Only on the rarest of occasions does an anime come along that truly grabs me and elevates itself above mere entertainment and into the realms of gripping television. Gurren Lagann did this with frightening ease, not with complexity or depth of its storyline, nor with its technical excellence, or innovation, but with its boldness, energy, sense of humour, and heart. Some people may be put off with the degree of silliness the show never ceases to deliver, or at least be deterred from becoming deeply invested in the plot or its characters, but being the sucker for just this kind of shameless splendour and over-the-top theatrics, I took to it with enthusiasm, and came out of it with a strong sense of appreciation for the fun that the show delivered from week to week. Gurren Lagann is the kind of series that you may scoff at while you’re watching it, or laugh at its unapologetically ridiculous antics, but which still leaves you craving the next episode. I became so swept up in the show’s passion and heavy-handed charm that I quickly learned to turn my brain off and just go along with the ride. And this is how Gurren Lagann is best enjoyed, with an open-mind and a desire to sit back and enjoy yourself; if you can’t refrain from cynicism or pretentiousness, you likely won’t enjoy the show. I also recommend that the series is not watched as marathon fodder, in fact I’m not sure you can truly capture the same experience if you missed out on watching it on a week-by-week basis.
But the show is not just for action junkies and comedy fanatics; it may have more than its share of explosion-riddled skies, sexual innuendo and galaxy-sized mecha, but more than that the show is somehow able to endear the viewer to its characters through all the furore and anarchy of the plot - and it is not afraid to cash in on that either. The characters are all really fun to watch, each of them flamboyant and charismatic in their own peculiar way, and on top of that, the series weaves in a good amount of sincere character development almost without the viewer noticing. Kamina, in particular is instantly likeable and memorable as the unstoppable and inspired leader of the group that the show revolves around. His unquenchable determination and guts are what really caught me into the series to begin with - one cannot help but stand alongside the other characters in the show with their reverence for him. More than being a likeable gang, the characters are used to great dramatic effect; the show has a number of dramatic peaks over its course that won’t easily fade from my memory. Simon’s transformation from a cowardly underling of Kamina, to an empowered and confident hero is also a key part of the story, and it is handled acceptably, though not quite believably. For that type of theme, I defer to Eureka 7’s development of its protagonist, Renton.
Furthermore, the story itself, while inarguably simplistic, revolves around a strong moral core, with themes that are challenging at times and rousing at others. The use of metaphor is vastly overdone, but revelations further into the show made me appreciate the central “drill” metaphor a bit more. My actual interest in the plot varied throughout the series, starting off quite high with the intrigue of the mysterious new world and the immediate threat of the Beastmen, and cooling off until the post-timeskip story kicked in, which introduced a more serious and challenging feel to the series and hence boosted my interests once again. The pacing is probably my biggest complaint for the show, as the constant action, ironically, became tedious at times, particularly in the build-up to the climactic episode 15. The show may always have a sense of fun, but it is inconsistently gripping.
The animation, episode 4 aside (whose director was later fired - although that’s another story), is brimming with vigour and vitality; it is not always consistent, and rarely very detailed, but it seems to adjust itself to the mood of the show in a very unsubtle but fitting manner. There were a number of blatant shortcuts that were used during many of the battle sequences that I couldn’t help but notice, but given the ‘epic’ nature of the show, it is difficult to expect top-class animation right the way through. At times, the art and animation are genuinely amazing, and there is no denying that this was an ambitious and costly undertaking by the usually self-preservational GAINAX. An extra boost of cel detail would have welcome but probably impractical from a budgetary perspective.
The music for the show is much like the show itself, in that it’s hard to take seriously, but it is unavoidably engaging. Rather than cinematic type of score work, the show is packed with insert songs and a handful of key piece of theme music. I am appreciative of the way the music was distributed throughout the series, with new music being added to the mix right up until the end. This prevented it from stagnating. A few of the tracks are stand-out pieces of music, and are used in the show to give it a genuine boost of captivation and emotion. In particular, the main heroic theme of the show never fails to rouse me into a high-spirited love for the series.
At times powerful, almost always senselessly fun, and with a strong moral core top its themes and story, Gurren Lagann is the highlight of 2007, and an anime worthy of anyone’s viewing. Far from flawless, yet somehow rarely flawed, this anime series is inexplicably lovable for those who are easily hooked in by unsubtle fun. Gurren Lagann has something for everyone, and as such I recommend it to everyone. However, I think it appeals more directly to a male audience with its badassery and male hero role models.