Friday, January 24, 2014

Anime Review: Lagann-Hen

Been in the middle of a Gurren Lagann rewatch and I thought to watching the second Lagann movie. Was surprised that I already marked it completed on my MAL and gave it a "6aka the same grade I gave the show. I only watched like ten minutes of the thing before I decided I was better off finishing the series first, so I have no idea how that happened. But now that I've been going back to the big Gainax hit of 2007 and moaning on how much I wish Mako would come in and take over Kamina's role when it comes to making speeches because the dude is about as repetitive and charismatic as Fat Albert with a speech impediment, I thought I'd see whether what I've heard regarding Lagann-hen and how it was basically the DYRL of the super robot genre was true.

Well it started out that way, if only because I could pretend I was just being thrown into the whole mess with no prior knowledge of who these characters were and the movie gave me just enough details about them in the beginning so I had some idea regarding who to care for. In fact, I like to pretend that there is no first half of Lagann and that the entire thing is about what happens "after you defeat the big bad". That's a way more interesting story than the repetitive underdog thing that was milked to death in the 80s and thus seeing it in this generation is like watching one of those "call number" commercials whose only background is that badly drawn crybaby at the beginning of every Sentai DVD release.

The movie starts out with King Genome being defeated by our wimp-turned-hero, Simon, and then we get into a few changes from the show in that they actually show the characters' growth as they go from the equivalent of farm slaves on Tatooine to privileged white folk on Coruscant all within the span of seven years - and I thought the changes Hyrule went through in OCARINA OF TIME were unrealistic. They even rewrote the way the Anti-Spiral program was started, which I'm going to assume is because the "million people" thing didn't translate well to film. But keeping that in mind, couldn't Simon have just passed a law saying "do not travel to space because then my future wife will go berserk and I may or may not have to kill her?". Couldn't they at least have waited for that bun in the oven to occur before we created the first rocket ship?

What I liked the most about the beginning minutes of the movie was that Simon's "who the hell do you think I am?" powers were causing more harm than good to his own people. Blowing up the Anti-spirals meant they scatter and explode, causing tons of collateral damage and thus he couldn't solve everything with the power of awesome. It's a great angle that the series, and unfortunately the movie too, threw away after Simon was sprung out of jail by having the battles take place IN SPACE so that no collateral damage can occur. If this was a comedy, I would be calling it hilariously brilliant. But it's not really, so I'm just calling it a bullshit cop-out.

Still, the first hour had me gripped on the edge of my seats and I thought maybe Lagann-hen would be joining the movie versions of MACROSS and CLANNAD in order to form a trinity of "recap/reinterpretation films that are way better than their TV shows and thus I love them". The pacing was pretty fast, the visuals were better than the show's, and the characters clicked with me more here. Just a reminder regarding how I usually prefer movies to TV shows.

So I was all ready to put this thing high on my favorites list, but nope, it fucked it up. And it fucks it up the way most other anime fuck it up. Starting strong, only for the pacing to peter out and for me to realize that this thing was just INDEPENDENCE DAY except the writing wasn't insulting my intelligence. Okay, most anime don't remind me of that snorefest, but my point is that the movie outstays its welcome and not even the pretty visuals could fully get me into the thing as time went on. SPEED RACER, this movie is not.

Whilst I realize that Rossiu's thing needed attention, I fail to see the point of keeping Kittan's death in the movie. He barely had any importance as is and his chemistry with Yoko felt like it was thrown in just because it was in the actual show. The only way the guy could have telegraphed his death any more is if his name was changed to Dead Meat or something, and thus I tuned out during his scenes and could only ask "is he dead yet?". And let's not get started on what happens after Nia gets saved.

At first, I was enjoying the fact that she would get in on the action and carry her own like I prefer my female leads. But then I realized that the last 30-40 minutes of the movie was just the last episode padded in the stupidest way possible. They gave everyone their own Laganns (that looked like they belong in VIEWTIFUL JOE) and basically kept spouting that same tired "Who the hell do you think we are? We have the power of AWESOME on our side!" I'm aware that I don't give a rat's ass for the robot genre, but even so this is just padding on the level of a goddamn DLC expansion pack. How about some actual tactical reason to use for the Laganns besides combining into the same super Lagann that was in the finale anyways. I would have even accepted the shitty tactics in the POWER RANGERS MOVIE regarding why they didn't just combine their zords right away. Or you could have extended the "mindfuck scene" more instead. Just anything besides more repetitive robot action!

It's not like the movie couldn't do an expansion that was actually integrated well. The scene where Simon bursts out of the Lagann and takes down the final enemy in a fist fight is one of the best things to ever come out of the franchise. It's an actual addition because prior to this movie, we've never seen the good guys taking down enemies with their own bodies - at least finale-wise, as I don't have much memory of the show's first sixteen episodes. The animation and tension put into that scene are A++ class. And best of all, it's done without fucking robots.

Watching this movie just nailed into my head why I tend to not like the robot genre all that much. Because machines fighting each other is fucking boring since the humans could easily escape in case their robots blow up (and if they can't, I still don't care because I'm on the side of man over machine). You can easily repair them or build a new one, and it feels like someone just lost an extra life or something. My favorite scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy (and I guess the prequel one) weren't the ships blasting at each other. They were the lightsaber fights. Watching humans square off against each other with their own bodies adds tension and excitement that robots can never replicate because the threat of the hero dying is all the more evident, and yet the results are always much more satisfying when they prevail for that very reason. That, and the sound of bones crunching is more awesome than the sound of KABOOM!

So whilst I had issues with the movie as a whole, that final fight scene alone makes this thing pretty damn awesome. The rest of it is pretty much the same finale as the series with some editing, but I found it pretty sweet. It's nowhere near my all-time favorites, and I've seen a bunch of 2009 movies that were better than Lagann-hen (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, EVA 2.0, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), but it's definitely worth it for people who have some affection for the series. Me personally? I hope KILL LA KILL gets the same movie treatment just so Mako gets to show her stuff on the big screen. And because KILL LA KILL with actual animation sounds weird in a fun way.

PS: By the way, you guys were right about that fourth episode of Lagann. It was pretty damn bad. Oh god, what the fuck did they do to Simon's face in that thing?
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