Gurren Lagann Vol. #2 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gainax does what Gainax does best and completely captivates me with non-standard storytelling ideas for an anime series.

What They Say
In their battle against the armies of Lordgenome, Team Dai-Gurren has suffered a crippling blow with the death of Kamina. Simon must now pull himself together and emerge from the depths of depression in which he finds himself wallowing. Will a chance meeting with a beautiful Nia, found inside a discarded crate, be the key to getting Simon back on his feet? And who is the mysterious girl and what is her connection to Lordgenome? Get ready for the final battle of the human race against the beastmen and prepare to glimpse into the future that Team Dai-Gurren is creating for mankind. GIVE LOGIC THE BOOT AND DO THE IMPOSSIBLE, GURREN LAGANN!

The Review!
Audio:
The audio mix for this series is presented in just the Japanese stereo form as a full bilingual version is due out later. The stereo mix, encoded at 192kbps, is pretty good as it captures much of the full brash nature of the action in the show. It does again point to a weakness in the Japanese creative process though as this is a show that would have fared beautifully with a 5.1 mix and proper use of the subwoofer. As it’s presented here though, there’s no complaints to be had as dialogue is clean and clear and placement sounds pretty solid throughout. We didn’t have any dropouts or distortions during regular playback of this single language track release either.

Video:
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Gurren Lagann’s presentation here is one that isn’t going to shine for much of it, especially in the first few episodes which has a fair bit of dark blues and blacks that come across as fuzzy and grainy. What’s problematic past that, when the show gets above ground, is that the noise within the character designs can get pretty distracting at times. The bulk of the show looks pretty good, especially the backgrounds, but this area is pretty noticeable right from the start, more so on a larger screen. The bitrate for the series in general is pretty high though, more than the usual Bandai Entertainment release, which is likely due to Nightjar doing the authoring on it. The release is something of a mixed bag overall but a good chunk of it is likely chalked up to the way the show was visually designed.

Packaging:
Similar to the first volume in general layout and dull colors, the second volume makes out a bit better simply because Yoko is a bit more lively and she’s not saddled with the Lagann taking up space. Her character artwork has more varied colors to it and a brighter palette in general which gives it a much more engaging feeling. This probably would have sold the first volume a lot better even if she isn’t the lead character. The simplicity of the cover art and logo isn’t a bad thing but it falls short of really making it stand out. The back cover fares a little better though as it has a good breakdown of the summary and multiple shots from the show along a strip through the center. This provides it with a bit more color and the various exclamations helps to give it a bit more energy. The discs features are clearly listed and there’s a solid breakdown of the episode numbers and titles. The technical grid isn’t as good as some other recent new releases from the company but they do list things out a little bit better while still falling short of the mark. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
As soon as the menu loads up I was in a little bit of heaven as Nightjar got the job for this release, one that I suspect is easily tweaked to be used again in the bilingual version in the future. The menu design uses their love of rotation to get you to submenus as it takes the basic imagery from some of the interior Gunmen screen designs and brings in the navigation elements as well as the basic text you’d expect such as the logo. With a good bit of thrumming music to it, these are fun menus to whip around in and go place to place, which again makes me really want to see what Nightjar will do someday on a Blu-ray release. Submenus load pretty quickly considering the extra animation and everything is laid out in a very smooth and easy to utilize form. With only one language track here, player presets aren’t too much of an issue but they’re just right when it comes to the subtitle track, something that has been off on some other sub-only releases from other companies in the past.

Extras:
The only extras included on this release, which are the same on both discs, are clean versions of the second opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With another set of nine episodes, the second collection of Gurren Lagann has one hell of a job ahead of it. The first collection of nine episodes was incredibly engaging and fun to watch. With an array of interesting characters and a sense of having fun with giant robots while imbuing it with a sense of the epic and dramatic, Gurren Lagann appealed on nearly every level. What made this collection an incredibly hard follow-up was the death in the first collection of the character that really made the show for me. With that coming towards the end of the first collection, it left this one in doubt.

That doubt does take a little bit of time to be taken care of with this collection. Much of what slows down the show at first is that it has to deal with Simon being completely out of sorts because of Kamina’s death. With his Bro having been such a big part of his life for so long and being the only one who really believed in him for so long, losing him is a crushing moment in his life. Even with Nia now there, a cute young girl who exudes nothing but positive vibes, he’s sullen and uncommunicative with most people. When he does communicate, he’s angry and brash which leads to a number of conflicts, conflicts that makes it easier for Kittan to take on the role as the leader of Team Gurren.

This goes on for a little bit, but not enough to really crush the spirit of the series. There are enough moments during all of this where the supporting cast gets to find its legs in the post-Kamina world and that helps a lot since they’re all fun to watch, even as they’re coping with the loss. Once Simon gets his rear in gear though, Gurren Lagann works hard to recapture a lot of that magic. Simon isn’t Kamina, nor should he be, but he brings a lot of his optimism to his new outlook on things and attempts to look at the world through a similar lense, one that allows him to be unpredictable and to never give up. This is certainly important considering the kinds of Gunmen and General’s he’s coming across, particularly once they divine the location of the Spiral King and begin their trek towards him.

With most series, that trek would take up the bulk of the series and lead to an epic conflict. Gainax, however, working with an original series and their own skewed sense of how things should work, really brings that climax point up to episode fifteen. Gurren Lagann runs through so many small revelations and key moments as it revels in epic nature that it’s almost too much to handle. The Spiral King and his goals turn out to be completely unexpected and his reasons for doing so even more fascinating. With his relationship to Nia, the way he tweaks and manipulates Viral and how he handles his encounter with Simon, the Spiral King is a character that is far more engaging than most villains are. And the main reason for it is that he isn’t a villain but rather someone with a very specific plan for doing what they believe is right. And those kinds of characters are always a lot more fun to watch in the long run.

Gurren Lagann has a lot of familiar themes to past Gainax shows which isn’t a surprise. A lot of what the company has done since it attempted to revitalize itself back at the turn of the century has been with a kind of smile and wink about what made it so popular way back in the day. Gurren Lagann has plenty of things that are owed towards Gunbuster and FLCL as well as the big robot series of the 70’s. One thing that continues to hit me with it at times is some of the things it does that are similar to Macross. There are certain music cues that are very reminiscent of it and there are a number of action sequences with missiles that look like they came right out of the Macross movie.

The similarity that made me the happiest however is that after a positively lackluster compilation piece done for episode sixteen, the show leaps ahead by seven years and tells the next phase of the story, the one that was hinted at during the opening of the series with Simon as something of a space captain. This shift brings Simon into a far more interesting realm as he’s older and in a very different position than he was as just the pilot of the Lagann. Everyone who is still around is different to some extent, but it’s the younger characters who are more noticeable with it. Yoko is unfortunately mostly absent from it for obvious reasons, but watching how the others have adapted to this new life is a whole lot of fun. It’s almost like a really lengthy epilogue story at first that then dovetails into the next big storyline.

In Summary:
Gurren Lagann had one big job ahead of itself for me with this volume because it felt like so much of the magic and charm of the first set wasn’t going to make it here. It does take a few episodes, but after it gets rolling, Gurren Lagann is made up of all good stuff. It’s fun, exciting, unpredictable and filled with the usual positive messages but done without any serious preaching. The material is a godsend for classic mecha fans and those who want something with an amazing amount of energy to it. The rough style of the animation gives it a very old school feeling, one where it feels more alive and “warm” in comparison to many of the modern mecha series where the focus is on being as realistic as possible. Gurren Lagann is certainly all it’s been cracked up to be so far and the next set gives me great hope for this to be another of the top tier Gainax series that they’ll have put out in their very strong career.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment
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.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 225
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gurren Lagann