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29 November 2009 @ 08:06 pm
row row fight the power  
Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann

Humanity lives (pretty miserably) underground in small villages, the existence of the surface being reduced to a myth. Only Kamina, a teenager with more attitude than brain insist it exists and repeatedly tries to reach it. One day, Simon the digger, Kamina's best friend and younger brother figure, finds a weird machine shaped like a human head; later on, a redhead girl with a big gun falls from a hole in the ceiling; quickly followed by an aggressive mecha and they fight it using Simon's new-found mini-mecha... and soon reach the surface. Sadly the surface is populated by beastmen piloting mechas who will hunt down and kill any humans who dare to live on it.



TTGL doesn't do a whole lot of thing, but what it does, it does very, very well. TTGL is a reconstruction of the mecha genre, with a lot of homage to old shows and lot of things working on trope, literally, (tropes like the Rule of Cool and Hot Bloodedness, especially) and whole fucking lot of EPIC AWESOME. Also a lot of silly. And a lot of things so silly they cross the line twice and go back into AWESOME. It would be an understatement to call TTGL over the top. TTGL is flying far, far over over the top. Even the sky isn't the limit for TTGL, for it knows no limits (or common sense). It will frequently make you OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK THEY DIDN'T? THEY DID! This is made particularly winningly entertaining by the utter lack of shame and amused self-consciousness the storytelling shows.

Stylistically, the art is aggressively shounen and very dynamic, frequently sketchy and with some notable daring art-shift to suit narrative moods. There's pretty much always something racing, bouncing, drilling, popping or exploding on screen. Fanservice is also endemic, with most of cast - including male characters - wearing stripperific outfits. As a machine in creating enthusiasm, TTGL is a thing of beauty, helped along by an earwormy soundtrack ("row row fight the power") and many judiciously repeated catchphrases. In a way its a bit scary how good this show is at creating rabid enthusiasm amongst its fans. It's just... very, very catchy. Like a virus.

In pacing, TTGL also pushes beyond all limits, with a virtually absent status quo. Events don't just happen, they rush in rapid succession of topping over previous events; yet still in a way that is easy to follow and distillates the mood perfectly. This does have the bad effect of having a bunch of secondary character who have very little development besides showing up and being named, although TTGL rests very knowingly on tropes to be confident the audience still knows what those characters are about.

Those aside, most characters are very endearing and sympathetic. Simon's character journey is very well told and I found him much more interesting than your average shounen lead, not due to originality but simply to the quality of the storytelling. Kamina is... pretty much indescribables, but very hard not to love. Yoko and Nia, the female leads, are both pretty awesome and likeable. Relationships between those four (and the few other regular secondary characters) are also pretty rich and compelling (also frequently very, very slashy).

Thematically, TTGL mostly works around the idea of the importance of self-confidence, guts and actually trying things and not letting yourself stopped by anything; a theme it pursues relentlessly with the use of the "Spiral" motif, which is embedded (and drilling) everywhere in the series from art to narrative to theme to the show's very structure (also drilling). If you want a show to cheer you up and motivates you, you could do worse. It also addresses shallowly themes of idealism vs pragmatism and in the third arc (my favourite ^_^) also perhaps without fairness enough to make it work fully.

Gender dynamics wise, TTGL is... not very good. Asides from copious amount of male fanservice and the existence of a couple of very cool female protagonists, it relies way too much on putting those female characters in weakened or dangerous situation for the express purpose of making male characters look cool, especially by the ending. Otherwise, there's one flamingly gay character whose campiness is played for laugh, although he's portrayed as very awesome and competent.

In conclusion, an extremely fun and entertaining show, thanks to clever and bold storytelling and stylistic mastery, especially if your taste runs to AWESOME and over the top.
 
 
Tone: amusedamused
Tune: Anouar Brahem - Halfaouine
 
 
 
etherealmonkey: etherealmonkey on November 30th, 2009 05:35 am (UTC)
The best show. It's a love letter to all the mecha anime I watched when I was little.

I hear you on the gender dynamics, though. The damsel thing is unfortunate and way too common in shounen anime.

Also I still hate the ending. Not gonna spoil it for anybody, but geez, way to not understand the theme of the show. >:(
Anne-Elisa: grumpyetrangere on November 30th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
It really is! I was never a big fan of mecha anime, but it really pulls you into the enthusiasm for them anyway ^^

I feel especially bad about the gender dynamics because the show started pretty good as setting up the female characters as awesome of their own right then progressively degraded until the ending which sucked on a gender politics front :(

Honestly? I didn't mind the ending thematically, asides from the gender politics, I minded it because it makes no sense mechanic wise. There's no real explanation for it, it just happens for the sake of having Simon makes the choice he does at the ending. Silly Diabolus Ex Machina :(

Edited at 2009-11-30 04:03 pm (UTC)