Gurren Lagann is among my favorite anime shows ever with its engaging story, great cast of characters and epic soundtrack. A couple of years after the show came out, Gurren Lagann was retold in two movies: Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky are Stars. I had always been interested in watching the movies to see what changes were made, but sadly the movies weren’t dubbed or released in the states. I finally took the plunge and watched them online to see how they hold up in comparison to the show. Are the films good adaptations of the show, and are they worth watching? Let’s find out!
Warning: if you haven’t seen Gurren Lagann, there will be spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk!
The beginning of Childhood’s End depicts Lordgenome’s childhood and his battle with the AntiSpirals, using footage from Parallel Works 8. I talked about the significance of Parallel Works 8 before, and this scene functions as intended, providing a strong back story to the plot while introducing relevant characters and ideas. This was a great way introduction that is substantially different from how the show started, and arguably better for it too. If only the rest Childhood’s End went as smoothly.
In Gurren Lagann, the time skip is instantaneous and doesn’t waste any time developing the story even further. In the beginning The Lights in the Sky are Stars (after the poorly placed Lordgenome fight at the start, which I’ll talk about later), the time skip is supplemented with a montage of major events that take place over the course of the seven years. By showing the progression of civilization through the time skip, it helps develop the world and provide a real sense of change. It also does a good job of showing the characters mature and change during this time so that it’s not as stark of a transformation.
Not only are many of the characters fleshed out, but so are their relationships with each other. Simon and Nia’s relationship in Gurren Lagann is already fantastic as it is, and the fact that The Lights in the Sky are Stars manages to expand on this in a meaningful way is great. Not only that, but their relationship is even cuter! The few scenes added between them helps add investment into their story and make the audience root for Nia’s rescue even more.
Simon’s time in prison in Gurren Lagann was pretty short, and The Lights in the Sky expands on this a bit. Simon gets some great character development that hasn’t been seen before in the show through these added scenes, and he goes to a pretty dark place. It also gives viewers a clue of just how powerful he has become and trying to control this power by refusing to fight the other inmates. It shows a more natural progression for Simon giving up and thereby accepting the reality of the situation – in the show this was a rather quick turn that came out of nowhere, and the movie allows us to see this change more slowly and understand his actions.
The final battle in The Lights in the Sky are Stars is even more bombastic and insane than in the show. A lot of the craziness was overwhelming even as a fan of the over the top action, but the main thing I thought this sequence did very well was the individual fights against the AntiSpiral. Characters like Yoko, Viral, and Nia get their own mecha to fight with, and Nia’s contribution to the battle is the best (despite the overemphasis on her nudity). Not only does she get to fight back (the first time she’s been given a chance to do so), but she also draws first blood against the AntiSpiral while protecting Simon. The fact that Nia is able to protect him for a change is a notable moment for her considering her brainwashed and kidnapped status from before. Her mecha also has the best design and is a perfect fit for her character.
In Gurren Lagann, the long, hard fought battle against the AntiSpirals concludes with Simon killing the AntiSpiral leader with Lagann. In The Lights in the Sky are Stars, Lagann is incapacitated and forces Simon to fight the AntiSpiral one on one. The animation is rough and gritty, reflecting the intensity of this fist fight. I think this scene of the two fist fighting is great because it’s forcing them to rely on their own strength and will to win rather than mecha. It adds a new layer to the strength of humanity that was already so emphasized in the show, and makes it even more prominent in the movie’s conclusion.
As many changes as The Lights in the Sky are Stars makes, the ending is still bittersweet. It does add some nice scenes of Nia writing in her diary for the last time while Simon prepares to pass Lagann down to the next generation before the wedding. Their marriage itself largely plays out the same, but makes a very subtle change that greatly affects the scene that follows, which I’ll talk about next.
Originally, after Nia disappears, Gimmy desperately asks why Simon can’t just resurrect her. In the anime, Simon’s response is a grin as he says that he’s accepted her fate. In the movie, Simon’s grin remains but now his eyebrows are furrowed. This is a very small change, but it shows that despite his acceptance of Nia’s fate, he’s still upset by it and he has every right to be. It makes the scene so much powerful because it conveys his resolve not to abuse his powers to resurrect dead people. It also shows just how much Simon has grown and matured over the course of the series by acknowledging his grief but still moving forward.
After the credits of The Lights in the Sky are Stars roll, it focuses more on Simon wandering around the world. He helps whoever he can and plants flowers in Nia’s memory, which she mentioned as a dream of hers in a new, earlier scene in the movie. He also wears Nia’s wedding ring as a necklace, which is such a small touch that I love. It shows that he always keeps her close to him, and I prefer him keeping the ring with him rather than having it as a place marker at her grave.
There are many other small changes that The Lights in the Sky are Stars makes that are good as well, but these are the most noteworthy because of what they add to the lore of the series and characters, specifically Simon and Nia. Wondering why Childhood’s End hasn’t been praised more? Well…
The starkly different animation style from Episode 4 of Gurren Lagann was not redone in Childhood’s End. I’m not sure if this radically different and unfitting style was maintained because of the guest director that worked on the original episode, and I suppose that if that’s the case I can’t argue with it too much even if it doesn’t make any sense in movie format and looks rather cheap. The bigger issue is that the budget was largely spent on adding pointless scenes of fan service. These scenes do nothing for the story and characters, and it’s frustrating to see new animation devoted to such irrelevant scenes in a series that already has an excess of just that.
The fact that Nia blurts out her identity as Lordgenome’s daughter as soon as she meets Team Dai Gurren in Childhood’s End eliminates all suspense about her identity. I understand that this was done for pacing purposes, and it’s not something entirely out of character for Nia to say, but it eliminates the build up about her identity that was done well in Gurren Lagann. This scene’s placement also results in several other scenes being out of order as well, and this leads to Childhood’s End feeling extremely rushed.
Many of the moments between Simon and Nia in the first half of Gurren Lagann are not only sweet to watch, but show a natural progression of how they fall in love with each other and eventually become engaged years later. Unfortunately, Childhood’s End cuts many of these moments from the film, leaving the audience wondering how they could develop such a close bond in only a couple of scenes. I can’t complain about this a ton since The Lights in the Sky are Stars makes up for this substantially, but it does make the relationship feel more empty in the first movie with so few scenes for them to interact to develop a genuine relationship with one another.
In Childhood’s End, Simon and Team Dai Gurren fight against the three remaining Generals of Lordgenome and Viral all at once. In the anime, these fights were broken up individually, so it makes sense for the movie to streamline these battles into one for pacing. But the individual fights gave a sense of scope and danger to the story and Team Dai Gurren’s mission, and defeating them all in this one battle takes away a lot of the tension that the show was so good at building up.
Childhood’s End concludes after the defeat of Lordgenome’s Generals, leaving the impending fight against Lordgenome as a cliffhanger. This cliffhanger isn’t very well done here because it’s needlessly splitting the story arc of the fight against the Beastmen into two movies. Furthermore, it leads to The Lights in the Sky are Stars having a jarring start continuing a battle that should have been resolved at the end of the first movie. Because The Lights in the Sky are Stars is forced to begin with this battle, much of the fight from the anime is cut down and feels hastily rushed and devoid of intensity, ultimately hampering what was a fantastic showdown in the anime.
In Gurren Lagann, the scene where the AntiSpiral is extracting Nia’s memories for analysis is already uncomfortable to watch. His apathetic attitude and monologue combined with her screams in the background makes the scene almost cringe worthy to watch, but at least it’s short lived and feels like it adds something to the story. In The Lights in the Sky are Stars, this scene is sexualized because of Nia’s nudity, and goes on for much longer to the point that it’s unacceptable. This may have been how the scene was intended to play out in the show, but it’s so uncomfortable to watch that it was reminding me of the offensive moments of Kill La Kill, and that’s not okay.
In Gurren Lagann, the final battle feels like it has real stakes largely due to how many characters sacrifice their lives for Team Dai Gurren’s victory. These deaths, while sad (especially in Kittan’s case), help the story have real stakes that it lacked to this point. By having these characters die, it gives a sense of urgency and shows that battles can’t be won without sacrifices. In Gurren Lagann, these sacrifices are handled well and add to the story and characters. In The Lights in the Sky are Stars however, all of these minor characters – except Kittan – survive. This is rather irksome because it takes away the meaning of their sacrifices in the show – by having them live through the final battle, it makes it feel too easily won.
So, are the movies worth watching? Well, yes and no. The pacing of Childhood’s End is very sporadic and there aren’t many good changes that enhance the story – with the exception of the fantastic introduction. This isn’t to say the first half of the show isn’t good, but there’s something about the pacing of those episodes in a show format that made them exciting to watch. But having the way these episodes are condensed in Childhood’s End, the movie feels rushed and lacks fluidity.
On the other hand, The Lights in the Sky are Stars is much better. The pacing is slower and more fluid, and the additional scenes (for the most part) add a lot to the lore and characters and story. Neither of the movies are without flaws however, and because of this I think that ultimately, the show tells the story best. The movies are overall a great addition for the series and retell the story in a new interesting way, but they shouldn’t replace the experience watching the show. Gurren Lagann’s story is told most strongly in an episodic progression because its tonal shifts are more exciting and dynamic. In some ways, the movies compliment the show well, but Gurren Lagann is an adored anime because of the risks it takes to develop its story and characters, and it’s a show that should be experienced by every anime fan.