Gurren Lagann (anime)
The title means something like crimson face envelope (or crimson lotus, if you prefer). This is strike one. Crimson face envelope? My god! Really? The anime is essentially a mecha (a giant robot piloting series along the lines of Gundam, or the fantastically irritating Code Geass). That’s strike two! Mechas are something I usually dislike…oh, they’re so boring! Boring! Boring! Strike three is the busty sidekick/heroine Yoko, who looks like every big-breasted, wild-haired, machine-gun toting anime stereotype. So, despite three really big strikes, I really liked this series.
It begins with a small tribe of humans living underground; the surface of the earth has been uninhabited by humans for generations. One of the tribe members, a frail-looking boy named Simone the Digger, discovers something while tunneling through the darkness…a giant face. He and his “bro” (best friend and father figure) Kamina, defy the orders of a timid underground tribal government and decide to discover the purpose of this “giant face.” The face turns out to belong to a “Gurran” or gunman, and the spiral of Simone’s drill, combined with he and the ever-positive Kamina’s “fighting spirit,” activates it. Once active, above-ground renegade surface-dweller (and big-boobed slaughter junkie) Yoko’s gunman sensor is signaled and she bursts into the underground cavern to destroy the gunman. She is amazed to find that a human has activated it. Gunmen on the surface are operated by beastmen under the command of human-hating Lord Genome. No human has ever successfully piloted one of these gunmen. She is, however, not the only one alerted to the active gunman. Just after Yoko’s entrance, an enormous pig-man piloted gunman bursts in aiming to destroy the tribe entirely. Yoko, Kamina, and the timid Simone, defeat the enemy, and because the gunman’s existence will continue to draw enemies, they decide to venture to the surface leaving behind all they have known. Kamina sees this as their destiny, and claims that their drill will pierce the roof of the heavens…some foreshadowing of what is to come. So, with their fearless battle cry “Just who in the hell do you think I am?” the trio (quartet if you count Simone’s weirdly emotive hedgehog/mole pet) ventures into the sunlight to battle, and love, and fail, and triumph.
Surface stupidity aside, this anime is extremely interesting on an analytical/thematic level. The central focus seems to be about evolution (biological, societal and individual), and the tug of war between seemingly dichotomous elements (lest you forget that I am an English professor…shwa, shwa). This anime considers some fairly sophisticated ideas of reality and the persistence of life in the universe. The very final scenes of the series are simultaneously heartbreaking and thought-provoking...combining some of the more interesting concerns of The Matrix (there were interesting concerns, it just wasn’t an interesting movie...and I hate Keanu in everything...he should be silent and pretty) with those of The Last Temptation of Christ.
Is this a love story? A creation story? An apocalypse? What are the inherent strengths of being “weak?” Or malleable? Is it about power? Who has it? Is it about an obligation to future generations? Or to the dead who sacrificed for our continuing survival? Where does selfish determination become selfless determination? What about free will and destiny…are they mutually exclusive? Do we create our own reality as we create our selves? Can our will triumph over any adversity? Is living on the greatest gift we can leave those who are left behind? What is the purpose of life? My head was swimming, and my heart was broken, by the end of this anime series.
Do not let the mecha genre, the ridiculously aggressive Kamina, or the occasional over-the-top silliness of this anime dissuade you from watching. These characters evolve throughout the anime in remarkable ways. Heroes like Simone are borne aloft by the memories of their fallen comrades. Yoko’s tender side emerges as we become aware of why she fights, and for whom. Even villains like the (awesomely squeeworthy) shark/cat? beastman Viral find their purpose…incidentally, his purpose is my favorite—he is cursed with immortality so that he can tell the story of humanity’s triumph’s forever. Poor, lovely, viral!