It's a whole other world when a pair of young men rise from below the surface to face off against a harsh reality.
What They Say
This is the story of a man who has yet to realize what destiny holds in store for him... Far in the future, human live underground quietly and restlessly for hundreds of years, suffering from frequent earthquake and land subsidence. In Giha Village, one of such underground communities, there are two young men. One is called Simon who is shy and naïve, the other is called Kamina who believes in existence of a "surface" world above their heads. Destiny of the two starts moving drastically when the ceiling falls, and a gigantic "Gunmen" and a beautiful girl Yoko with a superconductive rifle come from the surface. Kamina, Simon and Yoko get on "Lagann" that Simon digs out from the ground, and jump out to the surface!
However, the surface is not such a dreamland as Kamina imagined. The world is reined by the Spiral King and his army beastmen. Kamina and Simon, along with their comrades challenge the Spiral King to change the desperate world to the one with hope for the future by Gurren Lagann!
This movie contains only the original Japanese language track with it, which is unfortunate since I'd love to hear the cast take on this property in this form with a bit more energy. The single language we do get is a solid 5.1 mix encoded at 448kbps where the rear channels are used very often and very well to give it a larger than life feeling. There's a lot going on around the sound field and with this being a loud and brash show, it makes excellent use of it to bring in a lot of impact. The dialogue is generally all to the forward soundstage with a fair bit of placement throughout which comes across as very clean and clear with no problems. The movie makes good use of what it has and really gives it a larger than life feeling.
Originally in theaters in late 2008, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The movie, which is culled from the original TV series for its source material, is fairly problematic here at times even with a bit rate that's generally at the upper level. There's a fair bit of noise in many of the scenes and in the character animation, though it tends to get better once they get to the surface. There's some edge shimmering going on as well that's fairly distracting if you're looking for it. There's a lot of bold and bright colors here on the surface and the blue sky makes out well overall. The majority of the film looks good, but the problem areas and the noise you can see in some of the backgrounds stands out, though I do wonder if it's more of a soruce issue than anything else with how the materials have been manipulated from TV to theatrical and then to DVD.
The packaging for this release is pretty nice but they fall a bit short on the mark in one area, though I can understand the approach. The release is done with a standard single sized keepcase inside a slipcover, though the slipcover is a touch larger than usual as it also has to hold a booklet. The slipcover has a really nice visual of Simon in front of the Lagann where they both manage a pretty serious look as dust and flames flicker about the smoke. The logo along the bottom is done in silver giving it a bit more attention which works nicely. The back of the slipcover features a number of shots from the show along the left while the overall background is of Kamina's symbol. The majority of the back of the slipcover is given over to text as we have no summary of the movie itself but rather a nod towards the TV series popularity and production credits and a cast listing. The included extras are also touched on with a few shots from those given a nod. The technical grid is very nicely done, reminiscent of how Geneon used to do their grids towards the end of their run.
Inside the slipcover we get a clear keepcase that has a wraparound piece of artwork where the front is identical to the slipcover's front artwork of Simon and the Lagann. The back piece expands on it nicely with more of the cast of characters taking prominence amid the same bit of flames and smoke. Each of them have their looks down perfectly, especially with their expressions, giving it a very nice complement to what the front piece is like with its seriousness. Outside of the logo on the front and a few copyright credits here and there, there's no text to this wraparound cover. Inside the keepcase, the discs are kept to each side since there are two as there is no hinge used. The left side features the burnt emblem Kamina is known for while the right side has a few shots from the Parallel Works videos scattered to the four corners set against more shadowed pieces of artwork that's hard to pull out.
In addition to this, we get two specialty items with this release. The first is a postcard featuring artwork of Simon in front of the Lagann that's different from the cover artwork used with the release but has a similar look and feel. It's interesting that it's sealed individually, something you don't often see, but definitely points towards it being a collectible item. The second thing points to that as well as we get a replica of the booklet that was available during the theatrical run in Japan. And we do mean replica as it's not translated. It's similar to other booklets we've seen over the years with character designs, shots from the feature, cast and crew bits and something on the musical side, but with it being in Japanese it's just a really pretty booklet of pictures and little more. I definitely get the whole replica angle of making it valuable to the fans, but I'd prefer it to be localized so I can actually understand and enjoy it.
The menu for this release was definitely a surprise as I did not expect Aniplex to contract with Nightjar to get them done, giving us a wonderful sense of continuity with the TV series release from Bandai. The menus here are essentially the same in design and layout as that so they're familiar in the use of the drill with the reds and blacks to tie it all together. It shifts to showcasing several scenes from the feature in a collage form that works nicely and gives us a busy yet eye-catching piece that teases what the film is about. The navigation is straightforward, though I'm disappointed that we get so few chapter stops and that they're as far apart as they are, but everything works smoothly and without issue or lag.
The only extra on the main feature disc is the inclusion of the theatrical trailer, which is always welcome.
A second disc is included called the Parallel Works which contains just the four music videos. Obviously I'd much prefer this to be on the main feature disc since it seems kind of silly to have it all on a separate disc. Though the music videos are just in stereo, Aniplex has presented them in uncompressed Linear PCM which drives them home in a big way with the music, making it worthwhile in the end. Your mileage may vary on how much you enjoy music videos, but since these have a bit of fun overall and are like alternate stories in short form, they're a very welcome addition.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Over the course of the years when it comes to theatrical adaptations of popular TV shows into movies, the one that annoys me the most are the ones that literally take lots and lots of footage from the show and simply recuts it into theatrical form. Even with the kind of filler and fluff you have in most shows, throwing it out the window and streamlining it is hard to do because that fluff and filler gets you familiar with the character and comfortable with the quirks and the like. Enter the Gurren Lagann movie, the first of two, which essentially takes massive amounts of the TV series and does the recut shuffle. With some cleaning up of the start to properly frame it and a few tweaks toward the end, we get a much more streamlined version of the TV show. And in a lot of ways, it loses some of its coolness because the quiet moments are largely gone when taken in full.
What makes this recut and use of the footage even more amusing is that it's a show from Gainax, a company that has continually shown off their boundless creativity and ability to re-use their own material regularly and liberally. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, which explains quite a bit of the style as he was one of the principle forces behind Dead Leaves, and with a script by Kazuki Nakashima, Gurren Lagann feels like it's revisiting a lot of older Gainax material and reshaping it once again. The series takes place in some undetermined post-apocalyptic future where mankind has been driven underground and into small enclaves that aren't connected with each other. In the darkness, they either fear the light above or they don't believe that it really exists. Some villages even believe that whatever is above is a heaven of sorts where the gods live and they dare not tread. Years of belief have changed into numerous small religions or working theories that help to keep people controlled and in the end safe from exposure to the outside world.
Not all people want to live like this though and one of this is a very outgoing and energetic young man named Kamina. Often the source of trouble in his village, everything changes when his young friend Simon discovers a pint sized drill that activates a robotic head. A robotic head that is really just a version of science-magic as the technology behind it is so incomprehensible that it cannot be described as anything else but magic. This head, which Kamina decides to call Lagann, is where everything starts as a massive mecha suddenly drops into the village and causes all sorts of trouble. The mecha, known as a Gunmen, is being dealt with by a very attractive and fiery redhead named Yoko who gets caught up in what these two guys are going through. Before you know it, the Gunmen is defeated and the trio are heading out of the village and onto the surface to discover what awaits there.
Like most shows of this nature, the planet is pretty much barren and lifeless. The surface world that Simon and Kamina find themselves in is one that fits the bill of needing to fight to survive because the Gunmen seem to come out constantly during the day and retreat at night. The village that the duo stays with at first with Yoko allows them to get a feel for the world but also lets Kamina really put his stamp on things. While it's holding pattern in all the fights so far between the humans and the Gunmen, piloted by Beastmen, Kamina's arrival heralds something new as during one fight he essentially steals the Gunmen from the Beastman and turns it into his own, naming it the Gurren. When things later take a weird turn during a fight and Kamina spouts off about how combining things are cool, the Lagann is essentially drilled into the top of the Gurren and they combine which gives them even more power and ability.
Once that happens, everything becomes even more footloose as the two decide that this is their fate and want to head off into the world to track down the Beastman's base so they can destroy it. Kamina's singular focus allows everything to be driven by his willpower and desire to do things. As they progress, with Yoko coming along as she's developed feelings for Kamina, the meet up with other humans that are either actively fighting against the Gunmen or are in hiding underground like they once were. Through these generally shorter stories, the cast expands nicely and we get a better feeling for what the storyline is shaping up to, particularly when the 'big boss' is revealed in the form of the Spiral King that is the heart of all matters.
Similar to the TV series, the film is pretty addictive even if it does have some flow issues. That addictive nature is somewhat familiar though as much of the energy can be traced back to the director's involvement in Dead Leaves but also in that it feels like portions of FLCL are strewn throughout here, especially when it comes to the Gunmen. The Gunmen are that kind of science that cannot be described because things simply happen when needed with them, such s the combination effect or the way the characters can talk through them. Once you treat it as a pseudo-science or magic, it's very easy to get into the 'classic' nature of it all and just let it wash over you. When you have the mecha self-repairing during a combination scene with junk laying around or watching them move in ways that are impossible, you just have to give yourself over to it.
One area that I was amused by in terms of creativity in handling the slimmed down nature of the show comes in how they handled some of the early filler. While we get some basic blow by blow material for a bit, several episodes worth of comedy and general character building are done as montage moments with no dialogue for most of it. It moves kind of haphazardly, but it showcases a lot of different things the group went through as it slowly got the cast underway in the TV version. You lose some of it, notably with Rossiu, in how those relationships are tied together and some of the tensions in them, but the focus here is about the epic nature of the surface world adventures and the over the top style of it all. That's captured well, and definitely enjoyable, but like a lot of these adaptations I think it loses out on some of its heart.
I loved the original Gurren Lagann TV series. It was one that I could practically get all fanboyish over because it was all about fun with an epic level, striking emotions and really engaging action through slick character designs. The first feature length film adaptation of it, or recut of a large chunk of the TV series, is pretty good and captures a good part of it, but not enough to give it the same feeling. These kinds of adaptations were never my favorite but this one manages to do it a touch better because it has such great material to work with and they do manage to condense it fairly well, though it's still unbalanced overall with the amount of brash energy that it has. Aniplex's opening release in the US market is solid overall, not without its flaws, and has me curious to see what they'll do as time goes on and whether they can minimize the release window of their titles between the US and Japan. That alone will give them an edge, if they can utilize it. This title does a good job in showing that, unlike some other first entry companies to the US market, they generally do get it (yes, outside of the dub issue) and that we can look forward to some competent and solid releases going forward.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Theatrical Trailer, LE: Parallel Works Disc 1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.