Monday, 11 February 2008
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (TTGL or Gurren Lagann from now on) is one series of the odd crop in 2007 I wasn't fully expecting to enjoy. After all, the mecha genre isn't something I arbitrarily subscribe to and I wasn't particularly jumping for joy at the plethora of robot orgy shows that premiered around the same time as TTGL did (In the end I followed only Bokurano and Gurren Lagann. Gigantic Formula's 1st episode - UN endorses mecha war to decide who rules the world? WTF? - was too unintentionally hilarious). Secondly, GAINAX, the same studio that unleashed on us the emo-fest that was Evangelion was at the helm, causing me to relegate Gurenn Lagann under "Approach With Caution"... If there's one thing to learn from Eva and KareKano, it's that you can trust GAINAX to produce a good show for at least half of the series... before they run out of budget and screw off the rest of the show (Worse still was This Ugly and Worthless Waste of Time, otherwise known as KonoMini).
But before this all starts sounding like some snobbish studio-bashing post, I'll just state right now that whatever faults I felt were exhibited in those previously mentioned series, GAINAX have more than redeemed themselves (especially in regards to Evangelion) with Gurren Lagann, a series I now find to be iconic of 2007 for all the right reasons (With legions of fans willing to change the image of a country to spread the love, hah). To put it crudely, TTGL is full of epic gar, and win. To be a bit more verbose, I'll say that beneath its 'cartooney' (oddly, enough, a term I rarely associate with anime) exterior, over the top mecha battles, typical GAINAX symbolisms and existential psycho-babble (which, amusingly enough, the show's characters themselves scoff at for being too complicatedto bother with), lies a well conceived and executed evolutionary story with surprising depth.
But most importantly, it's one hell of a fun show to watch. =D
What else needs to be said other than that?
Despite my initial misgivings and what seemed like a rocky start for the show (episode 4 didn't help, but the very first gattai scene between Gurren+Lagann leaving me in stitches did XD), what impressed me eventually was TTGL's brilliantly worked plot progression. What started out as the story of Simon, Kamina and crew thrashing the whimsical looking Ganmen with their own stolen Ganmen (Gurren and Lagann) in their quest to 'pierce the heavens!' quickly develops, or more appropriately, evolves into something else, and by the end you get 4 separate stages that serve as a stepladder (or in the context of the show a spiral) towards a truly epic conclusion.
The main plot-line, when fully revealed by the end may not be the most original of the day, but the progression from stage to stage, each one upping the ante on the epic-ness scale from the previous one, manages to construct a solid straightforward story, carried by a strong cast of characters and outrageously enjoyable action. Also impressive is the daring but effective use of its plot devices which, if were used cheaply merely as shock factor, would've easily turned the story sour. But every new twist the scriptwriters layered down had its signs, and they quickly reveal themselves to be integral to the entire evolution of the plot (so that whether or not they shock the viewer is secondary) and how they affect the characters and the plot progression is clear for all to see.
Spoiler paragraph: Truth be told, I only truly knew I was going to enjoy this series once I spoilt for myself that Kamina was going to have an early demise. From the start Kamina and everything he stood for proved to be the driving force for the series - to my chagrin, since his loud-mouthed, in your face GAR mannerisms was just not for me (but for his legions of fans out there, manly tears are still cried till this day...). Which was why when he was taken out of the story, I was going "YES!" in my head... But it did not take me long to realize that it wasn't merely a bold move by the scriptwriters, it was one that was planned ahead, but more importantly, it was necessary to the story and the further development of the cast - eventually pushing Simon to the forefront and forcing him to break out of his Shinji-esque shell once and for all (admittedly, Nia's sudden introduction in the story is of almost equal significance in this process). There was no wastage in Kamina's demise really, he was given the exit he deserved and desired, and even after his tremendous spirit permeates the rest of the show, a torch carried on proudly by the entire Gurren Brigade. In fact, it was only after his death that I could actually appreciate everything Kamina stood for - that devil-may-care unrelenting rebelliousness against an oppressive authority, and how sometimes blind belief can take you further than you can ever imagine!
Many other things working for TTGL : a rousing soundtrack (ROW ROW FIGHT DA POWAA); great characterization (with a cast as bloated as Nanoha StrikerS, only not as cumbersome and with the correct amount of development); SPIRAL POWER (making the impossible, possible!); how the self-contained premise of the series manages to make even the craziest over the top battles (Spoilers: Spiderman mech? Galaxies as shurikens???) and otherwise downright cheesy one-liners (WHO THE F@*K DO YOU THINK I AM??? / BELIEVE IN ME WHO BELIEVES IN YOU!!!) seem not only acceptable, but just plain RIGHT; the heaven-piercing levels of GAR which most definitely trumps the insipid righteousness of crummy shounen shows several times over (Those two signature one-liners alone wipe the floor with the dated shounen eye-rollers: "I want to be stronger(!!!)" / "I have something to PROTECT(!!!)"); and finally, how Gurren Lagann is both the successor and antithesis of Evangelion (Simon >>>> Ikari Shinji).
And for all that I give Kudos to GAINAX for turning out one of 2007's best shows. =)
Posted by issa-sa at Monday, February 11, 2008