Review

by Christopher Farris,

Synopsis:
Gurren Lagann Complete Box Set Blu-Ray
Simon spends his days drilling in his tiny underground village, while his blood-brother Kamina dreams only of them escaping to the fabled surface. One day, Simon discovers a tiny mecha that he's soon forced to use in battle against an even larger robot that crashes in through the ceiling. Breaking through the surface after the skirmish, Simon, Kamina, and their new friend Yoko begin an epic journey to free all of humanity from the oppression of the Beastmen. That journey spirals infinitely upwards, piercing the heavens with the drill of Gurren Lagann!
Review:

Gurren Lagann's reputation echoes far and wide, and even ten years later, that larger-than-life status can make it hard to tell where the hype ends and the series' quality itself begins. Aniplex's new Blu-Ray box set provides the opportunity to sit down and revisit this series, so beyond all the years of memes, how does Gurren Lagann actually hold up?

As it turns out, the big secret of Gurren Lagann's quality has always been that behind all its macho attitude and style, the story was more clever than it often got credit for. From the beginning in Simon and Kamina's tiny underground village, the show lays the foundation of playing with themes of scale, authority, and how we as people go about surpassing them. The show effectively scales these concepts up through each of its stages, as we see them applied to the Spiral King, Rossiu's government in the future, and finally the galaxy-oppressing Anti-Spirals. This constant increase gives the heroes reason to attain bigger and better powers, then go on to confront still bigger opposition. The result is a story structure that tangibly follows that spiral shape the show loves so much, increasing the narrative cohesion of the entire package.

This forward story momentum makes the show eminently watchable, with the first fifteen episodes being particularly easy to marathon. These technically episodic chapters each feel like a step up in the scale of that spiral structure, which allows some of the series' biggest shake-ups to land hard. Lesser series might be left unfortunately detoured by the pivotal death scene that ends the series' first third, but Gurren Lagann uses this moment as a springboard for its central philosophy of the living characters always looking forward. The show's pacing isn't completely infallible, as the series does stumble most in its third quarter. Jumping seven years into the future, the more static setting and heavier subject matter drags on a little too long. While this section does have some of the best plot twists in the series, it still wears out its welcome quicker. Thankfully, Gurren Lagann does manage to get its groove back by the end of this arc and is able to blast through to the much more impressive final act. The resulting epic-scale deep-space finale goes all-in on what worked for the first half of the series, and the galaxy-flinging final battle is as unforgettable as it should be.

The style behind this burgeoning story holds everything together beautifully. Hiroyuki Imaishi's signature aesthetic is best-suited to this type of larger-than-life journey, as the animation lines become sketchier and more unstable as if they're struggling to contain the raw energy that comes through. There are a few places where the art goes off the rails, particularly the infamously guest-directed episode 4, but this is a generally consistent production for a 26-episode TV anime (recap episode notwithstanding). Of special note is the mecha animation itself. With non-CG mecha animation becoming something of a lost art these days, seeing the outrageous robot designs in Gurren Lagann engage in full 2D-animated battles is a welcome treat now. CGI is notably used for only one particular brand of enemy in the show's second half, to effectively communicate how ‘alien’ they are to the hand-drawn robots of our heroes. Gurren Lagann's use of color should also be applauded, as the series isn't afraid to imbue the full rainbow into its characters and backgrounds, as well as playing with shading and mood lighting effectively. The visuals especially shine on this Blu-Ray release, with the lines and colors looking as razor-sharp as you would hope.

Gurren Lagann's music is perhaps the least developed part of its package. It's strong but mostly standard stuff with only a few excellent insert songs pulling most of the weight, but as with other elements, the direction and use of the soundtrack makes it more than the sum of its parts. Triumphant pieces swell at just the right moment, stirring emotion where the show wants you to feel it, and the series deploys those insert songs with surgical precision.

All this effort in service of the series' passionate ideas isn't universal, however, leading to the biggest potential issue with Gurren Lagann. As ubiquitous as the show has become, if you aren't already on board for its extremely particular presentation, it will likely do nothing for you. Gurren Lagann literally screams with forceful methods of confronting its problems, wrapped up in an ideology that isn't shy about proclaiming to be the ‘man's way’ of doing things. To its credit, there is nuance to this hyperbolic masculinity; the dangers of Kamina's reckless stupidity are acknowledged in a pretty final way, while Rossiu's emotional constipation is the source of an entire arc's worth of problems, but the series is ultimately still focused on aggrandizing perceived manly feelings. There are women with strong roles in the story and all the fanservice (primarily from Yoko) is mostly presented in harmless good fun, but at the end of the day, if you aren't here for hot-blooded manly action, you'll definitely leave this show wondering what all the fuss was about. This is especially true given that unlike when this series was first released, its style and level of passion can now be found in a variety of succeeding shows, most notably Kill la Kill.

This set also includes the Gurren Lagann movies, compilations of the story in two halves. The first one is a bit of a rush job to get through so much of the first section's content, but does boast an impressively reworked final act. The second movie is a surprisingly pragmatic adaptation of the post-time-skip storyline, and it works better as an individual movie than the clip show of the previous one. Both have unique details such as giving Yoko her proper due in her own mecha, but they're overall thinner substitutes for the TV series. Also included is the original aired version of Episode 6, which had its fanservicey content tweaked to be more suitable for Gurren Lagann's original family-friendly time-slot, as well as the full English dub. It's a solid dub that sounds good on its own, though it may simply have the handicap of being unable to match the passion of the original Japanese version. Having all the material in one ‘complete’ package like this is nice, though the complete lack of any other extras save for clean openers and closers definitely stings a bit for a big release like this. That brings up the final issue surrounding this set: the price. Even a series as storied as Gurren Lagann probably doesn't need to cost quite what Aniplex is charging for this set, especially without any extras. It may be worth it for those who want to revisit the series in the best way possible for the anniversary, but given my earlier point about this series only working for a particular audience, that price moves this firmly into hardcore-fans-only purchasing territory.

But for those fans and anyone new they choose to share it with, Gurren Lagann on blu-ray will likely be worth it. Its hype may have gone overboard in ten years, but Gurren Lagann still mostly manages to live up to its reputation. It may not be a perfect show, and it's definitely not for everyone, but you can tell that its notoriety has endured for good reason.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : B

+ Great art design and animation, cleverly structured story with strong ideas, wildly entertaining and compulsively watchable
Its enthusiastic style won't be to some tastes, third quarter drags a bit, no extras and high price

Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Series Composition: Kazuki Nakashima
Script:
Kazuki Nakashima
Masahiko Otsuka
Shouji Saeki
Kurasumi Sunayama
Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Storyboard:
Masayuki
Tadashi Hiramatsu
Yasuyuki Honda
Hiroyuki Imaishi
Shin Itagaki
Ryuichi Kimura
Tetsu Kimura
Osamu Kobayashi
Ayumu Kotake
Tetsuji Nakamura
Katsuichi Nakayama
Ken Ootsuka
Masahiko Otsuka
Kikuko Sadakata
Shouji Saeki
Hiroaki Tomita
Kazuya Tsurumaki
Episode Director:
Yasuhiro Geshi
Hiroshi Ikehata
Hiroyuki Imaishi
Shin Itagaki
Tarou Iwasaki
Ryuichi Kimura
Osamu Kobayashi
Ayumu Kotake
Hiroshi Kurimoto
Takashi Morimiya
Katsuichi Nakayama
Masahiko Otsuka
Shouji Saeki
Toshiya Shinohara
Seung Hui Son
Hiroaki Tomita
Hiroyuki Yamaga
Yorifusa Yamaguchi
Akitoshi Yokoyama
Toru Yoshida
Unit Director:
Shouji Saeki
Hiroyuki Yamaga
Music: Taku Iwasaki
Character Design: Atsushi Nishigori
Art Director: Yuka Hirama
Animation Director:
Sushio
Shingo Abe
Akira Amemiya
Sunao Chikaoka
Akemi Hayashi
Tadashi Hiramatsu
Katsuzo Hirata
Mitsuru Ishihara
Fumiko Kishi
Osamu Kobayashi
Chikashi Kubota
Ikuo Kuwana
Kouichi Motomura
Takashi Mukouda
Shouko Nakamura
Yuichi Nakazawa
Atsushi Nishigori
Shinobu Nishiyama
Kikuko Sadakata
Yuka Shibata
Kazuhiro Takamura
Masanori Yamada
Yusuke Yoshigaki
Mechanical design: Yoh Yoshinari
Sound Director: Toru Nakano
Director of Photography: Toyonori Yamada
Producer:
Takami Akai
Eiichi Kamagata
Yasuhiro Takeda

Full encyclopedia details about
Gurren Lagann (TV)

Release information about
Gurren Lagann - Complete Box Set [+ CDs] [Import] (Blu-Ray)

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