Simon was a shy boy who lived underground, where he dug holes for a living underneath the surface. Every day he and many others mindlessly toil away at drilling holes. That is, until his friend / older brother figure Kamina proposes to Simon that they will leave their domicile and explore the "ceiling" (above ground) of the cave to the surface, which few people have said to see.
Kamina thus starts the Gurren Brigade, taking Simon in tow..until they are reprimanded by the village chief. Things take a turn of events when a girl named Yoko bumps into the duo underground, when Simon uses the small but reliable robot, Lagann, to save the day.
Upon reaching the surface, though, Simon, Kamina, and Yoko face a new threat - the Beastmen, who are controlled by the evil Spiral King and hate humans. But these three humans, along with the support of many others, aren't going down so easily!
Probably one of the most overdue reviews in recent THEM Anime history, Gurren Lagann surprised me in a way no other GAINAX TV series has done before:
It's good from start to finish.
Normally I'm not one for mecha series, but Gurren Lagann isn't just a mecha series. In fact, the characters and their development over time are just as important, if not more so, than the battles that occur. And the mecha battles themselves are quite good - the Beastmen are all varied in their robots' design, as is the ships piloted by the human cast, especially the Gurren Lagann robot.
Backing this up is surprisingly gloss animation, which manages to be consistent almost the entire run (aside from the infamous episode 4). The art is so detailed at times you can almost imagine yourself in the environment the cast is in. The colors are vibrant and beautiful, and the characters are large, detailed, and easy to tell apart.
But it doesn't matter how well they're drawn, does it? You're probably asking, "Yeah, they look cool and all, but how are they as characters?"
The answer: also good.
Gurren Lagann is a show where you really have to watch all the episodes to see the progress made in its cast. Most noticeable of all is Simon, who starts off shy, afraid, and wimpy - definitely not hero material. But it's through the events of the series that he opens up, becomes stronger, and became one of my favorite characters. He gets depressed, angry, sad, jealous, confused, and frustrated just like any other person would be in his position, and for that it makes him far more human that the typical brooding/energetic lead mecha series are normally associated with.
Kamina, his best friend, is the definition of "cool older brother". Reckless, energetic, and always optimistic, Kamina rarely loses his cool as he keeps a straight face until his leave from the series. This upset the fanbase of the series quite a bit when they first found out a couple of years back, but in the grander scheme of things it had to be done. Really. Watch the series and you'll understand.
Yoko, despite promotional art making her out to be the sex symbol of the series, is actually quite intelligent and self-reliant. As one of the few characters in the series that doesn't consistently pilot a robot, Yoko lets her quick reflexes, as well as her gun, do the talking in battle.
Nia is a young girl found a third or so into the series by Simon. She has a cutesy, high-pitced voice, long, flowing princess hair, pink clothes, a ludicrous amount of jewelry on her person, not to mention flower petals in her eyes. Really. I'm not joking. She plays quite a pivotal role in the series' last third, though not quite what you would expect from her first appearance.
In addition to these four characters, there are tons of other members of the team as well who grow to know Simon and co. Kittan is the brash, pigheaded, but brave and selfless leader of the Black Siblings, which consists of him and his three little sisters, all of whom later become mecha pilots like himself. There's also Rossiu, a young boy introduced early on, who later pilots Gurren Lagann alongside Simon. He plays a more pivotal role after the time skip, but you'll have to watch it yourself to see what I mean. My favorite side character was Leeron, the gay (but not blatant as you may think) mechanic of the team who almost always keeps his cool no matter the situation. Even when the show becomes much darker later on, he's level-headed and intelligent throughout.
One thing that really helps Gurren Lagann shine is that the series does eventually explain everything that is happening, and throws in quite a few plot twists in as well. There's also a seven year time skip following the events of episode 15, with episode 17 being the start of an arc that lasts for the rest of the series. (Episode 16 is a clip show, and a fairly good one at that.) Friends are betrayed, loved ones torn apart, and some of the pilots even die. The final battle is a little cheesy and over the top, but in the context of the series it works well, though the end result for Simon isn't exactly the happiest of moments for the guy.
So with all my praise towards this series, it sounds like a five star anime, right?
For one, I didn't care for Nia. She just shows up from nowhere in a box in episode 9 and automatically becomes Simon's love interest faster than you can say "Connect Four". (It doesn't help that her debut comes right after a major event in the story line. It makes her introduction awkward, to say the least.) And of course Yoko is annoyed by her presence, which results in an obligatory bonding episode of the two whose first half doubles as a beach episode. This is where we find out that Yoko wears more clothes on the beach than she does normally, which is fairly amusing in itself.
I also don't care for Nia because she clashes so horribly with all the other characters at first. She looks like a dating sim character, not a heroine of a mecha series. I also can't stand her voice, which is performed by the questionably on helium actress of hers, Yukari Fukui. GAINAX fans might remember Fukui as the voice of the main heroine of Gunbuster 2, Nono. Not surprisingly, a lot of the Gurren Lagann staff worked on that OAV series before this, which is no doubt the reason she voices Nia here.
The end of episode 8 threw me for a loop the first time I saw it, mainly a certain scene at the end of the episode that caused quite an uproar when it first aired. Even people who've never watched the series know what happened in this episode! I'm not going to tell you what, but for the curious there's the Internet to look up that information.
And lastly there's the fact that Yoko, the intelligent, headstrong female fatale of the group, leaves after the time skip until the last five episodes of the series, which results in a flashback that clashes quite badly with the events going on in the series at the time. But that's just something I only have a beef with, probably.
Aside from a decent opening song, most of the music won't leave an impression on you...except for the more intense moments of the series that features a Japanese man shouting, "Rah! Rah! Fight the power!". If you watch Gurren Lagann, you will have the chant burned into your memory for weeks after watching the series. I guarantee it. The ending themes are mediocre, and in the second ending theme's case, filled with random English. The song's composition sounds like it's trying really hard to imitate The Pillows, and it just doesn't work.
But the musical quarrels are of little consequence for a show that, for the most part, is fun, frantic, and quite pretty to look at. Gurren Lagann is often hailed by its fans as a return to the earlier days of GAINAX, and rightfully so. It's chuck full of action, comedy, drama, adventure, and sci-fi elements, managing to even entertain a person who couldn't care less about mecha in the process. I highly recommend checking this series out.
Almost five-star material, but misses the mark a little, unfortunately. Add a star if you really like Nia and think I'm nuts. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Despite airing on morning television in Japan, this series can get quite intense in times with its violence. By the end of the series there's a body count of at least 6 or 7 people. There's also a hot spring episode early in the series' run with censored nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD; Broadcast (Sy-Fy), English dub
Review Status: Full (27/27)
Gurren Lagann © 2007 GAINAX / Kazuki Nakashima / Aniplex / Konami Digital Entertainment Japan (KDE-J) / TV TOKYO / DENTSU
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