Just break the rule, then you see the truth.

statuhs: n., still reeling from Wednesday’s shoot-out and trying to figure out the best approach to this Gurren Lagann paper.  CFP deadline: June 14.  Amount of research I’ve done thus far: nothing. Talk about awesome.

Today I’m supposed to be figuring out how to frame an academic paper about the visual and text representations of trauma Gurren Lagann—how the two media interact with one another to create a more persistent sense of grief, despite the show’s ultimate message that we are more resilient than we think, and that absolute despair can be overcome—and so it seemed appropriate to post this follow-up to my last post on using formal elements in music to illustrate the importance of form as well as content in a literature course.  In that post, I mentioned how the theme song of the show is revisited several times, set against a different background track each time.  Here are the 3 tracks I would probably use, along with the lyrics (disclaimer: they are godawful.  But I imagine this would make the exercise that much more fun for the class).  It might be interesting to tell the class that the songs come from a mecha anime, and then have them free-write while listening to them, describing the scene they envision taking place to each track.

Take #1:  Rap wa Kan no Tamashii da! Muri wo Toushite Douri wo Kettobasu! Ore Tachi dai Gurren Dan no Theme wo Mimi no Ana Kappo Jitte yo ~ Kukiki Yagare!!

Potential discussion points:  The song opens with a strangely ominous swell of strings that breaks into an almost triumphal fanfare of brass instruments, possibly implying (temporary?) victory.  After the fanfare the verses are punctuated with single trumpet notes that are at odds with the triumphant sound: these notes almost seem questioning, doubtful, or wondering.  The chorus of “Row, row, fight the powah,” however, always lines up with the triumphal fanfare.  The track is often played towards the end of episodes, after Team Dai-Gurren has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, or, significantly, after a character has overcome an inner struggle.

Listen on YouTube here or download here.

Take #2:  Rap wa Kan no Tamashii…Datta…yo na…

Potential discussion points:  This version is electronica: the vocals are slowed and drowned in synthesizer, and the most audible part of the track is the repetition of single piano notes, rising and falling in the same pattern.  The chorus emerges loudly at times, especially towards the end of the track, when the music becomes more fully fleshed-out.  The overall sound seems to suggest a scene of insistent, never-ending peril, or of difficult decisions that need to be or have just been made.  This track is only played a few times (I think), in the second arc of the show, and generally follows some horrific realization the characters have come to, or an impossibly difficult situation from which there is seemingly no escape.  The characters, however, are shown as determined, not hopeless, when this track plays.

Listen on YouTube here or download here.

Take #3: “Libera me” from Hell

Potential discussion points: The song opens with Latin from the Requiem Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, and its operatic quality immediately creates a sense of loss and grief.  The repetitive piano riff that accompanies the verses suggests a sort of desperation move may be taking place, that something inevitable is looming; at the same time, its insistence and underlying beat may suggest a sense of determination: this is all there is left to do.  The revisiting of the Reqiuem Mass to rising and falling trumpets and strings, and the orchestral swell of music between verses, also implies that, while the heroes may overcome, they can only do so at a price.  The gradual addition of musical elements to the spare track create the illusion of it speeding up, building momentum.  Towards the end of the track, the Requiem Mass and the rap lyrics intertwine and the music swells louder, creating a sense of urgency, the female vocals reaching its highest point and then crashing into silence and the shouted, “Fight the powah!”  This moment is then followed by a crash of music as the piano riff, beat, and Requiem Mass resume, along with the rap chorus and the sound of insistently rising and falling strings.  It ends with the repeated “Row, row, fight the powah” as the brass notes slowly begin a series of decrescendos and the Reqiuem Mass falls to its lowest note; the final music is simply the female vocals, so low it’s barely audible, one low brass note, and the twice-repeated “Row, row, fight the powah,” streaming into silence.  This track dominates the end of the second season; it is first used to accompany a central character’s death, and then accompanies the idea of absolute despair, the manifestation of Heidegger’s notions of choice and Angst, and the reassertion of the human will to survive at whatever cost.

Listen on YouTube here or download here.

Here are basic lyrics for the songs, already in handout form.  The lyrics to “Libera me,” which are somewhat different as they include the Latin Requiem Mass interspersed throughout the rap lyrics, can be found here, where I’ve broken up the Latin and a rough translation of the Latin alongside the English lyrics they’re juxtaposed with.  Additionally, during class discussion it might be interesting to touch on the ways in which form can supersede content, as the lyrics themselves are mostly random and senseless (as Engrish often is), but the background music coupled with the parts that do make sense still manage to convey emotional resonance.

My hope is that somehow I can make a lesson plan out of these ideas, perhaps to begin the Fall 2010 semester (thankfully some months away).  Just thought I would share some of my initial planning.  Feel free to post comments and feedback if you have any or have done something similar in your classrooms.

Oh yeah, and “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii da!” means “Rap is a Man’s Soul”…right in keeping with the show’s aesthetic.

Creative Commons License
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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