Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Mecha
For a show with such a straightforward nature to it, there sure is a lot to say about Gurren Lagann. When the series aired back in 2007, it instantly became hugely popular, especially on the internet. This had its good and bad sides as far as the fans are concerned, but that wasn’t the fault of the series at all.
This show is one which deserves to be enjoyed without any hype to accompany it beforehand or afterwards, so I will spare you the nonsense. However, a brief overview of the history which influences the series is in order.
This anime is presented in ways that intentionally makes it a tribute to the super robot, a sub-genre of the mecha genre. It’s not quite as lively as it once was in the 1970′s, thanks largely to the introduction of Gundam into the mecha genre. This was followed by many other things which drew inspiration from the ‘real robot’ concept.
The general core idea of a super robot series is that it involves giant robots which are powerful and functional in ways that don’t try very hard to be scientifically plausible or logical. But there are also common themes in the emotions and atmosphere of most shows in the genre as well. There is a lot of hotblooded fighting, many coming of age stories, and lots of special attacks which must have their names screamed very loud in order to be effective.
Gurren Lagann in particular draws a lot of inspiration from Getter Robo, specifically the manga series which the show’s screenwriter, Kazuki Nakashima, has been rather fond of. In addition, there are many common stylistic themes which seem to pay homage to older Gainax animes like Evangelion, Gunbuster, and FLCL to name a few.
The director for Gurren Lagann, Hiroyuki Imaishi, had prior experience as a key animator in Evangelion as well as being the director of Dead Leaves and working as an animation director for FLCL. His fingerprint bleeds through in the style of Gurren Lagann’s character designs.
Now that most of that’s out of the way, let’s cover the basic premise of this series as it kicks off. The story begins with a somewhat timid teenage boy named Simon (pronounced “Shi-moan” or “See-moan”) who digs tunnels for his village which has lived underground for so long that they no longer believe there is a surface. In fact, to them the entire world exists underground. (As a side note, you could count this as a post-apocalyptic series, as the story takes place approximately 1,000 years after the destruction of human civilization on Earth.)
Simon digs tunnels in order to expand the size of his underground village. He works for a pretty minimum wage, but he also digs because he likes to find treasure. One day he finds a strange drill bit that glows with a pulsating green, and decides to hold onto it as a necklace. Kamina, Simon’s self-proclaimed older brother (though not related by blood), is meanwhile trying to break through to the surface, as he knows that it exists and he wants to be free.
He is always trying to encourage confidence in Simon, as Simon lost his parents to an earthquake when he was a young boy, and Kamina sees potential in him that other characters tend to overlook. This forms the foundation for these characters and the story which is about to unfold around them, specifically the main character, Simon.
Eventually, a giant robot falls through the ceiling of their underground village and attacks them. But thanks to Simon’s determination whilst digging tunnels, he finds a robot of a similar nature and unearths it. They use the robot to fight against the one which invaded the village, and defeat it, arriving at the surface simultaneously.
The show spends a substantial portion of its run time developing Simon’s character, but this is more than just a coming of age story. This is a story about something that a wider audience can appreciate, not just adolescents. Gurren Lagann is about the potential for love and hope to overcome all obstacles. This is expanded through the events which surround Simon and his allies on their journey, as they fight to liberate humanity from oppression.
The soundtrack is simply superb and does very well to complement the scenes which it scores. Honestly, the thought that went into actually deciding what scenes to score with which specific tracks was incredibly well done. The soundtrack’s composer, Taku Iwasaki, did an excellent job of putting the songs together and introduced a variety of different music genres and styles that all complemented the feel of the series. Ultimately, the music gave Gurren Lagann a lot of very appropriate texture.
Despite the generic premise of the characters and plot, the show presents everything in a way which is very refreshing. It takes an unoriginal concept and makes it feel original again, which is hard to pull off with anything in general. The series does have a couple of problems, but they aren’t prominent and are more like minor hiccups in the flow of the show’s progression.
To name the major examples, episode 4 was the only episode in the series to be directed by a guest director. He didn’t really put his heart into the job, and it shows. The animation in that episode is noticeably terrible, as is the writing (much of the screenwriting for the show was made up as they went along, but not all of it).
In regards to the direction of the series as a whole, however. The show’s director, Hiroyuki Imaishi, did such a fantastic job of keeping the show on track that almost nothing about it seems out of flow or awkward. Episode 4 would be the only exception, but that was not his doing, and it really just shows how integral he was to the direction of the animation as well as just the development process in general.
That’s not to discredit the animation directors themselves, however. Because they did an absolutely stunning job. The animation in this series is entirely hand-drawn for the sake of tradition, with the exception of certain enemies which appear as CGI. This is simply a stylistic choice rather than something which could be perceived as lazy or cheap.
Much of the show has more frames of animation than most would expect from a typical anime. Gurren Lagann’s enormous budget (the details of which still remain a mystery) gave the artists freedom to pour as much as they could into the scenes. The animation team has expressed that episode 15 was the most difficult episode to make because it had more frames than any other episode (over 22,000 frames, that’s a lot of hand-drawn work right there for just one episode).
Another part of the series that many people had qualms with was something in particular which happened during the ending. I won’t spoil, but it’s pretty much up to every individual to decide how much that particular event in the storyline bothers them. I didn’t think that it made the show any worse, but I do feel that it was perhaps too surreal to fit with the message that the series constantly conveys throughout.
Overall, this series is incredible in my opinion. There are very few aspects which could be considered unimpressive from a production value standpoint. And the high focus on character development, especially of the main character, will invoke similar emotions in many people. It’s like a roller coaster if you allow it to be. It spends a good amount of time building up, and then it has amazing climaxes, each even better than the previous.
The initial idea for Gurren Lagann was to make it about drills. And the drill theme comprises the very core of the show. The metaphor of the drill is that it is something which gradually advances with every turn, and that is attributed to the soul and how people can be capable of anything as long as they work together and believe in themselves. It’s also used to represent how people grow and develop from experiencing incredible challenges, and how they become stronger from those encounters.
And it’s for those reasons, on top of the high production values in general combined with outstanding direction, that I feel Gurren Lagann deserves to be praised. Not for the epic fight scenes, not for the boobs or the explosions (though those things are nice), but for the characters, and the messages that it conveys through them from the very beginning, all the way to the end.