Perhaps no other show I have viewed have I gone into with higher expectations and hype than with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Practically everyone I know has told me about how awesome it is, how its epic ending is the best thing since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Looking back I suppose that made it inevitable for me to be let down and disappointed.
A message to the rabid fanboys probably is in order. If you are incapable of accepting anyone’s opinion that differs from your own then you might as well stop reading this right now. What follows is a critical and perhaps a bit harsh analysis of a series that at its best was one of the best things I have ever seen, but at its worst made me want to punch a hole in my television. I certainly did not hate TTGL. I can clearly recognize its achievements and its place in anime history and its influence. But it also has some unforgivable warts that many of which were unnecessary. It's typical of a GAINAX project which always seems to be high on presentation and build up and piss poor at conclusions.
There is nothing remarkable about the story in TTGL. It borrows from familiar themes and unfolds in a pretty predictable and formulaic manner. It’s the presentation of the storyline that makes it so unique from most anime of this type. TTGL is really two anime in one. The series is divided into two major story arcs. Both are full of balls out macho testosterone filled awesomeness. The scale of the story grows exponentially as each battle and each Gurren Lagann transformation becomes more and more epic. Taken at that, TTGL succeeds at an unrivaled level. The first arc has a perfect mix of comedy, tragedy, drama, and GAR. I loved it. It totally worked at every level. Until...
Where things start to come undone is in the second arc which starts at episode 16 and is set seven years after those events. The feeling is totally different. First you’re trying to get used to characters that have grown up, at least physically, and a setting that is completely alien to the apocalyptic wastelands of the first half of the series. But where things unravel is that it starts to get away from what made the early parts of the series so successful. It begins more of a romance arc, which you expected given the way things went in the first part and frankly I would have been disappointed if this hadn’t developed. However it’s so ridiculous that all it does it make you think the characters are completely retarded. I mean seriously, how can you be in a relationship with someone for seven fucking years and never kissed that person? Really? You expect me to take this seriously or actually care? The second is the addition of a political drama that does about as much for the story as the unrealistic romance elements. All it does it take a cast that was almost entirely likeable from the first half and make half of them asshats and douche bags.
Eventually though things get back on track with what made the show so completely awesome before. The problem is by time they do will you be so angry and pissed off that you even care anymore? That was the situation I found myself in. As much as I wanted to be angry at it the feelings I had for it do start to pop up again. The battles are even more epic and literally galaxy shattering. It’s so totally masculine that I am surprised I didn’t grow a pair of balls myself. But... it seems I always have to say that, just as it manages to redeem itself and make me swoon with delight; GAINAX delivers their final fuck you to the audience and frankly, it is unforgivable. Sadly it completely ruined any enjoyment I had for it.
TTGL characters are pretty much what you would expect from shounen anime. However it manages to carve out a few legendary ones. Pretty much anyone who is a fan of anime knows who Simon, Kamina, and Yoko are. I can say that they aren’t overrated by the fandom either. Kamina is pure awesomeness. A man’s man and a woman’s dream. His single minded determination and love for his comrades makes him the kind of friend that any man would want. While he may not be "husband material" to us girls every one of us would want to put our arm in his and be protected by him. He’s the kind of guy that can really only survive in a world of conflict. A true hero for the ages.
Simon has many of Kamina's traits. As the main protagonist in the series he does well to overcome the obstacles in front of him. I loved him, as a boy. It was after the time skip that he has grown up that he becomes less interesting as a character. He evolves into something he’s not, a virtual clone of Kamina that they are almost indistinguishable from one another. The weaknesses and more reserved nature of the younger Simon which made him for me a much more real and interesting character disappear. Instead of the thoughtful and cowardly boy we have a guy who is as reckless as Kamina ever was and goes into everything with all guns blazing and damn the torpedoes! Its so uncharacteristic of him that it takes away from his character. The final events of the story in particular are needless cruel and unnecessary and a further example of how out of character he has become. By the end he is Kamina, complete with the ending you would have expected of him and all traces of the likeable kid all but erased.
Yoko is the ship that launched a million wet dreams from boys and probably a few grown men alike. You might think that a character with eye popping measurements that spends the majority of the series in a bathing suit would be simply a tool for exploitive fan service. But that’s not the case, as she really shines on her own and manages to be sexy without feeling like she’s just a prop. Yoko is one of the few characters in the story to actually grow up. She takes on responsibility as opposed to the rest of the cast who seem intend on riding the coattails of their past glories instead of contributing something to society. Overall though she's treated poorly by the story and while she is very important to the first part of the series it’s almost like she became just another face in the crowd later on. Being a big fan of hers I found that to be particularly disappointing.
The rest of the main and supporting cast is a bit of a mixed bag. The reason my score of them as a total suffers is that the vast majority of them are very static and unchanging. Most of them are not all that interesting and are more like the background. With few exceptions when one of them dies in the story's epic death count you are left with little emotional reaction because you didn’t feel anything for them when they were alive. The time jump also affected my enjoyment of them as I mentioned many of them had total personality changes that really had no justification. Some initially charming and interesting characters such as Nia I found myself just despising or becoming apathetic towards.
One thing that TTGL does not fail to deliver though is heart pounding and eye-popping visual effects and artwork. This series is truly a masterful work of art. Everything about it screams epic goodness. GAINAX always has a bit of a unique and cartoony art style. But what I really love is the bright colors and quirky designs. It totally works for this series perhaps like no other ever has. This is truly an achievement that I can find absolutely no flaws with.
Not to be outdone, the musical score and voice acting is just as exceptional. The actors manage to bring out all the macho characters and the often screaming dialogue and make it all work. The music is some of the best I have heard in an anime. The OP/EN themes rock hardcore and will have you moving your feet and singing out loud.
So did I like TTGL? The answer is yes. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Because of that it just can’t go down as one of my favorite series as it really should have thanks to that retardation at the end. I know I am going to be in the minority here. The story is not meant to be taken seriously and for the most part I didn’t. However I was expecting more and I didn’t get it. Chances are if you’re male, and under the age of 30 you just might watch this and think it’s the best thing ever. For us girls your experience may vary. It’s definitely worth the viewing but beware the trap of unrealistic expectations and hype.