Shonen series are series aimed at boys, many of them are combat/adventure heavy, series such as Bleach and Naruto. The protagonists are usually teens, who overcome their enemies, and like in Poke’Mon‘s 5th episode (I have one heck of a memory, I know), the protagonist often loses, and then through sheer guts and determination (bloody-cussedness) trains or just comes back and wins.
In Naruto Shippuuden, there’s a bit of a ridiculous moment where Team Guy faces their clones, they get kicked, and then win just because they decide to be stronger than they were yesterday… rather than just switch who they’re fighting or try new techniques. It was a serious “WTF?!” moment to me.
In Gurren Lagann, there are actually three phases to the series. It begins with the Kamina and Simon’s home community underground, and then quickly goes on war. They wage a war on the beast-men and their mecha who keep them down (both underground and stopping them from reproducing). They fight and fight and fight, and after episode 8 there’s a slight change in the atmosphere, though the fights continue.
Then in the second half of the series, which many people like less, what was revealed in part at the end of the first half is explored. We find out that beings which can reproduce have something called “Spiral Energy”, and the reason Simon wins is because he wants to win strongly enough, and using his inherent spiral energy, well, he wins.
So the second half of the series is in the future, several years after the first half ends, with our characters leading either quiet lives or leading the new and freed humanity, political machinations, and then they go into space to fight the “Anti-Spirals”. Right now it becomes much more about how the “Will to win” translates into “Winning”. And this to me makes Gurren Lagann not only a series, but commentary on the shonen genre; the “I win because I want it more than you” is given context and reasoning inside the series, and while many think it is flimsy, it is better than it happening without context. In a way, this is a context to all those series.
I loved the series, and would give it 4.5 stars out of 5. I was really surprised at some point, the one where the series switches tone in its first half. I was like, “No way!”, and it was emotional and good.