Exhuming many aspects of past shows, Gainax rides boldly into a chaotic, magical and engaging future where humanity must strive for more.
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 mech 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 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 mechs as only GAINAX can provide them! PIERCE THE HEAVENS WITH YOUR SOUL, GURREN LAGANN!
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.
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.
If there’s an area of the release I haven’t cared for, and this goes back to the ADV Films planned cover art as well, it’s this area. The cover art features a shot of Simon in the Lagann as he looks up in the midst of an attack. With a grayish background to it and muted colors for the Lagann, it’s not an eye-catching release in the slightest and doesn’t do much to really tell you anything about the show quickly. Simon isn’t exactly a draw here and the Lagann itself is done at an angle that doesn’t help either. 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.
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.
The only extras included on this release, which are the same on both discs, are clean versions of the first opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Twenty-seven episodes long, the first nine of which are here, Gurren Lagann the latest show from Gainax to show off their boundless creativity and ability to re-use their own material regularly and liberally. The path of this release has been an awkward one as it was originally licensed by ADV Films and had a couple of episodes dubbed before the license was lost. Bandai Entertainment jumped in through their associations and good relationship with Aniplex and nabbed the show from there. What makes it even more interesting is that Bandai Entertainment decided to experiment a little with the show by pumping it out in three sets of nine episodes a month but subtitled only, which is what this first collection is. A bilingual release is due later and the series is getting some primetime airing on the Sci-Fi channel which will surely help as well.
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.
Gurren Lagann’s approach is relatively straightforward and it works well enough to keep things flowing. I had originally sat down to watch just the first episode but suddenly found myself on the fourth episode because it was simply addictive. 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.
What’s also very appealing about the show is the character designs used for it. While Simon has the problem of being the young kid of the group, the rest of the cast gets some fairly dynamic designs that are really appealing. Kamina in particular is a real rarity in that he’s shirtless most of the time and he stands out because of his tattoos and the way he carries himself as if he’s living some sort of anime/comic book dream. He’s full of Hollywood poses that set him apart from everyone else and he’s simply living in each and every moment. Also quite appealing is Yoko who is reminiscent of a particular character from Gunbuster 2. With her ample cleavage on display and her outgoing nature, she complements Kamina nicely while also having fun with it. Yoko certainly properly represents the “Gainax Bounce” in each and every episode it seems.
Gurren Lagann had a lot of hype before it showed up over here and since it was originally licensed. The delays in the release and the changing of hands and then the multi-tiered release alongside a primetime cable airing certainly add to its mystique. The first nine episodes are certainly fascinating to watch in their own right, but I’m truly uncertain of how it will progress in the next two sets. Much of what I found to be magical and engaging about the series was winked out in one of the last episodes here and I’m truly uncertain that they can manage without it. But with all that’s happened in these first episodes and with the Gainax reputation behind it, I’m certainly curious to see what they’ll do. I could have done without that whole finger up the butt scene though, especially in seeing it from the inside.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,LE: Opening Theme CD
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.