Dig For Fire: The Roots of Gurren Lagann
by Jason Green, Sep 7th 2008
The opening narration describes Simon as “a man who has yet to realize what destiny holds in store for him.” This point is driven home in the first episode, in a brief interlude that hints at what the future has in store for Simon before jumping back to his childhood. When the story opens, Simon is a digger, one of countless youths who drill through dirt all day to help expand the subterranean village that is the only home he has ever known. When the village is attacked by a massive robot called a Gunmen, a frightened Simon ends up behind the wheel of a small, mysterious robot named Lagann, ultimately defeating the beast and breaking through to the surface world he never knew, a world run by the villainous Spiral King.
Simon's story neatly dovetails in a three-act structure that plays out like GAINAX's greatest hits. In the first 8 episodes, Simon is, like Evangelion’s Shinji Ikari before him, a hesitant participant in the surface resistance force. He is often downright terrified, and for good reason, but he is able to make it through with constant encouragement from Kamina, who repeatedly tells Simon to “believe in the Simon that I believe in.” Though hesitant, Simon is also enjoying the thrill ride, and his joy is captured in the cartoonish flair of the animation and the broad, slapstick-y comedy of these early episodes. Just as Simon begins to feel cool and confident, tragedy strikes. The next seven episodes follow Simon's “coming of age,” a slow emotional arc from dejected depression to self-discovery as Simon becomes the reluctant leader of a ragtag group of survivors battling against the Spiral King's legion of Beastmen.
In an unusual twist, the series’ final arc leaps forward seven years to show what the world is like after the fall of the Spiral King. As Egan Loo noted when he interviewed the GAINAX staff for Anime News Network in anticipation of Gurren Lagann’s American television debut, the multi-year jump draws parallels with Otaku no Video “in that both had a two-part structure with a multi-year gap, and they both deal with themes of revolution and what to do after that revolution ends. Changing the world is easy,” Loo observed. “Running the world and dealing with the consequences is hard.”
Yamaga's reply outlined the creators’ intent: “It's depicting human nature in that when you're a child, you want to be a grownup. Then when you're grown up, the question is: are you living in an idealized grownup world? No, there's a reality to everything, and that's part of the story that we wanted to show in the two-part series.”
The changes to Simon as he enters each new chapter in his life aren't just captured in his shifting moods and attitudes. For each of Gurren Lagann’s three story arcs, the GAINAX team crafted new opening and closing animation footage and altered font used in onscreen titles to further reflect the new status quo.
(Gunbuster’s Kazumi + Gunbuster 2’s Lal'C) x Gunbuster’s Smith Toren = Kamina
The macho Kamina would probably bristle at the notion of being compared with two women, but his role in Simon's life is right in with Kazumi and Lal'C's role in their respective Gunbusters: the older, more experienced idol of the protagonist who serves both as inspiration and encouragement to improve. It's safe to say without Kamina's influence, Simon would lead a much more mundane lifestyle. It is Kamina's insistence that draws Simon to the surface world, it is his rash decision-making style that opens up the Gurren Lagann's true capabilities, and it is his fearlessness and unflagging optimism that keeps the team moving forward.
FLCL’s Haruko x Evangelion’s Misato = Yoko
One things for sure: this gal sure knows how to make an entrance. Much like FLCL’s Haruko bursting her Vespa scooter into Naota's world brandishing a bass guitar, Yoko explodes into Simon and Kamina's village courtesy of her high-powered rifle. Despite her youth, Yoko stands as the Misato of the group: a calming den mother to the impulsive Kamina and the meek Simon when she needs to be, but also a vibrant, nubile woman unafraid to use her sex appeal. Given GAINAX's penchant for fanservice dating all the way back to Gunbuster (where the phrase “the GAINAX bounce” was coined), Yoko's super-sexy character design and skimpy outfit are no big shocker, but thankfully the amount of jiggling and flesh baring stays far from the heights (or depths, depending on your outlook) of Mahoromatic.
Nadia’s King - Evangelion’s PEN-PEN = Boota
No self-respecting anime is complete without an adorable mascot to add some comic relief. In the case of Gurren Lagann, that role is filled by Boota, a small pig-mole from Simon's underground former home. Closer to Nadia's dependable lion cub sidekick King than Misato's largely useless penguin PEN-PEN, Boota is instantly identifiable by his sunglasses and the star-shaped marking on his posterior.
Gurren Lagann shares a lot of superficial traits with many of GAINAX's greatest shows—a skilled staff, stunning animation, inventive mecha, plucky heroes, sexy heroines. But most importantly, it also perfectly captures the mixture of action-adventure, broad comedy, and punch-to-the-gut drama that is at the heart of such quintessential classics as Gunbuster, Nadia, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Nowhere are the show's strengths more apparent than in its emotionally powerful second arc, which kicks off when the show returns to Sci Fi following a two-week hiatus on Monday, September 8th.
© Gainax, Kazuki Nakashima / Aniplex, KDE-J, TV Tokyo, Dentsu
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