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.
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 is a special review in which I don't rate it subjectively, but instead help you to know if it's a show for you by creating a little "poll"
Want to watch a show where common sense does not apply? Where everything is random and makes no sense? Do you hate physics so much that you find joy in seeing them ignored?
Are you a 8 years old kid? Is your definition of word "epic" as follows: "As big as it only can be"?
Do you like plain characters that shout loudly? What about oversized boobs barely hidden under riddiculously absurd "clothing"?
Are you a terrible writer and want to see a story worse than your own?
Or perhaps you think that there can't be anything worse than [insert name here]? Or maybe you already watched everything else and are desperate for more anime?
For every "yes", add a point to the score, for every "no" substract two, look at the final score - this is my score of this anime for you, I can recommend you to watch it if it's 6+
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is 27 episodes of an action-packed, sci-fi, comedic shounen anime about mecha. And what a roller coaster it is. There a so many hilarious, cheesy, awesome and thrilling bits of this anime, but there are also parts that are infuriating. This isn’t the best anime for me to pop in a review when I’ve said I won’t be writing any, but I just had to put my thoughts and critique down. One thing for sure, Gurren Lagann is very unique and goes where few anime dare. It’s one of the best shounen anime around and among all anime it is one that many folks regard as a cream of the crop. But are they right to think so? This anime also has two movies which will be reviewed another time. Be warned this review is being written by someone who hates ecchi and pointless fan-service. This review is also very long!
The animation quality of this anime is sublime. I can barely believe it was made in 2007. However, this perfect quality is non-existent in episode 4, for reasons unknown. The animation style is very colourful but not actually too unique. The characters look like characters from other anime and so do some of the quirks here and there. The mechas look unique, with the exception of the Gurren Lagann, which looks much more typical. I will say that the overall design of the villains is rather distinguished.
But the worst part of this anime… the pointless, shameless fan-service. I’ve rambled on about this so much before. The skimpy, revealing outfits kinda make sense given the setting, but shoving breasts into folk’s faces and the perverted antics of the horrendous hot springs episode are a step too far. I will admit, Kamina swimming a circuit through breasts is kinda funny. And while there is no indecent exposure from the female cast, this anime does something equally as terrible. A child’s privates are visible in a scene or two. And context can’t be used as an excuse in this case as they quite obviously censor, in an amusing fashion, the other guys’ bits. Thankfully this stuff is limited to early episodes, thus it can be forgiven for improving. Overall a tad disappointing but still pretty good, the high quality animation is let down by a few early mistakes.
The intro music is awesome! Some metallic rock by Shoko Nakagawa sets the action here and the outro tune is pretty good too. The second outro gets even better. But it’s not just the intro and outro, the main anime itself has a variety of appropriate and awesome background music. At the time of writing this review, I’ve been unable to download the soundtrack, but you know I will! The sound effects are also pretty funny and add to the great sound design helping the scenes give off their respective atmospheres: comic, thrilling, serious and more. This anime is available in both English and Japanese, though the movies are Japanese only as far as I can tell. I don’t really have a place to comment on dub quality, but here I thought it was pretty good. They have some big names too such as Johnny Young-Bosch who did Lelouch from Code Geass, voicing Rossiu and Michelle Ruff whose roles include Euphemia from Code Geass voicing Yoko. Kamina is voiced by Kyle Herbert who voiced Gohan from DBZ, Simon is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal who voiced Suzaku from Code Geass and Daedalus from Ergo Proxy. Great sound and IMO, the best bit of this anime maybe.
This section is a tad difficult due to the extremely progressive story, which makes spoilers all too easy. I’ll talk about the characters as they are in the first half. For the second half, I’ll likely redo the character section when I review the second movie.
The main character, without question here is the orphan kid Simon (pronounced See-moan for some reason). He is skilled at using his hand drill to dig and his actions set off the plot of this story. I’d hazard a guess that this guy is no older than 12. He hates earthquakes as one took the life of his parents. His best friend and brother in spirit is Kamina and together they grew up in the underground town of Jeeha, where the surface land and the sky is but a myth. This character is the typical shonen protagonist, gets lucky and is essential for many battles, but he is also somewhat cowardly. He lacks self-confidence and Kamina usually has to sort him out. He can be insecure at times but as the plot progresses, events shake some sense into him. Immediately following that, I could really empathise and understand with his character, maybe because I felt the same way. From there on, I feel his character improved. Especially after episode 16, his character becomes a lot like another.
Kamina is in my opinion the best character in this anime. This crazy, charismatic, hot-headed, often dumb, nutcase of a man is a lovable and funny character. He was the one pushing everything forward in the first several episodes, his recklessness powered the progression of the early plot. He regards Simon as his brother and Simon the same, calling him ‘bro.’ He talks of being a manly man, wears stupidly pointy sunglasses, runs shirtless with naught but a cape and wields a sword that he stole from the chief of Jeehaa. Kamina can sometimes be obnoxious, but he means well. He is excited at the prospect of leaving Jeeha and wishes to follow in his father’s footsteps and reach for the skies. His charisma compels the other characters to follow behind him and he is the one to formally name Gurren, Lagann and the team Gurren, who later becomes team Dai-Gurren. He is strong-willed and refuses to give up, sometimes to his own disadvantage where Simon has to come in and save his arse. Most importantly, he provides moral support and assists Simon to push above his weight. At times his stupidity makes you want to slap him in the face, leading the team blindly into trouble and getting up to perverted antics in the forsaken hot-springs episode. But despite all this, his character does the job, the charisma and bravado of his even reaches the viewers at times and you can’t help but cheer him on. I salute him.
The next of the main characters is curvaceous gun-toting babe Yoko, whom some people jokingly nickname You-Only-Kiss-Once (watch the anime to find out why). I would have a problem with the skimpy outfit of this character but it makes sense given the setting. Yoko is a typical girl (apparently 14 which I refuse to believe) and gets often gets mad at Kamina for his stupidity. She is also capable of doing dumb things, lack of modesty most of all. She’s perfectly fine with Simon’s pet pig-mole Boota hiding in her big breasts and isn’t afraid to thrust Simon into them (in the first episode) or get into questionable poses at times. On some fronts she is a bit slow (and too late), but she is skilled in her use of a rifle, which can even be loaded with arrows to go hunting for her village Littner. Thankfully she isn’t as stupid or annoying as some female leads in other shonen anime and does her best to keep the other two in check. Not a bad character overall.
Gah there are so many characters so I’ll slow down a bit now. As much a main character as Kamina, Nia is a girl around Simon’s age who has unrealistically colourful hair and impossible eyes since her pupils are flowers. She’s that cutesy character that all the other character’s love and as a princess, daughter of the spiral king, she’s been taught to behave with benevolence towards all. She really doesn’t understand the feud between the humans and the beasts and desires a peaceful place where folks can get along. She has the character trope who seems to enjoy cooking but is so terrible at it, that others will eat her food and not tell her how it really is. However, after episode 16 she is not the same. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers.
Time to talk about a villain, the beastman Viral (pronounced Vir-rill). At first he seems like a typical rival villain, but this character is something much more. He holds honour dear above all else and seems to enjoy his fights with Kamina, a worthy opponent. He is persistent and somehow, very lucky. Despite his personality, he isn’t pure evil as it may seem. This reflects the main villain Lord Genome, who is his dictator ruler. He doesn’t like winning fights in any underhanded way and eventually his curiosity gets the better of him and he starts to question what is happening.
Back to protagonists, Rossiu is another young man from an underground village where gunmen are worshipped. This guy is a very serious character and it takes a while before he becomes significant and starts to stand out. Like Kamina, he wants to do what he feels is best for the safety and the good of the people and similarly he may not always be right. Unlike Kamina, he tackles problems with logic and he is a religious man too, believing in god too.
This section is already long but, please stick with me for a couple more characters. Kittan Bachika is the only brother of the black siblings. No idea why they are the black siblings, but Kittan is similar to Kamina. He shares the same views and is just as adventurous. He does his best to protect his three sisters, Kinon, Kiyal and Kiyoh. Like Kamina, he can be hot-headed and tackles problems with brute force. He loves to speak his mind and he’s actually very capable, making the right decisions at the right time and often these decisions save the day. At first I felt he was nothing original, but as the anime progresses he ends up developing as his own character.
Last one, a rather unique character is Leeron, also from the village of Littner. This quirky and camp guy with a strange look is actually gay. Initially I felt offended with his depiction, but I eventually warmed up to him. He’s pretty funny and he actually plays an important role. He is the brains of the group, the mechanic who does the repairs. Thus he doesn’t fit in with the usual nerdy science guy tropes, a good thing in my book. While he likes to joke around and scare guys with his sexuality, he can knuckle down and get serious when he’s needed to.
Remember when I said sound might be the best bit of this anime? Well this is the reason for that reluctance. The story of Gurren Lagann, is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Yes, the whole mechas fighting to save the world has been done before, but Gurren Lagann puts a good twist on things and the part that surprised and excited me the most… this anime does what few other anime do. Passage of time. And best of all, it’s a complete story with no sequels/prequels required.
So the plot goes that Simon finds a mysterious object when digging in his hometown of Jeeha and together with Kamina, they escape to the surface with the newly formed team Gurren. Team Gurren are fighting against the tyranny of the Spiral King Lord Genome, who wishes to suppress humanity. Human’s vs beastmen. Sounds good right, bad guy doing a clearly bad thing. I’ll just say maybe it isn’t as black and white as it seems (without spoiling it). The plot is full of laughs and campiness, early on you can’t help but not take it seriously. The hunting episode had me in a laughing fit, those animals looked ridiculous. Lord Genome himself is a mysterious character and more than just humanity’s oppressor as you find out approximately 10 or so episodes in. Team Gurren steal and use gunmen, huge mecha which look like faces with limbs. Of course one gripe of mine was how ridiculously unlikely and BS some things would be. An object bombarded like hell survives with minor damage, very heavy objects manage to fly just by being propelled along a slope (imagine pushing a car over a ramp) and power seems to come out of nowhere (though that one is explained very late). But if they were to scrutinise such things and take it seriously, it wouldn’t be Gurren Lagann now would it?
So stuff happens, battles, explosions, yada-yada-yada and suddenly, the unexpected happens. If you thought this a simple plot, you are so wrong. This plot throws curve balls, has twists, turns and unexpected developments all around. Like a good story should. The climax of the story appears to happen very early, that all-or-nothing moment, but it ain’t so simple. My feelings towards the story were a rollercoaster, finding the start cool, hating Simon being shoved into boobs, discovering interesting characters, wanting to burn the world as a result of the hot springs episode, the plot started doing great things and then… that happens. At first I was upset and thought it was a dumb move, but the story and characters showed it was capable and continued to move forward with that same bravado. I was reminded of the likes of Death Note and FMA.
Episode 16 is the token recap episode and it’s done in a nice way and following that, the whole thing changes even more than before. Stuff actually happens. Progress is made, you start to notice all the cool developments and little unexpected tweaks. And like Death Note, the second half is a different kind of story. Heck, they could have ended it at episode 15 and called it season one. But they went the whole hog and but everything into a single season and that needs praise.
Now down to the nitty gritty. The romance in this anime at first seems non-existent but in usual shounen fashion, it soon becomes apparent that feelings are bubbling under the surface. Were this the average shounen anime, it would never come to light and it would be yet another shoehorned-in terrible attempt at romance. But… you’d be surprised. Even when it all seems over, down the line characters get shipped as couples you wouldn’t see a mile away. Which is a slight shame, they could have done some foreshadowing and shown that the emotions were there beforehand.
And now I take this light-hearted bonkers anime seriously. The social-commentary/subtext. There’s quite a bit of war in this anime. War should be an obvious topic so I won’t talk about it, but it is questioned whether such force needed to be used. Then there’s the grave matters like the situation in Adai village. When there isn’t enough to go around, a population limit is enforced. It may seem harsh, but it’s one of few options. Population and control becomes a bit of a theme in this anime. Some people may feel strongly about this topic and others don’t care. Funny thing is that it will become an issue in the near future for humanity IRL. Then there’s some interesting stuff later on about government and public reactions. People en masse can be very dumb and feel like throwing blame on folks unnecessarily and violently rioting at the worst times. I’m reminded of politics IRL, people complain about one party and then vote for another. Then they still complain about the new one and go back again. IMO, the truth should always be revealed, but the reaction of the general public towards the truth may be inappropriate. So I understood how certain characters felt, when they were faced with certain problems. There is also the idea of spiral power. This aspect of the anime is entirely fictional, thus shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s just a story as far as spiral power is concerned.
I’ll be honest, my opinion of this anime was low at the start. But like many of the recent anime I’ve seen, the more I watched, the more I started to enjoy it and realise what all the fuss is about. It is without a doubt, up there among the top shounen anime. It is funny and campy at times, it reminded me of Power Rangers from my childhood though in a bad way. It isn’t perfect, it does have plot elements that don’t make sense, pointless fan-service, a questionable change in cast and more. But it pushes above all of that and ends up being very enjoyable. It goes without saying that shounen fans should watch this, but I also recommend everyone else to give this a try. Brace yourselves for the crap early on and then enjoy the rest. It’s nowhere near terrible. But I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best anime ever. Because of those imperfections and because, they did something I really didn’t like. By having read this review and watched the anime, you can figure out what (and it’s not the fan-service because I’ve mentioned that).
Family-friendliness Rating: 5/5 Let down by some male nudity and fan-service early on. Would be a mere 2 after episode 6 (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 (higher is better)