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Gurren Lagann Complete Series Box Set Limited Edition Anime DVD Review

18 min read

Gurren Lagann
Gurren Lagann
From the deep underground to the breadth of the galaxy, one man and his friends will change the course of everything.

What They Say:
In the distant future, mankind has lived quietly and restlessly underground for hundreds of years, subject to earthquakes and cave-ins. Living in one such village are two young men: one named Simon who is shy and naive, and the other named Kamina who believes in the existence of a “surface” world above their heads. The destiny of these two starts moving drastically when the ceiling of their village falls in, and a gigantic “Gunmen” and a beautiful girl named Yoko, wielding a superconductive rifle, come from the surface. Together, Kamina, Simon, and Yoko ride the mecha “Lagann” that Simon digs out of the ground, and fly up to the surface!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is presented in its original Japanese language and the English dub, both of which are in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. The series is one that really works the soundstage well across the whole program as there’s a great mix of quiet dialogue pieces, standard interactions and some epic swells of music and action that deals with great placement and depths. The big moments obviously draw more attention and the larger the scale of the show the more it shows off, but I really appreciated the quieter moments with the incidental sounds and ambient music that didn’t distract as it unfolded. We didn’t have any dropouts or distortions during regular playback of this single language track release either.

Video:
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across six discs which looks to be the same materials used for the Bandai Entertainment release, though these are authored without any playback or comparability problems. The twenty-seven episodes are spread across six discs in a five/four/five/four/five/four format. While the show when I first saw it on the subtitled-only sets wasn’t one that looked all that strong, the authoring looks a bit better here with more solid colors and more vibrant areas throughout. There’s a more muted tone to much of this release because of the design of the show and its very earthy nature, but there’s a lot of areas where it stands out well, especially with the blue skies and some of the really vibrant areas like the combination/transformation sequence with all of its rainbow colors. The show does suffer from some line noise in a few scenes, and it is noticeable, but it’s a tiny amount over the whole seven hundred minutes of the set.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is a big part of the draw for it and Aniplex doesn’t disappoint with what they do when it comes to limited editions. The heavy chipboard box has a great wrap around it, one that definitely feels different with the texture of it, and it has a detailed and gorgeous illustration where one side features the Team Gurren Lagann on the front while facing off against the Beastmen that make up the artwork on the back panel. The side panel is a bit bigger than some other sets we’ve seen lately and that just fleshes out the space between the two in a light and good way. Inside the box we get four clear DVD cases where a lot of the original artwork of the character pairings and solo shots stand out well. They’re full wraparound pieces with mostly blank backgrounds but it all has a great look to it. And they all have artwork on the reverse side so we get plenty of pieces of detailed and colorful characters. The discs are also nicely done as they’re silkscreened in white while having the Team Gurren Lagann logo in vibrant colors across all six of them.

Also inside the box we get a good additional limited edition extras. One is a beautiful if seemingly odd sized character poster where one side shows off a full length shot of Yoko while the other does Kamina. We also get an enclosed packet that has a series of high quality postcards, mostly using artwork from the covers, as well as a great little pairing of stickers that are quite attractive. The collection also comes with a thirty-six page full color booklet that has a slew of great pieces of artwork, again showing some of the postcards but also a lot more, and a look at the CDs and some production information in general towards the end. This release has a lot of great pieces of artwork material to it that you really find yourself wanting to frame.

Gurren Lagann DVD Box Set

Menu:
One of the things I absolutely loved with the previous DVD editions were the menus designed by Nightjar. Thankfully, those are kept here and we get something that looks great and still stands out today compared to what most companies do. The menu design uses their love of rotation to get you to submenus as it takes the basic imagery from some of the interior Gunmen screen designs and brings in the navigation elements as well as the basic text you’d expect such as the logo. With a good bit of thrumming music to it, these are fun menus to whip around in and go place to place, which again makes me really want to see what Nightjar will do someday on a Blu-ray release. Submenus load pretty quickly considering the extra animation and everything is laid out in a very smooth and easy to utilize form.

Extras:
The show has a lot of extras spread across the six discs which seem to mirror what was in the previous release. The first disc has a good look at what went into the production as the voice actress for Yoko does some behind the scenes stuff as well as some other key production moments. We also get a preview of the sixth episode of the series in its TV version. That gets followed up on the second disc as it provides the TV version of episode six, which received some editing due to content, but it’s something that I didn’t watch since I prefer the unedited version, though it makes sense to go with the cleaner one with younger children or for broadcast. We also get the clean opening and closing sequences and a few trailers.

The third and fourth discs are a bit simpler as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences here as well. The fifth and sixth discs also do this but they also provide a bit more material that’s really great to see again. One is a look at the 3D modeling for the Anti-Spiral Mugann piece that runs nearly thirty minuets and goes into things in good detail. This disc also gets a seven minute extras that interviews Shoko Nakagawa, who did one of the songs for the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Gurren Lagann is one of those anime series that has such an interesting history to it just in how it’s been released that I can’t help but to be fascinated by it. Originally set to be released by ADV Films, and I believe some dubbing was done, the title was shifted to Bandai Entertainment during ADV’s waning days before they went under. Bandai Entertainment went to get the series out as quickly as possible so we ended up with a subtitled-only release at first for a low price to make the fans happy, and then a dubbed release came. Unfortunately, so many of the discs across both editions were flawed because of bad authoring/replication issues that it was a hugely problematic show for fans. But now, several years later, we get the whole thing in one gorgeous collection with what seems like no real problems at all, giving Gurren Lagann the release it has long deserved. Because of the scale of the show and what it does, we’ll revisit it in the way it was originallly released, in the three sets of nine episodes since there’s so much to talk about with each segment of the series.

Discs 1 & 2:

Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, which explains quite a bit of the style as he was one of the principle forces behind Dead Leaves, and with a script by Kazuki Nakashima, Gurren Lagann feels like it’s revisiting a lot of older Gainax material and reshaping it once again. The series takes place in some undetermined post-apocalyptic future where mankind has been driven underground and into small enclaves that aren’t connected with each other. In the darkness, they either fear the light above or they don’t believe that it really exists. Some villages even believe that whatever is above is a heaven of sorts where the gods live and they dare not tread. Years of belief have changed into numerous small religions or working theories that help to keep people controlled and in the end safe from exposure to the outside world.

Not all people want to live like this though and one of this is a very outgoing and energetic young man named Kamina. Often the source of trouble in his village, everything changes when his young friend Simon discovers a pint sized drill that activates a robotic head. A robotic head that is really just a version of science-magic as the technology behind it is so incomprehensible that it cannot be described as anything else but magic. This head, which Kamina decides to call Lagann, is where everything starts as a massive mecha suddenly drops into the village and causes all sorts of trouble. The mecha, known as a Gunmen, is being dealt with by a very attractive and fiery redhead named Yoko who gets caught up in what these two guys are going through. Before you know it, the Gunmen is defeated and the trio are heading out of the village and onto the surface to discover what awaits there.

Like most shows of this nature, the planet is pretty much barren and lifeless. The surface world that Simon and Kamina find themselves in is one that fits the bill of needing to fight to survive because the Gunmen seem to come out constantly during the day and retreat at night. The village that the duo stays with at first with Yoko allows them to get a feel for the world but also lets Kamina really put his stamp on things. While it’s holding pattern in all the fights so far between the humans and the Gunmen, piloted by Beastmen, Kamina’s arrival heralds something new as during one fight he essentially steals the Gunmen from the Beastman and turns it into his own, naming it the Gurren. When things later take a weird turn during a fight and Kamina spouts off about how combining things are cool, the Lagann is essentially drilled into the top of the Gurren and they combine which gives them even more power and ability.

Once that happens, everything becomes even more footloose as the two decide that this is their fate and want to head off into the world to track down the Beastman’s base so they can destroy it. Kamina’s singular focus allows everything to be driven by his willpower and desire to do things. As they progress, with Yoko coming along as she’s developed feelings for Kamina, the meet up with other humans that are either actively fighting against the Gunmen or are in hiding underground like they once were. Through these generally shorter stories, the cast expands nicely and we get a better feeling for what the storyline is shaping up to, particularly when the “big boss” is revealed in the form of the Spiral King that is the heart of all matters.

Gurren Lagann’s approach is relatively straightforward and it works well enough to keep things flowing. I had originally sat down to watch just the first episode but suddenly found myself on the fourth episode because it was simply addictive. That addictive nature is somewhat familiar though as much of the energy can be traced back to the director’s involvement in Dead Leaves but also in that it feels like portions of FLCL are strewn throughout here, especially when it comes to the Gunmen. The Gunmen are that kind of science that cannot be described because things simply happen when needed with them, such s the combination effect or the way the characters can talk through them. Once you treat it as a pseudo-science or magic, it’s very easy to get into the “classic” nature of it all and just let it wash over you. When you have the mecha self-repairing during a combination scene with junk laying around or watching them move in ways that are impossible, you just have to give yourself over to it.

What’s also very appealing about the show is the character designs used for it. While Simon has the problem of being the young kid of the group, the rest of the cast gets some fairly dynamic designs that are really appealing. Kamina in particular is a real rarity in that he’s shirtless most of the time and he stands out because of his tattoos and the way he carries himself as if he’s living some sort of anime/comic book dream. He’s full of Hollywood poses that set him apart from everyone else and he’s simply living in each and every moment. Also quite appealing is Yoko who is reminiscent of a particular character from Gunbuster 2. With her ample cleavage on display and her outgoing nature, she complements Kamina nicely while also having fun with it. Yoko certainly properly represents the “Gainax Bounce” in each and every episode it seems.

Discs 3 & 4:

With another set of nine episodes, the second collection of Gurren Lagann has one hell of a job ahead of it. The first collection of nine episodes is incredibly engaging and fun to watch and the second set has some large shoes to fill. With an array of interesting characters and a sense of having fun with giant robots while imbuing it with a sense of the epic and dramatic, Gurren Lagann appealed on nearly every level. What made this collection an incredibly hard follow-up was the death in the first collection of the character that really made the show for me. With that coming towards the end of the first set of episodes, it left this one in doubt.

That doubt does take a little bit of time to be taken care of with this collection. Much of what slows down the show at first is that it has to deal with Simon being completely out of sorts because of Kamina’s death. With his Bro having been such a big part of his life for so long and being the only one who really believed in him for so long, losing him is a crushing moment in his life. Even with Nia now there, a cute young girl who exudes nothing but positive vibes, he’s sullen and uncommunicative with most people. When he does communicate, he’s angry and brash which leads to a number of conflicts, conflicts that makes it easier for Kittan to take on the role as the leader of Team Gurren.

This goes on for a little bit, but not enough to really crush the spirit of the series. There are enough moments during all of this where the supporting cast gets to find its legs in the post-Kamina world and that helps a lot since they’re all fun to watch, even as they’re coping with the loss. Once Simon gets his rear in gear though, Gurren Lagann works hard to recapture a lot of that magic. Simon isn’t Kamina, nor should he be, but he brings a lot of his optimism to his new outlook on things and attempts to look at the world through a similar lens, one that allows him to be unpredictable and to never give up. This is certainly important considering the kinds of Gunmen and General’s he’s coming across, particularly once they divine the location of the Spiral King and begin their trek towards him.

With most series, that trek would take up the bulk of the series and lead to an epic conflict. Gainax, however, working with an original series and their own skewed sense of how things should work, really brings that climax point up to episode fifteen. Gurren Lagann runs through so many small revelations and key moments as it revels in epic nature that it’s almost too much to handle. The Spiral King and his goals turn out to be completely unexpected and his reasons for doing so even more fascinating. With his relationship to Nia, the way he tweaks and manipulates Viral and how he handles his encounter with Simon, the Spiral King is a character that is far more engaging than most villains are. And the main reason for it is that he isn’t a villain but rather someone with a very specific plan for doing what they believe is right. And those kinds of characters are always a lot more fun to watch in the long run.

Gurren Lagann has a lot of familiar themes to past Gainax shows which isn’t a surprise. A lot of what the company has done since it attempted to revitalize itself back at the turn of the century has been with a kind of smile and wink about what made it so popular way back in the day. Gurren Lagann has plenty of things that are owed towards Gunbuster and FLCL as well as the big robot series of the 70’s. One thing that continues to hit me with it at times is some of the things it does that are similar to Macross. There are certain music cues that are very reminiscent of it and there are a number of action sequences with missiles that look like they came right out of the Macross movie.

The similarity that made me the happiest however is that after a positively lackluster compilation piece done for episode sixteen, the show leaps ahead by seven years and tells the next phase of the story, the one that was hinted at during the opening of the series with Simon as something of a space captain. This shift brings Simon into a far more interesting realm as he’s older and in a very different position than he was as just the pilot of the Lagann. Everyone who is still around is different to some extent, but it’s the younger characters who are more noticeable with it. Yoko is unfortunately mostly absent from it for obvious reasons, but watching how the others have adapted to this new life is a whole lot of fun. It’s almost like a really lengthy epilogue story at first that then dovetails into the next big storyline.

Discs 5 & 6:

Revisiting Gurren Lagann has been a fascinating experience, which isn’t a surprise as very few Gainax original series have been uninteresting. The second set of nine episodes was the weakest of the series for a point simply because it wallowed a bit too much in despair, which was rather necessary when looking at the bigger picture of the story. Once it got going however, it led into an area that turned the whole series in a fascinating new direction, one which is capitalized on beautifully in this final installment of nine episodes. Gainax rarely goes beyond the standard episode counts, so seeing them hit twenty-seven episodes here does feel unusual but it all works out perfectly.

The arrival of the Anti-Spirals on Earth brings everything to what seems to be the big new arena. While the fight against Lordgenome was certainly a huge event, it was more of a mid-series epic moment that must be topped for the finale. Every time things get to a new level that you think is as far as it can go, they come out with something even more. The shift to seven years in the future has shown us humanity moving forward with extreme speed and ending up in extreme comfort over what they now have. When that’s threatened, they instinctively look to place blame and Simon’s poor actions in defending everyone combined with the way Nia has manipulated things makes it easy for him to receive a sham trial. Before he knows it, he’s sharing a cell with Viral which is simply amusing just for the visuals of it all.

Seemingly unable to defeat the Anti-Spirals, though at least able to fend them off to some degree, everything has gone epic in scale as the bad guys are now threatening the planet by tossing the moon at it. The resulting destruction will cause untold despair on the million plus inhabitants, which is exactly what the Anti-Spirals want. Rossiu at least has plans to try and save more than half of them, but events never go as the earnest young man plans. When there is such a dominating force looking over everything and with the Lordgenome head coming up with all sorts of new information, it only gets more and more grim. But that’s a huge part of the appeal as everyone moves between despair and hope as they can’t give up.

Eventually, everyone is brought back into play as a means to fight the Anti-Spirals is discovered. It’s one that has the core cast of characters having to look at everything in a new way, but a familiar way as well. With the moon above now acting like a new ceiling, those who spent so much time underground before now realize that it’s just another thing they have to climb, crawl, dig and drill through in order to reach the “surface.” The series keeps a very warm and personal touch as it moves onto a universal size scale in order to deal with the Anti-Spirals by taking the battle to their home world or wherever they actually operate out of. The Anti-Spirals themselves are highly fascinating in their design but also in how they’re portrayed since it reveals a lot about their past in a very brief manner that makes a whole lot of sense. The galactic scale of it all is something that a lot of Gainax shows work with so it was little surprise to see it go there, but we’re reminded once again of why Gainax excels at this and few others do. They simple make it engaging and fun while also giving it that immense sense of scale.

This is both the boon and the bane of this series however. The bane of it is that on some level, so much of this intimately familiar, just with different characters. There aren’t shades of Gunbuster, Evangelion and FLCL here, there are plenty of direct adjustments and swipes of their own material. That sense of the familiar can be off-putting after awhile, especially if you’ve been watching Gainax shows since 1989 and have seen everything they’ve done. At the same time, it’s their boon as they have such a unique wealth of material to work with that watching them take it, rework it and refine it is extremely engaging. Familiar costumes, robot designs, settings and even font types are all tweaked and prodded over the years and this is the most current result of it. The way it works from such a small personal relationship between characters and the universe that they know which then grows into a massive sprawling piece where so much is at stake at a much larger level is highly satisfying.

In Summary:
With many anime series, I always come back to the idea that it’s the journey that’s the most fun. Often the openings are slow and the endings meager or weak at best. With Gainax however, with their work through original properties rather than manga based ones, they’re able to be more expressive and take more chances. Gurren Lagann represents another one of those moments where not only is the journey highly enjoyable – and it is! – but the conclusion is just as satisfying, if not more so. Everything here is in that realm of science=magic for the viewer, but it’s handled so expertly, with such passion and charm, that as it all rolls across the screen it’s very easy to get swallowed up in and almost feel like an active participant. While a show like Neon Genesis Evangelion will get the most praise, it’s shows like this that I tend to find the most engaging from this studio. Gurren Lagann joins a very strong field of properties that Gainax has created and is in my opinion one more of their “must watch” properties for any anime fan. Whatever form you want to own it in, it is one that definitely needs to be on most any fans shelf.

Features:
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Yoko Goes to Gainax – Study Animation at Gainax, Sazigen 3DCG Test Animation Footage, Creative Staff Interview, Shokotan Interview, Textless Openings and Endings

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: May 14th, 2013
MSRP: $174.98
Running Time: 700 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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