Archive Post: Tengen Teppa Gurren Lagann (9/29/15)

Hello, and after a long hiatus, Welcome to another Anime Chop Block
Today, we will be looking at the anime that got Team Trigger famous before Kill la Kill: Tengen Teppa Gurren Lagann.

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A mecha show made by Gainax, it ran from April 1, 2007 to September 30, 2007. As we know, the team that made Gurren Lagann made Kill la Kill under studio Trigger so let’s see how their earlier work fares.

Story/Writing

Our story opens with humanity driven underground and two teens, Simon and Kamina, trying to escape their confinement. One day, Simon finds a small mech later named Lagann just as a giant mech falls through the celling and into the underground village with a girl named Yoko following it. What follows is Simon, Kamina, and Yoko using the Lagann and other mechs to fight against the forces that drove humanity underground and gathering allies along the way.

The show at its basic structure is a coming of age story for Simon though it also shares common elements with classic myths and legends. As Simon goes through the story, he experiences triumph, loss, love and reconciliation of himself. All of these moments don’t come off as superfluous or false as the show is able to sustain a steady pace in order to ensure that the plot points don’t drag or go too quickly. New elements to the story are introduced at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm and the show never falls into a holding pattern for long, enabling full investment in the show. Even a time skip that takes place in the middle of the show doesn’t disorient the viewer as it’s a natural progression of the story and fits in with Simon’s growth. The show delivers on the action front as well with large setpieces and larger than life speeches.The show also has a broad overarching theme of overcoming all odds with a manly spirit which, while a bit heavy handed due to how Kamina and Simon deliver it with big over the top speeches, fits well with the energy and style of the show and is complemented by the action setpieces.

From a character perspective, Simon’s growth is the strongest in the series as the story is about him. He goes from a scared shy kid to a man who can take charge and be depended on through a set of memorable setpieces and the subsequent scenes which focus on his emotions and thoughts in response to the setpieces. The other characters themselves are given development on how they work as people to the point that the viewer is as invested in the fates of the side characters as he is with the main characters. This is facilitated by natural dialogue that doesn’t sound overly expository and fits the personalities demonstrated for each character. A few stumbling blocks remain though. While the show’s dialogue is well done, the setups it has for the romances are underdeveloped and I often didn’t understand how the characters fall in love with each other as the interactions exhibited in the show are not obvious towards setting up a romance. They are however able to establish a close bond between the specific characters which may be enough for some. In addition, I found that some characters like Yoko weren’t given that much development. While there were given enough for the viewer to stay invested, I found that they didn’t really grow as characters and often stayed a bit static throughout the proceedings though this may be due to the focus on Simon.

Art/Animation

The art style is generally that of smooth clean lines and somewhat realistic features for the faces with bright colors for both the mechs and characters; however, during dramatic scenes it often goes to a cruder hand drawn style to illustrate energy and motion. It should be noted that episode 4 changes its general art style to be more cartoony with the biggest change being the eyes and noses of characters; this change in style was due to the episode having a guest director named Osamu Kobayashi. On the animation side of things, I didn’t notice any major off model details or odd geometry in the movements of characters and the fight animation was crisp with appropriate blocking of shots to empathize hits, blows, and finishing moves. In addition, there is little if any CG animation in the show so purists shouldn’t have a hard time.

Sound/Music

The opening for the show, Sorairo Days by Shoko Nakagawa, is a rock opening that fits the intensity of the show’s visuals and serves as a positive opening for the show. It should be noted that there are two versions for the two halves of the show. The first ending, Underground by High Voltage, is not that fitting for the show, going for a smooth jazz feel that personally clashed with my mood following the show. The second ending only used for one episode, Happily Ever After by Shoko Nakagawa, is a slower rock song than Sorairo Days that compliments the tone of the show better. The third ending, Minna no Peace by Afromania, is another rock song that sadly uses the snare drum a bit much and is repetitive beat wise but is otherwise fitting for the show. The background music for the show serves the purpose of emphasizing action and energy well with large booming horns for action scenes but has the ability to go slow and distant for less intense scenes.
Voice acting for the show is well done with very few lines delivered overly flat or stiff and the characters projecting a lot of emotion in each line, particularly the main three. Kakihara Tetsuya as Simon does an excellent job switching from shy and cowardly to loud and over the top as the show progresses as well as being able to project depression and desperation when needed. Katsuyuki Konishi does Kamina justice with a loud booming voice and an undertone of overconfidence while also being able to sound kind and nurturing during the periods he is not hamming it up. Marina Inoue, while not as loud as the other two, is able to imbue Yoko with a soft motherly voice that is fitting of Yoko’s big sister personality while being able to shift into harsher voices for shouting and irritation.

Conclusion

A bombastic ride of an anime with action galore, while the writing on the romances and some of the character growth may not be adequate, the show’s theme of overcoming the odds with spirit carries through the dialogue and the characters are still relatable and developed enough to be invested in even side characters. I didn’t regret my time watching Gurren Lagann and recommend it to anyone who loves over the top action with some enjoyable characters and an empowering message.

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