Scott: Hello one and all. Welcome to another collab event with a great blogger of some great and not so great older anime, Ashleycapes. We’ve been planning to do one for a little bit and I’m glad that he seemed interested in talking about Tengan Toppa Gurren Lagann with me. It seemed to fit both of our bills in one way or another, but I will let Ashley tell his side of the story. For me, I really wanted to watch it since I’ve watched Promare. I don’t like everything that Studio Trigger has ever put out, but when they create a phenomenon and a hit, they go hard and TTGL is something that hit me the same way years ago. What about you, Ashley? What was it that made you interested in checking out Gurren Lagann?
Ashley: Hi Scott, thanks for having me here! I’m keen to talk about TTGL because it’s a key Gainax production and one I’d never seen. And not having watched it until recently struck me as odd upon reflection – like, exactly why hadn’t I got around to it yet? Gurren Lagann has been out for years and it’s a classic – but somehow so many other things seemed to get in the way over the years. Very happy that I’ve finally seen it now and I definitely enjoyed how ‘over the top’ it is while seeming to effortlessly retain a lot of heart. Do you remember when you first saw it, and upon rewatch, have you responded differently to anything?
S: It’s a classic now? Time really has moved by fast. *Crumbles into dust* Still, I can’t argue with that logic. Gurren Lagann is one of a few anime from 2007 that I feel can stand the test of time forever probably. I don’t really remember when I first watched it. All I can say is that it was around the turn of the decade of 2010 when I did. So, it’s been about a decade plus or minus a year or two. Besides the amount of references I got this time due to watching more and more anime over the years, I feel like the emotions hit me more. I’ve been such a crybaby recently that it’s not even funny.
Before we jump in a discussion on the series proper, is there anything you would like to make a note on for this series? A stray observation or something?
A: Me too – it really feels like one of the ones that will survive the decades so well. It doesn’t seem to be dated via animation techniques or particular tropes, perhaps due to that heavy use of parody. I think as a first time viewer of the series I felt like those comedic elements worked to make the emotional moments kinda hit a little harder?
Actually yes! There was a moment of surprise when I saw Arc-Gurren Lagann for the first time. I remember being pretty excited because it felt like a clear nod to The Big O and I wasn’t expecting it 😀
S: I saw so many moments like that this time that it made me smile. Maybe it was something to do with me watching either the things the crew watched back then or updated versions that carry the core of their original versions. Macross was put into this a little bit, but there was Char’s Counter Attack stuff with the falling moon, Lord Genome’s Mecha looked like Unit 1, Space Battleship Yamato stuff when they went off to space to save humanity, a little Gunbuster in space too, and probably others that I’ve forgotten about or haven’t watched the series to see the reference.
I agree with you about the comedy because those feel like moments that you really get to know these characters. They get you to really feel for the show itself and I feel like anime comedy hasn’t aged that much since 2007 for the most part. There is also the fact that these characters are simple enough that you can easily relate to them or insert yourself into those characters easily. One of many reasons why I think the show has stuck around for so long as it has.
A: Yes! Gainax loves Yamato, huh? And yeah, there’s a lot of archetypal stuff with the characters that makes them so good. And the way it gives them a chance to grow with that time jump but also retain some sort of ‘core’ self that you can recognise in the latter episodes is great too.
I wanted to jump straight to Kamina and get your thoughts on him – he’s an obvious high point in the series and I like how he has the ‘absent mentor’ thing going throughout the series, but I feel like I needed more of him! Obviously, the young hero can’t rely on someone bigger and stronger too long… but still, I can’t help but wonder what sort of impact he’d have had in those episodes after the jump.
S: Right? Ever since that weird Anno guy was at Gainax, Yamato has made some sort of appearance there. Might be because it’s his favorite series. Hard to say. *cough*
And I am kind of not sure what to say here because whatever I feel like I’m going to say is going to be taken bad by someone when it comes to Kamina. I mean, I honestly really love the guy. I wouldn’t haven’t dedicated an OWLS post to him if I didn’t. At the same time, I don’t know what the series would be like if he did stick around and I kind of don’t want it? Do you think you would ever get tired of Kamina doing Kamina things.
Probably not. I think I can watch him be ridiculous and pulling things out of nowhere forever probably. At the same time, I don’t think Simon would have gone anywhere as a character or maybe not as fast if Kamina was still there. That emotional thing of having one of his supports taken away and firming up himself is great stuff. I think the fact that Kamina had gave us the “but you were only just here” emotional appeal helped to put us into Simon’s head space easily.
That’s my very narrow minded view though. What do you think? How do you think Kamina being around longer would have changed the series?
A: I think that I’m definitely being quite selfish in my desire for more Kamina 😀
Because as you say, it’d hamper Simon’s development significantly and that wouldn’t really be good storytelling; and certain scenes might not have had the same punch if Kamina had survived.
And I’m also with you on probably never growing tired of him doing his crazy thing, because for all its wildness (and at times silliness) I think that part of Kamina is a natural extension of someone who’s super-positive. It’s something I really enjoyed, especially from a genre that naturally lends itself to serious and sombre moments or tones.
What I wondered a lot about for the latter-half, was how Kamina would respond to Rossiu but also – how different Yoko’s storyline might have changed? Would he have been dissatisfied ‘stuck’ in a city, and ended up wandering, not unlike Simon eventually does?
To maybe switch focus a little, I wanted to ask about your fav episode(s) or moment(s)?
S: To answer your question first, I definitely think he would have been bored staying in one spot for a long time in the second half. He was never the kind of person to really stay in one spot and do one thing even if he was the one setting up the rules. Maybe he would have been married to Yoko and had a kid so he could have changed a little bit. Maybe. There is a habit of bad fathers in anime itself I think.
Oh, favorite episode? Ummmm, I feel like my favorite episodes in TTGL are the beginning and ending moments. So episode one was pretty great for setting up the scene and everything then seeing the full character journey portrayed in the finales. I loved the Lord Genome fight and the last fight against the anti spiral fights the best because this is everything. Everything has paid off to this point. I’m kind of weird though.
A: Yes, maybe the Kamina/Yoko family unit would wander together?
They are nice bookends, yeah, great choice. I’ve been thinking about one of my own stand out episodes/moments and for peak silliness I have to mention the bathhouse episode, which felt like a quick homage to Spirited Away combined with a funny, self-aware ribbing of fan-service tropes.
I was thinking also about the use of colour in this series – it’s so very satisfying as a viewer to see that range from muted to full-on neon and everything subtle between, and it never really clashed or felt garish for me. Did you notice anything in particular there?
S: I honestly hope so. I’m not a fan of that whole “this is why I married him” thing where the husband wanders off and the wife is at home. That’s so boring. Power couple for the win.
Yes! The bath house was pretty fun. I am not a fan of a lot of bathhouse episodes, but that’s a good one because it pushed the show forward a little bit too. Not a lot of those can do it but it feels like TTGL can do a lot of things that other anime can’t. Good bath house episodes are one of many. Plus, it answered my question on bathing in anime in general because holy crap…
I think I know what you mean about color. The color design is pretty simple but powerful. I like the darkness of the caves and underground themselves and then the bright outside with all sorts of color. Same with some strong emotional moments when you know something is absolutely wrong by the color itself compared to everything else, I think you know what I mean because we kind of talked about that already. Can I just say that I love the color of space in this anime? Just the general look of it? I know it’s probably wrong scientifically, but it’s so pretty.
Ok, speaking of some visuals, have you heard of Gainax’s history of money laundering from our main man Hideaki Anno himself? I couldn’t help but think of that in the beginning of the show itself. You know with episode 4 being what it is, the dark under caverns of Rossiu’s village afterwards, and then the recap episode? That article was stuck on my mind in the earlier episodes because there was some visual problems there not many people talk about in regards to this show.
A: Wow – I’d missed that re: the laundering! I knew the studio really started to fall apart back then but that’s so much worse than I’d read before. But I think you’re right, it feels especially pertinent with those episodes in mind.
And that fourth episode really caught me off guard and I had a bit of a flashback to Nadia when the production was shipped off elsewhere 😀
Yes! I like the space too and I reckon it wouldn’t have suited the show to have things more traditional up there. I can’t imagine it being only dark and quiet with pinpoint stars, yeah.
S: I’m sorry that I went into that direction. It was kind of mean, but I can’t really shake this point of view in my mind anymore. I’ve tried. Meta stuff like this just gets stuck in my head and can’t leave.
So let’s change subjects here. With how many super robot shows or mecha anime that you’ve watched in general, how do you feel TTGL compares to them? I really need to think of my answer because I think it might get more complex for me…
A: All good! I know what you mean – I like to have a wider picture of what’s going on production-wise, definitely. Anno mentioning that he’d like to step away a little, to let younger folks forge ahead, was interesting. I wonder what his presence was like during pre-production of TTGL? Sounds Gurren might have been in a planning phase near that time (maybe) but I imagine he and Imaishi would have seen eye-to-eye on a lot of things.
Keen to see what you think re: genre, yeah! I know you’ve seen a LOT more than me 🙂
I think the series employs a lot of the main conventions of mecha – we have learning how to pilot, the ‘self-belief/self doubt’ aspects and the escalation of bigger and badder enemies, and even considering the ‘wasteland’ feel to many battles, I still see plenty of set-pieces experiencing a whole heap of collateral damage! To contrast with those things I noticed there wasn’t a lot of politics around who should be able/allowed to pilot, it felt more like an adventure series in some ways – travel and meet (and sometimes destroy) new and interesting characters!
Having said all that, I think it’s certainly as much a mecha as comedy or drama, but just not your Neon Genesis or RahXephon style ones which tend to be moodier. It feels like a lot of the story beats (and parody elements) come from other shonen sub-categories too but in some ways that sense of fun and lightness running through TTGL brought Full Metal Panic or maybe even Patlabor to mind for me.
S: Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Especially when Anno left before 2007 to release the first Eva rebuild film from his Studio Khara around the same time. It must have been TTGL or at least the end of Diebuster or something. I feel Imaishi and Anno would get along as well.
I had to look up how many mecha series I’ve watched on Anlist and I’ve apparently watched 217 which is a little more than a quarter of the series I watched in total. It’s still crazy to think about though. I feel like I’ve forgotten a lot of titles, but will remember them as soon as they are brought up.
So here is what I’ve think in regards to the mecha genre, I think that TTGL is a good starter series to get people invested in the mecha genre as a whole. Or possibly, a good way to get people back into it if they’ve been away from it. I don’t mean just in terms of simple story and characters you can get into easily with some great outrageous things. Those help too, but I think the references in the story help a lot too. For instance, you can come back to TTGL after watching a lot of things and get even more enjoyment from it.
Plus, I agree with everything that you said too. There is a little draw in from everything in it. TTGL is just this huge amalgamation of a lot of things and yet it all works. It’s kind of crazy that it does, but that’s what makes it interesting and unique when it isn’t?
A: Yes! That wild streak is so important to the show, yeah 🙂 And I definitely agree that it’s the kind of series that would draw folks back to mecha if they’d had a long break, or wanted to make a start, and I think I’d like to watch TTGL again after a few years when I’ve finished catching up on some more of mech-history. I still have plenty of gaps in what I’ve seen 🙂
But wow, 217 – that’s awesome! What was your first series?
S: Oh, my first was something from Toonami. Probably Gundam Wing.
I still agree with you even with that amount of series under my belt. I would love to check out more anime and come back to this again someday. It’s like a giant scavenger hunt with a lot of heart.
A: Classic, I haven’t seen all your reviews on Gundam yet, I’ll have to look around soon 🙂
Thanks for having me and hosting the collaboration here too, I had a great time and I’m keen to see Promare one day now!
Thank you for reading our collab, everyone. Even if it did take a while to get out and it went places. Hopefully we brought some new insights or thoughts into a pretty creative anime that everyone seems to like in this blogosphere.
I would like to thank Ashleycapes for wanting to collab with me. I had a lot of fun working on this and talking about this show. Please be sure to check out his blog.