Buxom babes, beastmen, AND giant mechas? Come now, Bandai; you had me at buxom babes.
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!
For this viewing, I took in the English 5.1 dub. The Japanese track is offered in 2.0. This mix is pretty nice, with good directionality present during the fight scenes. Dialogue and sound effects come through clearly, and the music track is decent. Each track is distinct, and there were no problems with dropout or distortion.
For the most part, the visuals in this series are really nice. The character designs are excellent, as are those for the Gunmen. With a wide range of locales used through these episodes—such as underground, deserts, and waterfalls—there are a number of nice visual effects used for the scenery. It is a fairly colorful series, and the colors mostly come through well, but there were a number of instances of haziness and blending. There was not enough to ruin the effect of the show, but enough to warrant a mention. Overall, this title looks pretty good.
The packaging is a bit of a mixed bag. The front cover has a picture of Simon sitting in Lagann looking a bit panicky as he readies for battle. This is set against a bare grey gradient, which gives the image a bit of an empty look, though it is not bad. Oddly, this image is set up in landscape format rather than the traditional portrait. The back cover returns to portrait format as is displays the disc summary along the top, with stills and features in the middle, and the technical credits along the bottom. The disc has the same image of Simon and Lagann that is on the cover. My biggest problem with this is that the amaray case is fairly thin and feels like a mild sneeze could cause it to fall apart. Of course, I hope that is not the case.
The menus on this release are pretty well put together. The majority of the menu is made up of a series of red shapes that border a box that is showing clips from the episodes, another area that has a rotating version of the Team Gurren logo, and the menu selection. The selections are highlighted by a white arrow underneath pointing up which stands out well from the red. A guitar riff plays during the menu loop. Overall, it is a pretty nice design, but the selection of red for the motif is a bit odd since it lends a different feel than the mostly lighthearted affair of the series itself.
There are some decent extras on this disc. First, there is an interview that has been conducted with some of the GAINAX staff. While that is fairly interesting, I was more interested in another related feature. In Yoko Goes to GAINAX, Marina Inoue—the Japanese VA for Yoko—tours the GAINAX facilities during the making of Gurren Lagann. This is filled with some of the usual Japanese wackiness, but is still otherwise a neat look behind the scenes. Finally, they offer a preview for the TV version of the sixth episode, which does not actually appear on this disc.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I did not have a whole lot of prior knowledge of Gurren Lagann before taking this disc in. In fact, I am almost ashamed to admit that my initial motivation for checking this title out was seeing the image of Yoko used in much of the advertising leading up to its initial release. Here is where I would usually say something like “Damn me and my suggestible nature,” but Gurren Lagann turned out to be a very enjoyable title, and Yoko is only a small part of that. So it is all good.
In the distant past, humanity was forced to leave the Earth’s surface and take refuge underground. The reasons for this have been lost to time. This existence is just that: an existence. While most people accept their fate and survive, others yearn for something more.
One of these yearners is Kamina, whose father had fled their village to the surface years before in search of adventure. Ever since, Kamina has vowed to follow. While he has formed a small gang of followers, young Simon is the only one that truly accepts Kamina’s stories and plans, all at against the orders of their demanding village chief.
Simon has a knack for drilling tunnels and is counted upon for expanding the village. However, one day he comes across a small trinket that looks like a drill, and soon after he finds what he considers to be a big head. When a much larger head comes crashing through the ceiling of the village and starts attacking, Kamina knows he has found the adventure he is looking for. Along with the giant head comes the very busty, and very scantily clad, Yoko, who is in the middle of battling with the head.
As the three of them continue to find a way to fight the head, which Yoko identifies as a Gunman, they come across the smaller head that Simon found earlier, which again Yoko identifies as a Gunman. When the two seem to react to one another, Simon discovers that the small, drill-like object he found earlier is the key to this Gunman, and he is able to start it up. With this Gunman, that Kamina dubs Lagann, under their control, the three quickly find their way up to the surface leading the other Gunman away from the village. What they find when hitting the surface is every adventure Kamina has dreamed of. The Gunmen are fighting robots that a race of beastmen use to keep the human race subjugated, and now Kamina is determined to fight back against them.
At its heart, Gurren Lagann is a mecha title, but I think one of the things that I like best about it so far is that it plays with the mecha concepts a little bit. In many mecha titles, it seems like the reluctant pilot is able to get right in and know everything there is to know about piloting their new mecha. When Simon gets into Lagann, he has no idea what he is doing, and performs it all by mistake. The same can be said for when Kamina acquires his own Gunman, dubbed Gurren. In fact, especially when it comes to Kamina, it seems like he makes it all up as he goes along and takes it on faith when it all seems to work. He has no reason to believe that Gurren can do a flaming dropkick, but he executes one anyway. And then he has no reason to accept that jamming Lagann onto Gurrens head will cause them to join, but again, it works. It is a really funny way of introducing Kamina and Simon as potential heroes.
But where Gurren Lagann really excels is with its characters. Kamina really drives the series with his cocksure attitude. The fact that he can succeed in anything just because he cannot accept that he can fail keeps things interesting. Simon’s willingness to follow along with Kamina despite being quite the coward at heart leads to an interesting dynamic between the two. Simon wants only to follow Kamina, but Kamina continually pump him up and tries to get Simon to believe in himself. The dynamic between the two of them is explained perfectly in Kamina’s odd phrase of motivation: “Don’t believe in yourself. Don’t believe in me. Believe in the you that I believe in.” It seems a little circular, but then, so is their relationship. And then when you throw the headstrong, but fiercely loyal, Yoko into the little group, they make quite the motley gang known as Team Gurren.
The first volume of Gurren Lagann is really enjoyable. The light hearted, comedic ways they go about introducing the themes and playing with the standards of the mecha genre are a joy to behold. The characterizations are quite excellent, and the plot so far is unraveling well. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the episodes hold. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Yoko goes to Gainax, Gainax staff interview
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System