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Yes, Gurren Lagann again: But now, is it really that good?

10:00 AM on 02.21.2010 // Mr. Pizza

We've seen a lot of pro-Gurren Lagann fanboy reviews in the Cblogs lately... so let's shift gears and read a more moderate take on the show from Mr. Pizza. Keep these great blogs coming, guys!

Since this is the (self-proclaimed) Gurren Lagann Cblog Day, I couldn’t help but add my thoughts to the already huge mass of words that has been written on the topic. You may want to read it, however, because it is done by someone who didn’t like the show a lot.
Please bear with my grammar mistakes (I’m not mother tongue) as you take a look at the other side.

First of all, let’s make something clear: I don’t think that TTGL is really bad, I just think it’s not thatgood. Why? Let me divide the series in four arcs (one for every character whose quote appears in the episodes’ titles) and explain as briefly as possible.

***SPOILERS AHEAD, of course***

- The Kamina arc
From an interesting article by Karen Gellender I learn that, for many fans, the first episode of the series was not as good as the following ones. Well, for me, it’s the exact opposite.
“Bust through the Heavens with Your Drill!” was not a masterpiece, plot wise, but it was fast-paced, action-packed and ironic, in a way that reminded me of the first Indiana Jones trilogy (strange comparison, I know).
The same goes for the second episode, and half of the third one. Up to there, my impression of the series was very, very good. The protagonists where clearly at a disadvantage against the Beastmen, so they really sweated their victories, to the point that Kamina had to steal a Gunmen to even the odds a bit: not a very heroic move, but surely an entertaining one. Another good thing was that once out of their powerful mechas, the Beastmen were just silly, funny creatures covered with fur; that was like saying: “See, the people with power, those who are above you, are not that great after all, it just looks like they are.” Well done, Gainax, well done... I was a happy boy. 

But then came Viral.

As I said, the first half of the third episode was good. Viral is presented as a terribly powerful character, an elite soldier, and he rightfully beats the crap out of the inexperienced protagonists. But five minutes later, Kamina and Simon combine, and everything’s over. 
And I mean everything.
What gets to me it’s not that one of the Beastmen’s greatest assets is owned (that was to be expected, of course) but that he’s owned in the third episode. Out of 27. After not even two hours of show, there are only five people left on the whole planet who can stand a chance against Gurren Lagann: the four Generals and Lord Genome himself. And fewer enemies means less fun.
In fact, as I expected, episodes 4-6 were… useless, sorry to say that. We are introduced to a lot of (stereotyped) characters without any apparent reason, and the fights against enemy Gunmen were not interesting at all, because they were no match for the “dynamic duo”. 

Fortunately, episode 7 spices things up a bit: a strong enemy appears, and for the first time since the second episode our heroes had to use their brains, instead of simply gritting their teeth to show that they have the “will to fight”.
And the eighth episode? A masterpiece.

- The Nia arc
At the end of the ninth episode, I was really looking forward to a TTGL renaissance: the series had taken a dark but interesting turn, Nia was a strange and unexpected heir to Kamina’s role, and the Generals had showed they could be very dangerous; a great future laid ahead of Gurren Lagann.

But then, Simon bust through my hopes with his drill once again.

From 10 on, the episodes assume a slightly repetitive format: the team faces a General, the team defeats the General; the team faces another General, the team defeats the General; the team faces the first General again, the team kills the General; the team faces… and so on. At first the General looks so strong, then Simon arrives, grits his teeth a bit, and everything’s over. By the way, the Generals are themed after the four elements, how original. Oh, and with every single General comes Viral as well, the weakest and most useless recurring villain since the days of Team Rocket.
Well, at least Lord Genome has the good grace to kill himself and die quickly. Let’s see what happens next.

[I should have put a picture of Nia here, but I'm too lazy. Use the one at the beginning of the blog.]

- The Rossiu arc
This is, in my opinion, the best arc of the series, where the formerly-useless side characters actually become… useful. Among them shines Rossiu, the only one who has the courage to show Simon that you don’t build [strike]a series[/strike] a country on fighting spirit alone. In addition to that, Nia goes badass and becomes one of the sexiest antagonists ever. Could I have asked for more?

- The Simon arc
… yes, yes I could have. For example, I could have asked that Rossiu went through with Simon’s execution. But I didn’t. And so I powerlessly watched as the protagonist – who started as a less annoying version of Shinji, and became a more annoying version of Kamina – ventured into the most insane anime story arc ever.
The fight against the Anti-Spirals is essentially another demonstration of the When All You Have Is A Hammer” (in this case, a drill) trope: in order to win, Simon just has to grit his teeth more – thus giving more fighting spirit – and voilà! You can even throw galaxies at your enemy. 

Seriously, guys. Throw. Galaxies. 
Throw. Galaxies. Like shurikens. 
There’s a limit to the suspension of disbelief, you know.

Ok, TTGL surely is allegorical. It teaches us to fight for what we want and never give up. Putting aside that the message it’s not that original, I think this anime it’s a bad teacher as well, because it rarely shows the darker sides of its lesson: training and sacrifice. Only once in the whole series I felt a real sense of loss, and that was in episode eight. Sure, some other side characters die, and that’s good, but they’re justside characters, with a marginal role in the story. It’s not like I had any affection for them, sorry. 
The real problem, in fact, is that Simon, that is the protagonist, never actively sacrifices anything of his own.

Right, he loses Kamina and Nia, and goes to prison too, but this is never the direct result of his willing decision to give up something, in order to get something else. It’s just something that happens, and he has nothing to do but passively accept it. 
What does he do, actively? As stupid as it may sound, he doesn’t even do some combat practice between one battle and the other. He just gives “will to fight”, even while the others give their lives. Paradoxically, I came to admire the side characters more than the protagonist himself.
You could say that he knew that destroying the Anti-Spirals meant losing Nia – if we can consider her to be “his own” – but I never got the impression that he was, you know, really conscious of this while fighting. Not to talk about hesitation or regret. It was like:

NIA: “Simon, dear, if you kill the big bad boss I will disappear as well, you know?” 
SIMON: “Oh, right. Whatever. Now shut up and let me show off, darling.” (throws a galaxy) 

And after their wedding:

GIMMY: “Oh noes Simon! Nia’s gone!”
SIMON: “Yeah, I knew that. But, look at how cool I am while I walk away towards the setting sun!”

That’s the impression I had, anyway. Maybe I’m a bit insensitive. 
The point is: after all the big talk, does he even look for an alternative to Nia’s sacrifice? No, he just accepts it. Passively. 
Moreover, when it’s revealed that letting Spiral power grow unchecked could mean the destruction of the universe, it seems to me that it is given no real consideration to the problem, save for “whatever, we’ll think about it when the moment comes”. It’s ok to be light-hearted and confident but… there’s a limit. Rossiu, say something already!
Gainax, you’re asking me to root for a character who can do anything with just willpower. And it’s not like “he can do anything with willpower, training, sacrifices and so on”, it’s “just willpower”.

By the way, in this arc we also see that Lord Genome goes Futurama-style, and we confirm that everyone Yoko kisses is doomed to die in the very same episode. Oh, and the mole-pig (until now the only creature in TTGL more useless than Viral) gets a power-up and does something.
And faster than you could say “is it me or that guy just merged two galaxies into a kamehameha?”, Gurren Lagann comes to an end. 

- In conclusion
Animation, music and all the “technical” parts are great, right; Kamina is manly, of course; the girls are sexy, sure. But the plot has way too many ups and downs to make Gurren Lagann anything more than a “good” anime to me. What is more, grown-up Simon can’t be a good protagonist. We’ve already had one Kamina, and he was much better, thank you.

Anyway, this is just my opinion, I respect yours we’re all friends etc. Sorry for the sarcasm here and there, but it was more fun for me to write that way.
Of course, if someone wants to prove me wrong and/or make me notice something I didn’t, (s)he’s very welcome. I’d really like to really like this anime, after all…
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Mr. Pizza,
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