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Gurren Lagann

The Spinning ROSSMAN

Gainax... You confuse me so. I'm not talking about making me think or question myself after watching one of your anime series, I'm talking about the choices you've been making lately: Gunbuster 2, Melody of Oblivion, the Recycled Evangelion Movies... Why? Why even bother except for a paycheck; and even then you'd better be getting paid more than JK Rowling's fees (per book) per episode or movie that you make for selling yourself out and giving up as you seem to have done lately. That's still probably not worth dragging your own name through the mud like this though.

Anyway, it was into this animated confusion that the TV series Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann was dumped. It looked strange (what with the robots that were just large heads with limbs and giant sunglasses, and the never-before-hyped-as-much [nor as poorly], totally forced, sex symbol, anime-babe icon Yoko), but I was willing to give the whole thing a try mainly because I never learn.

Gurren Lagann goes a little something like this: The Earth is a wreck. Humans have been forced underground (some several MILES underground) and are now living shitty lives in the bowels of the planet, digging in the dirt all day and never even knowing about the sky. Then one day, in one underground village, young Simon and his older brother-figure Kamina try to lead an ill thought-out rebellion to the fabled surface only to fail miserably. But soon the surface comes to them when a giant Gunmen (one of those nothing-but-face robots) crashes through the village's cavern roof, and with the help of newcomer Yoko (and a newly discovered mini-Gunmen of their own), they stop the invading mecha and start their own adventure to bring down the armies of the Beast King (aka the Helix King) that seem to be oppressing the underground humans, stomping on them to keep them from surfacing and punishing those who do.

That's the basics, and quite honestly it's kind of boring for the first 8 or so episodes. Well, not boring as in "ho-hum, that's putting me to sleep," but boring as in "oh my god.... I've seen this 50-thousand times already what with FLCL, Gunbuster 2, and every other Gainax (and Gainax inspired rip-off) show since 2000." I mean it looks JUST LIKE Gunbuster 2 (in both style and substance), and that's NEVER a good thing. Gainax, please, give the FLCL-vibe a rest! It worked fantastic in that short OVA series, but in a 27 episode, drawn-out series it just becomes grating!! Well, it did up until episode 8... And I digress.

It was around episode 8 that Gurren Lagann started becoming it's own entity. Yes, it kept the uber-silliness quotient going until the late teen episodes, but it began having a voice of its own by 8. It took a chance and showed its balls with that episode (and those puppies were as big as two Epcot spheres, and 3Xs as hairy as a sasquatch's taint), and it showed me that not only did this show have GUTS, but it was aiming for something more than just "giant robot of the week" syndrome.

Then lots more plot twists occurred, and the Gainax magic of old started to shine through... Well, it tried to shine through, but there was so much tarnish. My only wish for Gurren Lagann was that it took on more of a Fushigi no Umi no Nadia feel, and less of a He Is My Master impression. It was a very interesting idea on the whole, but the execution was just kind of shitty. The animation style was over the top, shitty-goofy, and it tried to have a "ZOMG!!! That was AW3SOME!!!!1111one1!" moment EVERY FIVE MINUTES. No. You just don't... No, Gainax. You must use those moments sparingly. Like the first time Noriko pulls out the Buster Beam and annihilates half a million aliens at once, or the time that the Eva-01 goes apeshit berserk and beats that bird-skull Shito to death with its bare hands... You don't throw those moments at the audience 5 - 10 times an episode. I was rolling my eyes like a monkey in the throws of monkey orgasm once I began noticing how those forced moments were being visually shoved at me. It became aggravating and not cool or awesome.

Thankfully though, around episode 15, Gurren Lagann started moving in a more serious direction. No, it did not wash away all of the nuttiness, but the tone of the show was a lot more acceptable after this point. The ZOMG! moments were used more sparingly and were much more, well, EARNED. I actually started cheering for them after the second half began (well, after the godawful summary episode [summary episode?! Ugh, I thought we left those behind in the 90s]). The second half being a reconstruction story; I love those kinds of story elements. The reconstruction episodes of Macross being some of my favorite episodes of anything ever. You always wonder "well, what the fuck next?!" after the final battle is won and the good guys prove victorious; but here, we're left with an ominous prophecy by the chief bad guy, and a huge uphill struggle for the conquerors. Then pretty much each episode from there until the end escalates problems and tensions two-fold. But in a good way. Over the top, yes, but FUN over the top and not nonstop goofy-balls over the top.

Before the reconstruction storyline, the whole show had the tone of a retarded Bugs Bunny cartoon: You don't give a shit about anything happening or anybody it happens to because anything is possible — there are no physics to the universe, there's unlimited ammo, the heroes take massive beatings and walk away with maybe a slight limp (one major exception of course), and even the drama is played for laughs... It's just so irritating when it's so nonstop! After the reconstruction begins there's a maleficent tension in the air, the characters prove to be fallible and not perfect, and like I said earlier, the moments of awe are actually engaging and cheer worthy. You get caught up in the elements of hyper-unbelievability because the good guys fought for their triumphs and earned them (mentally, emotionally and physically).

So what does this mean in the end, you ask? It means that Gurren Lagann started off weak (malnourished African baby weak), but then it got better. Much, much better. By the end I felt just like those guys screaming their pleasure in the title-graphic at the top of this review: I saw the light, and it was good. I finally understood why the Anti-Spirals wanted hopelessness in their victims, and I loved it when the Spirals refused to give up all their hope. I cheered for Simon and Nia and Yoko and company like I cheered for Nadia, Noriko and the Daicon Bunny Girl of Gainax titles of old. And I smiled.

Yes, Gurren Lagann attempts to out-Gunbuster Gunbuster, and at least it does a better job than Gunbuster 2. Hell, when my sister's dog licked his balls for 20 minutes last Thursday, he did a better job than Gunbuster 2 (I have no idea what that means, but I stand by my statement). GL showed that there's still some magic left in Gainax (well, except for episode 4, which was so shitty it caused the resignation of the producer of the show who was also a Gainax co-founder), but they haven't quite dug their name completely out of the mud yet. I find that I have to give Gurren Lagann a B... No, scratch that, a B+. That ending (which was on overdrive for the last 4 episodes) made up for a whoooole lot of early faggotry.

If it had ended with the same lame feel as the first half of the series it would have only gotten a D+ or possibly a C-, but thankfully halfway through it began to sparkle like a freshly polished drill. Though if it had started off with the vitality and vigor of the second half and continued along that path (becoming even more uber-fantastique as it went along) this thing could have had an A or A+ by journey's end. Oh well, here's hoping Gainax's next series gets it right from the beginning.

 

04/08/2010 ADDENDUM::
Gurren Lagann Movie 1: Childhood's End, and Gurren Lagann Movie 2: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars

I finally got around to catching the Gurren Lagann movies, and although I won't create an entirely new review for them, because they actually DO alter the way you SHOULD watch Gurren Lagann I thought I'd at least quickly talk about them here. Here goes.

Skip the first movie, Childhood's End. It is a godawful and hacked up retelling of the first half of the series (with very little new animation). It misses all the good and character-building parts of the first dozen or so episodes and tries to focus on the shitty OMGWTFBBQ moments (that I HATED the first half for). The second movie rocks though... Well, I should say the last 40 minutes of the second movie are most excellent.

So here's what you do: Watch the first 26 episodes of the TV show. Stop before the finale (episode 27). Do NOT watch the last TV episode. Yes, the last episode is the biggest, baddest, most fantastic final episode of anything in a long time, but my GOD, man... the last 40 minutes of the second movie, The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, actually makes the whole of Gurren Lagann even BIGGER. It honest to Christ out-Gurren Laganns Gurren Lagann. The first hour and so of the second movie is just like the entire first movie; it's LESS Gurren Lagann. The last 40 minutes of it though is more heart wrenching, more powerful, more cheer-worthy, and most importantly more Universe-rending than even that final battle in the final TV episode.

So to reiterate: Watch episodes 1 through 26 of Gurren Lagann TV. Skip the first movie. Watch the last 40 minutes of the second movie. You will die happy. That is all.


The Spirally MEGAPLAYBOY

Oh, HELL no, Gainax. You just know that the only reason this itty bitty shitty show was made was so that the big G would have tons more colorful costumes for losers to dress up as in cosplay. Ugh, the next Fatty McFatfat I see in Yoko's bikini uniform will get a punch to her multiple chins as a public service from yours truly, Holmes.

No. No, no, no, no, Gainax. Just stop. Really. Please.


The Anti-Spiral CARL

I won't beat around the bush — I have absolutely no fucking idea what the hell that was all about. That was one of the most retarded things I've ever seen, and that includes the image burned into my brain of Jimmy Jammer trying to get milk from a cow with his mouth. Yeah, he claims that he didn't know it was a bull, but even after we told him he just kept on trucking.

Crazy shit on the screen doesn't automatically make something good.