As I sit here, totally out of tears, it is fucking impossible to believe this show started with a little boy and his adopted big brother causing mischief in an underground village.
To be honest, at first I really didn’t know if I was going to like this show. But I knew it was one of Vanessa’s favorites, and it was very important to her, so I really wanted to watch it with her. And I’m so glad I did.
The first arc starts at what kind of feels like a glacial pace in retrospect. The conflict is very straightforward. Humans are oppressed and largely forced to live underground, though some live on the surface under constant attack by the Spiral King and his army of Beastmen mech pilots. Simon and his big brother Kamina escape to the surface, meet ace sniper Yoko, and start rallying humans to rise up against their oppressors. Kamina’s macho energy seems ridiculous and maybe a little dumb at first, but it’s infectious. And it seems like his fighting spirit brings out the same in everyone, especially his little brother.
To be honest I really didn’t get much of a consistent throughline from these early episodes while I was watching them. It’s easier to see in retrospect, and I’m sure watching them again now would be a vastly different experience. But yeah. Basically just a series of seemingly unrelated challenges as they gained more and more followers and resources.
And then Kamina died.
That was a gut punch. It was when things got real. Every challenge they’ve faced so far, Kamina’s ridiculous masculine fighting spirit has somehow carried them past. He just yells “Who the hell do you think I am?” and bullrushes through every obstacle. The show is about him and his little brother and their friends, but in important ways it’s really about him, and then he’s just… gone.
Simon understandably goes into a serious tailspin that takes him a while to pull out of. And again they’re moving forward but it’s hard to see past the gap between them and what they’re up against. But they keep going. And they keep going. And it seems like it’s going to be this long slog towards their goal, and then at basically the halfway point of the show they decide fuck it we’re just going to go right at the Spiral King’s stronghold.
At this point I was smugly confident I knew what was going to happen. I called it as we watched the episode. “There’s *checks notes* HALF a show left? Yeah, sure. You’re going to beat the big bad right now. That’s definitely what’s going to happen.”
Obviously the Spiral King was going to beat Simon. Obviously this was going to be a hard lesson, a hard defeat to overcome. Braving impossible odds and getting all the way to your goal, and getting your ass kicked by someone you aren’t ready for. That’s clearly where it was going, right?
And then Simon blasted a hole in the Spiral King that took up most of his torso, and I stared at the screen in shock. WHAT?
They did it. They beat the big bad. Humanity was free.
What the fuck was the rest of the show going to be about???
This was my first moment of really starting to understand what kind of show this was I was watching.
There’s a recap episode, and then a time jump. Simon and the heroes who won humanity’s freedom are in charge of a fledgling government that’s overseeing the growth of a suddenly flourishing human civilization on the surface. And that’s when things really start escalating.
I won’t get into an especially detailed plot summary, but suffice it to say a powerful alien civilization called the Anti-Spirals declare that humanity has exceeded their limits and must be destroyed.
Okay, that actually deserves a quick tangent. In Gurren Lagann, humans, and most species in the universe, are known as “Spiral Races” because they have Spiral Power within them. Spiral Power is somewhat equated to evolution but it’s also a power that can be tapped into kind of like the Force in Star Wars? Anyway it’s also related to double helix DNA and the spiral shapes of galaxies and a lot of other things and it’s kind of a nifty bit of worldbuilding. And the Anti-Spirals believe the unrestrained potential of the Spiral Races would inevitably destroy the universe so when one of them gets too powerful they show up and wipe them out, sort of like the Reapers in Mass Effect but based on a specific planet’s growth rather than in a predictable cycle over millennia.
So anyway, the Anti-Spirals announce that they will wipe out the human race by crashing the moon into the earth in a few days. This starts a mad scramble to save as much of humanity as possible, and I’m not even going to get into a ton of extremely important plot points because SO MUCH HAPPENS. But the long and short of it is that Simon and some of his former teammates end up in space to fight the moon, and then it turns out that the entire fucking moon is a mech and they take control of it and stop it from colliding with the earth and just… WHAT IS THIS SHOW???
And from this point on things keep escalating and keep escalating and keep escalating until they’re fighting the Anti-Spirals in a pocket dimension in mechs that are bigger than galaxies and they’re throwing galaxies at each other like shurikens????
During this latter part of the series there’s a point where the Anti-Spirals trap their big mech in an area of space that’s so dense that it’s like an ocean and if they sink they’ll be crushed. Even worse, the space ocean or whatever (100% real line: “We’re not taking on water, we’re taking on space!”) has a special defense that converts Spiral Energy into mass so everything they could normally do to escape just makes things even worse. And this whole time they’d been thinking surviving the Anti-Spirals’ initial onslaught (which again involved them planning on crashing the moon into the earth) and taking the fight to them was further than anyone had ever gotten, they see wreckage of other planets’ ships and mechs. The Anti-Spirals try to use this to demoralize them, but it’s kinda bullshit for reasons I’ll get back to, but yeah.
So anyway, they fight their way past this seemingly impossible obstacle and then face the one the Anti-Spirals confidently assume will be the last one because it’s the one that always vanquished the most powerful and persistent of the previous Spiral Races that got this far. They’re trapped in dreamworlds that show them infinite alternate universes that they can’t escape.
And then Kamina comes back.
He shows up in Simon’s dream, and some of the others’, and helps them break free. And I don’t remember if this was said explicitly or if I just put it together, but combined with seeing the wreckage of the other Spiral Races who had tried and failed… they’re fighting this fight for everyone who came before, and for everyone who will come after. Kamina personalizes this. Everyone who fell in this fight, including all those other fights that were lost, did so to make it a little easier for the next person fighting the same fight.
And then they have the final fight with the Anti-Spirals. A fight that spans basically the entire universe??? Where they’re constantly literally inventing new laws of physics and throwing galaxies at each other. Now that’s escalation.
And then they win.
And then they fucking win.
They don’t just free humanity. They free everyone. Every Spiral Race out there. The enormity of that victory, and what they had to do to win it is just dizzying.
… and that’s the throughline of the show. It’s people coming across things that are much bigger than them but have to be defeated. Grinding and grinding to win impossible fights over and over. For everyone who fought before and lost. For everyone who will get to live in the better future they’re making for everyone.
So yeah. Vanessa and I cried and talked about communism a lot after that.
Don’t get me wrong. This show has a lot of bourgeois individualistic nonsense. And it even lets a character get off basically scot-free for… kind of doing a fascism. (It’s an explicitly villainous act but he’s doing it For Good Reasons and he’s Just Misguided and yada yada Yoda and it’s just infuriating.) But just…
I keep coming back to the enormity of this victory, the fact that it’s for everyone, the fact that people have been fighting this fight for eons. And if you fall, it’s okay. Because the next person will pick up where you left off and it’ll be a little easier for them. And eventually, we’ll win. It’s as inevitable as gravity.
It gives me hope.