The drill that will pierce all expectations: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
I’m going to just cut to the chase. This series is good. This series is really good. The funny thing is, I all but ignored the thing when it was released. At the time, we had the darker, more serious (usually) Death Note and Code Geass airing, so when I caught my first few glimpses of Gurren Lagann I wasn’t really all that excited. It just seemed like another bizarre mecha series by the creators of FLCL (which I personally think is extremely overrated), and I figured I could expect the same bit of controversy over Gurren Lagann’s quality. Having gone through the entire series, I can happily say I was very, very wrong.
In a fictional Earth, humanity is forced to live underground by the planet’s ruler, the almighty Spiral King. Mankind is splintered across various subterranean cities with little to no hope of uniting for a brighter future. Shimon, a young boy, is an extremely talented driller, which is a prized skill; to expand their homes, humanity must move deeper into the Earth, and much of Shimon’s everyday life is spent with drill in hand. He is shunned by the villagers for his meek, unassuming nature, but finds a friend in the brash, gutsy, and outspoken Kamina, who is intent on making it to the surface to find his father. When Shimon unexpectedly finds a strange, drill-shaped key and a small head-shaped mecha while digging, the village is attacked by a Gunmen, another mecha in service to the Spiral King. Hot in pursuit of the Gunmen is the gun-toting Yoko, who urges Shimon and Kamina to let her deal with the situation. By chance, Shimon manages to activate the smaller, head-shaped mecha using the drill key. The Gunmen is quickly dispatched by the newly-dubbed Lagann, though the three heroes find themselves hurling towards the earth’s surface. Soon afterward, Kamina manages to hijack another Gunmen for his personal use, which he names Gurren. As the scant few survivors on Earth’s surface begin to hear whispers of Gurren and Lagann’s ensuing victories against the Spiral King, Kamina urges humanity to rally under the banner of Team Dai-Gurren as Shimon looks on with admiring eyes.
One thing about Gurren Lagann is that its scope is always expanding. What begins as a series mired in the restrictive environment of subterranean Earth quickly expands to the surface, skies, and even outer space. Just when you think TTGL can’t get any more epic, it does so and in a way that you’d never see coming. It walks the fine line between outrageous and ass-kickingly cool, and always manages to impress. Shimon is a character that sees monumental changes in his disposition as he moves on from rags to riches to become a driving force of mankind’s future. Never to be outdone, Kamina also serves as a timeless mentor (and fantastic comedic relief) and foil to his young protegee. While Shimon is absolutely the main character of the series, Kamina remains the focus of the series well into the last episodes, much like the relationship between Ramza and Delita from Final Fantasy Tactics.
The art is bright, colorful, well-animated and brimming with style. Anyone that’s watched FLCL should know the pedigree by now, and the advances made in technology between FLCL and TTGL is extremely clear when the widescale action scenes hit. Mechas don’t just fire lasers and volleys of missiles; there are a number of throwbacks to Super Sentai-type series with flamboyant hand-to-hand combat, signature moves and poses. Additionally, both Gurren and Lagann have separate faces even when joined together to form Gurren Lagann, which adds to the very ‘organic’ feel of the mecha; it’s very emotive.
Since the plot’s conflict is on a global scale, the fast-paced action series still sees its share of political turmoil and power struggles, and it handles these situations just as well or even better than your standard Gundam title, throwing in a few touches of romance and heartbreak at the right times to make for a very powerful and emotional experience all the way through to the end. The well-defined schism between the first and second halves of the series only accentuates this, though I’ll remain silent on it as to not ruin the experience; it’s a real doozy.
Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed about TTGL were its opening animation sequences. While it retains the same song throughout the entire series, the animations change to reflect the prominence of cast members, as well as shuffling the verses of the song to better suit the tone of the series. Few series have done this that I’ve seen (Angel Beats being a notable example) and I absolutely love the extra effort that goes into this; there aren’t many titles that have OPs that I can say I was always thrilled to watch over and over, but with TTGL I can make an exception. In general, the music choice is also in the same style as FLCL, which means that it has catchy tunes, eyecatches, and emotive song inserts.
Another big plus is that both the English and Japanese audio tracks are extremely watchable. I watched a majority of the series in Japanese, but I did bother to sample the English version for random episodes. I can’t say that I found any of the English cast immediately identifiable (with the exception of Michelle Ruff, who voices Yoko), but the quality is very good; the voices match the characters and the acting is believable, if not exceptional. You can’t go wrong with either.
As I finished watching this, I forced a mental title fight (as I always do with exceptional series) between TTGL and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (the highest-rated series in terms of overall quality in my mind). The only negative that I found with TTGL was the controversial episode four, which featured a special guest director (Osamu Kobayashi) and an art style that was panned among critics, especially on the internet. While I didn’t find anything particularly bad about the episode overall, the art style was definitely jarring and led me to question if I was actually watching the real TTGL or if it was an elaborate troll. Had I actually watched this back in 2007 through some random fansubbing team, I almost certainly would have thought I was being trolled … and hard.
Minor criticism aside, I’ve neglected writing about this series because I was so impressed with it and I wanted to make sure that I held the same opinion of it after my series-high subsided. As one of the few titles that I find in the same league as The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, this one is a must-watch for every anime fan. Don’t miss this one.
Character Ranking – Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- Nia Teppelin
- Yoko Littner
- Kittan Bachika
- Kiyal Bachika
- Darry Adai