The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 50 – Gurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann

Having reached a significant landmark, and having written this column for around a year, I think it is only right that the fiftieth article covers the one series that I have watched that has had the most impact on me. A series best described as “big”. It has huge personalities, gigantic machines, and massive drills.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, better known as Gurren Lagann, is a 27-episode long series broadcast in 2007, with a pair of films over the next two years made mostly out of old material from the series, with some new bits thrown in. It is a mecha series, which as covered before features people controlling bipedal machines. Most of the mecha I have written about have been pretty realistic shows or “Real Robot” series as they are known. But Gurren Lagann is a more fantastical “Super Robot” series.

Gurren Lagann is made by Gainax, a company that has been covered considerably in past columns. They have made many of the most influential mecha series such as Gunbuster (No. 24) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (No. 21), as well as some unusual over-the-top comedy shows such as the surreal FLCL (No. 7) and the adult Panty & Stocking and Garterbelt (No. 19). Gurren Lagann combines the best of all this.

The series is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which humanity has been driven underground, and tells the story of the destiny of a boy called Simon (pronounced “See-mon” in Japanese). Simon is a digger, using a conical drill to expand the size of his underground village. He is looked down upon by the village elders, but he does have some companions. These include a small pet “mole-pig” named Boota, and passionate delinquent Kamina, who dreams of going to the surface. Together they form their own group, Team Gurren, to achieve this. One day Simon finds a drill-shaped key whilst digging, called a “Core Drill”, and then finds a small mecha, shaped like a big head called a “Gunmen”. Kamina names the mecha “Lagann”.

Later on, another huge Gunmen breaks the ceiling of the village, comes crashing down and starts causing havoc. Then a buxom young woman named Yoko Littner follows and starts attacking it with a large rifle. Simon uses his Core Drill to activate the Lagann, which appropriately for him is armed with drills, and together Simon, Kamina, Yoko and Boota defeat the enemy Gunmen and reach the surface. Kamina later steals a Gunmen himself, names it “Gurren” and learns that multiple Gunmen can combine with each other to become more powerful. Thus Kamina and Simon fight as the combined “Gurren Lagann”.

Simon and Kamina also learn from Yoko that the surface is mostly controlled by an animal/human-like race called the Beastmen, who serve the mighty Lordgenome, who desires that humanity should remain underground. As the story folds the heroes battle against the Beastmen and gather more allies, including the camp, gay mechanic Leeron; intelligent and modest Rossiu; and Beastmen hunters the Black Siblings.

There is so much going on in this series it is hard to know where to start. One area is the way it mixes action, drama and comedy. At times it is serious, even tragic, but elsewhere it is like watching a Carry On film. You will be watching a battle, and all around is chaos, blood, terror and death. But while this is going on little Boota is taking shelter from all the hurt and destruction, and hides… in Yoko’s massive tits. It goes from engrossing action to Sid James style lewdness in an instant, but it does it really well.

But perhaps the best aspect of Gurren Lagann is the scale of the series. Everything about it is so big. Simon may start of small, but with his big-faced mecha things soon grow. You have buxom Yoko, who carries a rifle so large you wonder how she is able to carry it. The only thing small about Yoko is her hot pants. Then there is Kamina who wears big pointy sunglasses and is probably the most over-the-top yet inspiring character in all anime. He says marvellous phrases to Simon like: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” and “Who the hell do you think you are? Isn’t your drill the one that will pierce the heavens, the earth, and through to tomorrow?”

But this is only half the story. Gurren Lagann is told in two parts, with a clip show dividing the two halves. In part two, set seven years after the first, things are even bigger, including the mecha. Episodes are set in space and the mecha becoming colossal. They become the size of planets, stars, even galaxies. In the film version Simon’s Gunmen is about the size of, and I feel that going into bold and block capitals is appropriate here, THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!

The series is very popular in the anime community and the popularity has been shown in odd ways. The oddest occurred in 2007 when a Welsh MP complained that the British flag did not represent Wales enough, so the Daily Telegraph held an online competition for people to redesign the flag to represent Wales more, the winner being chosen by an online public vote. The contest gained lots of attention abroad and as a result the winning design came from an anonymous Norwegian who created a Union Flag displaying the Gurren Lagann logo – a flaming skull wearing Kamina’s pointy specs.

Gurren Lagann is funny, dramatic, gut-wrenching, passionate, and so bloody big. It is the sort of show that should ideally be watched projected onto the wall of a large building, with the volume turned up to 11, while shouting at your neighbours: “Stop gawking at The X Factor, Bake Off and all that fucking awful reality TV crap, AND JUST WATCH THIS!!!

Gurren Lagann will be released by All the Anime as an ultimate collector’s Blu-Ray edition in June, with a normal Blu-Ray collection and DVD collection in October. Older collections can be found second-hand from the now closed down Beez Entertainment label.