On Music and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

May 25, 2009


"Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian because they break down a man's individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole: music is the most Dionysian of the arts, since it appeals directly to man's instinctive, chaotic emotions and not to his formally reasoning mind."

In music, everything begins with rhythm. From the dawn of time, cavemen used only chantings and clappings to create rhythm in which people of all ages and gender would dance in unison to. At that moment of dancing you might feel the rhythm breaking you down as individuals and creating inexplicable desire to move, sing along and be sweeped into its flow.

A man once described architecture as a frozen music, referring to its power to break down our individual selves and re-organising the way we behave and feel in a certain way. Just as one can’t help losing themselves under that thumping beats and flood of neon lights in rave club, there is also music in great gothic cathedrals in that almost anyone, regardless of his culture or belief, is humbled by their presence and sense something sacred and divine in that perfect rhythm of towering columns, converging gracefully into vaults, as well as that almost ethereal daylights being filtered through stained glass.


Could one also say there is a musical dimension to animation? How many shows have you watched that you could not help but be sweeped by it? I once talked about the musicality behind Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and something very similar can be said about Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I am by no means a fan of super robot cartoons but I rarely stopped to question hardly any of those ridiculous plot revelations or transformations. Any criticisms that I would have normally raised, including  parallel universe/hamster evolution that came out of nowhere, are vigorously kicked to the curb as I couldn’t help but lose myself in that thrill of watching Simon and his friends beating the impossible through sheer will. Music is more than what you hear. It’s that exhiliratingly animated battle scenes and exciting composition of each frames and how they lead one to another in rhythm. Essence of music lies in its power to reconfigure. Power to drill through the resistance of our mind and strike at the receptiveness of our heart, shouting blood-boiling cries of who the hell do you think we are.


9 Responses to “On Music and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann”

  1. Kim Says:

    Music was definitely used very effectively in Gurren Lagann. The music really got you excited. Although there were a couple tracks that were also more somber and haunting that worked well for more serious scenes (such as when a good portion of the Gurren-dan were dying in space).

    Of course Taku Iwasaki is one of my favorite composers. My favorite score of his is Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen.

  2. There’s an essay of G.K. Chesterton’s in which he argues, if I remember rightly, that gothic cathedrals actually look best if you imagine that they’re massive war machines or armies on the march, which have for some reason been stopped and frozen in one position — which reminds me that one of the mecha in TTGL used to be called the Cathedral Terra. So if the cathedral began to move again, would it become more musical?

    (I’m not entirely convinced that Chesterton was right, myself, but I think he was writing in a period in which gothic buildings were usually derided and neo-classicism was dominant, so fans of gothic style had to use whatever defences they could. Or something. I don’t know much about architecture.)

  3. coburn Says:

    I’m sure the brain does respond to motion in animation in a way somewhat analogous to the hardwired response to music (or dance), but it’s definitely rather difficult to get to grips with. In the case of Gurren-Lagann, I find it hard to differentiate between the aesthetic appeal of the visual ingredients, the silly glory of the events depicted, and any musicality in the arrangement of movement. Not to mention the soundtrack.

    The rhythm of the director’s sequencing of shots is always going to be important, and I guess in something like Gurren-Lagann the sheer amount of movement going on arguably adds emphasis to the management of that aspect of the visual experience. So I suppose I’d have to say probably yes, Gurren-Lagann is music for my eyes, but maybe the instruments matter more than the tune. I’m not sure.

  4. ghostlightning Says:

    Sorairo Days scoring the final battle with its manly speeches of righteousness and galactic-scale pugilism is a staggering experience. I must have re-watched this scene dozens of times, the actual episode approaching double digits. My friends watch this entire episode and individual scene constantly.

    Music is a big deal in Super Robot shows! The best examples include Imagawa Yasuhiro’s Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still with its grand orchestral score and his Shin Mazinger Z Shogeki Hen with its brilliant kitsch.

  5. gaguri Says:

    Yea, I too agree that soundtracks were used very effectively in TTGL.

    @The Animanachronism
    I don’t know much about what Chesterton said about gothic cathedrals, but that sounds like a really epic way of looking at it. About the cathedral moving and producing different music, I guess ‘marching’ of the flying buttresses, or the soaring columns, i.e. the music would still remain frozen, but then there is an entirely different music to be heard when you watch the cathedral actually move.

    Ah I agree completely that it’s hard, if even possible, to accurately differentiate the influence between various factors, such as animation/silly tropes/soundtrack. For me there is music to be found in animation but then there is music behind the actual musical soundtracks, and ultimately the most important music to be heard I guess is within the harmony between all these different elements. And perhaps that is why director should be given the highest credit for orchestrating them together into one music.

    Yea this is my favourite episode as well. Sorairo Days was great but I have to say my favourite was definitely Libera me from Hell, there is amazing chemistry between the guy’s rap and her soprano.

  6. dokebi Says:

    I don’t know about the music, but the anime itself was terrible except for the first few episodes

  7. Hadn’t noticed that you’d written an entry on music, but here’s some food for thought: Hitoshi Sakimoto, the composer for a boatload of video games (as well as a few anime credits to his name) noted that “Music is 60-70% of the gaming experience.” Now, where he pulled these percentages from is anyone’s guess, but its mere mention does make me ponder as to how much one’s anime experience is affected by the music, especially when it’s executed as well in tandem with the events on screen in shows such as TTGL (which I haven’t watched) and in the slice-of-life/iyashikei series like ARIA.

    It’s a topic I’d like to explore further since there have been many times where I’ve marveled at how well Hisaishi was able to convey the epic scale that Princess Mononoke encompasses, Kikuya was able to convey Hidamari Sketch’s light-hearted atmosphere, and Hirasawa is able to complement Paprika’s sense of chaos.

  8. gaguri Says:

    Well, it’s not really the kind of music I mentioned in the post, but I do think music has tremendous impact on anime experience, especially when it works with things on the screen. I don’t think Aria the Natural would be same without that awesome theme song, which neither the Animation nor Origination had.

  9. […] *This post may (or may not) help make more sense. Posted in Now and Then Here and There | 8 Comments » […]

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