Year in Review: Giant Robots Play Musical Chair

I think one thing that sets TV anime far apart from any other kind of TV animation is the focus on soundtracks. Sometimes even for a crappy TV anime. It costs good money, and sometimes it shows.

And this year the choice is easy. If I was to pick out an anime title for its original soundtracks, it would definitely be the Heroic Age. But that would only be true if I was picking an anime title for its original soundtrack. And that might be a little harsh (and sort of a repeat).

If I was picking it based on how the music is integrated into the show as well as the quality of the stuff itself, it would happily scratch my itch about, heh, Gurren Lagann.

There's more to this picture if you didn't know...

This much is true–Gurren Lagann, whether you like it or not, made a big splash this year. Gainax went back and tried to reinvent the giant robot genre (again) for the 21st century. I don’t know if they were successful, but I know they did paint a fun and colorful montage of the history of giant robots from their perspective.

In this retrospective I’d definitely like to talk about the fan response to Gurren Lagann, both the good and bad. But to save this post from overly-TL;DR, I think just mentioning it is enough to jog your memories about the LOL mixi controversies, the staff changes, and on the record I’d like to say I liked how episode 4 looked.

(As an aside, Gainax shows that they consistently listen to the fans and devise rapid responses. I wish I could say the same for the majority of anime corporate bodies out there.)

While I’m at it, I’d also like to mention the ending to Gurren Lagann, and I liked how it treated Nia and Simon. Why? Because life is lived by those those who hop, jump, skip and run its length to their ends, and not those who quietly tiptoes towards death. And Nia and Simon sure lived. It may disappoint but it’s honest in its own little deceptive ways, like how the epic montage of the first half of the series leads into ambiguity, a losing-and-finding of purpose for men who only knew how to fight and love, or why this is redemptive for them even if only hardship and heartache await at the end of it all.

Along the same lines, I’d also like to mention how Gurren Lagann is glowing with a really artificial notion of manliness. I mean if I watch old samurai films, the societal norm of manliness is a much more subtle and tempered concept than this “ROW ROW FIGHT DA POWAH” nonsense, and yet both take that realistic approach towards the fate of a swordsman who outlived his purpose. There’s a beautiful parallel here that I’m not sure if anyone drew–just like the samurai went the way of the past after the modernization of Japan in the Meiji era. I guess, so are childhood dreams that vanishes with adulthood. Fighting robot fantasies have little space in an adult world. People like Simon are not this world would like you to be, this day and age, they are rugged, uncouth, drunk, or act like a loser.

Lastly, right, the music. I like the rap tie-in, if just for the exploitative effect and tension between the background orchestra with the foreground dialog within the show. I find it fun (and slightly annoying) that how the soundtrack is mixed like an OST but the vocal tracks sticks out like sore thumbs if I make my own mix, requiring some normalization. Still, Taku Iwasaki worked his magic with his usual competent instrumentation and orchestration. And it’s rather diverse stylistically as well. An epic-spanning sense of sound garnishes an equally large work.

If we can ignore the image album crap (as I’ve been making a habit of doing, no thanks to the barrage of Kyoani anime-related products), Gurren Lagann’s only fault was not making all of its sounds available to buy. But that’s one fault not uncommon and one I can sort of forget, because the handful of tracks that memorializes this show for me personally was on the Best Sounds CD.

With all that said and done, there are probably quite a few runner up soundtracks I could mention (and should mention). A starting place is j1m0ne’s top 3 soundtrack for 2007. For example I’d make more nods to Asatte no Houkou if it was actually a 2007 show, but it’s still a great soundtrack. There are many more to mention that it’d be a blog post all on its own, so you ought to go find others to read instead ;)

This post is the fifth in a series of posts, to highlight my most memorable and remarkable moments in 2007. Or just soundtracks sometimes. If I wasn’t musically illiterate (well, sort of) and can read (Japanese) I would probably do an anison blog. I cannot get tired talking about it.

6 Responses to “Year in Review: Giant Robots Play Musical Chair”

  • bateszi

    It’s great reading a slightly more objective and sober retrospective on Gurren Lagann. I’m kind of really pleased about it because, for once, it’s an anime series I feel like I can enjoy along with the rest of “otaku fandom”. It really seems to have captured the imagination of a wide variety of people; most notably guys like Jason of AoMM/DbD and to that end, I’m waiting to see whether or not it features in Jeff Lawson’s countdown too.

    Also, I can only agree with you concerning the “BEST SOUND” OST. Just looking at my iTunes list, “”Libera me” from hell” is my 4th most played song of the year. As far as other soundtracks go, I have to nominate Death Note. The biggest disappointment was Kanno’s rather mediocre work on DtB.

    Anyway, fantastic post.

  • wildarmsheero

    I don’t think Jeff Lawson even watched Gurren Lagann. He was busy watching some Xenoglossia show I think.

  • Jeff Lawson

    That’s correct… I didn’t watch Gurren Lagann. Someday, I intend to, but since I doubt it’s going to happen in the next week, it won’t be getting a mention in my Year in Review. Sorry.

  • wildarmsheero

    Well at least your heart is kind of in the right place. Putting all my fanboyish-ness aside I’d say it’s at least worth watching.

  • digitalboy

    lol. Well, I didn’t care much for the music in Gurren LAgann cept maybe raw raw fight da poah but I thought the opera stuff mixed with rap sounded a little awkward.

  • TheBigN

    The BEST SOUNDS CD definitely gave me the best I’ve heard from Taku Iwasaki in a while, and I’m sorta miffed that some tracks were still left off from the soundtrack (I’m not all that high on the Heroic Age OST though for some reason. :/ (/seque))

    Maybe one of the reasons that I felt GL suffered after timeskip was the transition to more of a “This is how the world really works” sort of thing. It was kind of awkward (but maybe that was GAINAX’s plan all along o_o), and it didn’t flow well from the nice climactic battle between Simon and our first main adversary. And maybe after that whole rush, I kept expecting more than what actually occured, so even as the scale got bigger, I didn’t feel that the story or characterization increase proportionally in epicness to that. Maybe I’m still bitter about “Believe in the you that believes in yourself”. :P

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