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Gurren Lagann Vol. #01 Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Gurren Lagann TV Volume 1Crawling up from down below to a whole new world.

What They Say:
This is the story of a man who has yet to realize what destiny holds in store for him…

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: Simon, who is shy and naive; and 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 pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the English language adaptation, both of which are done with the uncompressed PCM design. The show is one that has a good bit of action about it throughout, and some good music as well, which gives it a pretty lively forward soundstage mix. The action covers it well throughout with the back and forth of the action and the impact of the manly machines hitting each other and there’s a decent bit of bass to it to give it a bit more oomph. The dialogue works in a similar manner as there’s a good bit of yelling and intense vocal material that definitely helps to elevate it in a way that completely fits the material. Both tracks are pretty good and the sound design overall is spot on for this series with what it’s trying to accomplish.

Video:
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This portion of the series has five episodes to it that are spread across a single disc. Animated by Gainax, the show is one that definitely has a great design to it even as it works a kind of flat color design. There’s a lot of wild takes and loose animation in a sense where it’s not tied to being spot on realistic in its mechanical sense, but it has a very vibrant and strong look overall. Having watched this in the movie form previously in high definition, a lot of what we get here matches that, though there’s simply more lulls and quieter time here rather than the condensed features. That gives us a more variable bit rate throughout which in the end has us looking at a pretty solid show that really shines in the high impact scenes the most. Colors are strong and solid throughout with nothing in the way of problems such as cross coloration and line noise or anything else of note.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises when it comes to the artwork or design, though they do try to class it up a little bit since we’ve seen the overall look before a few times with prior releases. The show comes in a standard Blu-ray case with a slipcover for it that also holds the couple of extras packed in. The front of the slipcover uses the familiar image of Simon in the Lagann as he looks upward while being set against a pretty standard background with nothing to it. The wraparound on it has the discs information and details with it all done cleanly on the front through text while the back side has the technical information. The back cover gives us another familiar image with Yoko in her pose with her big weapon spread across it. The cast itself inside does pretty much the same thing with the front wrapping around the back while the reverse side has Yoko on it underneath the disc. Inside the box, we get a pretty good booklet that does a breakdown of the episodes in full color and then has a multi-page interview with the screenwriter that’s definitely a treat to read. We also get a few great images of the cast and a look at some of the Japanese box set packaging. Also included is a great doublesided poster where each side has the core trio together with one being a very polished and slick piece while the other goes for the raw, rough style that’s evocative of the 70’s anime world.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is kind of standard in a way but it also hews a bit towards the Nightjar menus we saw before as we get an angled piece with the red and black spiral stripes moving across the screen while between them we get various images from the series. It does start up with Kamina’s symbol in red against a black background with the volume number on it and it has a slick and polished look to it that definitely fits, but it also feels too familiar in a way. The navigation along the bottom is a small black strip that has the basic selections and individual episode access and it all loads quickly and easily during startup and as a pop-up menu during playback.

Extras:
The extras for this release bring us just the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as the on-air promo for the fifth episode.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Twenty-seven episodes long, Gurren Lagann is a series that has seen a lot of releases and configurations over the years in North America since it first came out back in 2007. The path of this series over the years has been an awkward one as it was originally licensed by ADV Films and had a couple of episodes dubbed before the license was lost. Bandai Entertainment jumped in through their associations and good relationship with Aniplex and nabbed the show from there. Bandai Entertainment decided to experiment a little at the time with the show by pumping it out in three sets of nine episodes a month but subtitled only. They later did a bilingual release and also got the show on the Sci-Fi channel. And after all of that, Bandai went away and now Aniplex is controlling the property (and the movies) directly. After bringing the features out on DVD and Blu-ray and then a DVD collection as well, we’re now finally at the TV series again, this time on Blu-ray, but in a very small episode count format that’s certainly divisive for fans.

Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, which explains quite a bit of the style as he was one of the principal 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, they start to meet up with other humans that are either actively fighting against the Gunmen or are in hiding underground like they once were. This is just the start of things though as we get to the last episode on this set, but the setup is straightforward as our characters, now bound together under Kamina, or more accurately, with Simon, begin their journey into the greater world.

Gurren Lagann’s approach is relatively straightforward and it works well enough to keep things flowing. The show is one that has an addictive nature that 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.

In Summary:
I have a real affection for Gurren Lagann. I enjoyed the show during my first experience with and each subsequent viewing has been a real thrill to watch, from the condensed movies to the full season sets. It’s been released in numerous configurations and each of them has had their positives and negatives, with a full holy grail set still elusive. This release brings us the series in the quality it deserves, but it’s just the first five episodes of a series that came out seven years ago. That’s an incredibly hard sell. The quality is definitely here, and the story is great, but it’s the tip of the iceberg in a place where the show as a whole is what really sells it for me. For those that must have it in high definition, if the movies don’t cut it for you, this is your best bet domestically until a potential full series set comes out in a few years, if at all.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Textless Opening and Ending, Episode 5 Preview (On-Air Version).

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

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: November 11th, 2014
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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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