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[Anime Review] Gurren Lagann

More anime. Looks like this is becoming a regular thing, so I suppose there’s not much I can do but keep talking about various anime shows until I can convince other people that I actually know what I’m talking about. That said, I’ve finished watching all 27 episodes of Gurren Lagann; so how does it compare to the other shows I’ve seen? Or show, I suppose, since I’ve only really seen My Hero Academia. WARNING: This is going to be very spoiler heavy. Because I have a few things I absolutely need to discuss later on.

Gurren Lagann is widely regarded as a classic anime, and from the first episode I could tell why. It tells the story of Simon, a digger in an underground village that don’t believe that the surface exists, and Kamina, his confident, badass, self-appointed foster brother who has been to the surface and wants to go back there. From the start, Kamina and Simon are presented as engaging, likeable characters – Simon is unconfident, especially around the village girls, and quiet, whilst Kamina is brash and impulsive, but fiercely protective of his friends. The plot continues when Simon, digging tunnels one day, discovers two things: a tiny, glowing drill and small mecha that is powered by the drill.

We later find that what Simon has discovered, and what Kamina calls Lagann, is a type of mech called a Gunmen, which are used by the Beastmen on the surface to keep humanity under their dominion, preventing them from ever retaking the surface. The plot for the first arc, then, is about Simon and Kamina, along with new friends Yoko, Leeron and the whole host of largely forgettable dunderheads in Gunmen that Gurren Lagann has the audacity to call a cast, fighting the 4 Generals of the Spiral King and defeating him in order to free humanity. It’s a strong arc, and as inspiring as you can get without being a presidential inauguration speech. The second arc features a timeskip, focussing on Simon and friends 7 years in the future, fighting to prevent the Anti-Spiral races from wiping out humanity, one of the most powerful of the Spiral races.

Whilst I like the plot of the majority of the episodes, I do find it rather irritating that Gurren Lagann constantly blames everything on Spiral power. Spiral power essentially serves the same purpose the Force in Star Wars, but more manly. It’s described as the pure power of will, and so you can essentially argue that all of the Gunmen that each character gets, especially the titular Gurren Lagann piloted by Simon and Kamina together, is literally powered by manliness. But honestly, if you’re picking apart the plotholes of Gurren Lagann, you could go on for days – it’s silly, destructive fun and you will never be left bored watching this.

That said, I bet there were some conversations in the boardroom. “But sir!” announces storywriter A, who we’ll call Hubert. “How do we make sure that our plot still has weight and therefore sustains interest?” Storywriter B, also known as Gareth, simply laughs. “Easy! We kill off ostensibly the main character in episode 8!” Yep. They kill Kamina, finally revealing that Simon is the main character. I love this bit, but I also hate it because I loved Kamina as a character. His death is a very sobering moment for all the cast and the watchers of the show, because it makes us realise that not every character will necessarily survive. This is further exacerbated later in the show when a large number of that forgettable cast I mentioned earlier are killed in the fight against the Anti-Spiral in space.

Yeah, they end up in space. That’s another thing that Gurren Lagann does really well – consistency. Every episode is about making a bit of progress, exactly as Simon says in the final episode: “Little by little, we advance a bit further with each turn. That’s how a drill works!” Each transformation that Gurren Lagann goes through is a little bit more badass, each foe they face is a little bit stronger. Every time you think they can’t be topped, Simon and Team Gurren advance a little further and impress you a little more.

And they certainly do impress. The art and visual style is sublime… besides episode 4, but we don’t talk about episode 4. The music is also fantastic for the most part, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t squee a little bit when “ROW ROW FIGHT THE POWER” – that song probably has a real name but who cares – came on during some of the crucial scenes in the final few episodes. Characterisation is massively strong, too, and there’s very few main characters who fall into obvious stereotypes. Yoko might be the eye candy and obvious fanservice, but she still has a strong character of her own, and her teacher arc reminds us that she’s human. Kamina is a walking cardboard cutout, but it’s his quieter moments, where he’s talking in a one-on-one setting, that we see what he is really like. Simon, being the main character, has characterisation like America has fat people. He changes drastically throughout each episode, starting off as an unassuming young man who lives in Kamina’s shadow, ending as a powerful, brave and noble leader of men by the final episode, going so far as to mirror a lot of Kamina’s traits whilst retaining his inherent Simon-ness. And Viral is a wonderful villain-turned-antihero with perhaps the most development after Simon, and I found myself really wanting him to prove his worth against the might of Gurren Lagann.

Gurren Lagann is not without it’s problems; it’s not got the same sense of consistent realism, if you’ll forgive me talking like a pillock for a moment, that My Hero Academia has. Whilst it has moments of “you know what, this could be real people doing real things”, there’s too much “GIGA… DURILL… BREAKAAAAAAAAA” to really get me involved. The timeskip especially so, since I would’ve liked to see more characterisation and development of Rossiu and Simon, seeing as they change the most drastically out of the characters. It is quite notable that none of the characters really change in 7 years except Simon and Rossiu, because they’re the ones that needed to change to make the plot work, I guess.

What I also like about this show is the villains – both Spiral King Lordgenome and the Anti-Spiral are genuinely relatable villains. They’re out to prevent the destruction of humanity and the destruction of the universe respectively, and it’s just circumstances that have forced them to take drastic, potentially evil actions to go about their plan. I actually found myself liking Lordgenome and the Anti-Spiral quite a lot by the end – though not nearly as much as the cast of Team Dai-Gurren. Whilst many of them are indeed forgettable, the main characters are fun as hell: Simon, Kamina, Nia, Yoko, Leeron and Kittan are all as enjoyable to watch as a public execution of your least favourite work colleague, and it’s their strong characterisation and Gurren Lagann’s ridiculous premise of mechas powered by manliness that make it such a great watch.

And it is a great watch. Who wouldn’t love it? The episode where Kamina is naked virtually the entire time. The episode where Viral and Simon fight in nothing but bath towels. The episode where Simon literally invents teleportation just to punch Rossiu in the face. The episode where Simon transforms Gurren Lagann into a Gunmen the size of a large galaxy that fights the Anti-Spiral who are throwing galaxies at them. The episode where Lordgenome fights and beats Lagann with his bare hands, and the other episode where Lordgenome literally tanks a hit as powerful as the Big Bang with nothing to show for it but a massive increase in power. And the episode where Simon’s massive drill pierces a Gunmen’s tight entrance until the Gunmen explodes – just kidding, that’s basically every episode. There’s too many awesome moments to count, and Gurren Lagann wholeheartedly wears the label of “yes, this is an anime, but it may as well be a saturday morning cartoon”.

I think Gurren Lagann is definitely just as fun as My Hero Academia, even if it isn’t as grounded in reality. I can’t call it flawless, but you should believe me when I say you absolutely need to see it to believe it, and if you’ve already seen it, watch it again. And my word is final – after all, who the hell do you think I am?!

[Anime Review] My Hero Academia Season 2
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