Gurren Lagann is not the best anime ever made.
There, I’ve said it.
On the surface, Gurren Lagann isn’t even particularly original. Go Nagai was doing “Over the top manly super robot fun” back in the 70’s with Mazinger Z. But what Gurren Lagann undeniably is, is absolutely bloody awesome. But what can be said about it that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over on message boards across the Internet? Well, the view of someone patient or foolish enough to wait for the UK DVD release to watch it must count for something, so here goes.
Now then, the plot. So there’s this kid, right? Simon’s his name but it sounds like Simone. He doesn’t get the Kamille Bidan treatment over this pronunciation though, he doesn’t randomly go around hitting people for saying he has a girl’s name. That’s more Kamina’s style. You can be sure if anyone did ever accuse Simon of having a girl’s name Kamina would be the first one to throw a punch in their direction. You see, he’s Simon’s “Aniki”, his self appointed “Big Bro”, he and Simon share a bond, even if Simon doesn’t realise or fully appreciate it. Simon’s job is to drill things. No, wipe that smirk off your face, Simon’s job is to drill away at the edge of his village (did I mention they live underground? Because that’s kind of important) with a rather odd looking but unusually effective hand cranked drill. As he’s reminded, it’s an important job – But as the girls of the village also have no qualms about reminding him, also a pretty lowly and thankless one.
Enter Kamina. Kamina has a dream. An ego-maniacal, testosterone-fuelled dream of one day reaching the surface, which no-one else even believes exists. But Kamina knows it exists – He’s been there with his father, who never returned from their trip. So this boy without a father takes it upon himself to become a father figure to Simon, who lost his own parents when a tunnel collapsed following an earthquake – There is an ever present threat from earthquakes in their underground home and no-one quite knows why…
Soon enough, huge robots and fairly sizeable bosoms enter the picture when fiery Yoko descends on Simon and Kamina’s village bringing the roof of their world with her, hot on the heels of a giant malevolent mecha known as a Gunmen (that’s… that’s gonna bug the hell out of me. One should be a Gunman, surely? Get your singulars and plurals sorted out Gainax, it’s “Second Children” all over again) with a rifle which, by rights, she shouldn’t even be able to lift. But this is GURREN LAGANN! And in the same, frankly pretty pedestrian plotting common to all mecha shows since the year dot, Simon has just stumbled across an odd little robot which is mostly head that just might be able to get them out of this…
So far, you might think, if you’re one of the three people who haven’t seen Gurren Lagann yet, pretty standard mecha fare. Except you’d be wrong, because Gainax knows the mecha genre inside out like only the people who inspired Otaku no Video can. If they’d wanted to make a ground breaking mecha show which defied conventions they could have done. And they did, it’s called Evangelion. Gurren Lagann is Gainax returning to their roots armed with what they’ve learned along the way from the fast paced anarchic comedy of FLCL and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. It’s a genre parody with real feeling and real humour, which delivers ridiculous over the top action and laughs aplenty. Don’t think Gurren Lagann is just an ordinary mech show. It has… it has Gainax’s heart beating inside of it! But unlike this review it doesn’t just play shamelessly to the Otaku crowd either.
The reason Gurren Lagann has become so popular (and at the same time so divisive) is, in this reviewer’s opinion, because you could sit down just about anyone of any age in front of it and they would all enjoy it while taking something different away from the experience. Younger viewers will love the action and most of the comedy, as we move up the age range the appreciation for the fanservice will grow, and once we get to those of us the wrong side of 20 who think we’ve “seen it all before” aside from the generally stunning animation (though showing occasional lapses) we’ll be pleasantly surprised that the characters aren’t all one dimensional cut-outs, and do actually have real motivations, depth and frankly, can be downright inspiring.
Scoff if you will. I’d ask you to pick a Gundam. Any Gundam. Lone young man becomes part of bigger conflict, gaining allies and enemies in the process. Learns he can make a difference, but that fighting for what you believe in has a price. In Gurren Lagann, that one man is Kamina. But to begin with he isn’t up against an invading army or a brutal regime, he’s standing up against public opinion. He’s closer to Copernicus than Che Guevara, simply standing alone and unrepentant against the beliefs of his society. And when he’s proved right and the sky comes crashing in, does he stick around? Not likely. He’s found the world he sought and will be damned if he’s going back even if it isn’t exactly a paradise. Heading upwards is right. Piercing the Heavens is right, and it comes as no surprise when he points out his next goal to Simon as nothing other than the Moon.
Later, when Kamina decides to take control of a Gunmen from the Beastman controlling it, it is not with noble motives – He is simply jealous of Simon. But in this spur of the moment, reckless act he finds he has done something no-one else had thought of before… and he starts a trend. One that might ultimately win humanity the war they are fighting on the surface. Kamina is undoubtedly a leader, though not necessarily a good one or a bad one. His motivations may be shallow and his methods may be crude, but he is someone who is willing to take the lead and happy (even proud) for others to follow. It is perhaps the greatest and most heartfelt depiction of a one-man revolution ever seen in a mecha anime, and this fist volume is very much his show. Later volumes, I imagine, will very much belong to Simon and Yoko, and as such I’ll save further discussion of their characters for another time.
I sit here with a poorly made cappuccino of my own design, writing this review at close to 01:00 am and a little nagging doubt makes me wonder if I might have gone a little off track with my analysis. Have I answered any of the questions people might pose, such as; “What the hell actually happens in these episodes?” “Is the dub any good?” “What about the picture quality?” etc. Ask away and I will answer, but another technical review would just drown in the vast sea of information and I like to offer my audience something a little different. After all, who the hell do you think I am!?