Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is one of those anime that you’ve probably heard of if you hang around anime fans at all or are one yourself. When the anime started running in 2007 the name was everywhere. Mainly due to a large and vocal fanbase. To this day it still has a significant presence in anime fandom. Some call it Gainax’s crowning achievement, others say it’s an over-rated pile of rubbish. Of course, Gainax’s other best known works are Evangelion and Panty & Stocking, so being their crowning achievement wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment. In any case, let’s take a look at TTGL and see which side is closer to being right.
The story is really simple. Humans have been driven underground. In the underground Jiha village, two young men, Kamina and Simon, decide to breakthrough to the surface. But before they can manage the ceiling collapses, letting sunlight in and bringing with it a giant mecha and a young redhead named Yoko. The three defeat the mecha using a machine Simon found while digging and make their way to the surface. Simon and Kamina learn that humans on the surface have been struggling against beastmen and their giant robots known as Ganmen. They decide to take the fight to the beastmen and create a surface where humans can live in peace. From there you get a pretty standard action story. About the only element that stands out is the underlying theme of overcoming the past, while simultaneously carrying it within you. That’s the most interesting part of the story. Unfortunately, the ending is pretty weak. A lot of what happens is also heavily exaggerated, often to the point of ludicrous. Which would be fine, except that they try to pull off several serious scenes. Naturally, they don’t mesh well with the overall aesthetic and end up invariably falling short. This is also one of those series that doesn’t understand evolution, but uses it as a plot point anyway.
The characters aren’t particularly deep either. Most of them fall into a rather archetypal role and stay firmly rooted within that role. All of the major characters have their own rather trite arcs. All of which are rather predictable and you’ve probably seen before, and executed better, multiple times. The supporting characters lack even that basic level of development. They tend to have little to no personalities and they just kind of… exist. Most of them end up getting a few scenes, mostly for exaggerated comic relief, but ultimately say and do very little.
The art in this is not very good. The character designs are largely borked and kind of silly looking. The action sequences gravitate more towards laughable and over the top in their execution than intense. The final antagonist just looks really stupid. Several of the effects they use towards the end just look bad and the series has ridiculous levels of fan-service. On the positive side, the mecha designs are nicely done overall and the design changes when they do time skips are pretty effective.
The voice acting is exaggerated and over the top. Which can get grating at times. There’s a lot of shouting as well and the music can get obtrusive at times. The best performance probably comes from Inoue Marina since she’s less over the top than most of the other characters and she manages to convey some really good emotional elements, which is really the only element of the serious scenes that works.
The ho-yay factor is a 3/10. There is one canonically gay character in this but all he really does is flirt a bit. Unfortunately, he’s kind of a stereotype. Although I get the impression that the presentation of his character is less out of malice and more the general trend of not being very well written that’s common among all the characters.
That’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a series that’s equal parts machismo, mindless action and over the top absurdity. Is it a masterpiece? Well, no. The art and sound are both rather sub-par. The characters and story are both kind of meh. Is it better than a lot of Gainax’s other series? Well, it is entertaining rather than infuriating in its absurdity and it does have some interesting elements. So I’d have to say yes. The bottom line is that if you want something that can give you some cheesy entertainment, this isn’t a bad choice. It’s not as effective at it as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but it comes pretty close. Final rating, 6/10. It’s a decent anime but don’t expect it to nearly live up to the hype. Well, that’s the last review of November. Going into December the request queue is: Psycho Pass, Dennou Coil, Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Waru, Kitakubu Katsudou Kiroku & Battle Athletes Daiundoukai. Next week I’ll begin with a look at Psycho Pass. If you have a request of your own, just leave me a comment.