Tag: gurren lagann

From The Vault: Drill, Baby, Drill

Watching Gurren-Hen last night, I come back to the reasons why I fell in love with Gurren Lagann in the first place. I want to revisit that.


Courtesy Rabbitpoets
Courtesy Rabbitpoets, will credit original artist!

When I encounter a new story that I find myself enjoying thoroughly, there’s a part of me that can’t just leave it at that. I have to look deeper than my superficial glee and take a look at what really calls to me about the tale. I have to examine characters, plot points, meanings and development. I don’t know if it’s my background in doing so for years at university, or my desire to better understand other stories so I can write mine better, but in any case, it’s what makes me review and critique stuff on a regular basis.

Case in point: I just finished watching the anime series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m no stranger to big robot anime. Voltron and Robotech (Macross in particular) were staples growing up. When I hit university I was introduced to more – Macross Plus, Gundam Wing and the brilliant but bizarre Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are plenty of other mecha anime out there, and plenty of anime that get classified as shounen – aimed primarily at young or teenage boys with exciting action and plenty of fighting. One might think, with a cursory glance, that Gurren Lagann is in the same vein as these, even with its unique aesthetic, but it doesn’t take long for the series’s true strengths to reveal themselves.

In a few other series I’ve dipped my toe into and even enjoyed, the main character gets his special power or destiny, and pursues it with dogged determination that, while admirable, does not vary his character much. Gurren Lagann, on the other hand, lets its characters develop naturally. The character of Simon, in particular, goes through a lot of growth from the beginning of the series to its end. In addition to the respect I give a story for the willingness to actually end legitimately and well, there’s the fact that the Simon at the end of the story is a different person, a more developed person, than he was at the beginning. The same goes for Yoko; a character that easily could have been relegated to simple fan service is also allowed to grow, breathe, develop, and take on a life of her own.

Another way in which the series sets itself apart is in the fact that actions have consequences. Each victory that our heroes gain take them deeper into a world they did not anticipate, and as much as the show likes to treat the laws of physics more like loose guidelines than actual rules, there’s no cheap resurrections and no going back. Changes are irreversible, and consequences must be dealt with. In a general genre and specific sub-genre that is usually all about an empowerment fantasy free of consequences, seeing a show that drops the hammer on its character multiple times for things they do is refreshing.

As cool as it would be to pilot a giant mecha, Gurren Lagann seems to treat its unique and strikingly designed machines as exactly what they are: vehicles. They’re the means by which the story and its meaning are delivered, and the meaning is this: it’s okay to be yourself. In fact, the ideal way to live one’s life is to forge ahead making one’s own destiny with a sense of self-belief. Believing in yourself can be hard to do, especially when it feels like the whole world is against you, but when people have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself, there is literally nothing you can’t do. Rather than relegate such things to occasional character moments or after-credits messages, Gurren Lagann makes this the driving force behind its narrative, a massive drill that bores a hole right through your expectations. The individual’s sense of self-worth is a weapon in and of itself; when fully realized, it’s an extremely potent one.

I may be reading too much into an anime series, or drawing an inordinate amount of inspiration from it, but that’s who I am. I take the lessons I find from what I experience and I try to make them a part of my life. I am, as always, a work in progress. I will never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop writing about it. That’s what I do. And the more I do it, the more proud I become of what I’m doing and what I will do in the future. I may not live up to some expectations, I may make mistakes, but I will make my future my own, because that’s what you do when you come to realize who you are and what that means to you and to the world around you.

I’m a writer. I’m a fanboy. I’m a critic and a philosopher and I fight for what I believe in.

Who the hell do you think I am?

I Like Big Bots (And I Cannot Lie)

Courtesy Warner Bros

The more I think about Pacific Rim, the more I like it. Yes, the characters can be somewhat stock, and the plot is fairly straightforward, but the scope and spectacle of the film are awe-inspiring. I think if you had told me even five years ago that big robots would be on the big screen in America all on their own without an anime series behind them, I would have balked at the idea. As much as I’ve been a fan of big robots since I was a child, and piloted robot fiction for a decade or two, I didn’t think it would happen. It’s something of a niche genre.

Still, big ‘bots have been a part of my entertainment since I was young. The original Transformers animated series made me look at boring old traffic in a new way. A sports car, a tractor trailer, even a construction vehicle could, at any moment in my young mind, become a giant robot ready for a fight. My first piloted mecha show was either Voltron or Robotech. As much as I enjoyed all three of the series that got jammed into the latter show, the portion in the beginning, Macross, captured my attention the most.

One of the first shows I sought out on my own was Macross Plus, the OVA (original video animation) that followed the Macross series. With beautiful animation, a haunting score by Yoko Kanno, interesting character dynamics, and Sharon Apple, it remains very much up my alley to this day. I was introduced to Neon Genesis Evangelion and my first Gundam series (Gundam Wing) at about the same time. Evangelion is very different from just about any other mecha series you’d care to name, damn close to a perfect deconstruction of the genre. It’s still talked about today, 18 years after it premiered. That’s right – there are people today, who might be reading this, who do not know what it was like to live in a world without Evangelion. Or the Internet. … Let’s move on before I feel too old.

It was always a shame to me that The Big O didn’t get more than a second season from Cartoon Network. The infusion of noir sensibilities and greater mysteries into piloted robot antics worked very well. Not long after that, I saw some of the massive body of work that is Getter Robo. It and Mazinger Z are pretty much the urtext of the other series I’ve mentioned, and while I haven’t checked out any Mazinger, I’m a fan of Go Nagai’s other work. And then there was Shinkon Gattai Godannar, which may take the prize for the most fan-service in a series that isn’t adults-only that I’ve seen. I mean, it’s a good series outside of the fan-service, and that theme song is catchy as hell, but… damn.

And then, most recently, there is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I went over that one in detail previously, and looking back on everything I’ve seen already, I do think that it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe it’s just that stories that involve the indomitability of the human spirit get under my skin in ways others don’t. A lot of mecha tales approach this idea, from revolutionaries refusing to give up to human consciousness overcoming programming and restraint, but Gurren Lagann feels unique in the way it treats the fighting spirit of the human heart as a power source, and a nearly inexhaustible one at that.

I think that’s one of the things that sticks with me about Pacific Rim. Arch as the characters might be, many of them have that never-say-die attitude that I can’t help but admire. There’s also the fact that these shows are at their best when the big robots are less important than the people inside them. As cool as the Jaegars are, they are only animated when their pilots enter the Drift with one another. It’s something the film has in common with shows like Evangelion or Gurren Lagann, and why it sticks out in my mind as a good story, and one worth watching again.

Though, I could simply be biased towards big bots.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Courtesy Rabbitpoets
Courtesy Rabbitpoets, will credit original artist!

When I encounter a new story that I find myself enjoying thoroughly, there’s a part of me that can’t just leave it at that. I have to look deeper than my superficial glee and take a look at what really calls to me about the tale. I have to examine characters, plot points, meanings and development. I don’t know if it’s my background in doing so for years at university, or my desire to better understand other stories so I can write mine better, but in any case, it’s what makes me review and critique stuff on a regular basis.

Case in point: I just finished watching the anime series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m no stranger to big robot anime. Voltron and Robotech (Macross in particular) were staples growing up. When I hit university I was introduced to more – Macross Plus, Gundam Wing and the brilliant but bizarre Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are plenty of other mecha anime out there, and plenty of anime that get classified as shounen – aimed primarily at young or teenage boys with exciting action and plenty of fighting. One might think, with a cursory glance, that Gurren Lagann is in the same vein as these, even with its unique aesthetic, but it doesn’t take long for the series’s true strengths to reveal themselves.

In a few other series I’ve dipped my toe into and even enjoyed, the main character gets his special power or destiny, and pursues it with dogged determination that, while admirable, does not vary his character much. Gurren Lagann, on the other hand, lets its characters develop naturally. The character of Simon, in particular, goes through a lot of growth from the beginning of the series to its end. In addition to the respect I give a story for the willingness to actually end legitimately and well, there’s the fact that the Simon at the end of the story is a different person, a more developed person, than he was at the beginning. The same goes for Yoko; a character that easily could have been relegated to simple fan service is also allowed to grow, breathe, develop, and take on a life of her own.

Another way in which the series sets itself apart is in the fact that actions have consequences. Each victory that our heroes gain take them deeper into a world they did not anticipate, and as much as the show likes to treat the laws of physics more like loose guidelines than actual rules, there’s no cheap resurrections and no going back. Changes are irreversible, and consequences must be dealt with. In a general genre and specific sub-genre that is usually all about an empowerment fantasy free of consequences, seeing a show that drops the hammer on its character multiple times for things they do is refreshing.

As cool as it would be to pilot a giant mecha, Gurren Lagann seems to treat its unique and strikingly designed machines as exactly what they are: vehicles. They’re the means by which the story and its meaning are delivered, and the meaning is this: it’s okay to be yourself. In fact, the ideal way to live one’s life is to forge ahead making one’s own destiny with a sense of self-belief. Believing in yourself can be hard to do, especially when it feels like the whole world is against you, but when people have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself, there is literally nothing you can’t do. Rather than relegate such things to occasional character moments or after-credits messages, Gurren Lagann makes this the driving force behind its narrative, a massive drill that bores a hole right through your expectations. The individual’s sense of self-worth is a weapon in and of itself; when fully realized, it’s an extremely potent one.

I may be reading too much into an anime series, or drawing an inordinate amount of inspiration from it, but that’s who I am. I take the lessons I find from what I experience and I try to make them a part of my life. I am, as always, a work in progress. I will never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop writing about it. That’s what I do. And the more I do it, the more proud I become of what I’m doing and what I will do in the future. I may not live up to some expectations, I may make mistakes, but I will make my future my own, because that’s what you do when you come to realize who you are and what that means to you and to the world around you.

I’m a writer. I’m a fanboy. I’m a critic and a philosopher and I fight for what I believe in.

Who the hell do you think I am?

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