Gurren Lagann, known in Japan as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (天元突破グレンラガン Tengen Toppa Guren Ragan?, literally "Heaven-Piercing Gurren Lagann"), is a Japanese mecha anime television series animated by Gainax and co-produced by Aniplex and Konami. It ran for twenty-seven episodes on Japan's TV Tokyo between April 1, 2007 and September 30, 2007. It was directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, written by veteran playwright Kazuki Nakashima and had been in development since the participation of the famed animator in the Abenobashi mecha themed episodes by the same studio. The anime won several awards at the Tokyo International Anime Fair and the Animation Kobe and Japan Media Arts Festivals.
Licensing for a North American release of Gurren Lagann was announced by ADV Films at AnimeExpo 2007 on June 30, 2007; however, after an unexplained removal from ADV's catalog (despite having had finished the first five episodes), Bandai Entertainment announced it held the license at New York Comic Con 2008.It was also announced for a UK release by ADV Films at AmeCon 2007, however at AmeCon 2008 Beez Entertainment announced that they had the UK distribution rights instead. It was also announced by ADV Films Germany for a summer 2008 release. The Sci Fi Channel acquired the broadcasting rights of Gurren Lagann, and began airing the anime on July 28, 2008 as part of Sci Fi's Ani-Monday anime block.
A manga adaptation started serialization in MediaWorks' Dengeki Comic Gao! on April 27, 2007, but switched over to ASCII Media Works' manga magazine Dengeki Daioh on April 21, 2008 due to the former being discontinued on February 27, 2008. Bandai Entertainment licensed the manga and will be releasing it in English in North America. A series of light novels have also been created and are published by Shogakukan. A video game based on the series, for the Nintendo DS, was released in October 2007, bundled with a special episode of the anime series. Two animated film versions were produced. The first premiered in Japanese theaters on September 6, 2008, and the second premiered on April 25, 2009.
Story WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD:
Gurren Lagann takes place in a fictional future in which human beings have been forced under Earth's surface and live in isolated subterranean civilizations. These "villages" have no contact with the surface world or other villages.
Giha Village, one of the underground villages, regularly experiences earthquakes; because these earthquakes damage infrastructure, the village must constantly extend deeper into the earth—individuals relegated to this task are known as "Diggers". Giha Village is the home of Simon, a fourteen-year-old digger who was orphaned when his parents were killed in an earthquake. Although Simon is respected by the village elders as the best of the diggers, he is ostracized by his peers. Simon discovers a special drill key deep in the ground and is soon recruited by an eccentric fellow orphan and friend named Kamina into his group, the "Gurren Brigade". Kamina dreams of the surface world, which he once visited as a child, though he had to return home as he was too young to survive there.
After a failed attempt at reaching the surface, Kamina is jailed by the village elder. Simon resumes digging, only to discover "a big face" deep in his tunnel. As he excitedly fetches Kamina to show him the discovery, Simon is also caught by the village elder. Kamina's punishment is interrupted by the collapse of the ceiling over Giha Village, as an enormous mecha falls into the cavern. A woman named Yoko appears and tries to repel the machine with a large rifle. Simon takes Kamina and Yoko to the "big face" he found earlier and discovers that the small drill key can be used to activate it. Naming it "Lagann", he uses it to destroy the invading mecha and effectively break through to the surface.
Once on the surface, Simon and Kamina discover there are more large mechas known as "Gunmen" (piloted by "Beastmen") that terrorize the surface dwellers during the day. Simon and Kamina volunteer to help Yoko and her village; during the ensuing battle Kamina captures a Gunman and names it "Gurren" (meaning "crimson lotus"). Eventually, Simon and Kamina decide to embark on a journey to end the constant struggle between the Beastmen and humans, and are initially accompanied by Yoko and Leeron, a mechanic from Yoko's village. As they head out to find the headquarters of the Beastmen's Human Eradication Army, the group encounters various Beastmen warriors including the vicious Beastman Viral.
Along the way, Simon and the others are joined by more humans, including the "Black Siblings", led by Kittan, and Rossiu, a strict young man from an underground village, to form the "Dai (meaning "large" or "great") Team Gurren".
Team Dai-Gurren form a plan to hijack the giant fortress Ganmen the Beastmen have been using as a local base of operations. Kamina plans for Simon to steal the Ganmen using the Lagann. Later that night, while Kamina is talking, Yoko kisses him, and he reciprocates. Unseen, Simon follows Yoko and witnesses the event. This causes Simon a significant amount of psychological trauma and consequently he is distracted during the final battle, contributing to the death of his "brother", Kamina. Kamina's death traumatises Simon and he is violent afterwards up until he finds Nia sealed inside what would have become her coffin if Simon had not opened it.
Team Dai-Gurren continue on, adding the daughter of the king of the Beastmen, Nia, to their ranks, and encountering and defeating the remaining generals of the Human Eradication Army. They eventually reach the capital of the Beastmen and defeat the Beastmen's king, Lord Genome. However, in doing so Simon learns of the power of the Spiral, and the destruction that it could cause. Lord Genome was once a spiral warrior who fought against the "Anti-Spirals" and failed. To preserve human kind, he forced all humans to live underground and keep their population to a minimum so they would not alert the anti-spirals to their presence.
The second half of the series takes place seven years later. Led by Simon and members of Team Dai-Gurren, mankind has become prosperous. Though all seems well, once one million humans have repopulated the surface, the anti-spirals arrive and begin attacking the humans, and Nia is suddenly transformed into their messenger. The conflict escalates, causing infighting within the Dai-Gurren members in the new capital government, and panic in the world's population when it is learned that the anti-spirals have begun their plan to eradicate all life by crashing the moon into the earth. Simon, along with the rest of the Team and his old rival, Viral, lead the battle to defeat the Anti-Spirals and save Earth, first by averting the moon disaster, and then by confronting the anti-spirals in their home pocket dimension.
However, in destroying the Anti-Spiral, Nia's fate is sealed. She holds onto life long enough to marry Simon before vanishing into thin air. Simon then passes his core drill on to a new generation and spends the rest of his life wandering the earth as a nameless vagrant helping whomever he runs into, while the human race begins to contact its fellow Spiral races throughout the galaxy.
Voiced by: Tetsuya Kakihara (Japanese), Yuri Lowenthal (English)
Old Simon Voiced by: Takayuki Sugo (Japanese), Tony Oliver (English)
Simon is a fourteen year-old digger from Giha village. Although he is initially looked down upon because of it, Simon excels at drilling through the ground, and the drill quickly becomes his trademark symbol. One day, he finds a mysterious drill-shaped item, which is later revealed to be the "Core Drill" for a head-shaped Gunmen he also finds buried in the soil. With the help of the small Gunmen, Kamina, and Yoko, he fights off a much larger Gunmen that falls into the village. In the process of defeating the invader, they reach the surface world. Prior to the time-skip, Simon is mostly depicted as merely following Kamina's lead and often acting as a counter-balance to Kamina's impulsiveness, due to being very timid and weak. He is also shown to be somewhat jealous of Kamina's strength of character. His personality changes to be more like that of Kamina, as he acquires his own fighting spirit and determination. His Gunmen "Lagann" has the power to produce drills from seemingly nowhere, which is handy, since they're Simon's weapon of choice. He can also produce a massive drill from the bottom to combine with Kamina's Gurren to produce "Gurren Lagann" a much more powerful Gunmen.
Voiced by: Katsuyuki Konishi (Japanese), Kyle Hebert (English)
Kamina is a young man from Giha Village who dreams of leaving the village and go to the surface, which he saw as a child. Ultimately, he can be summed up as "magnanimous". He is very passionate about his goals, expressing his wishes through energetic speeches which seem to affect all those who hear them. Kamina believes that with his manliness and honor, he can do anything he feels like, saying such quotes as "Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb!" and "Who the hell do you think I am?!". The leader of the "Team Gurren " he convinces Simon to aid him in his plan to drill through the roof of the village and get to the world above, but the plan fails and he is imprisoned. After defeating an invading Gunmen, he leaves the village with Simon and Yoko in the cockpit of a tiny but powerful Gunmen Simon unearths and Kamina names "Lagann". He is extremely impulsive, and sometimes acts with little regard for his life. His plans are rarely well thought-out, often relying solely on brute strength and determination to win, but for some strange reason or another, they seem to work most of the time; in this way he is an ideal and classical counterpart to Simon in the first arc. It is revealed that Kamina's impulsive confidence is mostly a show to give Simon the courage to act, telling his "Bro" (they aren't actually brothers, but share such a close relationship that he insists they call each other such) "Don't believe in the you who believes in me. Don't believe in the me who believes in you. Believe in the you who believes in yourself." Kamina never lives to see his dream of freeing the human race come to fruition as he is killed in battle during the seizure of the giant Gunman Dai-Gunzan.
Voiced by: Marina Inoue (Japanese), Michelle Ruff (English)
Yoko Littner is a young girl from Giha's neighboring village of Littner. She had been tracking the Gunmen, which subsequently crashed through the surface and into Giha. She wields an extensive arsenal of weapons and has substantial experience fighting the enemy. She uses her outstanding soldiering skills and wise counsel to advance the war of liberation. She wears short shorts and a bikini top: as she states in episode five, she avoids clothing which restricts her movement in combat situations. In early episodes, it is shown that she has feelings for Kamina. Due to her looks, several characters are instantly attracted to her including Simon and Kamina. She loves children and has a dream to become an elementary school teacher.
Young Nia Voiced by: Yukari Fukui (Japanese), Hynden Walch (English)
Timeskip Nia Teppelin Voiced by: Yukari Fukui (Japanese), Bridget Hoffman (English)
Nia is a mysterious young girl found by Simon sleeping in a capsule in the middle of a dump site. She has had no prior contact with humans except her father. She is by nature very curious, polite, pure, and innocent, due in part her sheltered childhood in a peaceful environment away from all the battles occurring in the outside world and her only recently-attained sentience. During her travels with the Dai-Gurren Brigade, she discovers the harsh realities of the world. She develops a very close relationship with Simon throughout the story. The two fall in love, Simon proposing to her immediately after the time-skip, before discovering she is an agent for the Anti-Spirals and is being forced by another personality (Messenger Nia) to fight against Simon, ultimately fighting against her other self and regaining control of her body.
The Beastmen Generals (clockwise from top) Guame, Cytomander, Thymilph, and Adiane
Beastmen are non-Spiral Beings, created and cloned by Lord Genome to fight by piloting Gunmen. The numerous animals on the planet are previously failed experiments, thus they lack the intelligence that Beastmen have. Beastmen and many other animals found on the planet cannot reproduce, and instead, multiply solely via cloning.
Gunmen are the type of gigantic robots used in the series. The name itself means "huge face" and can be broken down into "gun" and "man"; the mecha themselves are centered around faces. Gunmen sport a variety of weaponry: primitive models use large clubs or bare hands, while advanced units use projectile or beam weapons. Gunmen powered by the "Spiral Energy" inherent in humans' DNA are more powerful than those piloted by Beastmen. The voice broadcaster within each Gunman is linked to the mouth, making it seem as though it is talking. Gurren Lagann can also make several facial expressions.
The spiral theme is especially prominent throughout the series. Not only is it the basis of strength for the main characters and mankind, but it is presented as a philosophy and way of life, and as a model of physics. Lord Genome (whose own name contains the word genome, referring to DNA and its spiralling double helix) notes that it is the natural order of the universe to coordinate itself into a spiral arrangement. The spiral symbolizes the double helix structure of DNA, representing biological evolution, and the spiral structure of a galaxy, representing universal evolution. Lord Genome's four generals also pay homage to the motif through their names which are derivatives of the four nucleic acids of DNA: Adenine, Thymine, Cytocine, and Guanine. Simon's spiral drill is used as a motif to symbolize the spiral theme throughout the series. At the same time, the drill motif symbolizes the soul and determination to overcome all obstacles as something which gradually advances "with every revolution".
In the same way a logarithmic spiral grows in size with each successive curve, the scope of Gurren Lagann's story and the scale of its mecha grow in successive steps as the series progresses. By the end of the series, the largest mecha, the Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, contains all the smaller iterations of Gurren-Lagann nested inside like a Daruma doll or matryoshka doll, reflecting the way the curves of a spiral grow in size but maintain the same shape.
In the series' concept, Spiral Energy is the power of evolution, generated by beings capable of doing so, like humans and other DNA-based animals, whose spiral double helix molecular structure allows them to get stronger through the generations. Spiral energy is what connects spiral beings and the universe together. Beastmen, because they do not reproduce naturally, cannot evolve, thus are unable to produce Spiral Energy. The amount of Spiral Energy produced by an individual may vary and is based not only on its own limitations, but also its immediate will to survive and persevere. Spiral Energy has both infinite potential and applications - it has been known to regenerate and grow new parts on machines to a galactic scale, and even create tunnels through spacetime. One of its most prevalent applications in the series is in weaponry: Spiral-enhanced ammunition provides phenomenal stopping power, making a simple shotgun capable of damaging a Mugann, while Spiral-based warheads and energy beams demonstrate destructive power far in excess of nuclear weapons.
Spiral Energy is specifically stated to defy the law of mass-energy conservation, which in addition to explaining the creation of mass that is practically constant during battles, also carries danger if Spiral Energy is overused. Termed Spiral Nemesis by the Anti-Spirals, too much Spiral Energy may cause all of spacetime to collapse into a supermassive black hole.
Eons before the story begins, a certain race evolved enough to expand and prosper across the stars through the use of their Spiral Energy. However, discovering this limitless evolution could one day lead to the destruction of all of spacetime, an event they termed the "Spiral Nemesis", they abandoned the use of Spiral Energy and sealed their bodies on their home planet, ceasing to evolve, and calling themselves the Anti-Spirals. As the name implies, they also acted to repress other civilizations that used Spiral Energy, fearing that they could also become a threat to the universe if left unchecked. Since Spiral Energy comes from the will of its users, the Anti-Spirals tend to employ tactics specifically designed to induce fear, despair and hopelessness in their enemies. The Anti-Spirals also tend to spare their enemies if they surrender, but leave behind automated "defense" systems that will activate and attack a Spiral civilization if it grows too strong.
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