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Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (天元突破グレンラガン) Review

August 28, 2009



Spirals, buxom babes, and hot-blooded manliness.

Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic world, humans are forced to live underground by half-human, half-beast creatures known as Beastmen. Simon spends his days digging without end. Not because he has to but because it gives him peace of mind. His close friend Kamina is the headstrong village idiot and troublemaker, always hatching schemes to give the village chief a hard time while indirectly involving Simon. The two of them dream of what life would be like on the surface. Simon soon chances upon a small drill while digging, something Kamina says embodies his endless spirit. The village is disturbed one day when a giant beast intrudes on their peace.

Minor spoilers ahoy!


Gurren Lagann has cemented itself as the premier action series of the current decade, and for good reason. It’s less a story about cliché-driven Super Robot battles and more about the coming-of-age of the main character, Simon. The common theme of a boy crossing the threshold into manhood is something that’s bludgeoned into Simon’s mentality repeatedly by Kamina, he with the wacky slogans and outrageously hazardous mannerisms. While some parts of the show typify the need for improvement, it doesn’t in any way undermine the show’s appeal. In all – it’s a lot of fun.


So here we have Simon. You couldn’t call him much of a Don Juan. He’s hardly self-assured, and his parents were killed in an accident when he was younger, so he likes to keep to himself. That is until Kamina devises a scheme to break through to the surface against the chief’s word. While their plan fails miserably, they are soon greeted with a robotic behemoth that crashes into the underground village like a pitfall. With it comes the busty Yoko, another main character whose garb was obviously meant to up the fanservice. While doing their best to take down the monstrosity (known as Ganmen), they happen upon a smaller, more compact Ganmen. Simon finds out that his drill is a key to that Ganmen, and he pilots it with Yoko and Kamina to destroy the Ganmen and make it to the surface.

The former half of the series follows a very standard shounen route. Simon and Kamina pursue the big bad Beastmen boss of the surface (the great Lordgenome) and acquire some allies and enemies along the way, along with better firepower and a bevy of Ganmen outfitted for battle.  It’s very much a “monster-of-the-week” series, for the most part, as Lordgenome takes up the four Beastmen generals to take down Simon’s growing army. While it may seem tiring and downright insufferable, it’s done with specific intent for the second half of the series, where the actual story of Gurren Lagann takes place.

With Lordgenome gone and humans free to roam about the surface, Simon has taken up the mantle as leader of the existing human race. It’s up to him to make sure that everyone is ensured a life of peace on the newly-inhabited surface. Complications arise as myths spread and secret alliances are formed. Unfortunately for Simon, Lordgenome wasn’t the real threat. Now it’s up to him and his old team to, quite literally, save the planet and safeguard the future of mankind.

There are certain truths that you can pick out when watching Gurren Lagann: the story (and that includes the pre-time skip first half) is very much well thought-out. But that isn’t to say that all of the episodes were essential. There are a number of episodes in the first half of the series that could have just as easily been snubbed, namely the episodes that were obvious fanservice inserts. While the action scenes are enjoyable, the journey to Lordgenome was arduously overextended. Some of the Beastmen generals are highly forgettable, and don’t do much to bolster the storyline.

Another truth you can make is that the animation for Gurren Lagann is stellar. There’s an ongoing myth that Studio Gainax didn’t pull any punches with the more high-octane scenes, exceeding the frame rate status quo in order to account for all of the multi-colored explosions of supernova magnitude. The character designs, while unique in their own right, are lackluster by Gainax standards, even being subject to off-model tangents at times.

But don’t let that hinder you from experiencing the hyperfast, hypermasculine adrenaline rush that is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Keep in mind that this isn’t what you would categorize as ‘mecha,’ but rather, as stated before, it is of the ‘Super Robots’ subcategory. These mechs don’t follow standard robotic patterns and will do outrageous things that require heavy suspension of disbelief. The show offers some logistics behind the mechanics of what powers the Ganmen.

Sora Iro Days is the OP song used throughout the series, with animation and opening credits that change with each new arc. It’s sure to stir something inside of you as episodes progress and as it’s recycled for one of the final battles. The first ED song, Underground, features a panorama of all main and recurring characters done in the stylized ascension of Simon’s walking. The second ED song, Minna no Peace, is a karaoke-style song with who else but Simon as the centerfold. Both songs are an acquired taste, as they are rather loud and messy.

If you’ve been avoiding this title because of all the hype it has received in recent years, then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. That isn’t to say that the show is perfect in every regard – it does falter at some parts towards the beginning. But for all of its shortcomings and blunders, it’s highly impassioned for its episode count, and has inarguably some of the most iconic Anime characters of our time.

Art/Animation: A
Story: A-
Music/Soundtrack: B

Overall: A-

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2009 5:12 am

    And the ending? What did you think of that?

    • saturnity permalink*
      August 30, 2009 6:35 am

      I thought the ending was fine. I’m sure a lot of people are irked at the open-endedness of Simon’s fate. But given everything else that’s happened to him, you can’t expect something too idyllic.

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