Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 26th 2010
Gurren Lagann the Movie
The Lights in the Sky Are Stars
Although still young, Simon the digger has already accomplished many things: he's ventured forth from his underground village, taken command of the giant robot Gurren-Lagann, and defeated the tyrannical Spiral King. The surface of the planet is once again a safe place to live, and the people of the underground are quick to colonize it, building massive cities with advanced technology. Seven years later, however, an unprecedented disaster befalls humanity: their advanced progression has awakened a mysterious race known as the Anti-Spirals. Without warning, the Anti-Spirals take away Simon's lover Nia, rain destruction across the surface of the planet, and threaten to destroy all life-forms on it. Now disgraced and imprisoned, Simon must overcome his guilt, bring his old friends (and some enemies) together, and surpass the limits of Gurren-Lagann's powers in order to save the world—if not the entire universe.
When the last TV episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann finished airing in 2007, the series had all but established itself as the most bombastic, most over-the-top, most ridiculous giant robot anime of the modern era. But what if someone dared to surpass it? Such impertinence could not be allowed—surely this franchise must reign supreme atop the giant robot pantheon. And so, just in case anyone tried to outdo it ... just in case anyone tried to top that which could not be topped ...
... that's what Gurren Lagann: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars is for.
This raucous follow-up to Childhood's End is Studio Gainax throwing fuel on the fire, making absolutely dead sure that their work would have the final say in intergalactic mecha warfare. Imagine the spectacle of the final episodes, then add in new animations and new fight sequences, multiply it several times, and condense it into the length of a feature film—that is how one arrives at this movie. However, such a chaotic approach does not lend itself to elegant storytelling, and the first forty minutes are an unholy mess of rushed exposition and abridged plotlines from the TV series. The gleaming towers of Kamina City rise into the sky, the Anti-Spirals launch their attack, Nia turns evil and disappears into space, morally ambiguous Rossiu turns against Simon, Simon goes to jail, and at this point the only people who understand what's going on are probably the ones who watched the original in the first place.
Luckily, it gets better once they stop caring about the plot.
After all, this tedious churning is simply a pretext to send Simon and the gang into space to defeat all the bad guys in the universe. That's where the movie really hits its stride, charging full speed to the end credits with robots piloting bigger robots piloting even bigger robots, and trans-dimensional travel, and pocket universes, and space-time distortion so thick it moves like seawater, and basically every single law of physics being violated (plus several new ones being made up on the spot). But amidst such showboating, one must not forget the true soul of this saga: the characters, who despite their lack of nuance are still able to stir honest emotions in the hearts of viewers. How can anyone not be moved by heroes who stand up for what they believe in, friends who lay down their lives for each other, and a love that transcends multiple dimensions? Even at the end, with all guns and lasers blazing, there are moments of tenderness: the freshly-added "parallel worlds" sequence, the finale where Simon walks off into the sunset, and a surprisingly mellow epilogue.
Still, the story itself is only half of Gurren Lagann: this grand adventure would never be complete without the spectacular visuals that illustrate Simon's journey. Although the newly imagined world of seven years later is shiny and ambitious, with Jetsons-like cityscapes and revamped character designs, it still can't hold a candle to the sensory overload of deep space. As the battles and environments get more outrageous—in about two hours we go from standard human-piloted mechs to giant super-beings flinging galaxies at each other—the animation technique goes through similar levels of escalation. The final battle for the universe is fought in wild shades of technicolor (except when it changes to black and white for dramatic effect), with loose pencil-sketch lines and abstract shapes destroying any preconceived notions of "the anime look." Even the appearance of the final Anti-Spiral villain—a vague, humanoid apparition—redefines the idea of what a "Big Bad" ought to look like. With director Hiroyuki Imaishi at the helm, every fight becomes a showcase for Imaishi's frantic sense of motion; this is enhanced even further by additional scenes and new robots not seen in the TV series.
The movie soundtrack is similarly grand in scope, encompassing genres from pop-rock (mainly in the Shoko Nakagawa insert songs) to hip-hop to full orchestral soundscapes. As a composer, Taku Iwasaki knows exactly how to get that extra layer of emotion out of each scene, although the film ends up recycling many of the cues and themes heard in the original. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing—the reuse of "Sorairo Days" as an uplifting battle theme is a fine choice, and in fact ends up trumping the melodically weak songs that were written specifically for the movies.
As the end credits roll and heightened emotions die down, one has to wonder if Gurren Lagann: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars has truly set an insurmountable bar for bombastic, over-the-top, ridiculous mecha anime. It wasn't enough for the TV series to make its mark; Gainax just had to have the last word by producing these summary movies as well. For those who enjoy the thrill of massive robots fighting each other, this feature is pure animated bliss, although the act of cramming a TV story arc into two hours does hamper the plot. Not that anyone really watches this for plot substance anyway—it's for the emotional uplift and sheer unbelievability of it all, that there can be robots the size of the universe, that pure willpower works as an energy source, that there can be heroes and friends with the power to conquer time and space, heaven and earth. Not every masterpiece has to engage the brain. Some of the best ones engage the heart—a passionate, burning heart.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : C
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : B
+ Takes the spectacle of the TV series's back half and makes it even more spectacular (if such a thing can be imagined).
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