Saturday, June 8, 2013

Anime review: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann is effectively one giant satire on the mecha anime genre. Delightfully cheesy catchphrases like “Mine is the drill that shall pierce the heavens!” as well as the combination of two Gunmen to form the series’ titular mech harken back to the mecha boom of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the wastelands that team Dai Gurren traverse, the eventual foray into space, and the focus on character development ring closer to more modern takes on the genre.

The series is split into two story arcs, with the first being slightly longer and of a slower pacing in order to familiarize viewers with the main cast and the desolate world in which they live. This arc, known as the Beastmen War, places the spotlight on Kamina, Simon, and Yoko as they fight the human-animal hybrids known as the Beastmen and rally allies as they forge a path toward the enemy’s capital city. Simon, having spent the majority of his life digging tunnels in his home city, is excited about the opportunity to venture into the wild expanses of the surface world, but is frequently uncertain of his own potential. Kamina prefers to dive headfirst into a battle, and while he might not always have a plan in mind, he constantly provides Simon with words of encouragement. Yoko, lacking a Gunman of her own to pilot, provides support with her powerful sniper rifle and seems to be the most gathered of the three. While Yoko sometimes finds herself frustrated with Kamina’s brash nature, it is quite obvious that she has a romantic interest in him after just a few episodes.

The supporting cast is surprisingly large, especially for a series of this nature. Due to the action-heavy nature of Gurren Lagann it would be easy for the writers to use many of them purely as cannon-fodder and write them off as quickly as they are introduced, but this proves not the case. It’s true that not every character makes it to the finale, but the show does a solid job of rounding out each member of Team Dai Gurren enough to give you reason to care for them as well as tugging at your heartstrings a bit when one of them meets an early end. Granted, few of the supporting cast outside of flamboyant mechanic Leeron, hotshot pilot Kittan, and soft-spoken Rossiu do more than pilot their own Gunmen, but it’s an admirable effort to make viewers sympathize with the cast in a manner that seems neither forced nor distracts the focus of any given episode.

The animation is gorgeous throughout – perhaps even more so during the second story arc, due to the fact that the wasteland environments have been discarded in favor of a futuristic city setting filled with production model Gurren Lagann mechs as well as a journey across the Milky Way and beyond. Bright colors like the red and yellow that decorate Gurren Lagann itself pop on screen, while the dark and dusty interior of the old underground human cities create a mysterious, almost sinister atmosphere. The Gunmen perform many dynamic (and often ridiculous) actions as they combine with one another, dash up mountainsides, fly through the air, and exchange blows with their opponents. It’s hard not to find yourself cheering inside as Kamina and Simon perform one of their silly signature attacks, whether it’s a set of giant sunglasses being flung like a boomerang or the Giga Drill Break tearing an enemy to shreds.

Gurren Lagann does not spend much time explain its backstory. Rather, it opts to show the audience just what sort of a world the characters live in and how the Gunmen operate as a faction. There are a few episodes that are dialogue-heavy and spend a decent amount of time exploring how the world came to be in the position it is now, but by and large Gurren Lagann is a series that knows just what its fans want to see – borderline-ludicrous fighting robot action.

In fact, most of the ‘story exploration’ occurs during the latter episodes of the first story arc and the first half of the second story arc. This lends to the second story arc feeling a bit less action-heavy at first, but ultimately the payoff is nothing short of superb. For a show that follows so many of the conventions Gainax has set forth in their anime over the years, the finale – thankfully – avoids the ‘Gainax ending’ syndrome so many in the anime community have come to hate.

Above all else, Gurren Lagann is just plain fun to watch. While perhaps not the most mind-blowing anime to be released by Gainax, the combination of colorful characters and way over-the-top action makes for one of the most genuinely entertaining viewing experiences I’ve had with an anime in a long while. Its pacing, atmosphere, and themes are consistent throughout, so don’t expect any transitions to dark territory in the style of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Instead, strap in for some intense mecha action, good laughs, and positive vibes (and don’t feel bad if you find yourself marathoning episodes because you are unable to put it down).

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

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