Here's All the Basics That You'll Need to Know
Title: Gurren Lagann a.k.a. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann a.k.a. Break-Through Heaven Gurren Lagann
Series Length: 27 episodes
Air Dates: 4/01/2007 to 9/30/2007
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, Yoko's ludicrous cleavage)
Summary: In the distant future, humanity has been forced to live underground in abject misery. In the squalid and impoverished Jiha Village, Simon is a teenage boy who knows nothing but digging, and is more than talented at it, but he is also constantly being recruited into the antics of his surrogate "big bro," Kamina. Kamina is a confident and relentless rabble-rouser who believes a surface world exists beyond and above their underground pit, and he aims to one day prove it to the stubborn village elder. With the help of a small mecha unearthed by Simon, and an unexpected hostile visitor who busts through their canopy, Kamina and Simon resolve to take down this terrifying foe, make it through to the surface, and see with their own eyes everything that lies beyond.
The Good: Eye-popping animation; large cast of characters infused with passion and soul; ridiculously manic action sequences; ear candy all around
The Bad: The story is pretty simplistic; the second half takes a little while to adjust to; guaranteed to infuriate physicists
The Ugly: Episode 4 is a train wreck
How did I end up here?
Oh, Gurren Lagann. I love you so much, and yet you're so ridiculous that it hurts. And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. I've never been much of a fan of mecha anime, so the only thing that drew me in was the fact that it was from the guys who made FLCL, and I quite liked FLCL. Without giving too much away, Gurren Lagann is extremely high on the list of my 10 favorite anime of all time, so that should tell you my feelings on the show right away. This is definitely an anime for those who like their action big and their characters even bigger--to put it another way, Gurren Lagann is the logical extreme of Romanticist thought, in that everything must be on a grand scale and everything must hinge on the efforts of the few, and I'm perfectly okay with that.
So Gurren Lagann is already a classic. What makes it so popular?
The very first thing you'll notice about this series is that, as is usual for GAINAX, the animation budget is astronomical. Everything is fluid, everything is crisp, everything moves irregularly and sporadically, and everything is infused with so much life that it nearly bursts through your screen; and then, there's the characters being animated. Big personalities are put on display and we come to care for these characters almost right away (even though the people we're empathizing with and cheering for are a rabble-rousing punk and a socially-awkward worker drone), and it's all because of the wonderful writing and direction put into them. In lesser hands, these characters would have been grating or uninteresting, but in the competent clutches of GAINAX, they've become modern anime icons.
All of this manic energy is channeled into the action sequences, as well, at times looking like a Saturday morning cartoon--only, you know, with the risk of death still looming overhead--and other times, bearing down with so much intensity that you feel as if our heroes' giant mech fists are going to mow YOU down along with the bad guys onscreen. And to aid this lifelike energy even further, the music and voice acting are beyond-the-impossible phenomenal. With songs ranging from breathtakingly-sweeping orchestral swells to fist-pumping hard rock to...operatic arias...layered...with...hip-hop...? Okay, it doesn't sound like it would work, but it does! You'll just have to wait and see for yourself!
What flaws lie buried beneath all the bravado?
And now, it is with great sorrow that I must discuss where Gurren Lagann falls short (because that means I have to acknowledge that it's fallen short somewhere). First off, in the words of internet reviewer JesuOtaku, "This show is DUUUUUUUMMMMB." As with many other action anime, our heroes' only solution to everything is to blow it up with drills--it makes sense in context--and if it can't be blown up with a drill, you blow it up with an even bigger drill, and so on. This is true from the very first scrape to the final epic showdown. Of course, it's obvious that GAINAX never intended for the show to be particularly deep and this is the kind of thing they were aiming for, but it needs to be mentioned nonetheless. Secondly, there is the series' second half,(what fans refer to as the Time Skip arc), which is perfectly fine and there's nothing technically wrong with it, but at first it feels almost absolutely nothing like the 15 episodes that preceded it. The change of tone is definitely jarring, and if you don't know it's coming, it will confound you.
And finally, the only truly indisputable, concrete flaw with this series: the 4th episode. The very instant it begins, you can tell something is wrong. Something has gone awry. The animation suddenly turns into garbage, the characters look like bad doodles of their former selves, and they themselves act very out of character (Kamina throwing potentially-lethal rocks at Simon? What the hell?). Unfortunately, it's an episode you can't skip because it introduces Kittan and his 3 sisters (Kiyoh, Kiyal, and Kinon), and they play a pretty important role in the story. Luckily for me, as well as all of you, this madness only lasts a single episode, and #5 returns to the slick and fluid look of the rest of the series. At first people began to think GAINAX had gone overbudget again, but they prove afterward, especially in the final episode for which roughly 10% of the series' total budget was saved, that money was not an issue. Episode 4 was merely the result of the art director being sick and letting his buddy take over. Said buddy was not hired on to do any more episodes.
So, with that said, does it hold up? Is it truly a classic?
Sure, the story is pretty simple and dumb, the second half takes a bit of getting used to, and the physics during the last few episodes defy all logic and reason and will make your brain implode, but I implore you: watch Gurren Lagann! There is no other anime anywhere filled with as much joy and passion as you'll find here, and I know for a fact that if you just go into it as you would a summer blockbuster movie (like The Avengers), you will have the time of your life. It has already been hailed as a classic by many, and I will not say any word to the contrary.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Gurren Lagann is simplistic and ridiculous, but extremely strong characters and artistic mastery on all fronts are more than enough to elevate the series to legendary status.