"Don't believe in yourself. Believe in me. Believe in me, who believes in you!" - Kamina
So, I've heard people talking about how awesome Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is. What is it about, exactly?
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, which translates loosely to "Heaven Shattering Gurren Lagann", is a science fiction anime about BURNING SPIRIT, giant robots, and drills. Very, very large drills, as in, bigger than galaxies, which can punch through entire dimensions.
No really, what is it ABOUT?
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is also an anime about the importance of friends, having self-confidence, and determination to fight for your dreams and ideals. It's about doing what you think is right, even when the odds are impossible at best, and it's about forgiving your enemies.
That's nice, I guess. So, what actually happens, then?
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes place on another world that is mostly Earthlike except for when it isn't. All of the humans on the planet live and work underground in caves, since the top is guarded by a race of creatures known as the Gunmen. The frequent earthquakes tend to damage their homes and villages, so some of them employ "diggers" to expand the caves and make sure things are safe.
This is where we find our main character, Simon. He's fourteen and a driller for Giha Village. He's considered one of the best diggers in the village as well, but he lost his parents several years ago and the other people in the village his age tend to make fun of him. One day, while drilling as normal, he finds a strange drill-shaped key. When he rushes out to show it to the boss, he's "recruited" into helping Team Gurren, led by a strangely charismatic man named Kamina.
Kamina's dream is to one day return to the surface, where he believes he'll be able to find his long-lost father. The first attempt doesn't go very well, and Kamina is thrown into jail for endangering the entire village. The next day, while Simon is digging, he finds a strange metal face buried even deeper underground than anything else they've found so far. He rushes back out to tell Kamina about it, only to find Kamina being dragged out for the second part of his punishment. However, before the village boss can continue, a gigantic robot breaks through the ceiling of the cave and threatens to destroy the entire village.
Before the robot can do anything, a girl carrying a huge rifle jumps down after it, in an attempt to defeat the robot. However, it becomes apparent that Yoko doesn't have enough firepower to stop it. Simon takes Kamina and Yoko to see the metal face he's uncovered, and finds that the drill key he found actually activates the metal face. The face turns out to be a very small robot, which the trio uses to defeat the robot trying to destroy the village, and in the process, they break through surface.
Awed by the surface during sunset, Kamina and Simon decide to join Yoko, and end up fighting more of the robotic Gunmen. When they find that the Gunmen are actually out to kill all of the humans on the planet, Kamina refuses to let that happen and forms the Gurren Brigade, devoted to stopping the Gunmen and providing a future for all humankind.
"Kick reason to the curb and surpass the impossible! Isn't that the way of our Gurren Brigade?!" - Kamina
Is there anyone notable working on this particular show?
It's a GAINAX-produced series, the same studio that's also produced FLCL, The Wings of Honneamise, and Oruchuban Ebichu, among others. Hiroyuki Imaishi is the director; he is also responsible for the entire "manga" scene in FLCL, as well as the 5th episode of the same. Kazuki Nakashima is responsible for most of the writing and handles the series composition. He's also done work for Cutie Honey and Oh! Edo Rocket, but most of his fame comes from his work as a playwright, almost none of which seems to have penetrated the U.S. Takami Akai is the head illustrator. Akai has been involved with Banner Of The Stars and the Princess Maker games, but most of his recent attention has been coming from the work he did with Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.
What's all this about drills?
Drills and their spiral shape are the theme of the series. Without getting too much into the finer points of the show, the spiral represents the enduring life force of all living things. DNA presents a sort of spiral shape, as well as our own Milky Way and most other galaxies. Simon starts out as a simple orphan driller, and does what he does best - drilling - to save his friends and, eventually, the entire universe from certain destruction.
Drills also represent determination, perseverance, and hard work. The Dai-Gurren, a huge intergalactic space ship, is powered by drills. Simon starts out as a simple orphan digger, using a drill to help his small village expand and survive. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in the show stands up to a drill. The entire message is that if you work at it long enough and put your heart into what you're doing, you can move the world, which I don't think is a message we hear often enough in current media.
Anything else I should know about?
The production level on this series is rather high, and it shows. The shot from when Simon, Kamina, and Yoko are flying into the air and seeing the surface of their world at sunset after defeating the Gunman in Giha Village is amazing, for lack of a better word. Honestly, track down the first episode of this wherever you can and watch it yourself. I've spent the last ten minutes rewriting this paragraph and come to the conclusion that there's no way to really describe the impact, the ultra-dynamic way the characters and Gunmen are all designed, and do it justice.
I don't really believe that this show is as awesome as you say it is. Show me proof.
In late 2007, The Daily Telegraph ran a contest to update Britain's Union Jack flag. The design that won the contest was inspired directly by the Gurren Brigade's logo, a huge flaming skull with awesome sunglasses. Here, check it out for yourself.
"Believe in yourself. Not you, who believes in me. Not me, who believes in you. Believe in you, who believes in yourself!" - Kamina