by Brian Hanson,

Gurren Lagann the Movie: Crimson Lotus Chapter

The original Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann TV series was perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities in Gainax's recent career. The show was a literal kaleidoscope of unique and interesting colors, explosions, silly robot fights, and overbearing brawning machismo borne from the now-abandoned womb of equally-silly “Super Robot” shows of the 1970's. When men were men, the women were women, every character had sideburns, and the robots would fight a new bad guy every week, start to lose the battle, and then miraculously transform into a bigger robot that would essentially demolish the villain in grand violent splendor.

Curiously, though, Gurren Lagann's cast of characters were far more one-dimensional and far less interesting than any number of the stock characters from any of the earlier shows that clearly inspired its creators. Of course it was still immensely enjoyable, because it's Gainax. The characters and robots moved with such fluid grace and anarchic glee, in pure cartoon-ified glory. Gurren Lagann's visual elements often apologized for the comparably malnourished elements of its characters and story, and by and large, it worked in its own specific way, as a visual feast requiring little brain power.

And now comes the first in a series of two feature films. Gainax, and everyone even tertiarily related to the company, seems to have a real dedication towards making a feature-length highlight reel of their more popular shows and playing them in movie theaters, with a few relatively minor cosmetic enhancements. Gainax gets a chance to do a second, high-gloss polish over some of their favorite scenes from the show, and in the process also charge its legions of fans full ticket price to watch an hour and a half of edited-together TV episodes they've already seen dozens of times, and those legions of fans are eager to pay that premium price. Everybody goes home happy. Except, of course, those people who weren't big Gurren Lagann fans to begin with.

As is often the case when you condense 15 episodes' worth of material into an hour and forty minutes, certain subtleties are lost, and development, especially for a show with intentionally shallow characters, is practically non-existent. Entire characters and story arcs are only alluded to in quick montage segments, which means that certain characters that play somewhat major roles later in the story – like Rossiu and Kittan – instead feel completely unnecessary. And since the plot lurches forward at a fast clip in order to move things along to the next robot fight, much of the relationships of the characters feel even more perfunctory and unexplained than before.

There's also the argument that the Gurren Lagann TV series is fine on its own. Even as a half-hour television show, Gurren Lagann's technical prowess and ebullient, visual vibrancy rivals any major feature-length animated films of mention. This re-hashed “movie” feels completely unnecessary. If you've seen the show, there's no need to see the movie because you've seen the show. If you haven't seen the show, characters you don't know are going to pop in and out of the frame every few seconds to do things you don't understand. It's a lousy introduction to the series if you've never seen it before, and a mostly-dull rehash of the show if you have seen it before.

But of course it's not at all without precedent in Gainax's long and storied history. They've put out multiple, multiple versions of nearly everything they've been involved in, going back to the original Gunbuster, simply to sell a mostly-same product to their devoted fans. And there's certainly a lot to enjoy in this cut-together highlight reel; every frame of every big mecha battle is brimming with creativity and cunning visual ideas. A shame, then, that Gainax didn't use the opportunity to fix some of the problems with this film that were plaguing the series itself, and instead exacerbated them by mistake. The robots and the colors look really cool and the colors go boom – but the text and the subtext underneath it is still as shallow and insipid as a child's coloring book, now moreso than ever.

Production Info:
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C

+ Some of the best animation seen in anime in recent years.
Likely to be a boring retread for fans of the show, and is too disjointed and lacking in characterization to draw in new fans.

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