality true leaders have - an innate sense of not only what has to be done, but what is worth doing to get there.

So no, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the storyline, beyond saying that TTGL is written in several arcs within the full series. You'd think that'd make for a somewhat confusing flow within the storyline, but since each 'arc' is just representative of a specific time period in the on going events... Well, in any case, the storyline of Gurren Lagann is pretty well done, if a bit slow at times. I'll also say that it is perhaps a bit more fluid in terms of character focus than I'd really have wanted, if just because it is something of an ensemble cast. I thought that the writers seemed to be spreading the attention a bit thin over everything, when they probably would have been better off focusing more on a core group of characters. Still, not bad on the storyline.

Want to know where, hands down, Gurren Lagann shines? The animation values in this series are insane - and that's BEFORE the last half a dozen episodes or so. Have you seen the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, the scene where she fills in for a band member? That five minute long or so sequence? The entirety of Gurren Lagann is of that quality - or higher. Supposedly 3/5ths of the animation budget has been devoted to the last six episodes of the series... If the quality of 22 is continued for the rest of the series, it'll easily surpass any other series that I can think of in terms of sheer animation quality, along with most OVA's and movies as well. While we're on the topic of the animation, I have to give a mixed kudos to the writers and animators for the dozens of visual jokes to be found throughout the series. They can be surprisingly funny and lighthearted in otherwise fairly serious scenes - and they can be surprisingly funny and lighthearted during otherwise fairly serious scenes. Though I appreciate the humor they were going for, they did, perhaps, overdo the visual jokes a little.

Character design is... interesting. I won't go so far as to say that it's anything particularly stellar, though certainly it does have some unique mecha designs, and the main characters have reasonably unique looks. It's not that Gurren Lagann lacks in character design, it's that there are so many characters that it almost has to have some bland-and-basics for fillers. By the way, can I take a moment to vent a little personal pet peeve about anime in general? When the girl has a better body than Carmen Electra and Heidi Klum combined - with Liv Tyler's eyes - don't try and tell me that she's only fourteen years old. Yoko, the series' primary shooter/fanservice, walks around in hot pants, and flame bikini-bra, and not much else... If the girl is fourteen, then somewhere there are pigs flying circles around fighter jets.

The voice tracks are solid, suiting the over-the-top characters surprisingly well. Actually, lemmie rephrase that - they don't match, they rise to the challenge of sticking with the unbelievable insanity that Kamina and eventually Simon show over the course of the series. The soundtracks are pretty good too, though I can't say I'm too impressed by the op/end themes. They're pretty bland overall, though the op theme manages to have a mildly catchy beat. In-series, the music is stylized to go along with the over-the-top characters, and does a good job of it.


Ok, first things first folks... this one isn't just cheesy at times, it revels in being cheesy. In a lot of ways, Gurren Lagann is a series that self-parodies as much as it does any mecha anime. Kamina is every 'heroic leader' character there's ever been rolled into one insane package - and Simon starts out as every 'uncertain sidekick' and evolves into something that Kamina never could have been. Yet, despite the parody and satire, it also tells an occasionally deep, and overall solid story. The characters may be a bit too overbearing for some people - even I have to admit that the series qualifies as a guilty pleasure. Still, if you can get past the hyperactive primary cast, and the visual jokes that sometime overwhelm the story, it's well worth a watch.

Additional Info

  • Title: Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagann, Gurren Lagann, 天元突破グレンラガン
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Parody, Mecha
  • Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
  • Studio: Gainax
  • Licensed: Madman Entertainment, Bandai Entertainment, Beez Entertainment
  • Network: TV Tokyo
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 27
  • Animation: Groovy (+5)
  • Writing: Good (+2)
  • Pacing: Good (+2)
  • Voice Acting: Very Good (+3)
  • Soundtrack: Very Good (+3)
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