Reviewby Theron Martin,
Gurren Lagann: The Movie ~Childhood's End~
On the surface of the world Beastmen reign supreme, following the dictates of the Spiral King to ruthlessly eliminate any humans who dare ascend to the surface. So long has humanity languished underground, in fact, that some believe the surface to be a myth. Not Kamina, boisterous leader of a group of malcontents he calls Team Gurren. His determination to reach the surface gets a boost when a face-shaped mecha called a Gunmen crashes through the ceiling of his underground village one day, with the halter top-clad, gun-toting babe Yoko in hot pursuit. Kamina's timid friend Simon the Digger has also found a buried Gunmen and the key to activate it, which allows him, Kamina, and Yoko to defeat the original Gunmen and “pierce the heavens” with Simon's drill.” Thus begins an epic adventure to form a team of like-minded discontented humans who will rise against the Beastmen, steal their Gunmen out from underneath them, and challenge the might of the Spiral King and his powerful Generals head-on. Along the way tragedy strikes, but the arrival of a princess no longer content to be one of the Spiral King's dolls helps Simon to rise to his full potential and lead Team Dai-Gurren to glory. But the Spiral King himself still awaits. . .
In 2007 Gainax visited one of their long-time favorite genres – old-school mecha – and made a paean for the ages to the boisterous spirit and irrepressible machismo of those mecha classics, which came in the form of the 27-episode TV series Gurren Lagann. Late in 2008 they revisited the franchise and produced the first of two compilation movies, which came to be subtitled Childhood's End in the States. As the first of those movies, this 112 minute effort equates to episodes 1-15 of the TV series, covering the series' content from the beginning through Simon's emergence as the leader of Team Dai-Gurren and the defeat of the last of the Spiral King's generals. After some scattered theatrical screenings in late 2009 and early 2010, Aniplex is now releasing the first movie to the American video market, albeit exclusively (as of this writing) through Bandai Entertainment's online store.
The big draw for established fans of the series is that this version of the story does contain several minutes of new footage. Though the bulk of the movie is composed of footage recycled from the first ten episodes, all carefully-edited to move the story swiftly along through less important points to emphasize the major scenes, it does open with three minutes of new footage in which the Spiral King sets up the background for the current situation. In addition, the last twenty minutes or so of the movie are not only entirely new animation but also decidedly stray from the battles against Lordgenome's last three Generals as shown in the TV series; in this version, Team Dai-Gurren must confront the final three Generals in one epic battle (rather than three different ones), Nia must be rescued under different circumstances, the path to Simon regaining his confidence is quite different, and there is some mega-combining action going on that was never even hinted at in the original series. Arguably the most intriguing new footage involves Yoko's part in the epic battle, especially her hand-to-hand battle against Adiane. Even for someone who has never seen the original series, this all makes for quite the elaborate and rousing spectacle.
And yet, for all of the flash, something seems missing here. There are definitely moments where the movie embodies the vivacious spirit and surges of manly emotion which made the original so captivating to watch, but it does not happen as often or as effectively in the movie. The editing job is a smooth one which gets the essence of what happens in the scenes being glossed over and even cleverly synchs lip flaps of carefully-chosen scenes to the series-themed rap song playing during the big flash-forward part in the middle, but it also cuts the opportunity for character developments - especially the Kamina/Yoko relationship-building - short and almost entirely ignores Rossiu, which could become a problem for new viewers when the second movie gets to the “seven years after” part. The business with the skull Kamina finds is never explained, either, which is a detriment given what a turning point that was for Kamina. The story advancing at breakneck pace actually does not hurt as much in terms of the plot development, as the content of the original series was padded with quite a bite of foolishness (the hot springs business is, thankfully, reduced to a couple of brief clips).
The technical merits of the new animation are so consistent with those from the series that one who has not seen the original series could not tell between old and new footage. It is not the prettiest of movies, with its stylized, often heavily caricatured designs, bizarre mecha models, and color schemes so overly busy that they border on garish, but it is a fun-looking movie complete with many amusing little touches, especially in the icons shown on the interior mecha screens. The animation also certainly has its own distinctive style, one which emphasizes bold, exaggerated movements at the expense of fine detail and glories in its characters' exuberant attack forms. The artistry and animation does, in classic Gainax style, pay careful attention to Yoko's bouncing curves, but beyond the typical jiggle gives only a couple of brief scenes of fan service.
The musical score recycles many of its numbers from the TV series, including the interlude rap song, and stays stylistically consistent with its handful of new numbers. As in the series, the music here does a solid job of supporting and enhancing the spirit of the content, although it does not hit its peaks quite as often here.
The new Japanese dub retains all of the principle original cast, thus once again showcasing what a top-notch cast can do when allowed to perform with full gusto. Aniplex is apparently not providing an English dub this time - or at least one is not included on this release.
The curious distribution method aside, Aniplex's choice of options for Extras is a mix of great and dumbfounding. The main disk only has some promo trailers for Extras, but a bonus disk is included which contains four alternate-reality videos involving characters from the series shown in a music video/movie trailer-style format called “Gurren Lagann Parallel Works Part 1.” These are inventive bits which include a fantasy-themed one featuring Simon, Kamina, and Viral as heroes rescuing the imprisoned Princess Nia, a Pachinko-themed one involving various characters getting distracted by land-based and space-based mecha Pachinko, a bizarre medieval Japan-theme bit with distorted character designs, and a role-reversal bit which features Viral as the hero (complete with love interest!) and Kamina as the Big Boss. These total about 16 minutes and are a great diversion for any devotee of the franchise. The box the DVD case comes in also include a reproduction of the 28-page Deluxe Program Book sold in Japanese theaters, one which seems to include character profiles, cast and staff interviews, and a whole bunch of other stuff that will probably be very neat if you can read Japanese, as Aniplex didn't bother to translate a word of it! Granted, that may be a true Japanophile's dream, but those are hardly going to be the only people interested in buying this movie. Aniplex is doing a disservice to fans by not translating this.
Childhood's End is a slick production which offers a lot of bones for established Gurren Lagann fans (even those who already own the TV series) and may be comprehensible to newcomers, though clearly it is intended much more for the former audience. Whether or not Aniplex's release strategy proves successful will bear watching.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ New footage, new video extras, good editing work with clips.
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