Gainax proves that they can still make a giant robot series that blends comedy, action, and drama into an entertaining story.
What They Say
In his sky-less cavern of a village Simon toils daily, drilling holes to expand his stifling little world until one day he makes an extraordinary discovery: a small glowing drill-bit and the man-sized mecha it activates. Before he can give it a second thought Simon's dragged into a plot to break through to the surface by the local gang leader Kamina, only to have the ceiling come crashing down on top of them under the weight of a giant monster! It somehow falls onto the boisterous Kamina and the cowardly Simon to defend their village but once they defeat the monster what awaits the duo on the surface world? Get ready for buxom babes, beastmen, and giant mecha as only GAINAX can provide them! BUST THROUGH THE HEAVENS WITH YOUR SOUL, GURREN LAGANN!
Bandai provides a solid stereo track for the Japanese language and an equally solid 5.1 track for the English language. The Japanese stereo track provides plenty of decent effects across the speakers to match the frenetic dialogue and action on screen. No noticeable defects were present making for a great sounding experience.
Originally airing in 2007, Gurren Lagann is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer is simply gorgeous and free from any discernible defects. Rich colors accentuate every scene from the dark depths of the pit colonies to the desert landscape above.
Two ordinary DVD cases are contained in a cardboard sleeve. The front of the sleeve bears the Team Gurren logo with the reverse containing a clean, readable outline of the contents of the two discs. The individual DVDs use the same cover art as the single releases.
The main menu mimics the cockpit of the mechas used in the series. Animated clips play in the viewport screens, while a snippet of the theme music loops in the background. Transition delays between menus are negligible allowing for a quick setup and entry into the content.
Bandai provides a strong set of extras across the two discs. The first disc contains a behind the scenes look at Gainax's studio hosted by Inoue Marina, the voice actress for Yoko. It provides an interesting look at some of the animation techniques used in the series. Follow this up with an interview of various key staff, and you have a good idea what went into making such a unique giant robot series. A preview of the TV version of episode six rounds out the first disc's extras.
The second disc contains the TV version of episode six in its entirety. It is a more sanitized version of the episode on the DVD and actually serves more as a recap rather than the full story presented in the DVD version. Textless openings and endings along with US and Japanese trailers finish off the extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Prior to this review, my knowledge of Gurren Lagann was that it was another giant robot series from Gainax that contained plenty of its trademark "bounce" and was steadily generating figure after figure of the source of that bounce. The story starts with Simon, the best digger in the underground Gihan Village simply because he enjoys the small treasures he finds. His best "friend" is the boisterous Kamina, a boastful man who wishes to escape topside to follow his father's footsteps.
Both find more than they could imagine in one day; Simon finds a small drill bit and a giant face while Kamina finds himself in jail for breaking village rules. Simon wants to show Kamina the giant face and digs an escape route out. Just as they are caught by the village elder, their world is forever changed by a larger face, a sinister looking ox, falling through the roof of their village. Shortly behind the face comes a bikini clad babe with a large rifle.
With little time for introductions, Simon digs a tunnel to the smaller face, figures out that the drill bit he found activates it, and faces the ox in his new found robot. Kamina manages to get Simon to look past his fears, and the trio manage to harness the power of the robot, dubbed "Lagann" by Kamina, to destroy the ox and escape to the surface of their planet. Kamina and Simon look in awe over the desolate landscape and marvel at just how much bigger their lives have become.
We are quickly filled in on the important details; the ox was a Gunman, a giant robot piloted by Beastmen, odd creatures that hunt humans during the day. The babe with the big guns is called Yoko and hails from another underground village. Her village was forced to the surface years ago and has been fighting the Beastmen every day since. The series then falls into an entertaining pattern of comedy and action.
Simon is the scared and reluctant pilot of the mysteriously powerful Lagann. Kamina falls into the role of big brother and foolhardy hero charging into battle. Kamina does the unthinkable and by sheer will manages to steal a Gunman, dub it "Gurren", and convince Simon to combine the two into an even more astonishingly powerful robot.
For nearly eight episodes, I was having fun with the series but could not say it was making much of an impression on me. Each episode was paced well and provided plenty of laughs, eye candy, and action, but it just wasn't doing much to distinguish itself from most other titles in the genre. However, things take a dramatic turn in the eighth episode and shows just how skillful Gainax is at crafting a story.
All the action and comedy was a brilliantly subtle, if not lengthy, prologue that makes the audience care about the characters. When the dark turn comes, it does not feel like a mere contrivance to push the story in another direction. It was a natural conclusion caused by how the characters were living in their world. Theirs is a story that was more than the battle against the monster of the week.
The over the top style of the stories and the visuals was entertainment enough, but it is the lovable characters and the story Gainax is telling with them that has really piqued my interest. Energetic action, gorgeous visuals, and an engaging story... Gainax could once again be crafting a giant robot show that will be a favorite of mine for years to come much like they did with Gunbuster.
After a decade of being known for an introspective, psychological giant robot show, Gainax returned to its roots with a more action and comedy oriented take on the genre. The result, Gurren Lagann provides plenty of laughs, frenetic action, visual style, and enough bounce for several ounces. Yet, all of the laughs and explosions were a subtle, eight episode prelude lulling you into believing this is a light series. When the dramatic shift to a darker tone comes, you do not feel it was a contrived plot device but rather a brilliant way to make you care about the characters enough to feel their loss. If this turn did not come, I would have found this to be a fun but not overly memorable start to the series. However, I am now eagerly awaiting the second set to see how the story develops.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening, Textless Ending, Yoko goes to Gainax, Gainax staff interview, Televised version of Episode 6, "Sit in the Hottub �Til You�re Sick!" (English 2.0 Audio)
Limited Edition: Art Box, Core Drill LED Light
Sony Bravia KDL-46S4100, Panasonic RP-82 via component video cable, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers