Written by Shiggins
In honour of Gurren Lagann's 10th anniversary, I am releasing my first "Classic Anime Review", where we look back at anime that have debuted at least 10 years ago and judge the hell out of them with today's standards. This review has been a long time coming and I'm giddy just thinking about writing it. Let's talk about what makes Gurren Lagann so fantastic to watch, while brutally stomping on even the tiniest flaws. It's review time!
Note: Minor SPOILERS.
For those of you who don't know, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (shortened to just Gurren Lagann outside Japan because we all lack an attention span to read the full title) is an action-packed mecha anime set in a desolate future where a young boy called Simon (pronounced "see-moan" for some reason...) dreams of escaping his underground city with his adoptive big brother Kamina. Of course, they eventually do reach the surface when a girl called Yoko crashes into their home. Once on the surface, they immediately come across a villain and their journey begins.
The first I should mention is the animation, which is definitely not going to be a plus for everyone out there. The series is done by Gainax, also known for doing FLCL and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, and you can certainly feel it in every frame of video. The characters are given a sketchy style, allowing them to move quickly and with great exaggeration, which can be off-putting to some as it makes them feel unfinished. Personally, I love it but I understand if you don't. You're wrong but I understand.
What we can all agree on though is the use of lighting and colour. This series is absolutely gorgeous at times, with beautiful imagery of landscapes, giant robots and the characters themselves all standing out from so many dreary anime out there. When it wants to go dark, it isn't afraid to do so but the balance of beauty and emotion is always on point. This is probably one of the greatest-looking anime of all time, and I don't say that lightly.
Another attribute I can't help but gush over are the characters. Oh how I fucking love these characters. Simon the sensitive, frail little boy who needs to learn to toughen up in a new harsh environment and become a hero. Kamina the loud scene-stealing badass with the great one-liners. Yoko the smartmouth babe with the inappropriate outfit and perfect gun skills. Nia the shy princess who has lived a sheltered life. The list goes on, but all of them feel interesting and layered. Even characters that seem like nothing but stereotypical cliches, such as the flamboyant Leeron or the religious Rossiu, show they have more to them than meets the eye and exceed expectations, for better or worse. If they released an anime where it's just the characters shooting the shit at a party each episode, I'd watch it. They're that much fun.
Okay, I've praised this series enough for now. Let's take a short break to talk about some flaws, and this is when the fans are going to want to absolutely murder me... The story.
Actually, the first half of the series in which Simon, Kamina and Yoko travel the world to fight the Beastmen is, to me, some of the most perfect episodes of anime ever. While the story itself is thin on the surface, fight the bad guy to save the world, it acquires depth as it goes along while keeping the focus mostly on the characters. Much like Marvel's Avengers, the focus is exactly where it should be and makes up for it's shallow storyline with everything else.
However, without giving too much away, there is a timeskip after the first half and this is immediately where things take a turn. Suddenly, this simple yet heartwarming tale invites politics and conspiracy to a world that looks and feels radically different to the first half. Some of the biggest characters of the series change too and start acting out-of-character, as if they experienced some sort of drama off-screen that was far too grim for us to witness. And at the centre of this is Simon, who is absolutely awful in Part 2.
That's not to say that Simon becomes a bad person. In fact, the exact opposite. Simon becomes a perfect angel, a superhero. He went from the shy but determined boy with a heart of gold to the Disney Prince statue of manliness, his development already reached the finish line and his personality unable to keep up. The old Simon is gone and while I want to commend the series for such a development of a character, I can't do that when what we're given instead is uninteresting at best and hackneyed at worst. All of his character is gone, and that's one of the biggest losses of the series.
Speaking of loss, that's another controversial flaw I have to point out. Without giving too much away, someone dies. There is a good chance you've heard of who this is before somewhere, but I'm being nice and keeping my mouth as shut as possible incase you haven't... Anyway, someone dies and the scene itself is fantastic. It's emotional, strong, daring, important to the story and the characters, and is something so few story writers out there would have the balls to do. When it happened, I applauded through my tears... then I stopped as the next episode came.
See, it turns out that the series, having now done something so daring, now completely regretted it. Every episode references this character, mentions this character, wishes this character was here in the story right now. You can feel them longing to bring this character back, wishing they could have had the cake and killed it too. This might be a nitpick, but I found it intensely distracting. Much like Iron Man 3's Mandarin, you should only throw away something amazing when you have something equally amazing to replace it. And while the replacement is nowhere near as bad as Mandarin-level replacement, they can never escape the previous character's shadow.
Okay, I'm done being negative. Let's go good again! How fucking amazing is the action?! Oh my god, I love it so damn much I want to headbutt something to keep myself calm! Only true lovers of myself know that when it comes to mecha... I'm actually quite indifferent. In Code Geass, I fell asleep whenever LeLouch stopped doing schemes and started doing robot fights, because it's just not that interesting to see grown men sitting comfortably on a chair while animated robots run around... Usually.
Gurren Lagann actually manages to overcome the problems presented from past mecha anime, giving it a sense of ferocity that so many other anime fail to achieve. When a character is hit, they feel pain and it looks like a real challenge. Blood, sweat, tears, pain, destruction, gorgeous animation... It's a fast-paced whirlwind with every robot looking distinct from one another. Not every fight is done inside the robot suits by the way, just for extra fun. And despite my previous complaints towards Gurren Lagann's second half, the final battle is fucking fantastic and makes up for the unnecessary drama. It's intense, fast, insane and ridiculous but... well, this is anime. If you aren't searching for those things in your anime, then stick to your highschool romances. The shit ones.
Lastly, let's discuss the audio. You'll be as delighted as I am to know that the music is brilliant, with "Libera Me from Hell" being the special highlight that you will never forget, even if the choir does go a bit too long to try to keep the epic atmosphere flowing. Sometimes less is more, guys.
Both subbed and dubbed voice casting is splendid, and I'm glad to say that I can 100% recommend the dub to all viewers. Kyle Hebert's confident tone fits perfectly with Kamina, and he has plenty of great voices to work with, including but not limited to, Yuri Lowenthal, Michelle Ruff, Sam Riegal, Johnny Yong Bosch, Bridget Hoffman and Steven Blum. If you do prefer to go to the sub, then be prepared for Japanese voice actors such as Katsuyuki Konishi, Marina Inoue, Yukari Fukai and Tetsuya Kakihara of Natsu fame to delight and entertain you for hours.
To sum up this disgustingly saccharine review, then do yourselves a favour and watch Gurren Lagann immediately if you already haven't. If you have seen it before, rewatch it again. You owe it to yourself to watch one of the greatest anime there is, flaws and all.
Drill baby, drill!
Born under the stars of the Dark Gods, Shiggins owns the power of the Great Eye and is utterly magnificent in his omniscience. If you dare to discover more about someone as great as him, then go ahead. And to all my friends and family members, YOU are wrong and I should be disappointed! Not the other way round!,. You can find out about him or ask him stuff on ask.fm/shigginsishere or go to his tumblr page http://otakugajeel.tumblr.com/