“Listen Simon… Don’t forget. Believe in yourself. Not in the you who believes in me. Not the me who believes in you. Believe in the you who believes in yourself.”
Gurren Lagann follows Simon, a meek young digger ostracized by his peers, who finds solace in his best friend and older brother figure, an eccentric delinquent named Kamina. Kamina encourages Simon to join his gang, Team Gurren, to help him achieve his dream of visiting the surface world. One day, Simon unearths a drill-shaped key called a Core Drill, followed by a small mecha resembling a face called a Gunmen. Shortly thereafter, a huge Gunmen crashes through the ceiling and begins attacking the village, followed by a girl named Yoko, who attempts to repel the Gunmen. Simon uses his Core Drill to activate the smaller Gunmen (which Kamina names Lagann) and it’s drilling-based abilities, and successfully uses it to destroy the larger Gunmen and break through the ceiling to bring him and Kamina to the surface world.
Review: / 5
Giant robots. Giant drills. Giant sunglasses. This series is larger than life.
This show and I have a very mixed relationship. I first began watching Gurren Lagann after I finished Mob Psycho 100 per a recommendation. Admittedly, I was unimpressed. This was basically anime Transformers. In comparison to MP100‘s animation, the 2007 art style felt oversaturated and choppy. More caricature than character, I had a difficult time empathizing and investing with our leads early on in the show. Ultimately, I took a hefty break, focusing my attention on others until I was browsing anime merch and kept seeing this series pop up. Again and again and again. It was clearly loved by its fanbase, even after ten years, so what was I missing? I decided to give it another go partly because I’m a completionist and partly because I was just curious. And oh boy, I’m so glad I did.
Gurren Lagann is super authentic. I’m not sure you get more shonen than this; I don’t see how you could. Robots? Check. Explosions? Check. Brotherly love? Check. Nakama? Check. They get the fanservice in there with how they animate Yoko and the focus on her breasts in literally every frame she’s in. I’m not saying I like that bit, but hey: it’s shonen.
One of my favorite things about this show is its pacing. There’s no filler. Yes, you heard me: THERE IS NO FILLER IN THIS SERIES. The plot is constantly progressing, sometimes at an astonishing rate, and doesn’t waste time on things which don’t matter to the show. A+. 10/10. They stuck the landing, folks.
Now let’s talk about the mixed bag: characterization. I’m such a stickler for it. Initially, I found the characters shallow, overbearing and unbelievable. The main culprit was our man… the baddass leader; the man of indomitable spirit and masculinity; the mighty Kamina. I mean, just look at this extra af fool:
He’s fabulous beyond measure. What a guy. Those sunglasses, though. Iconic.
But, like jumping into cold water, you grow acclimated and comfortable with him as time goes on. By episode six, my irritation had subsided and I was invested in his silly character. His grit and relentless spirit became almost intoxicating, which is why in episode seven, I became very concerned.
There’s some pretty heavy foreshadowing, casting a stark shadow over the show’s star, an ominous tension that Kamina will perish. This was confirmed for me when he and Yoko share a kiss, because, let’s be honest: any romance which comes to bloom this early will end tragically. Simon of course is crushed, since he had the feels for Yoko, and has difficulty focusing during the battle, which leads to Kamina’s death.
What this series does brilliantly is its handling of death, and this threads directly back to the pacing I talked about earlier. They don’t slap a bandage over Simon’s grief; they don’t romanticize it. Instead, they portray the truly devastating experience of losing the most important person in one’s life. It is, in a word, debilitating, harrowing.
When I say death is not romanticized, I mean that the creators do not shy away from its darker implications. We often forget that grief is not confined to crying, to deep chasms of sadness. It stretches to irritation, livid anger, sometimes abrasiveness cruelty, as Simon treats Rossiu here:
What a jerk.
But that’s the thing: grief can make you a jerk. It can make you feel unfathomably isolated and almost dissociated. It’s not pretty. It’s not always crying softly into the arms of the one you love. It’s pain, and more often than not that pain takes on multiple forms, including anger and spite. The time Simon spends in morning is weighted, heavy and solid. It provides an incredible amount of realism to a show about robots fighting in space–a feat which should not be understated or underlooked. Five rice balls for that, homies.
This is my big highlight for the plot. I like that Kamina dies, and I like how he dies early. But to be honest the rest of this plot is a hot mess. It makes you so tired when you watch it because the gas pedal is always at max, which is just plain exhausting. Furthermore, it seems like it loses scale. Yes, it’s a shonen, but it to go from Mole-boy and Bro leave small town to hero of the revolution saves galaxy from evil anti-spiral spirals? The beastmen are actually on our side? Nia’s evil (but not really–duh.)? Destroying the moon? Oh, the moon is a robot too? Space is water (ish)? Boota has spiral energy? Eeep. Seems like they’re just trying to outdo themselves in unbelievable ways (my robot is bigger than your robot). Let’s not forget that Yoko can’t fall in love with anyone or they die. Seriously, the Kittan thing wasn’t necessary–basically Kamina death 2.0 to a T, except he goes in knowing he will die. It’s a wreck, honestly.
Another point is Simon does end up looking eerily similar to Kamina, to the point I’m annoyed. I mean, he even gets the crazy-glasses, and then his spiral energy causes the glasses to turn into a star, perhaps a physical manifestation of how he’s surpassed Kamina, not only in age but in power. I dunno. I just found it silly. Strange. Odd. I didn’t like the whole heroes-can-only-look-like-this vibe it gave off.
I mean look at these two:
And here we see Kamina and
his son, Kamina II Simon.
In all honesty, this exchange between the two of them was lovely. It brought a resolution to the story and it hit me right in the feels. Kamina branding Simon with a seal of approval and push forward was enough to give me heartwarming squeals.
Overall, I can see why the series is so popular, though not everyone’s cup of tea. If, like me, you stopped early on, try going back and getting through to episode eight before writing it off completely. Want to see which shonen shows take the cake? Check out my post here!
That’s all for me, homeskillets! Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Watch on, Annieme-niac!