Gurren Lagann, TV Tokyo
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streaming sites: Crunchyroll; Hulu
So, it begins with space, and a bunch of explosions therein. A group of people on a massive ship, in battle. But that appears to be the future. (Someone says "Who the hell do you think I am?" which will soon probably lead you to assume you know the answer, as someone we're about to meet says that kind of thing quite often.) ...The scene quickly flashes back to the time in which the show is set. Which... I reckon is pretty far in our own future, anyway, but whatever. Human beings live underground. In a village called Jiiha, there's a 14-year-old boy named Simon (pronounced See-mone), who drills tunnels. A number of people in the village do that, to expand their territory. But Simon also does it to look for treasure. One day, he finds a small drill-shaped pendant. And then a big robotic head (with stubby little arms and legs), which it will later turn out is a mecha. And the drill pendant will turn out to be a key that activates the mecha (though even later it will turn out to be more than that).
Meanwhile, Simon has a friend, a young man named Kamina, who thinks of Simon as his bro. Kamina... is pretty spastic and boisterous. When he was a kid, he and his father reached the surface, but while his father went out exploring, Kamina went back to Jiiha, though he planned to go back to the surface someday. He gives lots of frenetic speeches about it, but no one else seems to even believe the surface exists. Kamina especially annoys the village's chief.
Anyway, there are frequent earthquakes in the village, which had killed Simon's parents some time ago. Now, during another quake, another mecha, called a Gunmen, falls through from the surface and wreaks some havoc. Simon wants Kamina to pilot the mecha he'd found (which Kamina names Lagann), but Kamina insists Simon do it. Oh, and a woman named Yoko also shows up to fight the gunmen. In the course of the battle, the three of them burst through to the surface, where there are apparently lots of gunmen, piloted by creatures called Beastmen. Yoko is from another subterranean village called Littner, but for quite some time now she's lived on the surface, part of a group of humans who fight against the Beastmen. The first one of them that we really get to know is Leeron, a skilled mechanic who is very... well, the word I keep seeing others use is "flamboyant," so let's just go with that. Anyway, the humans don't have any gunmen. (And the Beastmen's gunmen are all much bigger than Lagann.)
Well, the day after Simon and Kamina arrive on the surface, there's another gunmen attack. Simon realizes the tremors they cause are actually responsible for the earthquakes that are always happening underground. So he blames the Beastmen for his parents' deaths, which makes him want to fight them. Meanwhile, Kamina decides to hijack one of the Beastmen's gunmen, and once he's taken it over, he names it Gurren. (I guess he'd always called himself and Simon "Team Gurren," btw.)
Oh yes, I forgot to mention (or rather couldn't find a place to fit it in), that travelling along with Simon is a little mole-pig named Boota. Which is kind of freaky at times. Anyway... their next battle is with a Beastman named Viral. He actually looks more human than most Beastmen, which can have vastly different appearances. Viral does a pretty good job of kicking Kamina and Simon's butts, until suddenly Kamina decides his Gurren and Simon's Lagann should combine, to form Gurren Lagann. Which he had no reason to believe would work, but he's always terribly impulsive, and luckily, it did work, and made their combined mecha much stronger, so they could beat Viral.
Later, Leeron discovers that Gurren contains coordinates of the Beastmen's headquarters, or something, so Kamina decides they should go looking for the place, take the fight to them instead of waiting around to be attacked. Leeron goes with them, as does Yoko. On their way, they meet a family of Beastmen-hunters, the Black Siblings, led by a guy named Kittan. He and Kamina seem to be a lot alike, which of course by anime logic means they can't stand each other. Kittan has three younger sisters, Kiyoh, Kinon, and Kiyal. After an initial misunderstanding, Team Gurren and the Black Siblings work together to fight a combining Gunmen with 16 faces. Then go their separate ways, but we see them again soon enough....
[Warning: the end of this paragraph contains my review's first really major spoiler.] Soon after that, Team Gurren comes to an underground village called Adai, where people worship a disused gunmen. Um, after they leave, having caused some upheaval of course, they're joined by a young man from the village, Rossiu, plus a couple of little kids, Gimmy and Darry. Later, they find that the Beastmen base they've been looking for is actually moving. It's a giant gunmen called Dai-Gunzan, which houses any number of normal sized gunmen (which are huge enough on their own, of course). Of course, Kamina decides they need to capture it for themselves, which they do, and he renames it Dai-Gurren, which is also the new name of Team Gurren, from here on out. However, in the course of the battle to capture it... Kamina is killed, which would of course deeply trouble both Simon and Yoko.
On the plus side, Team Dai-Gurren was now much bigger, as they were joined by the Black Siblings, and old friends of Yoko's (most notably a man named Dayakka, the former leader of Littner), and all sorts of others. It seems Kamina's exploits had inspired lots of people to capture gunmen for themselves. So now the team wants to find the capital city of the Beastmen empire, which is led by Lord Genome, aka the Spiral King. But along the way, they'll have to battle the Four Supreme Generals. The first one they met was Thymilph the Crasher, who actually was the commander of Dai-Gunzan, before Team Gurren stole it. Later they'll have to face Adiane the Elegant, and then Guame the Immoveable, and Cytomander the Swift. And of course, it's not like they won't have other Beastmen to deal with, including the return of Viral.
But it's around the time of the first confrontation with Adiane that Simon discovered a girl named Nia, who'd been in a capsule, and had never seen the outside world. It soon turns out that she's the daughter of Lord Genome, who has now abandoned her, since she asked why she was born. He considers his offspring to be nothing more than dolls, and doesn't want them to be self-aware. Anyway, she joins Team Dai-Gurren, and gets close to Simon, which helps eventually snap him out of the funk he'd been in ever since... the battle to capture Dai-Gunzan. In the time since the battle, Kittan had been leading Team Dai-Gurren, but now, Simon becomes the leader. And he goes back to piloting Lagann, while Rossiu starts piloting Gurren. Wanting to make her own contribution to Team Dai-Gurren, Nia becomes a cook... though she's not very good.
Then the story jumps forward one month, and the team has already reached the Beastmen capital of Teppelin, and have been laying siege to it for some time now. I found that a bit disconcerting, not seeing how they got there and everything, but whatevs. They'll have to fight Guame and Cytomander together, with their two fortresses and hordes of gunmen against Dai-Gurren. Though even more unexpected allies start showing up to help Team Dai-Gurren, turning the tide in their favor... until Teppelin itself turns out to be a gunmen that dwarfs the mobile fortresses, the way the fortresses themselves dwarf normal gunmen. Still, Simon and Nia manage to infiltrate the head, and battle Lord Genome. (I must also mention that Genome had given Viral a new body, which cannot die.) Simon finally defeats Lord Genome, as it appears that Simon's spiral power, whatever that is, has surpassed his own. However, before he dies, he leaves them with a prophecy: "When the land overflows with a million apes, the Moon shall become Hell's messenger, and destroy the world of the Spiral."
That takes us up through episode 15. Episode 16 recaps the first half of the series, and then episode 17 jumps seven years into the future. Many humans have begun living on the surface, and most of the members of Team Dai-Gurren now hold governmental positions, with Simon as Supreme Commander. The human capital has been built over the ruins of Teppelin, I guess, and named Kamina City. Kiyoh and Dayakka are married and by the end of the episode, Kiyoh gives birth to a baby girl, Anne. Rossiu is Simon's chief advisor and second in command, though he's been keeping secrets. Kinon is working for Rossiu now. Gimmy and Darry have grown up and pilot grapearls, mechas which have replaced the outdated gunmen. Viral continues to cause trouble for the human government, though actually he's just protecting humans who wish to remain underground. Simon proposes to Nia. Yoko leaves, not wanting to be part of the government, apparently. Meanwhile, Simon and Rossiu are very concerned about Lord Genome's prophecy, so they've been trying to take a census, and also sent a probe to the moon. Unfortunately, when Anne is born, she becomes the one millionth human on the surface... and a new enemy appears out of nowhere, declaring humanity to be too dangerous, so they must be destroyed.
This new enemy is the Anti-Spiral race, and they deliver their message through Nia, who changes, no longer human (apparently her DNA contained an anti-spiral factor, or something). They send some mecha called mugann, which become almost more dangerous after being destroyed by Gurren-Lagann. But the Anti-Spirals' true weapon is the moon itself... Meanwhile, it seems Rossiu had resurrected Lord Genome's knowledge as data, to question him. He explains the truth about spiral power, the Anti-Spirals, and why he had driven humanity underground, for its own protection. Rossiu hoped to prevent the public from becoming aware of all of this, but even as Lord Genome was explaining it to him, Nia was broadcasting the truth, herself. Now the public turns against the government, and Rossiu places Simon under arrest, to appease them....
Of course, Simon is eventually released to help fight the Anti-Spirals (and find and rescue Nia). Viral is also released to help. And Yoko, who had been off somewhere calling herself Yomiko and teaching a group of young children, returns to help, as well. (It's funny, she really kind of reminded me of Yomiko Readman of R.O.D.) Of course, everyone from Team Dai-Gurren is around to fight, and the battles, as always, just get bigger and bigger, as do the gunmen. Finally they end up with Super Galaxy Gurren Lagann, which travels through space to... a pocket universe between dimensions, where they find the Anti-Spiral homeworld. Well... there are lots of surprises in store, including just who turn out to be unlikely heroes. Of course... not everyone will survive. But of course, there will also turn out to be other spiral races out there besides humanity, which have been suppressed by the Anti-Spirals, who join in the celebrating in the end.
Of course, the series is a testament to the indomitable human spirit, so however crazy and impossible everything may get, it still manages to be pretty damn inspiring, as well as just a lot of fun to watch. It can also be really touching at times, and can be both very happy and very sad. And of course, there's really no such thing as an ending, in life. Even after the end credits, there are a few more scenes set 20 years later, and even then... humanity's story is really just beginning. (The End.)