Gurren Lagann – Beauty in the Breakdown

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    • Genre:  Science fiction, mecha, action, adventure, heartbreak in the best way
    • Episodes: 27

I don’t know if I can do this one. I finished Gurren Lagann last night and it broke my heart in that delicate and pretty way only the right show at the right time can do. I’m grateful for it. It may take me a bit to recover though. I’ve latched onto a bad series I don’t have to invest much in as aftercare. I considered putting off this post. Letting my thoughts and feeling age into a fine wine rather than allowing them to spill out all over the place, unrefined and raw. But that’s not what our relationship is. You’ve always allowed me a certain degree of messiness. You’ve overlooked my unvarnished exterior and accepted my rough edges so that in return, I would share a certain degree of vulnerability. I have been mostly unfiltered, sometimes little bits of grime get through. I’m going to do my best to honor our unspoken agreement. However fair warning, a synopsis is going to be difficult!

Gurren Lagann takes place in an indeterminate period (let’s say distant future) when the vestiges of humanity have been driven underground and live a life of hard scrapped drudgery. Anyone fool hearty enough to try their luck under open skies is mercilessly attacked by a race of assorted beastmen who control large robots called gunmen. Lots of “men” in this story. When Simon and Kamina find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly thrust in the middle of this conflict, they could be the liberators humanity was waiting for. But the true threat is beyond what any of them could have imagined and the cycle of destruction isn’t so easily escaped.

There, that’s going to have to do for now. It’s not totally inaccurate. But let me give you a bit of advice, between friends, if you take this series at face value, you will be missing out. I don’t want you to miss out!

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this is where it all starts

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Gurren Lagann’s background, you should come visit me under my rock as well, there’s plenty of space for both of us. Lagann is a Gainax series directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi who would go on to found Trigger studios and written by the immensely talented (a possibly slightly unhinged) Kazuki Nakashima who would in turn helm Kill la Kill as head writer. It’s therefore difficult to avoid comparison between the two series. In my opinion they are thematically quite different, but the family resemblance is glaring.

They look alike, they move alike they even kind of dress alike. I have always been a huge fan of those aesthetics but I know some of my readers consider them woefully wanting. As far as visuals go, everything is exaggerated to saturation. The colors are basic but crisp and bright, the designs are cartoonish and often outlandish. Proportions have little to do with reality. As for movement, it’s excessive and frantic. That same gleeful overindulgence which I adored in Kill la Kill is present here. A number of the more intense scenes end up in sketch format, which I assume was a way to bring down production costs a smidge but for me, worked beautiful as an active design choice.

The completely unbelievable images dancing across the screen had an unexpected advantage. Counterintuitively, they in fact aided my suspension of disbelief. A crazy event complete with equally insane images seemed in line with the story and didn’t take me out of the moment one bit.

Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill

maybe it’s just me

Admittedly, as with anything that is highly stylized, this will be an acquired taste, and some might find this type of extravagance more annoying than endearing. I can’t deny that I am the perfect audience for it as I happen to be particularly keen on the style. I should add that the camera work was for the most part conventional (the imagery didn’t need that much help from the photography) but a few more creatively framed scenes could be a bit unpleasant for those with severe motion sickness.

Honestly, sound design and acting were all good. I have no complaints at all. It’s just that for me, they were so overshadowed by the visuals that I forgot about them half way through. Well Nia’s voice was a little annoying to me, the performance was quite good though, so it evens out.

Let me repeat myself, if you take Gurren Lagann at face value, you will miss out. The artistry goes beyond what you can grasp at first glance. Character models are carefully aged during the course of the story with surprising consistency. Subtle visual cues and recurring graphic themes are scattered throughout the series. It’s worth paying close attention to this one.

Simon_and_Kamina

despite everything, two very different men

I’ve been kicking this around in my head for a bit now. To truly discuss this show properly I don’t think I can avoid SPOILERS. This isn’t the type of series that will be ruined just because you know of a twist but if you want to go in blind this won’t be the post for you. OK, I’ll put in my general overview first, so you can at least get the gist.

Much like Shin Sekai Yori which I watched a few months ago, Gurren Lagann is so rich with subtext that I really didn’t know how I would even begin to discuss the series. I’ve decided to concentrate on the 3 aspects that spoke to me but there are a least a dozen worthy of discussion. Gurren Lagann is a fun adrenaline packed mecha adventure that doesn’t shy away from pain but treats it with irreverent mirth. For those of you who wish to preserve their purity, this is where I leave you. I hope you watch this series and enjoy it as much as I did.

And now for the rest of us. I’m a simple straight forward girl. My mind works in pretty much the most obvious way possible. So the entire time I was watching Gurren Lagann, I thought of Dune. Is that where you thought I was going? Seemed sort of undeniable to me.

Gurren Lagann desert

the resemblance is subtle, I know!

The main themes and motifs in Dune are

1. Religion and Power – Although organized religion is explicitly depicted in Gurren Lagann, there is still a direct connection between the idea of worship, spirituality, theology and power. The story is filled with so much biblical analogies that even I picked up on a few. There’s an actual ark folks! Moreover, the entire concept of spiral power is spiritual in nature. There’s also the marked recurrence of the number 7 which holds particular significance in Christian dogma. Kamina narrates the previews up until episode 7 (sigh…), Tepplin falls on the 7th day of battle when Lordgenome (that name is so on the nose) is defeated, civilization then flourishes freely for 7 years until the Anti-Spiral war breaks out and finally, Nia and Simon say their vows 7 days after their return to earth and then… For some reason this pattern really stuck with me, as you can see.

It’s undeniable that faith, illustrated more as hope (i.e. spiral power) within the story, is presented as the core of mankind’s strength and the source of its ultimate salvation.

2.       Human Control Over Ecology This one is spelled out directly. Humans are forced to live in unnatural conditions underground, so they break free and immediately (and violently) tame the hostile surroundings to their needs.

Not only do they start out in harsh desert conditions which they must overcome but even after the rise of civilization we know there’s a constant threat of depletion of resources. Ultimately humans continued expansion causes a treat to their existence not from some outside source but form the very nature of the universe.

 3.       Inheritance and Nepotism A lot of significance is given to figure heads. It’s not so much the heroes that matter but what they represent. Similarly, the beastmen’s inability to reproduce is viewed as a mark of their inferiority and shows them as mere tools.

Although the nepotism of Gurren Lagann isn’t carried out through bloodlines, it is consistent with a new civilization trying to establish itself. We see that positions of importance and power are consistently handed over to individuals who were either present since the beginning of the events or have developed some sort of relationship with the main protagonists, regardless of skill and capacity.

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nepotism didn’t work out so good for Nia

Whoa, this was dry. Hey kids, wanna write a grade 6 paper on Gurren Lagann? You can copy/paste this but make sure to clean up the typos. Teachers hate typos! You may be tricked into thinking those were the three aspects I was gonna discuss. You optimistic little munchkins. That’s why I love you so. That was just one of the three: Gurren Lagann reminds me of Dune.

When I was coming up on the last few episodes, I started to try to frame this post in my mind. I knew it would be a doozy. I had settled on the hardships and responsibilities of leadership. To me, the story was about two men. Simon and Rossiu. Two wide-eyed, kind and well-intentioned boys who had responsibility thrust upon them.

The entire narrative of Gurren Lagann exists to some degree in Kamina’s shadow. The opening arc serves to establish it and the remaining episodes have the characters trying to get out from under it. That’s the problem when someone shines bright like the sun, when they leave, it gets dark and cold. No one feels that more than Simon. It’s a blessing and a curse. This admiration for a man he considers a brother propels him forward and yanks him from the clutches of despair but also threatens to crush him at any moment. And Kamina is best defined as a natural born leader. He stirs the hearts of men and spurs them forward. He gives himself wholly to his dream, and that dream is to build a better world for his brethren. He is a leader, and to carry on his legacy, is to take on that mantle.

rossiu

reminding us to always be nice to nerds because they always grow up hot!

Rossiu is a tender boy who grows up to be a delicate man. He saw first hand the potential horrors of mismanagement in Adai yet he holds no ill feelings towards his father or his brutal methods. For him, the journey is of gentle rebellion. He doesn’t want to realize Kamina’s vision, he simply strives to prove his father wrong. To create a world where such bitter compromise is no longer necessary. He is an ideologue and such noble ambitions, require direction.

Both of these men, driven into positions of leadership, approach it in completely different ways. Simon, desperately wanting to reproduce Kamina’s forceful charisma and visceral style, is never quite able to become the man he admired so. Rossiu adopts a position of logic and efficiency, trying to avoid becoming his father at all costs and ends up doing just that.

You know, it’s funny. We follow these men from when they are children to their ultimate destiny as rulers yet neither of them is particularly good at it. Rossiu is a bit better and he improves in time, but at their core, neither are ever quite as good as their predecessors or even antagonists for that matter. You know who would have been an amazing leader: Yoko. Her work as a teacher pretty much proves her ability to guide with a firm hand and discipline with a gentle one. Missed opportunity

Episode_21

does she actually need those glasses…she should use them for sniping…

As the final episodes of Gurren Lagann went by, I had a change of heart. Well as I said, my heart got shattered into a thousand pieces and I may have glued it back together a bit wrong. Point is, I didn’t want to talk about leadership anymore. Sure, it was an important theme for most of the runtime, but when all is said and done, that’s not what stayed with me. Gurren Lagann is a story of missed opportunities. It’s about doing the best with what you have left after you lose the actual best. It’s about the fragile beauty of sacrifice.

Everything important in Gurren Lagann is fleeting. Unlike most anime, we actually see youth and beauty fade. Life is fragile, and deaths are given weight and consequence. That’s impressive considering what a bloodbath the series is. Even love is shown as brief and temporary. What Gurren Lagann tells us is that everything ends. The notion of eternity is romantic but immaterial. At the end of the day, to live is to change, and change is a type of death. People, dreams, passions will all leave us. It’s sad but it’s also ok. Others will take their place. They won’t be the same, and that’s ok too. The impermanence of existence is beautiful in its own way.

Gurren Lagann grave

in the end, you chose what you take with you

Man, I went off the deep end here. I didn’t even touch on Viral (is he an anagram of rival?) and genetic manipulation and…

For those of you who enjoy slightly pretentious analyzing of deeply symbolic stories, Gurren Lagann is highly referential and rich in motifs. You will find something to enjoy. For those of you that don’t, it’s a well-paced and entertaining adventure with great emotional resonance and some decent fan service.

You should watch it and tell me all about it! Please?

Favourite character: Yoko (One of my new favourite all time characters – this lady blows my mind. I want to be like, with and around her as much as possible!)

What this anime taught me: My best self is still in front of me

Every loaf of bread is the tragic story of grain that could have become beer…

Suggested drink: Horse’s neck

  • Every time we see Simon’s necklace (drill) – take a sip
  • Every time Kamina is so damn cool – raise your glass
  • Every time Kamina is so damn stupid – sigh
    • every time he’s both at the same time – take a sip
  • Every time Ron flirts – blush
  • Every time a girl falls for Kamina – take a sip
  • Every time there’s a double entendre – it can’t be just me
  • Every time Kamina almost kills Simon – take a sip (a small one)
  • Every time Yoko gets jealous – take a sip
  • Every time Simon digs – take a sip
  • Every time Rossiu is cautious – think carefully
  • Every time anyone worries about Simon – take a sip
  • Every time we see the Spiral King – Wonder if it’s Father from FMA or a Sailor Moon villain
  • Every time Simon says “aniki”  – salute
  • Every time anyone gets drilled – hur hur
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I almost forgot to put in a mecha

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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34 Responses

  1. Gurren Lagann is an adventure front to back. Its the only anime I’ve ever binge watched in an entire day and for good reason (upon rewatching it). The characters are outstanding, the pure spirit and enthusiasm this series has it untouchable and has no doubt left an impact on my life. I could quote this show endlessly and lose track of all the spectacular moments that make it a masterpiece. Its hilarious, gut-punching, suspenseful and balls-to-the wall action-packed. It raises the stakes of the narrative every single episode right up until the very end. I CANNOT recommend this show enough for its infectious energy and wild amount of entertainment.

    Also, unlike some other viewers, I had zero problem with the time skip arc and when Rossiu turned on Simon. I understand why Rossiu did it and don’t fault him for doing what he did. I also get that the pace slows because of this impasse, but that makes you miss all of the action that much more. It was a much needed break in between absolute chaos. I could gush about this show for days, but I’ll save those words for my own blog.

    In short: LETS SEE YOU GRIT THOSE TEETH

  2. Lynn says:

    I really enjoyed the first half of Gurren Lagann, right up until they defeat Lordgenome. I’ve never been a big fan of time jumps and I found the future stuff to be less cohesive.

    And I lost my mind when Rossiu turned on Simon. It honestly felt absurd that he would sentence him to death given everything they’d been through. To even put the blame on him in the first place was nuts.

    Totally agree about Yoko. She was awesome all the way through, even if she disappeared for most of the second half.

    • Irina says:

      I understand the need for sacrifice but then again i come from a country where political assassinations were pretty commonplace

    • “And I lost my mind when Rossiu turned on Simon. It honestly felt absurd that he would sentence him to death given everything they’d been through. ”

      Me, too. I almost stopped watching. In fact, I had to take a break!

      Trouble is, I’ve seen people in real life do almost exactly the same thing that Rossiu did.

      Humans kinda suck at times.

  3. terranceacrow says:

    “I finished Gurren Lagann last night and it broke my heart in that delicate and pretty way only the right show at the right time can do.”

    I just finished the series.

    Now I understand that sentence you wrote.

    • Irina says:

      Right!!???!! It just leaves you not knowing whether to cry or smile or both at the same time and that’s an accomplishment

  4. Beautiful piece from beginning to end. I don’t even care about the typos this was just amazing!

  5. It always makes me really happy seeing someone watch Gurren Lagann for the first time and gush about how they felt about it in a positive way.

    A lot of people in recent years unfortunately HAVE taken the show at face value and don’t seem to understand what the fuss was back when it originally aired.

    But even if you strip away everything that’s buried beneath it’s core, Gurren Lagann, to me at least, is a show with heart, and it wears it on it’s sleeve during just about every moment. It’s one of my favourite Anime for that reason alone, and it’s what helped me branch into Mecha, a genre I was previously not a fan of at all (outside of Evangelion which, funnily enough, was made by the same studio!)

    Amazing write up Irina!

    • Irina says:

      That’s so weird. I mean it’s visibly dripping with symbolism. But yeah, even if you just look at the moving pictures, they are pretty fun moving pictures

  6. This anime has a lot of value to it. I mostly enjoyed it for the straightforward nature of getting sillier in its mecha fights, but there was also something deeper to appreciate. Granted, the final few episodes had me tired of the formula since I got tired of Simon getting more fighting spirits to win. Although, that last episode was awesome.

  7. Wooderon says:

    One thing I couldn’t help but wonder about this show; Yoko lived in the desert and wore next to no clothes. Why is she so pale, like no tan whatsoever… Anime I guess.

    Yeah, the ending of Gurren Lagann killed me. There is something so utterly “final” feeling about the ending to Trigger’s shows, they certainly do make their trade in high stakes and ridiculous hype.

  8. ManInBlack says:

    I have this on blu-ray but never got round to watch it all. I saw the first few episodes about 9 or so years ago so I’ve forgotten everything I did see. The only thing I do remember is that it is quite exhausting to watch in one go.

  9. Jon Spencer says:

    Took me a couple of times trying to get past the first few episodes but I liked this well enough. I’m not a fan of most Gainax/Trigger properties in general, though there are a few exceptions, so I was pleasantly surprised with this one once I got into it.

  10. Karandi says:

    Excellent post.
    Gurren Lagann is one of those anime it took me multiple goes to watch because looking at the first episode it is very easy to dismiss this series. Still, it does do a number of things that other series don’t (such as watching the characters grow older) and it managed to handle its many twists and turns reasonably well without losing thematic cohesion. It ended up being a very fun show to watch and it was full of great characters. Really loved watching the anime and enjoyed reading your review of it.

  11. Dawnstorm says:

    Gurren Langan is one of the shows I never got around to watching. I hope I’ll get around to it someday. You’re selling it well.

  12. Scott says:

    Reading this made we see happy. I’m glad you got so much out of it!

  13. Lumi says:

    You finally review one of my top 3!

    Gurren Lagann is one of those rare shows that are honest and straightforward but still manage to have so much nuance and meaning. At face value, it’s a hype and inspiring tale of determination in the face of adversity, and kicking logic to the curb if it won’t help you. At it’s core, Gurren Lagann is a show about relatively simple people being forced through the most complicated conflicts and being forced to deal with them the way they always have, which is head-on.

    I feel like despite the amazing works that the TRIGGER team has put out since their work on Gurren when they were still in Gainax, their team has never hit that same level of high in terms of plot, comedy, action AND feels.

    Kill la Kill got really close, but they never hit that same level of awesome and heartbreak that Gurren left me with.

    TL;DR. ROW ROW FIGHT THE POWER

  1. February 25, 2019

    […] case I’ve been too subtle on the point, I really liked Gurren Lagann. It’s not a particularly kind story though. It gets pretty rough with its cast. Of the survivors, […]

  2. July 29, 2019

    […] I bored you guys by talking about Gurren Lagann yet? The series made a pretty big impact on me and the more time passes, the greater its influence […]

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