The sci-fi shounen genre has never had it this good. Okay, not never, but Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is one of those rarities which has clawed its way out of the pile of junk that stinks up the shounen genre to provide something truly refreshing. Tengen Toppa is Gundam on speed, Dragon Ball with brains, Code Geass with sentiments, and has a liberal dose of Toward the Terra TV's epic feel; it's loud, it's brash, it's explosive just like all the others, and yet it actually spins out a mature and compelling story with deep characters and moving subplots.
Tengen Toppa progresses in what can be described as two distinct chapters separated by a time leap. The first chapter is a breathtaking and - dare I say it - flawless introduction to a unique setting and immediately likeable protagonists; moreover, the ‘quest' structure means the story progresses at a steady and logical pace, whereby every power-up feels natural and every victory is truly epic. The second chapter is an unexpected clever twist to the initial set-up, and, as such, will not be discussed for fear of spoiling.
Needless to say, Tengen Toppa's focus shifts from providing a series of power-ups and simple good-versus-evil battles to a fairly complex weaving of political and philosophical ‘grey areas', human empowerment, and romance. The overall effect of this style of plotting is shockingly effective; what starts off as a hyperactive conglomeration of concepts, such as mecha combining and fighting with giant drill-shaped arms, and primitive societies living in caves, actually takes on real meaning in the grand scheme of things.
However, while the second chapter smoothly builds on all the concepts developed in the first, what mars Tengen Toppa's largely excellent achievements is the jarring transition point in the middle and a somewhat drawn-out battle. With the three episodes of transition in the middle, the pacing suddenly becomes awkward, the characters have undergone some drastic changes and so have to be reintroduced, and something about the extravagant style appears to fade; with the ending, the problem is just the length and unimaginable metaphysical scale to which the battle evolves. Luckily, what stays with me long after having finished Tengen Toppa, is not the flaws, but the indomitable energy and eccentricity with which the tale is spun.
In all honesty, I haven't enjoyed a world concept like this since Jyu Oh Sei. The effort put into developing both a believable and yet wholly refreshing universe is admirable; the eye gets to feast on a quirky colour palette of primary colours, inventive animal species, bold outfits, and truly unique mecha designs.
As well as motion that is fairly smooth, the animation allows for hilarious facial expressions and enough juvenile creativity (did I mention the giant arm-drills?) to appeal to the child in anyone. Moreover, the distinct ‘comic book' use of light and shadow and extreme camera angles makes for an excellent dramatic atmosphere during many of the climactic scenes. Also watch out for an episode early on which is actually directed and animated by the same studio that created Beck - the animation style is just unsuitable and may call for an uncomfortable adjustment.
The pop-rock opening theme is suitably lively and fun to listen to with every episode, and the second more punky ending theme does grow on you after a while because of the catchy chorus. Furthermore, the score during the episodes is a good mix of instrumentals, hip hop, metal, and electronic beats; in particular, I enjoy the epic ‘Libera Me From Hell' which moves from rap to opera to instrumental all in one song. In terms of voice acting, everyone performs well, although Kamina and Viral stand out as being the most dynamic vocally.
Tengen Toppa would not be half the anime it is without Kamina, the thread that holds the entire fabric together, both literally and symbolically. True, Simon is in fact the central protagonist, but being cocky, charming, invigorating, tragic, and fearless, the star quality Kamina brings to Tengen Toppa is unrivalled.
Simon, on the other hand, does not show his mettle until quite late into the series; much of the beginning and middle episodes are used to peel off the layers of his innocence one by one until what is left is the determined core. In the end, despite riding a powerful mecha and making some great speeches, Simon turns out to be only half as charismatic as might be expected. He is certainly not as fun to watch as some of the other less central characters.
Those others would include Yoko the sassy sharpshooter, who becomes the sole victim of the tiresome ecchi shots; Rossiu, a former priest's apprentice whose development is one of the most complex; and Viral the beastman, who turns out to be far more than just an amusing recurring antagonist. Actually, the high number of fully developed and memorable characters is commendable considering Tengen Toppa is only twenty-seven episodes.
Apart from an inelegant time leap and a slightly drawn-out ending, this series packs in many high quality elements. Combining gung-ho action, comedy, ecchi, zany animation, and witty characterisation, Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann has something for everyone and is a safe bet for anybody looking for something accessible, all-round fun, and with a heart-stopping sense of adventure.
Man, I look at the other reviews and I actually see people taking this show seriously. How do they do that? This is the most awesomely ridiculous show I've ever seen in my life. Every single action scene had me roaring with laughter. The entire thing is one impossibly over-the-top ball of cheese. I just had to laugh whenever Simon fights. He starts losing, then "No! I believe in myself! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH....GIGA DRILL BREAAAKEERRRR!!!!!!" And then he blasts through everything and everything in the entire universe explodes. I seriously think the director of this show took all the tired old standards of mecha and shounen fight shows and exaggerated them all beyond all belief just to show how truly ridiculous it all is. But make no mistake, this show is very, very fun to watch. Tons of stuff blows up. There's tons of really funny-looking mecha. There's cheesy lines galore and impossible stunts. The main character basically blows through the universe with the strength of his will. Everything imaginable transforms/combines into a mecha. Giant drills pop out of nowhere and suddenly embody the hope of humanity. And there's even Yoko, who is pretty much the personification of ecchi if you like that sort of thing.
As for plot, characterization, script, and all that, it's not too impressive. Above-average for a shounen mecha show I guess. But that's not why you watch the show. You watch this show to see everything exploding and watch one man take on the whole universe and win. With drills.
Despite being too demanding with what I watch today, that still doesn’t mean I didn’t grow up watching dozens of super robot (SR) shows, which were at least described as silly. I still liked them for that time though. I mean, WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM; I was too a kid once who liked them and was getting excited with what was going on in them. Yet as I was growing older I was gradually getting fed up with them since most were practically minor variations of one another, almost entirely episodic and had very little actual tactics or strategy in them. No wonder as soon as I watched Legend of Galactic Heroes I was thereafter even playing Frisbee with my SR CDs… Yes, I was collecting anime so many years ago, when CDs were still in peak. I even used floppy disks in my early years at work. But that’s a different story; my point is that I eventually got bored with the whole genre, besides a few specific Gundam and Macross seasons. This kept on until TTGL came to be and my interest in SR rekindled and I even found the mental stamina to go watch lots of retro mecha I had missed over the years. I didn’t enjoy any of them too much but the show managed to get me interested again and that is all that matters by the end of the day.
Although I usually don’t share the opinion of the majority, in this case I do agree that TTGL is currently the best pure SR anime ever made. And by “pure” I mean it is not to be compared with other mecha anime that have lots of extra philosophical or even religious allusions, such as Neon Genesis, Zegapain or Rahxephon. Those demand a lot more thinking from the viewer while TTGL is pure, almost mindless, entertainment like in the classic shows we all grew up with. At the same time it is not completely shallow either (that is why I have that “almost” word in the previous sentence) as there are several elements in the show that on a basic level do give food for the mind. It is partly a rebellion against oppressive authorities, partly an essay on how people need to sacrifice a few for the well-being of the many, partly about the loss of loved ones, partly about the reason for living and struggling for improvement, partly even about the meaning of life on a universal level. All the above are otherwise not exactly presented too serious and in the long run they are not even the meat of the show (which is good old mindless robot action). Yet they do help to give an extra pint of something more than just that and most people are actually very fond of that. It is a lot more interesting to have some tragedy and social criticism hidden in a ton of anecdotes because this way the show has an identity; in case the main audience agrees with the ideology it is even better. It is the same recipe that made other shows like Urusei Yatsura, One Piece and Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei so famous.
Even without the extra, down to it TTGL is still at its core a classic SR show where the only thing that matters is willpower. It doesn’t matter how smart or cunning you are; you simply need to SHOUT, SCREAM AND YELL louder than your opponent and you automatically mend all the damage on the robot and create a bigger energy beam that defeats anything. This is the main grip which will define if you like it or not; you just need to get all excited with SCREAMING youths and then miracles happen. The people I know who don’t like the anime admit it is because it felt impossible to like screaming your lungs out as panacea to any problem.
A second requirement to like this show is to be fond of high idealism. Like in any shonen series, the protagonists want to be the best in the world. No, make that the best in the universe as they claim they even want to “Pierce the Heavens” with a super drill. So ok, there are oppressive forces along the way too but they are just obstacles in the way of accomplishing the whole piercing business. It is still about protecting the world and your loved ones from evil aliens but the ideals don’t stop to something so unselfish; such premises feel too boring and no longer sell today. All the characters do want to help their world but also never forget to have their own selfish agendas along the way, a thing that help you not to view them as robotic servants of some imposed political correct ideology. That is what makes American superheroes such as Batman and Spiderman more interesting than Superman or Captain America; they act upon selfish impulses and not just impersonal ideals. And anyway, the target audience is teenagers, of course and rebellious, selfish, political incorrect characters are cooler than some boring Superman variant.
A thing that TTGL does better than any other in its category is the feeling of empowerment. In most such shows a power up is mostly “supposed”. The heroes would get new uniforms or a new weapon, or a new robot and they seem to fight better with the current villain before it all becomes meaningless after a few episodes since the size of their robot or the choreography in battles is exactly the same. Yet this show does a much better job at fooling you there is progress, as the characters begin as a bunch of unarmed tunnel diggers and steadily turn to some sort of intergalactic superpower. Things keep growing in size and importance on almost every episode and again it prevents you from feeling bored to wait for the next development to take place in 20 episodes. But wait; I did say “fool you” didn’t I? Well yeah, it really still is just a trick by the end of the day as no matter how much the heroes progress in technology or manpower, they still use the exact same method of fighting: SCREAMING !!! It is still the exact same thing, they begin by throwing rocks and end by throwing galaxies; it’s just the size that changes. Not a bad thing as it still looks very cool but it sure doesn’t feel too convincing (not that it had to).
Another thing it does better is the use of its characters. Although all of them begin as stereotypes and act as such for most of the series, there are key events that change their role in the show. Someone may begin as a sidekick but later on he can become a lot more important, he can turn from enemy to ally or even the reverse, he can be killed, he can grow old and change perspective. Even the villains have motives that go far beyond being generic incarnations of evil. The cast if fluent in the way it acts throughout the show and for that reason far more interesting than static archetypes that are the same from first to last episode. They are also memorable as far as appearances and mannerisms go; I will never forget Simon, Kamina, Youko, or even their arch-nemesis the Anti-Spiral for their ideology. Not many shows can do that.
Furthermore, the production values are very good and keep you interested in watching further. Studio GAINAX has once again created a highly dynamic and fluent show, full of motion and vivid facial expressions, huge energy beams, and gigantic explosions, backed up by huge robots that change, shift, merge and battle in extremely cool ways. Backed up with lots of humorous scenes, subtle fan service, good voice acting and a catchy soundtrack, this show is extremely easy to appeal to most people. Even if you don’t like the story or the convenient SCREAMING panaceas, you will still get to enjoy the way everything is done. You also gotta love the guy siting on the director seat. Imaishi Hiroyuki has honored the industry with some of great titles, such as Kare Kano, Dead Leaves, RE Cutey Honey, and Panty & Stocking.
In all, I found TTGL to be the perfect example of how much more a SR show can be than just a Mazinger variant. I was entertained by it at almost every step of the way with its animation, fast pace, fluent roles of the characters, the humour, the action, the ideology behind the heroes and the villains. It is a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame of any top list for making the best of what it had and even messing with the mold at points. And don’t forget to check out Gunbuster in case you haven’t. It is practically the father of this anime and also a GAINAX show.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 10/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-made)
Character Figures 2/2 (easily memorable)
Backgrounds 2/2 (trippy)
Animation 2/2 (fluent)
Visual Effects 2/2 (trippy)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (silly but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 4/4 (dynamic)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 7/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (fast)
Complexity 2/2 (more than it seems)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 9/10
Presence 2/2 (cool/sexy/funny)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 2/2 (overblown but it’s strong)
Catharsis 2/2 (overblown but it’s strong)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you like its style)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely lively to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 8/10
Art 1/1 (looks cool)
Sound 1/2 (great music, silly dialogues)
Story 2/3 (dumb but very well presented)
Characters 4/4 (they are great for their roles)
Story: This didn't even need a story. If it just had mecha, explosions, ham and manliness with a barebones plot to push all that forward, then it would have been awesome. But you get a plot to go with your larger-than-life mecha and overblown speeches. The plot starts off simple and could have simply ended at 12 episodes in but with the time-skip at that half-way mark, you're getting another story that could have been a second season. And that story, is made of awesome once it picks up.
It's not simply the "fight for freedom" that does it but how as it continues, it gets bigger and bigger until it's past the stage of larger-than-the-world. It continues to climb and top itself with every episode, every battle and everything that happens. But with every event that occurs, a few will always linger, will always stay with you and it's those events that really push it over the top. There's heart admists the coolness and manly nature in it, a soul that is within the burning spirit. And to go with those memories, is the sheer unadulterated rule of cool.
All that heart stuff there does hold a candle to the manly action that goes on, so manly that you don't even need a shirt to go with those awesome shades. This is the mecha that drives it forward, the hammy speeches that pump you up and the mass amount of explosions that outnumber the enemy and ally mecha. This is 50-60, 70% of the tale; manly men and women doing manly things, getting into manly battles and to prove it, mecha is ran by manliness; coolness, also known as Spiral Power. Science proves that coolness is the key to the world!
So it's deeper than what you would expect, and that's icing and a good portion of the cake. It had the spirit but the plot is it's soul, and it burns just as brightly.
Animation: First off, it looks great. That goes double for the mecha, which while unusual to me, have a sense of style and faces that match the tone of the series, as well as the shades on Gurren Lagann. It's slick and moves at a good pace and switches to a more sketchy, penciled and frentic style in times of extreme manliness or finishers. It's a nice idea and not overused. Also props to their style, which is both oddball and pretty cool, despite the lack of shirts in such a hot setting. The only miffle is a episode early on which is so out of place with everything else. You'll know it when you see it.
Sound: Gorgeous, the musical score is brilliant, and especially Viral's theme and Libra Me From Hell. The score is complimented with the VO's: sub or dub, take your pick; it's brilliant work both ways.
Characters: From the trinity of Kamina, Simon and Yoko to all the other heroes and the four generals of the Spiral King, the characters are what help make it what it is. Kamina's great on the offset, all macho bravado with hammy speeches and just being a badass ham all around but it's Simon who takes the cake. Throughout the series, we watch him from a wimpy kid who takes the initiative when he's pushed to to the man we see at the end. He lets go of his childhood and steps into the shoes of being a awesome badass. He's not the most likable at the start, but he can grow on you.
And a shout-out to Viral, who is by far the best antagonist in the series. So much more than a villain our heroes fight numerous times, and his chemistry with the heroes only adds to the deliciousness of the broth.
Overall: Add in the fun factor and that's what I came up with. This was an absolute blast from start to finish and I had loads of fun in the second run. Packed to the brim with cool and explosive mecha action and badassitude, this is at the peak of the genres it partakes in.
I could have sworn it talked a lot about a man's burning spirit and soul. Must have been the shades.
This review contains some spoilers; however, I didn’t include anything that could ruin the story. All the spoilers are from events that you find out about within the first few episodes so it should be safe to read this.
I believe that the main theme of this anime is that if you go against the tide and work your hardest, anything is possible. They emphasize this point by emphasizing the anything to the extremes.
If you are looking for a fast-paced action anime that goes beyond the possible and kicks reason to the curb, then Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is exactly what you are looking for! I am a BIG critic when it comes to anime, and there are only 3 animes that I have ever rated 10/10. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is the ONLY one that I have rated an unconditional 10/10.
While watching the anime, I found that it got exponentially more epic as the episodes progressed with only a few down points. I will say right now that I have been pushing this anime on as many people who I could since the first out of many times that I have seen it. Every single person who I convinced to watch the show has told me that it is easily one of their top 10, if not their favorite! Now I will get a bit more specific and look into the different areas of the anime.
The story starts out really small scale with the main character and his friend originating in an underground community with the dream of breaking out into the outside world. However, only he and a select few even believe that such an outside world exist. In a sudden explosion of events, they bust forth beyond their underground cavern and meet new friends as they realize the true vastness of the universe and just how insignificant their old underground life truly was. They encounter a lot of hardships along the way and meet many new people as they try to defeat the evil beings who attempt to entrap all of humanity in the underground communities in order to keep the human population low.
The creators of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann wanted to create a sort of childish look to the animation which contrasts the dark moments in the anime while still enhancing the joyful ones. Every time I see Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann I can’t help but say to myself that the backgrounds, and even the characters, are just stunningly beautiful to look at. I am not sure the exact frame rate, but I do know that it is high enough that it doesn’t ruin the beautiful drawing style!
I found the sound quality to be excellent. There were some good background songs that played, which fit their situations so that they did not take away from the action, but actually augmented it. There are even some songs that flow with the main message of the anime.
The main character’s name is Simon, who is a shy boy who isn’t very confident in himself, but is extremely good at digging. Simon’s best friend is called Kamina, but Simon calls him Aniki (translated to Bro or Brother). Kamina is an over-the-top guy who says what he thinks and does what he thinks is right. He is always striving to do the impossible and kick reason to the curb. Kamina's role in the story is to be the mentor of Simon, who sees Kamina as everything that he wishes to be.
When breaking out from underground, they meet up with a girl named Yoko from another underground community. She is no ‘damsel in distress’, rather, she carries a massive gun and doesn’t wear very much (probably for fan service reasons). It turns out that due to an accident, her community was forced to go to the surface where they have to fight for their lives against the evil gunmen which are trying to keep them underground. They meet many more characters along the way, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise!
This is not only the best Mecha anime that I have seen, but the BEST anime that I have seen. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the genre or to anyone who is wants to take a look at a new type of anime.