REVIEW: Gurren Lagann (2007)

“Who the hell do you think I am?!” is a phrase often heard in Gurren Lagann. Whenever the characters run into a villain trying to take them down, they shout it out as an act of defiance. When I watch Gurren Lagann, it feels as if that phrase is not just for those villains in front of them, but for its audience as well. It’s a phrase that lets the audience know that you might be able to predict the result of any fight, but you’ll never believe how it actually happens.
Gurren Lagann follows Simon and Kamina. In their world, people live underground in different villages that have no contact with each other. A battle on the surface between a giant robot and a girl named Yoko causes the ceiling of Jeeha village to collapse, which leads Simon and Kamina to the surface for the first time. Together, they go on an adventure that will change the course of human history.
On paper, the story of Gurren Lagann is a basic “save the world” plot where our heroes have to rise to the occasion time and time again. The difference here is how much development there is in this story by the time we get to the end. The characters and the world they inhabit are both in very different places by the time those final credits roll. Comparing episodes 1 and 27 might make you think that they’re two completely different anime, but in reality, the story operates on such a scale that the drastic changes are necessary and believable.
Our main characters Simon and Kamina both play a big role in Gurren Lagann’s success. Simon starts out as this terrified little kid that never wants to fight and chooses to run away most of the time. As the series progresses, he sheds that fear away and becomes the warrior that his friends need him to be. Kamina, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of Simon. He’s a loudmouth that never backs down from a challenge. He has this charisma that gives other people confidence. He’s the catalyst for Simon’s development.

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Kamina is also a character that represents pretty much every trope we commonly see in anime protagonists. He’s not the smartest guy, uses catchphrases, and wills himself to victory despite his inexperience. In most anime, I would find this annoying, but the way it’s presented lets you know that these writers are purposely doing this. These tropes are dialed up as high as they can possibly be, and are actually ingrained in the plot of the show. It’s a smart decision that allows ridiculous things to happen in this world without the audience ever questioning it.
One of my least favorite anime tropes is when someone “passes their limits” and suddenly becomes stronger to defeat the enemy. Gurren Lagann’s answer to that trope is introducing spiral power. Spiral power is essentially weaponized willpower. Certain characters are able to generate this spiral power, which gives them the ability to do things that should be impossible. One of the show’s mottoes is to forget about logic and do the impossible, so having spiral power as a plot element gives them an excuse to let their imagination run wild.
I adore this story and its characters, but Gurren Lagann becomes something absolutely special once the fighting begins. These are some of the flashiest action sequences you’ll ever see. Every moment is an opportunity to inject the scene with a shot of adrenaline that can’t help but stir up the audience’s emotions. There are other anime that attempt to do this like My Hero Academia and Dragon Ball Z, but neither of them accomplishes it at the level that Gurren Lagann achieves. Gurren Lagann is lightning in a bottle; an anime with such an infectious energy that it can’t be denied.

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A big reason why the action is so effective is the animation. Studio Gainax decided that a constant switch in art styles during action sequences was the best way to keep Gurren Lagann visually appealing, and it worked. The standard art style is effective on its own, but the shift it makes to a much different style with bolder coloring make the scenes pop out in a much different way. They even change the art style to reflect a certain emotion that a character is feeling at the time. The characters do monologue often, so the visual switch goes a long way in establishing their tone. They’re also not restricted with the types of things they can actually animate because this world is a playground of randomness. There are things in Gurren Lagann you won’t find in any other anime, especially during the final fight of the series.
The voice actors have such a tough job here. They have to be the main vehicle that drives these intense moments, and they seem to thrive on it. Yuri Lowenthal’s performance as Simon is an inspired one. He delivers lines with such intent and determination that I can’t help but buy into all of it. My favorite moments are when he breaks into these long inspirational rants. Near the end of the final battle in the series, Simon has a conversation with the villain where he delivers every single word with such conviction that I can’t watch the scene without it giving me chills. On the other hand, Kyle Hebert’s portrayal of Kamina is really goofy. The voice here is similar to the one he used for the Great Saiyaman in DBZ, but it’s even sillier here. There’s a certain level of naivety and innocence that comes along with his tone. It works beautifully to highlight Kamina’s personality.

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The music does a great job of following the theme of thinking outside the box. This brings me to “Libera Me From Hell,” the most iconic track of the soundtrack. It’s a mix of opera and hip-hop that creates an incredibly effective song. As the piano starts playing, the lyrics begin by urging us to “ROW ROW Fight the Power!” No song embodies the personality of this series the way that track does.
Gurren Lagann is electric. There are so many elements to this series that shouldn’t work, yet they all do. The raw emotion that this series is able to draw out of its audience is something truly special. Gurren Lagann is the only anime I’ve seen that consistently makes me feel like a kid again. I understand that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s a must watch anime.
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