Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gurren-Lagann: Fine subversion

Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is a lot of fun. Part of the amusement is derived from the fact that the series is just a vehicle to do cool stuff, and it's all good because expectations were set when plausibility was thrown out the window in a very clear, unambiguous manner in the opening episode. There are two examples that stick in my mind at the moment.

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Want to demonstrate 1337 $n1p3|2 $k1llz? Make sure that Yoko's depleted uranium rounds have only knock-back (or devastating high-explosive, take your pick) effect on enemy armor until she's confronted with a hostage situation. Only then does an armor piercing round actually, uh, pierce, as opposed to pack several pounds worth of plastic explosive.

Out-gunned or lacking superior firepower in advance of an epic battle? Reinforcements have arrived! I think this needs no further elaboration.

Other things are just shamelessly dumb, like turning a destroyer into a giant kayak. But it was pretty convenient that the Daiganzan looked sea-worthy to begin with. At the time I kept thinking, it's a ship on legs. Cue stunned silence at the development that it can't cross the sea without hax.

The other part of the fun comes from embedding subversion into several aspects of the series. Subversion of authority is a given. There is also the very obvious aspect that Simon's first occupation was that of a digger. And then, how does he discover his power? By digging. How does he get out trouble? By digging a hole and running away. How does he achieve victory over his enemies? On several occasions, dig a hole and attack.

The subversion goes beyond just subverting ground. Inevitably the major battles are won through a bit of dishonourable conduct. Dislodging Guame the Unmovable (the irony!) was a sneak attack. Disabling the Daiganzan was accomplished by luring it into a trap. The Helix/Spiral King was defeated by feigning defeat and then engaging in some unsportsmanlike conduct not unlike a certain infamous head-butt. Enemy armor is commandeered by breaking out the spl01ts and getting r00t. Once the good guys are in the b0x, they then proceed to kill d00ds.

While the series adheres to some conventions, it goes about poking fun at others. Lampooning the ability to use firearms correctly on the first try is now common enough to expect it, but the trick is still worth some comedic value. It's common knowledge that the man without a (coherent) plan will inevitably to win battles because he's got hot blood and burning passion. Usually there's no particular reason, but that was easily remedied in the first episode. Kamina is more honest than most when he freely admits to making up the name Lagann. No secret meanings (that we know of yet), no strange acronym behind some hidden project. It sounded cool, full stop. Or what about the transformation technique that was sufficiently imperfect the first time that Kamina has to align the Lagann? And it's not every day you come across a female character more interested in surviving/winning a fight than getting upset at some furry creature feeling her up.

Lucky Star is all about these Ah I see what you did there moments, but Gurren-Lagann is more productive with its time, although by combining (mind-numbingly straightforward) plot with humour, it's not hard to be more productive than a series with no inter-episode continuity.

Side note: If the population exceeds 50, the lot of you will die. Later, if the surface population exceeds 1 000 000, the lot of you will die. The parallels are self-explanatory. Use subversion to keep the population in check, or use it for the purposes of awesome. Clearly only one choice makes for an entertaining show.