By way of episode 15, analyzing the appeal of Gurren Lagann

I watched episode 15 of Gurren Lagann last night. Put simply, it was awesome; the best episode so far, I can’t emphasize that enough. I wanted to blog it right there and then, but threw in the towel after two hours worth of typing had produced little more than a couple of paragraphs lined with superficial hyperbole. I must admit, even now – the morning after, I’m still struggling to come up with the words to explain exactly why it is so much fun; my only answer is to say that “it just is”.
Poking around the interweb, it’s becoming clear that I’m not the only one to have trouble talking about Gurren Lagann either. For example, it’s almost the smallest sub-forum (out of 11) under “Current Series” on AnimeSuki; 2,753 posts compared with the 3,044 under “sola” and 8,781 under “Lucky Star”. It didn’t even make the top 10 on last week’s Anime Nano Popularity Chart. Why not?
Through it’s provocative use of colors and symbols, Gurren Lagann relies on invoking a core emotional resonance within the viewer, but it’s so far disconnected from what we consider normal that we find ourselves gazing in awe, simply watching it all unfold. Watching, rather than participating; there is a clear separation between Gurren Lagann and the real world. That’s not the case with the majority of other anime, where the settings, the drama and even the characters are able to satisfy our nostalgia; allowing us to mentally place ourselves within story, to imagine that we are there.
This disconnect leaves me with little more to say about Gurren Lagann. It’s an “awesome” and “cool” series, fun and imaginative, but it’s different in that it won’t allow you to “escape” in the same way.

Gurren Lagann (12) – May be now they won't be so quick to underestimate the human scum

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy episode 12 of Gurren Lagann. Obviously, it’s the cliche beach episode; and even from the preview, it looked like a waste of time. Mostly, the first half of this episode is tits and ass, constantly poking at the otaku, trying to incite moe. It has funny moments, but mostly, it’s colorful yet superficial nonsense.
The thing about Gurren Lagann though is that it acknowledges formulaic cheese, only to intentionally change the flavor. I’m talking about Yoko targeting through Nia’s flowing blonde locks, symbolically trying to deface the beloved moe icon. It’s kind of funny how we can swing from the cliche beach volleyball crap to this in just the one episode, but such is the spastic pace of Gurren Lagann, even the end of the world could flash past in an insane few minutes.
I must admit, I’m loving the villainous Spiral King and his minions of doom. They are just, so, damn, deliciously, EVIL. Also, I was a bit gutted to see Adiane pass; she was one wicked witch and thoroughly deserved her black and white graduation into the after life; sad that with her final words, she even apologies to belovedly-dead ape-man Thymilph, revealing an all-to-late human side. Now, what happens to poor old Viral? I’m hoping the writers have more in store for my favourite tortured blonde bastard. May be now they won’t be so quick to underestimate the human scum?

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – "Listen to me, you fucking furry"

This episode confirms it; Gurren Lagan is made of all kinds of awesome. The first 10 minutes… I’ve been sitting here for 20 and I still can’t articulate everything that’s so good about it. I’m talking about the knife fight. The way the characters move, the way they talk, the art, the fluidity of animation, it’s all just perfect. A jaw-dropping and perfect distillation of everything that I love about shonen anime. The mecha battles too. They are grandiose in execution; the explosions from their missiles could almost be mini-nukes for way they cover the screen with violent, multi-coloured mushroom clouds.
Often I feel like there a knowing wink at the audience from Gainax, almost as if they know they are exploding the world with this show. The rock music in the background is a definite sign that they are just absolutely rocking out while animating this. Gurren Lagan is something to watch if you want a big smile slapped across your face for 24 minutes. This episode confirmed it for me; it’s the best show in a good season of anime by a long way. Now for some dialogue from this episode:
“Listen to me, you fucking furry”, “I’m the Gurren Brigade’s Lord Kamina, who’s name quiets crying children!” “Mens souls, uniting with passion”, “Who the fuck do you think I am?” and finally, “DABBU DABBU DABBU DABBU DA!!!”. Best. episode. ever. What a rush!

Big and dumb mecha show, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

In a word, the 2007 spring season has been AWESOME. So much so, I’m already fearing the potential back-log of episodes. Of the 7+ new shows I’m following, my favourite right now is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It’s hard to know what to expect from Gainax these days, but I had great fun watching this. I love that it’s just a big and dumb mecha show, splattered with colour and full of life. Everything moving so fast and looking so exciting; especially the characters, who are hyperactive and without regret.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi and his “sugar rush” style is stamped all over the show. His directorial debut came with 2004’s seizure inducing Dead Leaves, but where that was extremely vulgar, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is pervaded with a liberating, almost heart breaking, sense of discovery and freedom. My favourite moment from the series so far is in episode two when Simon and Kamina, having lived underground all their lives, are gazing upon the glimmering star-filled night sky. It’s a nostalgic scene, combined with the soundtrack, that really emphasizes the feelings of wonder and adventure surging through the characters upon seeing something so endless and beautiful for the first time in their lives.

Gunbuster – I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness

Putting aside the hyperbole and the fandom that seems to hold hands and religiously scream about every post-digisub series (myself included), the majority of newly crafted anime is objectively mediocre and creatively flat. Realizing this, yet still hopelessly attracted to spending an inexplicable amount of time rooted in front of the stuff, it’s about time that I took charge of my senses and sat down with some anime that sticks with me for longer than 23 mins.
Gunbuster has been around since 1988 (that’s nearly 20 years, people!) and otaku are still talking about it today; sadly, it’s been festering on my hard drive for nearly as long, so rather than plow through a brain hemorrhaging 5 episode marathon of D.Gray-man (*shudders*), I resolved to try out Gunbuster instead. 6 episodes and Diebuster later, I feel like an idiot for waiting this long.
So for the uninitiated, what is Gunbuster? Sad Girls in Space, of course!
Literally subtitled “Aim for the Top!”, Gunbuster’s heroine, Noriko, is an ambitious teenage girl who dreams of piloting mecha and defending Earth against Uchuu Kaijuu (reads better than the pulpy translation “Space Monsters”). Similar to the archetypal Shonen Jump lead, Noriko makes up for a profound lack of natural talent with “hard work and guts”, her unwavering drive relates to the recent death of her Space Admiral father. At least, it is with Noriko’s colourful personality that Hideaki Anno begins to paint Gunbuster’s dramatic tapestry.
Indeed, I did just name-drop Neon Genesis Evangelion’s revered creative maestro. There was once a time when otaku respected the talent of Hideaki Anno without needing to append a disclaimer to their opinions. It’s worth mentioning that Gunbuster was his directorial cherry popping and even here, his unique artistic quality is stamped all over the series. For example, consider that the final (sixth) episode is almost completely drawn in monochrome (black and white), the animation would occasionally degenerate into black and white stills and the plot is borderline obsessed with applying hardcore, believable science fiction to what, in the end, will always be an anime about mecha and space monsters; no doubt, applying such rigid scientific rules to Gunbuster proved to be Anno’s masterstroke.
My favourite moments are almost exclusively related to the science of Gunbuster’s (and essentially, our) universe. During much of episode 3, Noriko is falling in love with a fellow male co-pilot by the name of Smith Toren. That he dies is no surprise; these days it’s a fairly typical plot device in anime to quickly develop a secondary character only to kill him off for emotional effect (see Full Metal Alchemist), it’s more the way Smith dies that is disturbing. Adhering to “Alien“‘s memorable tag line, “In space, no-one can hear you scream!”, Smith’s radio goes dead and that’s it, he is gone forever. The feeling of desolation and helplessness is chilling.
The desolation of time and space are the heart breaking truths at the centre of Gunbuster’s moving drama. Due to advances in space travel, lightning speeds can be achieved, though at a considerable cost; months spent in “space time” are equivalent to years on Earth. Noriko’s struggles are hard enough without having to deal with the devastation of her old life; her friends and family slipping away with every passing minute. Some of the saddest moments come as Noriko hesitantly reunites with old class mates, seeing how they’ve grown up, made families and settled down. The quiet and reflective tone adopted during these moments twists Gunbuster’s emotional complexity, tinging Noriko’s heroism with an inevitable sense of loneliness. It’s obvious from where Makoto Shinkai cribbed his ideas, especially “Voices of a Distant Star“.
Of course, with a name like Gunbuster, one must be expect some ripping good mecha action. GAINAX delivers, apocalypto style. Clearly influenced by his involvement with Nausicaä, Anno has the universe “rejecting humanity” in the Miyazaki fashion by sending some mind bogglingly huge insect-looking monsters after us, in their billions. Mankind’s only response is to create “buster machines”; mecha and/or weapons with incomprehensible god-like power. I could call it “epic” but that’s such a cliche word to use these days; let’s just say the final episode involves the destruction of Jupiter. Planets gets explodes. Enough said.
The animation by GAINAX is wonderful. Carefully hand-drawn, beautifully fluid and dotted with overwhelming detail, it is a story that springs to life on screen, constantly moving. Like the best anime from the 1980s, there is an overriding sense of spirit and enthusiasm pulsing through this, almost as though someone ripped out their soul and trapped it in Gunbuster for all to see. I hope more of you do, I can confirm it’s better than D.Gray-man.