What better way to spend part of a four-day weekend than watching Gurren-Lagann?
I finished watching it on Friday, but spent the last two days randomly watching three or four scenes from the final three episodes because it was just that good. In fact, it left me with that empty, sinking feeling that happens upon the completion of a really, really good book, when it feels as though you can never read anything again and enjoy it because nothing can ever live up to what you finished. I can’t remember the last time that happened with anime. (Honey and Clover, maybe?)
In any case, that’s how good it was. I’ve waited a few days to really try to write up a review because I don’t think I could have summoned up the willpower to write anything even remotely objective earlier.
Let me get the “OMG THAT WAS SO AWESOME!!!” out of my system, first:
I typed up a miniscule amount of comments while actually watching. This is what they consist of:
TENGEN TOPPA GURREN-LAGANN!!!! WHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
HOLY SHIT THEY’RE THROWING GALAXIES AROUND!!!”
Consider: Simon has reached such great levels of pure Gar, courage, burning spirit, awesomeness, and badass-ness that when he says he’ll fight the entire universe the first reaction you’ll probably have, unless you’re abnormal or something, is “Hell Yeah!!” Remember the very beginning? Did anyone care much about the whole “All of the stars are our enemies” and the subsequent “Well then let’s fight them all!!!” thing? No. Not until a little later when it was hypothesized that it was Kamina. But once you get close to the end of the series, you’re totally with the Gurren-Lagann punching holes through space-time. It doesn’t matter that it’s impossible! Drills forming out of thin air? Galaxies being thrown around? If it’s Simon and the Gurren-dan, disbelief in even the most outrageous feats is no longer possible.
The final score? Infinity out 10 or whatever other number you’d like. Why? Because as much as I’ve liked other shows and how badass other things may have been (EVAs are still pretty neat.), no other show has had any sort of impact even close to what Gurren-Lagann did. No other show made me summon up so much enthusiasm that I’d feel totally justified at jumping up out of my chair and yelling some sort of obscenity to show how awesome whatever scene is. No other protagonist has ever reached the same level of being in regard to courage that Simon did (and I say that after having watched a lot of other shows). No other show is too awesome to be sufficiently described with words.
Ok. Now for the actual review:
When you turn your brain on and really take a look at the story (Hint: Do not actually do this while watching.), it’s nothing special. In fact, it’s merely that overly typical shounen storyline of beating the main protagonist down only to have him come back even stronger and win, just set on a much grander scale. Sadly, this means that, after a while, it’s rather predictable because you know the good guys are going to win. Even though how they win may still hold a factor of suprise (I, for one, was not excpecting “King Kittan Giga Drill Buuureeeaaakkkkaaaaaa!”), that they win does not. On the other hand, the aforementioned grander scale does work wonders to make such a formulaic story enjoyable. The Gurren-dan don’t just defeat pretty strong enemies; the Gurren-dan defeat the impossible.
Realism has no place here; the last episode was the most scientifically incorrect one I’ve seen in a long time, though that, too, just works when you consider that the Gurren-dan probably don’t care much if something is scientifically impossible. I just thought it was slightly painful when they’d try to explain happenings by using terms from real science.
Many have complained about the ending, but I found it to be a nice change. After all of the “going beyond the impossible and kicking reason to the curb” that had been going on, seeing reality kick in, at least a little, was refreshing. Here, you can turn your brain on again and consider that after Simon had punched through space-time itself and won, there was nothing else he could really do. If you factor in that Nia, the one thing he was really fighting for, died, it just makes sense that he turned into a wandering hobo. I’m happy with it.
The main characters were fairly well developed. They each had their stereotype, such as moe Nia or walking-fanservice-girl Yoko, but, as with the story, it was done so well that these ended up being enjoyable.
However, this aspect of the show falls on its face pretty hard in regards to the lesser characters. I always felt as though they were developed a bit and then shoved aside so that by the time they show up again, they’re about as memorable as when they were first introduced. This still works, such as with the deaths of Gurren-dan members in episode 24, but even those could have been much, much more epic if the characters who gave their lives had been as fleshed out as, for instance, Kittan.
Other things felt a bit out of place. Boota turned into a human for a bit but then nobody cared about it at all an episode later. Kittan’s affection for Yoko came out of nowhere. It still sort of works, but creates a dip in the enjoyment levels that the show is producing.
I don’t actually like the OP and the two EDs much at all, and the only reason I’d listen to them is because they’re from Gurren-Lagann. As for the background music, it fares much the same. While many themes end up being memorable when they’re placed in an episode, they’re overall nothing that I’d want to download the OST for. (Consider, however, that I don’t download OSTs that often.)
There’s one song that’s completely awesome: “Libera Me” from Hell. I actually did download the OST just for it. It may not have the full impact unless you hear it in episode 25 or 27, but I’d venture to say that’s it’s pretty neat on its own.
Art and Animation
I’m so happy to say that, for a large part, Gurren-Lagann stays clear of the horrible deformation that befalls characters once money starts to run out and quality starts to plummet. (For an extreme example of this, see Speed Grapher.) Of course there are shakey moments, and some may want to argue about episode 4 being horrible (I thought it was perfectly fine.), but the characters always look how they’re supposed to and there aren’t any too noticable pitfalls. Then, the last few episodes look gorgeous for a TV animation; I was honestly impressed. Definitely one of its stronger points.
While many of the weaknesses in the story and the characters can be overcome with manly courage and burning passion, they remain weaknesses. As much as I want to give it an infinity out of ten, I’m thus going to be forced to go with a more realistic 9.5 out of 10.