Anime tends to hang from a huge chain of stereotypes, both good and bad. But one particular stereotype that constantly hangs over the majority of this medium of animation is being completely over-the-top. The bar has constantly been pushed, with planets being destroyed in Dragon Ball Z, adoring crowds being hammily addressed in Code Geass, and going all-out with angst in the latter half of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Speaking of Neon Genesis Evangelion, anime studio Gainax has managed to pull out every last stop so hard that this seems like a perfectly reasonable opportunity to set up some sort of ‘metaphorical organ stop replacement company’. With that overblown analogy out of the way, let’s talk Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
The story follows the escapades of a boy called Simon (pronounced ‘See-moan’, presumably to mess with the outside viewers), who constantly works drilling through underground rock to expand his hometown. Suddenly he stumbles upon a small drill-shaped device, along with a large walking mechanical face. With some enouragement from his blood brother Kamina, he unwillingly aspires to reach the surface and escape. He makes it to the surface with the help of a scantily-clad bounty hunter called Yoko, and finds the whole world is being menaced by hordes of giant robots known as ‘gunmen’. It’s now up to him to find out the driving force behind these gunmen and put a stop to it once and for all.
…And that’s just the first 13 or so episodes out of 27. The first story arc has the feel of a cross between Mad Max and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and rarely takes itself seriously with frequent moments that will at the absolute least garner a chuckle. However, without wishing to spoil anything, the events that transpire between the two story arcs allow the story to engage in a sudden genre shift from a desert-punk mecha series to a dramedy space opera. This contrast makes the later instalments of the series feel all the more fresh, and splitting the story up into two arcs makes it very easy to follow, in spite of the rather confusing use of applied phlebotinum (read: mysterious plot-convenient substance) during the last handful of episodes.
This is, of course, to say nothing of the bouts between giant mechas. This enduring anime stereotype is one that Gainax has tackled before in Neon Genesis Evangelion, albeit with far less moping about and more transformation sequences and finishing moves than you can shake a core drill at. If you’re a fan of giant robots, I promise you will be in for an absolute treat with this series — not only through the fights themselves, but also through the way the mechas are handled. The idea of combining mechas has been around since the era of Voltron, and to say that Gurren Lagann takes this idea to the extreme is still somewhat of an understatement. By the end, you will find yourself catching your breath in awe of the spectacle of light, sound and colour that plays out before you.
As for the DVD box set itself, picking up the Beez Anime Legends version of this series would most certainly be your best bet in terms of value for money, considering that the individual DVD volumes that were originally released a few years ago still cost somewhere in the region of £35–40 individually. This isn’t the first time such value for money has given hope to the UK anime-loving community through this re-release label, and when attention is given to a series like this I’d be willing to excuse the rather questionably-programmed English subtitle track on the dubbed version which seems to randomly turn itself on near the end of the first arc. It’s a minor problem, and one which by no means detracts from what is, and always will be, an absolute treat for all the senses, and a journey one will not be forgetting any time soon.
Anime Legends: Gurren Lagann (2011), directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, is available on DVD from Beez Entertainment and Aniplex, certificate 15.