Retro Review: 15 Years Later, The Gurren Lagann Movies Are As Great As Ever

Summary

  • The Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann films are just as good 15 years after their initial release.
  • Childhood’s End beautifully upscales the art and animation and closes out with a wonderfully original climax.
  • The Lights in the Sky Are Stars improves the story by cutting out most of the weaker elements and making the finale an amazing spectacle even better than the original.


2024 marks the 15th anniversary of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann‘s two compilation films, Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky Are Stars. To celebrate, Studio Trigger, having acquired the licensing rights from Studio Gainax, brought the films back to theaters worldwide – marking the first time the films made an international theatrical release in the United State. Plus, the films were finally dubbed into English.

It’s been 15 years since the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann films first premiered in Japan, and they’ve held up perfectly. While compilation films have a reputation for being pointless cash grabs and rarely do much to disprove the notion, both of the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann films, especially The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, perfectly justify their existence.

Through their animation, minor story changes, and overall stellar direction work in the duology’s favor. In many ways, the films even surpass the original anime, so both old fans and new are sure to get plenty out of the films from start to finish.

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Gurren Lagann: Childhood’s End’s Direction Makes Up For Its Lack Of Depth

Gurren Lagann’s 1st Film Is a Great Start To the Duology

Gurren Lagann Movie 1 Team Dai Gurren yelling while standing together against a white background.

Between the two Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann films, the first film, Gurren Lagann The Movie: Childhood’s End, is much more of a typical compilation film, but its direction more than makes up for that. The art and animation were already great in the anime, but Gurren Lagann The Movie: Childhood’s End beautifully upscales everything to look as good as possible. The film’s rendition of the first Giga Drill Break is especially great to see, and it all comes together for a visual spectacle that surpasses the already stellar visual spectacle of the first half of the anime.

The last half of Gurren Lagann The Movie: Childhood’s End is where the film is truly allowed to be creative. The arc following the fight against the Four Supreme Generals is condensed into a single battle, and not only is it the first time that Gurren Lagann The Movie: Childhood’s End gets to show off original dialogue and animation, but things like the Four Supreme Generals’ banter with Team Dai-Gurren and with each other and Yoko and Kittan’s original fight scenes, adds plenty of charm to the film that makes up for the rushed nature of its second half.

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All of that, of course, is excellently complemented by Simon’s character arc. While it might have been constrained by the runtime, Childhood’s End still did a great job of showcasing Simon regaining his resolve thanks to Nia and becoming his own person, leading to an original and climactic fight scene with some of the best animation and direction of anything in the entire franchise. A climax like that does a lot to make up for Childhood’s End‘s lack of depth, and while it’s no substitute for the original anime, there’s still plenty to enjoy for old and new fans alike.

Gurren Lagann: The Lights In The Sky Are Stars Made the Anime’s Story Better

Gurren Lagann’s 2nd Movie Makes The Story Even Better

Gurren Lagann Movie 2 screen cap of Simon and Nia holding one another.

While the first film kept many aspects of the original story the same, Gurren Lagann: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars changed the story for the better. One notable way it pulls this off is with the film’s handling of Rossiu. While Rossiu still became an antagonist, the film cut out a lot of his most reprehensible acts and dialogue. Not only did that make Rossiu more sympathetic, but it also fixed the story’s pacing by allowing things to quickly get to the action without sacrificing the major narrative beats, and the story was all the better for it.

Another notable change to the story is how the film handles Team Dai-Gurren. Many of the members were unceremoniously killed off in the anime, but The Lights in the Sky Are Stars kept everyone alive except for Kittan, whose death had a narrative purpose and thus couldn’t be changed. While most of Team Dai-Gurren’s members had very little involvement in the story to begin with, keeping them alive allowed the story to end on a much more positive note than the anime, and their survival was even worked into the plot for the film’s incredibly bombastic climax.

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The best change to the story, however, stems from Simon and Nia’s relationship. In contrast to how quickly their relationship moved in the first film, The Light in the Sky Are Stars dedicates a lot of time to fleshing out Simon and Nia’s relationship, even adding more depth by establishing Nia’s personal goals and how they relate to Simon. The fact that Simon’s departure has him trying to fulfill Nia’s dream by filling the world with flowers leans into that, and it all works for a narrative that hits its emotional beats even better than the original anime did.

Gurren Lagann’s Finale Is An Even Bigger Spectacle In the Film

The Film’s Gave Gurren Lagann the Climax it Deserves

What really sells The Light in the Sky Are Stars as a film, however, is its big finale. At first, it seems like it’s going to play out the same as the anime with the final fight against the Anti-Spiral, but then, the Anti-Spiral destroys Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and gives everyone in Team Dai-Gurren, including Nia and the once dead members, a chance to fight in their own Tengen Toppa Gunmen. The animation and music all perfectly capitalize on how big a change it is, and it more than justifies the changes to the plot that came before it.

All of that leads to a final climax that keeps topping itself at every turn. As a beautiful remix of the theme song plays, Team Dai-Gurren forms Super Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, possibly the biggest mech in all of anime, for one final clash against the Anti-Spiral, and that leads to a final fistfight between Simon and the Anti-Spiral with some of the best animation and overall direction in the entire franchise. It’s an amazing climax that ups the spectacle of the original finale in every regard, and it’s one of the biggest things that makes the film worth watching.

Between the various story changes and the stellar animation and direction in old and new scenes alike, the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann movies both perfectly justify their existence. Old fans of the series can watch them and get even more out of the anime than they did before, and while it’s far from perfect, new fans can easily jump into the series in one of the best ways to experience it. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a series that’s more than stood the test of time, and the incredible quality of the films undoubtedly plays a large part in that.