Monday, September 12, 2011

Evolving minute by minute

I had kind of a bad weekend, not really because of any sort of external factors but because I was in a bad head space, for lack of a less hippie-ish term.  I was in a place where I needed to be cheered up and, as even a cursory perusal of the subjects my blog seems to be covering would reveal, I have not been experiencing a lot of cheery media.  Fortunately, however, I do have a solution for this.  It's a TV show I was trying to write about before, but that post turned into a post about the giant robot genre in general, rather than one show in specific.  The show in question?

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, (or Heaven Piercing Gurren Lagann) is a sterling example of the genre, in that it is a show about a young boy who finds a giant robot and then gets in fights.  It is also about evolution, believing in yourself, never giving up, shouting and sunglasses.  And drills.  And, while it doesn't quite hit the level of detail and psychological depth one might expect from a bildungsroman (although Eureka seveN, another sterling example of the genre in almost completely opposite ways, arguably does), it does chart the growth of this young boy into a man as he explores the world he lives in.

The young boy in question is Simon.  He lives in an underground village where the populace lives in constant fear of earthquakes (especially Simon, who lost his parents to one before the show begins), a place where no one has ever seen the sunlight.  Chris Rock, in this interview, talks about how he loves that Ricky Gervais, as a comedian, will throw perfectly good jokes (as part of his performing style), which in Rock's mind takes a certain amount of balls.  Gurren Lagann does a similar thing, in that the sheer amount of ideas and settings it throws out could last another show whole arcs and seasons.  If the show were doing something different it might well take three or four episodes to fully flesh out this underground world, and there might even be something to a show taking a full 13 episodes (a fairly common season length for anime) to develop that world.

Gurren Lagann is working at a much more accelerated pace, however.  By the end of the first episode Simon has discovered something called a Core Drill that activates a mysterious robot shaped like a head, the eponymous Lagann, and with it he, his boisterous and charismatic comrade Kamina, and newcomer-from-the-surface Yoko have all escaped the underground village to arrive at the surface.  What begins there is a trek of universe-spanning proportions.

Gurren Lagann is a lot of things, and among those things is the fact that it is exceedingly well-executed.  The fourth episode was given to one man, who had been working at GAINAX (who created the show) for years and years, to basically do single-handedly; due to this fact, it looks incredibly rough compared to the rest of the series.  This is the only misstep I can think of as far as the process of creation is concerned; while I don't necessarily want to say Gurren Lagann is the The Wire of giant robot shows, I make the comparison because a) I wanted an excuse to write a sentence where writing 'the The Wire' was structurally necessary and b) they are both examples of shows where, by and large, the creative staff involved were allowed to make the shows they wanted to make.  You can not like either show, and it's perfectly valid to do so, but you're disliking the shows they made for what's in them, not because of changes the creators might have had to make because of outside pressures.  For me that's a great place to be in terms of critiquing a created work; I know for some that doesn't matter, but I am not one of those some.

Gurren Lagann, as a show, tops itself again and again, and while that isn't necessarily the pun on the title it looks like, given the language barrier, the title itself is Heaven Piercing Gurren Lagann, and you can't pierce the heavens if you aren't constantly striving to reach higher and higher.  Gurren Lagann as a show is incredibly positive, which is why it was what I needed this weekend; while the themes are pretty well-layered and well-executed, it's not necessarily a philosophically complicated show.  What it does say, largely, is that you'll be better of in life if you believe in yourself and don't give up.  And a show that says that is valuable to me.

In the earlier post I mentioned a show where the characters literally fight the moon.  This is that show, and even though I'm pretty cavalier about spoilers here, because I largely prefer talking about to talking around, this is a show I wouldn't necessarily want to spoil for people beyond what I've already said.  I genuinely believe that it's accessible enough, even to non-fans of the genre or the medium, to recommend to anyone who's willing to indulge their inner teenager.


  1. By and large I love this post, and I found one point curious:

    "You can not like either show, and it's perfectly valid to do so, but you're disliking the shows they made for what's in them, not because of changes the creators might have had to make because of outside pressures."

    Of the many things that constitute "what's in [a show]", the strategic developmental trajectory that precedes the finished product is not among them. I'm not all that hot of any kind of essentialist account of What Art Is, but even within such a framework I'm not sure why you would locate that essence within the integrity of an individual's or a group's creative intentions; to take a simplistic illustration, artistic vision is for one thing relatively independent of sufficient technical mastery to realize that vision. I'm sure you and Scott have had this discussion, but since you and I haven't, I'm interested in hearing you elaborate your anti-post-structuralist allegiance to The Author.

  2. I don't really have much of a formal argument for or against Death of the Author. My personal preference, however, is to investigate every crevice of a work, including the circumstances of its creation, and so my understanding of a work is informed by those circumstances. There's an anecdote about Homicide, the NBC show, based on David Simon's book of similar name; someone from the network handed down the edict that one of the actors was too unattractive, and so his character was killed off. You can watch the show and see that happen and not know or care why, because all that really matters is that it happened, but for me all of that ephemera becomes a sort of ur-story, where you have not only the story as it unfolded in reality but all the alternate-dimension if-onlys that didn't unfold because of non-authorial interference.

    I understand that most people don't care about that kind of trivia, but for me it would be a stretch to write from that perspective.