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Gurren Lagann The Movie: Double Feature Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

Gurren Lagann double FeatureReach for the heavens, no matter the cost!

What They Say:
This double-feature set includes the Gurren Lagann movies Childhood’s End and The Light in the Sky Are Stars on Blu-ray!

The Review:
Similar to the previous releases of these features, we only get the original Japanese language track here. What we do get with it is the PCM stereo mix and the DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix where the rear channels are used very often and very well to give it a larger than life feeling. There’s a lot going on around the sound field and with this being a loud and brash show, it makes excellent use of it to bring in a lot of impact. The dialogue is generally all to the forward soundstage with a fair bit of placement throughout which comes across as very clean and clear with no problems. The movie makes good use of what it has and really gives it a larger than life feeling which is even more noticeable than before, making it a stronger and more engaging work.

Originally in theaters in late 2008, the transfer for these two films are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The movies, which are culled from the original TV series for its source material, come across far better than the previous DVD edition which felt like the noise was strong and there were shimmering issues. Here, the grain side is still present, but it feels more natural and not as pronounced, giving it a cleaner and stronger feeling to it. There’s a lot of bold and bright colors here on the surface and the blue sky makes out much better as well as it has a lot more pop and vibrancy to it which helps it in pretty much every quadrant.

The packaging for this release is decent but it goes for a bit of the simple side. We get the two Blu-ray cases inside a thin box to hold it all together. The box has a good concept to it but I’ll admit that I wanted something flashier. What we get is a black box with the Kamina style logo along the main panel which has its appeal but doesn’t stand out too much for a front side. The back side goes more for what I wanted, but with a stronger framing background, as we get a gorgeous full piece of artwork that has all the main cast spread across the two films concepts that’s simply fantastic. But with the box material here, it dulls down the color quality compared to what it should be. At least all the technical information is kept on the wraparound so that it doesn’t impact the box art further.

Inside the box, the two Blu-ray cases are solid as we get the first volume with a focus on the young Simon in the foreground while his mecha is behind him, all of it shadowed in fog and smoke. The second feature gives us another Simon image but ties it to Nia at his side and our main villain the background. While the first volume had a red hued background, this one goes green and it adds to the kind of stellar landscape behind it which adds to its appeal. Both sets have good pieces of artwork on the back cover that lets the rest of the cast get their chance in the sun, with Yoko showing up in two forms and a good mix of things overall. No inserts are included with the release but each of the cases has artwork on the reverse side that works well, particularly the first volume with its imagery of Simon with a stern expression.

The menu designs for these releases are pretty decent and it’s definitely better than a static menu since it uses some fun material. The general idea is basically a series of rolling filmstrips but where the space between them has the red drill lines that’s defined the look of the series for quite a few years. We get a lot of animated clips playing across these as they scroll across at an angle and while it is busy, it does look good and gets you to check out some of what’s to come. The menu navigation is kept to the bottom with a thin but simple strip of choices that’s pretty much the norm and it’s all quick and easy to access both during the top level menu and as a pop-up menu with no problems in accessing anything. It may not be the flashiest menu out there, but it fits the show well and works solidly.

The only extras included with the release are the two clean endings. Which is unfortunate since the previous DVD edition a few years ago had the whole Parallel Works material, which was basically four music videos.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Over the course of the years when it comes to theatrical adaptations of popular TV shows into movies, the one that annoys me the most are the ones that literally take lots and lots of footage from the show and simply recuts it into theatrical form. Even with the kind of filler and fluff you have in most shows, throwing it out the window and streamlining it is hard to do because that fluff and filler gets you familiar with the character and comfortable with the quirks and the like. Enter the two Gurren Lagann movies, which essentially takes massive amounts of the TV series and does the recut shuffle. With some cleaning up of the start to properly frame it and a few tweaks toward the end, we get a much more streamlined version of the TV show. And in a lot of ways, it loses some of its coolness because the quiet moments are largely gone when taken in full.

What makes this recut and use of the footage even more amusing is that it’s a show from Gainax, a company that has continually shown off their boundless creativity and ability to re-use their own material regularly and liberally. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, which explains quite a bit of the style as he was one of the primary 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.

One area that I was amused by in terms of creativity in handling the slimmed down nature of the show comes in how they handled some of the early filler. While we get some basic blow by blow material for a bit, several episodes worth of comedy and general character building are done as montage moments with no dialogue for most of it. It moves kind of haphazardly, but it showcases a lot of different things the group went through as it slowly got the cast underway in the TV version. You lose some of it, notably with Rossiu, in how those relationships are tied together and some of the tensions in them, but the focus here is about the epic nature of the surface world adventures and the over the top style of it all. That’s captured well, and definitely enjoyable, but like a lot of these adaptations I think it loses out on some of its heart.

The structure of the movies also has the oddness in that while it progresses far in the first film, the second film starts off with the real closure in regards to the Spiral King. But that’s just a part of the prelude to what’s to come. With anime, we get many, many series that go big and do what they and it’s a whole lot of fun. This is particularly true with science fiction shows since they can be grander in a lot of ways and push the boundaries of what can happen. Gainax has made a habit, a welcome one in my mind since so few others really even try it or even think of it, by doing strong leaps halfway through the property. The defeat of the Spiral King is truly just the halfway mark of the journey. And it’s a thoroughly engaging journey for a space opera fan like myself because what it does is advance us by about a decade, growing Simon up a lot, exploring other character relationships in the briefest of mentions, and showing humanity regaining its technology on an incredibly unrealistic fast-track.

But it progresses. It’s not static, it doesn’t rest on its laurels and deal with another local threat before going off into the sunset. Instead, it says that the real enemy is most definitely out there in the stars, that there’s a vast plan for dealing with spiral life in the universe and we’re just getting the first inklings of it. A lot of it is given over to silly politics and exposition that does work as it sets the stage well, but it lacks real impact because of the compilation style here where you really don’t get enough time to rally behind these slightly older characters and how they’ve changed in this new world. But that youthfulness, that energy, can and is drawn upon again as humanity faces the larger threat to their existence and to that of their galaxy in general. For me, the last hour or so here is a thing of beauty as we see the Anti-Spiral race and what they do and then to get down to the fight itself. Some shows give us gods and titans striding across the earth that can inspire and frighten. This takes it to the galactic level and amid the absurdity and goofiness of it all, they make it incredibly striking to watch that you get very, very caught up in the beauty of it all.

In Summary:
Having watched the TV series in complete marathon form about a year ago, I was a little wary revisiting it so soon and in this form. Gurren Lagann is a series that is quite simply special with what it does and has that kind of rareness about it that’s not achieved often. That’s because it goes big, takes risks and just has an absolute blast doing it. You can see all the love and care put into it as well as the passion by its creators and designers. These films capture a whole lot of that, and most of its heart, but it can do only so much when compressing it all down to a four hour runtime combined. It does it in a very good way and eliminates some of the less interesting fluff, but those quiet moments are what’s needed with a series that was otherwise going, going, going all the time. Taking some of that out here makes this move at a breakneck pace, but that just gives it a different feeling. Not better, not worse, just different. And it’s a worthy experience to have, both for the fans and for those who have not seen the show before but are curious about it. It looks great in high definintion, sounds fantastic and largely left me pleased.

Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Endings

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
MSRP: $79.98
Running Time: 220 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78: Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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