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Gurren Lagann

Entry updated 30 August 2021. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2007). Original title Tengen Toppa Guren Ragan. Gainax. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. Written by Kazuki Nakashima. Voice cast includes Narushi Ikeda, Marina Inoue, Tetsuya Kakihara, Katsuyuki Konishi and Masaya Onosaka. 27 24-minute episodes. Colour.

After the leader of the Underground village of Gihal mocks the claim of teenager Kamina (Konishi) that there is a surface world, Gihal is attacked by a Mecha. With the help of gun-toting Yoko (Inoue), Kamina and his young friend Simon (Kakihara) escape to the surface using a small mecha (called Lagann) found by Simon. Yoko explains she and other surface humans constantly battle mecha called Gunmen: Kamina captures one (called Gurren) and discovers it can combine with Simon's to form the superpowered Gurren Lagann (which is regularly upgraded during the series by joining with other Gunmen).

The group tours the bleak surface lands (see Ruined Earth), capturing Gunmen and gathering allies – including scientifically minded Leeron (Onosaka) – calling themselves Team Gurren. The surface is ruled by the immortal Lordgenome, the Spiral King (Ikeda), who sends beastmen and Gunmen against them. Episode 15 sees his defeat, but his final words are a warning. However, the most dramatic event in this arc occurs in episode 8, when Kamina – up to this point seemingly the protagonist – is killed, and insecure Simon finds he has to fill his shoes.

Seven years pass: with Simon as Supreme Commander, humanity has returned to the surface and is flourishing. The Spiral King's head has been regenerated (see Brain in a Box) and becomes an ally: he explains the universe is divided into two factions, Spirals and Anti-Spirals. The latter argue the Evolutionary aggressiveness of helical DNA lifeforms will destroy the universe, so they wipe out thriving Spiral planets (thus the Spiral King's forcing humanity underground): in Earth's case, they plan to crash the Moon into it. This Moon turns out to be a gigantic Gunmen Spaceship (the real Moon being hidden in imaginary space), which Simon uses to form Super Galaxy Gurren-Lagann and teleports (see Teleportation) to the Anti-Spiral homeworld. In an escalating battle the power of the Big Bang is flung at our heroes; but it only serves to create Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, which defeats the Anti-Spirals.

Team Gurren wins because, though using Technology created by defeated Spiral races, humans are the most determined, stubborn beings in the universe (see Optimism and Pessimism) – and Gurren are powered by willpower: an attribute which the show repeatedly conflates with masculinity (see Feminism) and rates over Intelligence (see Anti-Intellectualism in SF). The former is partially ameliorated by Team Gurren having several women members, whilst super-capable Leeron is gay (albeit a camp stereotype, and causing gay panic from some Team members).

The series' ambition is unrestrained and the climatic episodes' animation does an impressive job of conveying breathtaking scale (see Sense of Wonder). The overall effect – from Kamina's leaping onto a boulder and yelling at his attackers whilst being fired upon, to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann being over 5 billion light years tall – is gloriously absurd. Aside from its philosophy sounding like a particularly bullish life coach, the show's main problem is at the human level: the broad Humour and the frantic silliness undermine attempts at depth and pathos.

The series was partially a reaction to the grimmer mecha stories inspired by the success of Neon Genesis Evangelion (see Shinseiki Evangelion); it frequently references more upbeat super robot and mecha anime of the 1970s and 1980s, including Mazinger Z (1972-1974) (for this and the next see Mecha); Getter Robo (1974-1975); Invincible Super Man Zambot 3 (1977-1978); Combat Mecha Xabungle (1982-1983); and later ones such as The King of Braves GaoGaiGar (1997-1998). Another early anime referenced is Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978-1979).

Two compilation films followed the television series: Gurren Lagann the Movie: Childhood's End (2008; original title Gekijōban Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Gurren-hen) covered episodes 1-15 and Gurren Lagann The Movie: The Lights in the Sky are Stars (2009; original title Gekijōban Tengen Toppa Guren Lagann Lagann-hen) covered episodes 16-27. Both contained some new animation: for example, the second introduces Super Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. The English titles reference works by Arthur C Clarke and Fredric Brown. There were also the dialogue-free OVA shorts Gurren Lagann Parallel Works (2008; 8 episodes) and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Parallel Works 2 (2010; 7 episodes). Manga, Light Novels and Videogame versions have also been produced. This was an extremely popular series and led to its director, Imaishi, forming his own studio, Trigger (which see). [SP]


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