Recycling Weekly: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann pic 01

 

(Originally written Aug 3 2014)

Let me preface this with the meta-story that is me putting off watching this show for a long time. It started in a chat room a little over a year ago when some people had just seen TTGL and were spamming the chat with quotes, recommendations and statements that it was the best thing ever. This put me off the show because I thought it’d be too juvenile for my tastes(which have changed since then). Then, a few months later, while putting together a PTW list I came across it again and decided to add it to the list just for the hell of it. Then, when KLK started airing and everyone begun ranting about TTGL on Reddit again, I got annoyed and vowed to never watch TTGL. In retrospect, this sounds like really childish behaviour on my part, but I digress. So, when I finally watched Diebuster this past Monday, I remembered hearing that it was sort of a vague prototype or spiritual predecessor to TTGL and, feeling like I had already seen the worst thing in existence(DieB), thought “Eh, why not?”

And so I watched TTGL over the course of 3 days. And I’m glad I did. I expected juvenile humour, a lot of shouting, shallow plot points and slow progression(I expected a battle shounen, pretty much), as well as over-the-top action that looks nice but feels hollow. My expectations were crushed. While the show did have some juvenile humour(mostly in the filler episodes) and a lot of shouting, these(the shouting especially) were done in such a way that I now actually love Kamina as a character instead of hating him. He never really develops as a character, but that’s completely fine . His lines are cheesy, but they convene the true theme of the show excellently. Simon’s drill may the drill that pierces the heavens, and even space and time, but Kamina’s drill always finds its way into your heart. Simon(who I didn’t know much about before watching the show), on the other hand, has a ton of character development. I didn’t get that attached to him(except during certain moments), but I can’t deny that he’s written very well. And then there’s Yoko. I personally feel like Yoko didn’t get enough screen time, but she was paramount in solidifying the team in the early episodes. Simon and Kamina are obviously counterparts, but so are Kamina and Yoko. Simon is Kamina’s brain and Yoko is Kamina’s heart. Later on, as more characters are added to the cast, Yoko’s role diminishes, but on the other hand, at least she doesn’t make the show worse. Speaking of the other characters added to the cast later on, most of them are interesting as well. I especially like Nia, whose first scenes rival Kamina’s best scenes in terms of thematic importance, and Rossiu, who serves as the devil’s advocate in the most interesting of ways. Of course, Viral must be mentioned as well. His graduation from antagonist to protagonist is one of the most beautiful transitions I’ve seen in terms of novelty in anime. It’s not revenge, it’s not spite, he is simply choosing to interpret his master’s final order in the most reasonable way he can, even taking his own desires into account.

As for shallow plot points and slow progression, the show doesn’t have a lot of either. Almost all semi-important characters and/or locations are revisited in ways that feel very natural, at least to me. In terms of progression, the show is like a freight train. Fast and nearly unstoppable, but very reliable. While it develops its story, the show doesn’t throw sudden and confusing curveballs(unlike its red-headed stepchild KLK), it just keeps going at a fairly steady pace. I actually found the story extremely easy to follow and in this case, that’s a good thing, because it allowed me to get invested in the characters and themes while the story was going on. It does have some boring moments(the whole 4 generals business was not that interesting), but the vast changes in scenery and especially the time skip helped alleviate that. The show also has a trick up its sleeve when it comes to progressing its story in a way that is both memorable and fun. Whereas most shows are structured in such a way that story progression and character development happen during the lulls and the climaxes serve the purpose of showing the results of that progression and development, Gurren Lagann sort of does the opposite. The over-the-top action scenes progress the story and develop the characters, while the lulls(which felt much shorter than in most other shows) are used to showcase the newly developed characters(who frequently happened to be my “new favourite character”) in some really satisfying ways.

At this point, I must admit that I didn’t really care for the over-the-top nature of the action scenes. It’s just not something I’m into right now. But because of the aforementioned story progression, these scenes didn’t feel senseless to me, they still felt awesome. And they were animated beautifully. Now, seven years after the show was made, animation quality similar to the one in TTGL is getting more and more common, but on the other hand, most of these also use lots of CG effects, which TTGL didn’t do until later on in the show. I could say that TTGL was ahead of its time in terms of animation quality, but no, I actually think that TTGL represents how animation quality is not just about smoothness or the fidelity of the art, it’s heavily dependent on the skill of the animators and the vision of the director. TTGL probably wouldn’t have looked any better to me if it was made in 2014. It’s superb.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, was kinda forgettable for me. The OP was excellent(it’s definitely one of those songs that grow on you a lot as time goes on) and I liked the one operatic track, but that’s about it. Nothing else really stood out to me. The sound effects, however, were very good. Listening to countless massive explosions was actually pleasant all the way to the end.

In conclusion, fans are sometimes very bad at selling shows, especially when it comes to this show. But TTGL is not. It did what it did, and I enjoyed it very much. It showed to me very clearly that it’s about more than just explosions and shouting cheesy lines. It has decent to excellent production values, solid storytelling and strong themes. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is.

P.S. That said, I actually think TTGL is not very “anime”. The story progression, especially how the characters actually travel and experience different environments, feels like something out of a non-anime sci-fi adventure show or a fantasy novel(The Lord of the Rings comes to mind). This, coupled with its main theme(the power, adaptability and tenacity of humanity ), TTGL actually really reminds me of Stargate SG-1(good show, go watch it). I find this hilarious, but coming from me, it’s actually a huge compliment to TTGL.

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