So you’ve seen the Gurren Lagann anime and if you were lucky like me you might have had a chance to screen the first motion picture. You possibly enjoyed the dynamic relationship shared by the series heroes Kamina and Simon. Watching the Gunmen take each other on in a mecha battle ballet may have rekindled a flame of excitement that had faded since the mid-80’s. And the romance between Simon and Nia may have reminded you of those great intergalactic sci-fi romances of the 70’s. Yeah, Gurren Lagann was a great time in animation.
But did you know there was a Gurren Lagann manga? Did you know that one of the best character designers in shonen manga is leading the project? And did you know the Gurren Lagann staff was a part of the collaboration team behind the comic? Gurren Lagann was great in motion as GAINAX was able to capture much of what makes giant robot anime so primal and highly addictive, but experiencing Nakashima Kazuki’s story rendered in comic format isn’t too shabby either.
Debuting two weeks after the TV series premiere, Mori Kotaro’s version of Gurren Lagann starts off following Director Imaishi and Nakashima’s lead almost scene by scene. Every key point in the first two episodes has been recreated to capture the feel of the anime. Mori does this to set the tone and also familiarize readers who have not seen the series with the fiery members of the Dai-GurrenDan. Even the dialogue may at times feel as if it were ripped from GAINAX’s version. That said, the writer for the anime is credited as the supervisor over the manga and GAINAX provided the script for this comic, so Mori had the consent of the creators to keep as close to the original content as possible.
Mori quickly moves to make this version his own as soon as chapter three. Understanding that the manga format is more conducive to character stories than narratives, Mori takes the opportunity to introduce some key supporting characters a little sooner than GAINAX had. The decision to bring the Kuro no Kyoudai into the fold a little early makes for some intriguing dynamics, as they make their manga debut while Simon and Kamina are still licking their wounds in Ritona Village. While the three sisters share their story with the Ritona fighters, Kamina and Kittan lock heads in what may seem as some foreshadowing with the two never realizing that they share, and will continue to share, a lot more in common than just short tempers. Because of this change in direction, Viral’s introduction was slightly altered as well. He still has a great sword fight with Kamina, set amongst tall reeds (a clear homage to the Toei films Imaishi and his staff at GAINAX love).
Intros aside, character development clearly improves the Gurren manga. As the Bachika sisters get to know Simon and Kamina better, they are given a more significant role in the plot. It is through the busty Kiyoh that readers know why the Kuro no Kyoudai are fighting the Beastmen. She confides a story of the unfortunate fate that her family’s village had at the hands of Viral to Simon. The siblings also quickly create a pact with the Ritona village to help defend them against Beastmen attacks; a pact that would come in handy when the two forces unite to support the Gurren Lagann in future chapters.
Mori’s perspective on the Gurren plot may be a little off from Nakashima’s initial direction, but the character designs are fateful to Nishigori Atsushi (character designer) and Yoshinari You’s (mechanical designs) plans. Mori made his mark with his work on the spunky and moe friendly series Stray Little Devil. His characters in that manga were more of the hinnyuu (flat-chested) variety. Purity and youthful vibrancy were at the core of his almost all-girl cast. In Gurren Lagann, Mori not only has to deal with fiery male characters like Kamina, Kittan, and Viral, there are mecha to render, weapons to duplicate and GAINAX brand bouncy babes to bring to life in their full glory. Mori does that with style, by not only keeping close to Nishigori’s designs, but he also finding ways to get even more bounce for the ounce in every scene Yooko and Kiyoh are present. These girls tend to jiggle visually and the sound and visual effects utilized exclusively in the manga emphasize the fact. Mori’s panels are filled with energy. The pacing may be much faster than the animated version, but given how slow the chapters come out in monthly Daioh Magazine, a faster pace keeps the scenes fresh in fans minds. The slightly altered direction is unique enough that readers who have seen the show can pick up nuances not fully expressed through the anime. Meanwhile, new fans should find themselves quickly engaging with the larger than life heroes of this old school story.
For many fans, twenty-seven episodes was not enough Gurren Lagann. GAINAX made a movie to satisfy their needs. And if that doesn’t fill your hunger for the Dai-GurrenDan, then why not try to satisfy that need to drill to the heavens with a regular dosage of a manga that is equally as filling and much more portable and affordable.