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Gainax Has Done It Again!... if by "done it again," you mean they managed to pack hard-paying Japanese and hundreds of otaku at AX into theaters for an extended "best of" episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
"Fans of the series will be pleased…" Don't you hate it when this statement appears in a review? It's inevitably part of some generic trade paper write-up of a movie made from a property with an intense fan following, irrespective of mainstream appeal. The first Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann movie, Crimson Rose Chapter (Guren-hen), is not going to be screening in any theatres this year, might not even get a proper dub DVD release until next year (if ever), and was made entirely for the consumption of fans of the original TV anime series, but there will doubtlessly be a review sometime, somewhere which proclaims that while the plot is a mess, the characters underdeveloped, and the climax confusing, fans of the series will be… pleased.
Well, I fucking love this series, and I was far from pleased. In fact, I was extremely unpleased. Granted, Gainax (the studio behind the film and TV series) is very much used to making half-assed compilations-as-movies and packaging them for a dedicated audience that will buy anything with the words "Evangelion" on it, but this movie was still a pretty big disappointment. At a running time of a little under two hours, about 80% of the film is recycled animation from the TV series, with a new (admittedly spectacular) ending tacked on at the end. Essentially, it's an elongated episode 9 (the filler recap episode). Fans might argue that we knew that this was going to be a Death and Rebirth sort of thing going in, but that really is a poor explanation for watching a movie any fan could very reasonably have made 3/4 of on Final Cut. At least the Eva mash had Shinji playing a cello -- and…uh, well, that was a pretty shitty movie, too, and shouldn't be a benchmark for anything, anywhere -- but at least Hideaki Anno and co. wrapped up the TV series in 90 minutes and tacked on a teaser trailer for the second movie, End of Evangelion, an alternate conclusion to the TV series which was, quite simply, one of the most baffling, twisted, and downright awesome anime bookends ever created.
So Hideaki Anno and co. are pardoned for that one. I don't know if the second Gurren Lagann movie is going to be a compilation as well. I'm going to watch it anyway, because that's what fans do, but since the first movie only covered the first fourteen or so episodes, it doesn't bode well for the Spiral Stone Chapter or whatever it's being called. If it's worth anything, the first Gurren Lagann movie is a MUCH better introduction to the series than Death and Rebirth was to Neon Genesis Evangelion, simply because the movie actually cares about introducing characters and having them interact with one other, however minimally. And it does a pretty good job of distilling the overall craziness and over-the-top quality of the mecha series. I watched the film with a friend who hadn't seen the series. He liked the film and promptly started watching the series the next day, though disappointed that the TV series did not feel anywhere near as batshit insane as the movie. That's pretty much what the movie does: chain links the most climactic and MANLY moments of bravado and intersperses them with some character ticks. For all of the series' antics, it's remarkably clear and straightforward about its message: that it's a great thing to be alive and, most importantly, it's a great thing to be human. Hopefully the series' concluding film can express this sentiment in a more profound and less repetitive way.
Stuff I was pleased with:
* Hearing other fans scream Simon's Giga Drill Breaker, or every single inspiring line spoken by Kamina, at lung-piercing levels. One large otaku dude behind me was screaming so fucking loud that I could see his face turning bright red even in a totally dark room. We're talking Chris Farley, "living in a van down by the river," "you lied to me about my coffee" levels of scream here.
* The overall turnout and craftsmanship of Gurren Lagann cosplay during the con, with one fellow not just making the full armor of a fused Gurren Lagann robot, but even going to the trouble of attaching a giant drill to his hand that spins around his fist. With the exception of the 18-meter tall Odaiba Gundam with moving head built by crazed Japanese engineers, Gurren Lagann guy had to be the most impressive piloted robot suit I've ever witnessed in person.
Stuff I was not pleased with:
* Probably over 300 people packed into a convention hall, watching a screen that was NOT ELEVATED AT ALL. I walked into the room during the panel before and just camped out for a good seat, but if you were anywhere behind the first ten rows and don't understand Japanese, there was NO WAY you could understand what was going on because you wouldn't be able to read the ground-level subtitles. That is, unless you saw the TV series. Then, everything would have been very, very clear. Clear because you've already seen it and know what's happening. Just wanted to be clear on that.
* The trailer for the second, concluding film, which was all of 15 seconds and revealed next to nothing, but which the PR lady for the film practically begged us to wait until the end credits rolled to see.
* Nerds singing Super Mario Bros. death themes whenever a character in the film bit the bullet. Sad, intense moments interrupted by nasal squeaking, "doo doo doo..." The only thing worse than an ironic but unfunny Brit is an unfunny, ironic otaku. Stop pretending to be above a death scene, and cry like the rest of us, fucker.
Date Posted: 7/17/2009