June 6, 2008
I was basically forced into watching TTGL by my brother, and I’m ever so grateful because I, like many others, had not experienced true epicness until I saw this series.
STORY – The story for Gurren Lagann seems very modest at first glance. That’s very misleading though, as it eventually becomes quite grand and all-encompassing. Simon and Kamina just wanted to break out of the underground and see what was on the surface, but they got so much more than that… It’s amazing to me just how far the story goes between episode 1 and episode 27 (is it 27 episodes because it was just way too amazing to fit into the standard 26? I think so). The characters’ goals at the beginning and end of the series can’t even be compared, and yet, the progression happens incredibly smoothly… so smoothly that you don’t even realize how different everything’s become until it’s all done and over. I find astonishingly impressive. It totally floored me.
Gurren Lagann’s story also makes it accessible to a very wide audience, which I also find impressive. Mecha and shounen fans get a great deal of fighting and big robots (really, really big robots…). Shoujo fans get a substantial bit of romance and plenty of general cuteness. There’s great general adventure for everyone else, and even moe fans have something to look forward to! The only real catch is that there’s a lot of stuff that’s just silly and over-the-top. It doesn’t take long to realize that TTGL is a rather ridiculous series that can be difficult to take seriously at times — but that’s fine because it’s all in good and clever self-mockery (gar is the fuel source of the universe!). Besides, the sillier bits just make the more serious sides more amazing. I love it when a series manages to be outrageous and poignant all in the same breath; it’s definitely something that takes skillful storytelling. And satire fans will get a big kick out of all the madness.
Gurren Lagann also manages to do a lot of things you don’t normally see in anime. Romantic relationships are actually confirmed and canonized. People die. Important people die. There is a timeskip that doesn’t suck. There is a fanservice character that’s actually pretty cool and substantial! The bad guys aren’t completely one-sided! That’s a lot of pretty refreshing stuff!
CHARACTER – There is only one character in Gurren Lagann that you probably won’t like, but that’s okay because you’re not supposed to like him anyway (the backstabbing bastard!). The protagonists are fantastic at garnering audience support and sympathy. Kamina is the manliest man in the world and has enough gar to power nuclear reactors. Despite being Shinji-like and overly emo initially, Simon is very easy to relate to and you just can’t help but cheer him on every step of the way. Yoko and Leeron are both fantastic support characters that have quirky habits (and they’re also there to poke lots of fun at anime stereotypes). Even the antagonists are fun people! Viral is just… probably the most pathetic villain you ever did see, but so much that you seriously just feel bad for the guy. He tries hard! Very hard! It isn’t even that he isn’t skilled! He just… can’t win against the good guys because they’re good! And his superiors are all unique and memorable fellows that put up good, entertaining fights.
Admittedly, few of these characters have deep, probing psychological complexes — they are simple people with simple goals, but this doesn’t necessarily make them one-dimensional. Simon grows a great deal throughout the course of the series, something that’s really accented by the timeskip. He’s easy to understand, which really adds to his likability as a character. Yoko and Viral are two other characters that really benefited from the timeskip: both develop in somewhat unexpected and interesting ways. The two of them answer the questions of “what does a fanservice girl do after the war?” and “what does a bad guy do when his team loses?” — two questions that aren’t often addressed in other series. Some of the developments are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but overall, they’re pretty interesting. And actually, though it isn’t obvious at first, there is a question of morals and ethics presented in Gurren Lagann. It can be as deep as you want it to be, or as simple as you want; maybe the ability for you to choose and be satisfied either way is another grand merit of the show.
ARTWORK & ANIMATION – Excluding the infamous episode 4, the animation is pretty nice all the way through. The art style’s interesting and fun, and while it isn’t anything amazing, it does the job. Now… episode 4. I’ve heard a lot of reasons why, but the fact is just that there was someone different animating that episode, and it looks awful.The style is completely different; the characters look pretty retarded, and it’s just lackluster all around. Don’t worry though. Episode 5 is back to normal, and you never see it again! <_<
Also, Gurren Lagann also sports some of the most innovative mecha designs I’ve ever seen. In a way, they’re a mockery of every other kind of mecha out there just because they’re absolutely ridiculous. The whole “combining” thing is especially “what the hell???”-inducing. It really gets out of hand after a while…but in a good way though, I assure you.
MUSIC – Gurren Lagann has some pretty epic music. It isn’t often you hear opera and rap mixed together for your final boss battle theme. “Libera me” is probably the most heralded track in the series, but for good reason! It’s fantastically done and does well to boost your excitement levels for the corresponding scenes. The rest of the music is also pretty amazing, and I’d definitely recommend getting your hands on the soundtrack if you can. The battle themes and unique tracks like Viral’s theme are just very memorable and fun to listen to, even if you’re not watching the series. Additionally, all of the OP/ED themes for the series were great. I’m especially fond of the opening as it seems to capture the spirit and energy of Gurren Lagann very well. It’ll also get stuck in your head for days.
VOICE ACTING – The Japanese voice cast is top notch. Kamina’s voice is the perfect amount of epic for his character, which is very impressive considering his gar fuels the entire show. Simon’s voice also fits perfectly throughout his many mood swings, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to replicate Viral’s strange voice. Like most others, I was incredibly skeptical about the dub. ADV’s cast seemed lackluster, and I balked at the idea of Vic Mignogna as Viral. Bandai’s cast, however, was nothing short of WTF… mostly because of Steve Blum’s role as Leeron. In general, Bandai’s list had a lot more talented names on it, and I actually looked forward to the dub’s big premiere on Sci-fi.
For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. Kyle Hebert as Kamina takes a little getting used to — it’s true, he’s not as manly as Katsuyuki Konishi, but he does a pretty damn good job anyway. I was the most impressed by Yuri Lowenthal as Simon though. The voice is perfect and Yuri doesn’t sound anything like his other prominent roles (it’s very easy to forget he’s also Sasuke and Suzaku). The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as great, but they don’t bomb their roles either. I’m not a big fan of Michelle Ruff and think most of her voices are pretty generic; Yoko isn’t an exception. Johnny Yong Bosch as Rossiu is kind of hilarious because unlike Yuri, Johnny’s voice is reminiscent of his other roles. Hynden Walch as Nia is a bit too cute for me. She sounds exactly like Starfire, but while Starfire’s personality is very fitting to Nia’s, I just find the voice in general to be way too high-pitched. Viral also isn’t that great, but ah well. Like I said, none of them are nearly bad enough to make me go screaming in the other direction.
Oh, and Steve Blum as Leeron? Fabulous. (The voice is a little stereotypical, but it’s fabulous nonetheless.)
OVERALL – It’s hard to dispute TTGL’s sheer epicness, and I think it’s a pretty awesome series for both the newcomer to anime and the longtime veteran. You just have to have a sense of humor and the ability to embrace the ridiculousness that will be thrown your way. Live a little, laugh a little, right? Everyone I know came away with the same reaction as me. This is one of those series that after you see it, you will become gripped with the need and desire to share it with everyone you know. So be it!