Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (“TTGL”) is a loud and flamboyant story that swirls and spins to the tune of outerworldly robotic battles. It is a tale of rebellion for a humankind that is continuously pushed around and shackled. As we dive headfirst into the madness of this world alongside Shimon we connect to a primal force that Gainax posits to exist within each of us, a spiralling drive towards the future that urges to be always bigger and go even further.
The journey’s beginning is a tepid one, within the confines of the underground Jiha village we are introduced to a society devoid of life that lies in apparent wilful submission to the state of their existence. They lack agency and exist only to survive within the boundaries of the village; the ceiling to the world above ominously hanging above this bleak world. Shimon is no different when we meet him, he works, obeys and fulfils the role attributed to him by this society. Contrastively, stands Kamina, Shimon’s figure of admiration, a bombastic and virile man that dreams only of seeing the surface world. Kamina is all that Shimon is not, he believes in himself more than anything.
“Is this why I dig? For the steaks?” -Shimon
Suddenly as the ceiling collapses, the meek Shimon is forced out of the confines of his world by the chain of events and the little mecha, or Ganmen, that he has found becomes the vehicle and mirror to his inner self. Yoko Ritona, that has fallen alongside a hostile Ganmen into Jiha soon attracts the shy gaze of the pubescent Shimon due to her womanly figure. It alludes to the viewer that it is those nascent feelings that allow Shimon to make power flow into his tiny Ganmen, soon to be named Lagann, via an artefact that he holds, the core drill.
Gainax hints at an energy form that flows from humans, yet that power is never fully articulated. Budding sexuality is the first trigger to Shimon’s power, as would later be his drive to live up to Kamina’s expectations or to protect those he loves. This power is the reflection of the inner desire of men, it is in our nature to crave the better. But Shimon is to realise in his journey that there is a limit to how far shallow convictions and borrowed confidence can bring you.
As the trio is liberated from the thralls of the underground they come to face with a wider, vaster and crueller world. Life on the surface is riddled with uncertainty as humans are relentlessly hunted by the Ganmen wielding beastmen. But, with Kamina as a linchpin those who opposed the beastmen and their master, Lord Genome, are swept up by Kamina’s unyielding confidence. He becomes the everything of the newly formed Team Dai Gurren; armed with sheer poise that seems able to bend the rules of the universe itself, everything seems possible.
Yet, it is Shimon’s abilities that enable Team Dai Gurren’s momentum. Lagann’s ability to take over other Ganmen is a reflect of Shimon’s unrelenting qualities. Young Shimon may be frightful and docile, but the endearing quality that distinguishes him is an ability to never give up however dire the situation may be.
Shimon is content to live as a cog in the greater machine; to be apparel to Kamina’s success. But to the latter there is more to Shimon; an ingenuity that Kamina lacks. Gainax reminds us of the complexity of the person beyond the brazen charisma, when Kamina reveals that it is Shimon’s determination that gives him the courage to go on; he too is a human filled with uncertainties. “Believe in the me that believes in you” he says to proc up his friend’s self-confidence, it is inspiring but ultimately bounding. Shimon too must discover what it means to believe in oneself.
Kamina’s death is the trigger to that realisation, the void he has left seems unsurmountable. As the vivid colours of TTGL fade into gloom, Shimon desperately rages in anger against the beastmen but also against himself. He blames himself for Kamina’s death; the sight of Kamina’s and Yoko’s kiss made him falter in confusion. Gainax reminds us that spiral power is a product of will and conviction. Emotions are important in TTGL, like in life; Shimon who had allowed his to be buried, chose to hide within the shadow of Kamina.But as those hidden feelings come in conflict with the idyllic bubble he has sewn, Shimon crumbles.
“A real man never dies, even when he’s killed!” – Kamina
As his rage roars, his spiral power declines in the reflection of his lost way. It is only through his fateful meeting to Nia and the love he develops that the flame inside of him can be ignited and that he may fill the shoes of Kamina. Like Shimon, TTGL urges us to grasp at the impossible and to become our own person.
TTGL is a story about going forward, but through Kamina’s death we are reminded of the ineluctability of death, to go always farther sometimes means to accept a nature and a finality that cannot be changed; but to accept is not to forget. Kamina’s life and death resonate throughout the show, his ideals being the foundation upon which humanity’s momentum lays; like his Ganmen, Gurren, he is an indissociable colour from the events that follow.
Lord Genome stands as a foil to Shimon. A man of the spiral and unparalleled being that has reached for the stars but failed. In his disillusionment in the ability of spiral beings to overcome the Anti-Spiral, he has become a sombre warden of humanity’s growth. He brims with spiral power, but that is only the product of his misguided will to protect the humanity he has lost faith in, and his indulgence into worldly desires such as his sexual cravings. In the end, Shimon’s victory over him is an ideological one; the will that flows from his love for Nia, the convictions of his comrades and a truly held belief to be bettering humanity’s fate reverse the tides against Lord Genome. Yet, we are quick to be reminded that freedom is not so easily won when Lord Genome is revealed to have been just one of many ceilings of the universe.
The Anti-Spiral is a threat that appears in response to the development of humanity. Spiral beings are species of ever-growing agenda and the Anti-Spiral believes that if not quelled that growth will spell the doom of the universe. With the end of Lord Genome’s reign on humanity, that agenda has been restored and the ethereal and imposing Anti-Spiral has risen in response. Gainax posits a parallel to the consequences of the rapid growth of our society and the damage it has left in its wake; that we, humans, may someday grow to such amplitude to be a threat to the universe is not so far removed, growth is our nature.
With heightened agenda, the variations and of a species that is no longer limited by survival start appearing in society, leaving Shimon and the other soldiers out of place in this time. As the new civilization is preyed on by the anti-spiral the population turns on Shimon for giving them the hope of a better life; his straightforward approach to problem-solving is criticised. The schism that is felt with Rossiu is a symbol of a movement forward that forgets the values upon which it is based. It is incumbent on Shimon to remind him that even in the face of overwhelming odds, to always stand tall and advance.
As with Kamina’s death, Nia’s abduction is a seemingly insurmountable low for our characters. Impregnable walls seem to have been raised for humanity, as the moon and later the universe-scale Anti-Spiral stand in their way. The millions of spiral warriors that have fallen before our main cast is a constant reminder of the impossibility of the task they have undertaken. Yet, this only stands as a reminder to the spiral’s relentless nature.
With every enemy defeated Gurren Lagann grows, and with it the steeled resolve of our characters. As the scale of our story inflates in scale, so does the power of the spiral that moves forward. In each of our characters is a glimpse of Shimon’s and Kamina’s resolve. That, may not be better exemplified than through Yoko that has endured the death of lovers and friends in silent grit. Each of the warriors of Team Dai Gurren believes in the cause they fight for to the bitter end, and it is that resolve that pushes Shimon forward; he is the recipient of their faith and hopes for the future.
” This is Shimon’s soul! Team Dai Gurren’s soul! Humanity’s soul! No, this is MY soul! – Kittan
Kittan, a character that had been overshadowed by Kamina and Shimon is instrumental in preventing Team Dai Gurren from sinking down the Death Spiral Sea, a literal embodiment of the despair that saps away the hopeful spiral energy. Like its Ganmen, King Kittan, Kittan too shines like a star in his last moments. He may have trailed in others path, but at the end he seized all he believed in, embracing his love for Yoko and his own resolve; he too brims with spiral energy at the close of his life.
From Kamina to Shimon, and from Shimon to the rest of the world. TTGL is not a story of one man rising against the heavens but one about inspiring society to rise for what it believes in. Even the beastmen Viral and the pet Boota, who ought to have been devoid of spiral power ravel in its strength as the story goes, and the revived Lord Genome has his extinguished convictions reignited; we are reminded of the contagious quality of confidence. Where there is a will there is a way we are told; It is through the strength entrusted to them by those gone that our cast escapes the illusion of complacency that had entrapped them.
“Believe in yourself. Not in the you who believes in me. Not the me who believes in you. Believe in the you who believes in yourself.” – Kamina
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann like its predecessors is not the product of one man, it is the agglomeration of multiple wills, past and present. Gainax throughout its story reminds us of the importance of individualism, it is Kamina’s and later Shimon’s wills that pushes the others forward. But ultimately to pierce through ceiling after ceiling, through to the heavens themselves is a job for the many, acting for the sake of the more; an act as a community. There is not one star to the story of TTGL, just a sky full of them.
“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE ARE!? – Team Dai Gurren
In its finality, TTGL is a requiem for those that have gone and an ode to the continuation of life. Nia’s fateful death after her marriage to Shimon is again a reminder that life is an ever-flowing cycle and that certain thinks cannot be fought against; sometimes all we can and should do is to carry on the will and feelings of the departed. As Shimon quietly melds into wilful anonymity it is for us to believe that he has come to terms with the fact that his role in leading humanity has ended, giving way to newer generations and further progress.
“All the lights in the sky are stars” – Simon