At its core, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a show about maturing as an individual and rebelling against oppression. Despite the equal importance and narrative intertwinement of these themes, today I will be focusing on the latter. More specifically, I will be looking at how, without the second half of the series, Gurren Lagann would not be remembered today.
Rebelling against oppressor is one of the oldest, and therefore, most used storytelling devices. After all, rebellion is a frequent and important element of real-world history. We saw revolution in the earliest human societies, and we still see it regularly throughout the world today. Further, it is so simple to garner support for a character when they are fighting against a tyrannical regime that is trying to put them down.
The first half of Gurren Lagann takes that narrative device and boils it down to its absolute pure essence. We are provided with one of the most clean-cut, smooth, and satisfying rebellion stories in fiction. There you have it, Simon and the rest of the Dai-Gurren Brigade defeated Lordgenome and the Beastmen forces, regaining control of the surface world. They had some tragic losses, but also made some new friends along the way. A young boy who started out as a non-confident, bullied antisocial in his underground village transformed into the man who led the rebellion to its victory. As most writers would put it, THE END.
What makes Gurren Lagann stand out from its contemporaries is that this “ending” is only the halfway point of the series. After a seven year timeskip, “act 2” begins with what I like to call the “political consequences arc.”
Historical rebellions aren’t as clean cut as most fictional works would have you believe. Revolution often comes with the desire for a new form of government, something that is immensely difficult to implement in a nation so accustomed to tyranny. Systems must be destroyed and rebuilt, citizens must be accounted for and entered into government programs, and all prior opposition must be dead or imprisoned to prevent regime reversal.
The second half of Gurren Lagann addresses all of these elements, and more. Simon and Rossiu, who occupy the two most prominent government leadership positions, are having an excruciatingly difficult time running their nation. Initiatives to move citizens from their underground villages back to the surface world are failing; they didn’t account for people wanting to remain in that oppressed lifestyle. They find out Viral, a high-ranking and unaccounted for member of the original oppressive regime, is working as a terrorist, undermining citizen relocation efforts.
When citizen dissatisfaction and political unrest begin to spread through the new capital, we see Rossiu, a rebellion hero and close friend to Simon, turn on him in a political move he believes is in the best interest of the nation.
All of this climaxes with the invasion of the anti-spiral forces. You see, it is revealed that the initial oppressive regime was present in the first place in order to prevent this external “nation” from invading. Simon must escape from political prison, gather his old rebellion friends (and even some former enemies), and fight against the invading anti-spiral.
Despite being presented through high-concept science fiction and dimensional shenanigans, the second half of Gurren Lagann is showing real-world consequences. Political turmoil, betrayal, and even foreign invasion in times of weakness are common elements of real post-revolution nations. Most fight against the tyrannical regime stories don’t dare tread these complicated waters, they are satisfying enough as it is.
The fact that Gurren Lagann takes a step beyond mere satisfaction, and addresses these logical consequences, is why it is still remembered as a masterpiece today.