12. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a paradoxical series. When it wants to look good, the art looks gorgeous. At other times, it deliberately looks awful. When it wants to be, the plot is deeply philosophical. At other times it's slow and silly. This is the problem with all avant garde art. It doesn't take itself seriously, and is so busy with self-referential meta-humor, that it fails to actually present a good story in the first place.
A series with so many flaws is only here, at #12, by a miracle. And that miracle is that it portrays the 'male spirit,' what exactly is noble and inspiring and worthwhile about men, in its full glory. It's easy to show how great women are, because they really are so naturally great. They're more compassionate, more loving, more resilient, more patient, harder working, more mentally and emotionally stable, and less focused on stupid things like sex and war. Many anime series have given us heroines that fill us with admiration for how great women are, the more complete and well-rounded half of mankind. But Gurrenn Lagann is made in praise of men. Through its two main characters, Kamina and Simon, it displays the fullness of a man's spirit, and a uniquely male spirit.
"Kick it to the curb and defy the impossible. Your drill is the drill that will pierce the heavens!" Kamina tells Simon. That unwillingness to see reason, that aggressive wish to prove yourself by going beyond all limits, is a distinctly male trait. It's visible in extreme sports, it's visible in philosophers who dared to defy the status quo, and it's visible in all pioneers who always want to go somewhere wild and untamed to test their might against in human history. In a way, it's the American spirit -- the Promethean spirit, the spirit that's never content and always searching for more.
Kamina dying on the battlefield for the sake of his cause is something a man would do. His courage, sacrifice, and belief in his ideal is all what makes a man great.
Simon's catch line, that he got from Kamina, is another thing only a man could understand, "Who the hell do you think I am?" With that bold challenge, he takes on the assembled forces of outer space, an entire alien civilization with his Gurrenn Lagann, boldly and defiantly, confident that just the fact that he is Simon, who doesn't lose to anyone, is insurance enough to overcome any and all challengers.
The fact that everyone fights under the flag of their deceased leader, a flame wearing sunglasses, has more meaning to a man than a woman. Seeing everyone's collective pride and respect for that banner means more to us than it does to them. They just wouldn't understand.
When Nia defies a crab mecha that has its pincers around her waist by staring up at the pilot and ignoring the threat, continuing to fearlessly debate the righteousness of the pilot's actions, she becomes one of the most beautiful and wonderful girls in anime. The absolute refusal to be silenced when you know what you are saying is right, even on pain of death, is something a man appreciates, even though in this case it was done by a woman -- Simon's love and eventually his wife.
The entire message of Gurrenn Lagann, that the greatest force in existence is spiral power, which is evolution, which is the chain connecting past, present, and future -- which is the chain that connects our ancestors, ourselves, and our descendants, has so many layers of meaning, and is such a powerfully Affirmative view of life. The story loves life, it revels in life's strength and purpose, and it encourages everyone to take their link in the chain seriously, to honor their ancestors and pave the way for a bright future for their descendants. Spiral Power wants to keep growing, it never wants to stop at sustainability. It wants to drill through all limits to something higher and more. Never be content! That's what Spiral Power is telling us. Even when our heroes are thrown into an abyss in the stars that traps everyone in their fondest dream, Spiral Power comes through, because the characters still aren't content -- EVEN WITH A PERFECT WORLD -- and smash through the illusion so that they can return to the brutal reality of intergalactic war. The willpower displayed in Gurrenn Lagann is infinite. You just can't stop these people. They won't stop short of anything but victory. Caring about victory so much is also such a man's thing -- women just wouldn't understand.
When two children who have grown up during the war are isolated on the battlefield, due to their own diligence in protecting the ship from missile attacks, a series of adults comes to their rescue, who die protecting their 'future generations,' in such a noble series of chain reactions that it makes you cry. Dying to protect your comrades on the battlefield is also something a guy could understand.
And when the grand finale comes, and Simon is throwing whole galaxies as rolled up balls against his opponents, that long sought for victory comes in a war that started around episode 2. The non-stop action to get to this point is a joyride from start to finish. And every part of the series elevates your spirit and inspires you to become like them. When such a masterpiece of manliness is made, when a story really goes out of its way to show what a man could and should be, the world should be grateful. Kamina and Simon are not cads like James Bond who get lots of women and slick their way through life. They aren't Gordon Gekko from 'Wall Street' making tons of money just to prove the size of their spiritual dick. They aren't any of the male images the Western media has shown. They are people who refuse to be content, with pioneering visions, with devotion to the group's well-being, with absolute self-confidence, and the willingness to fight for their freedom. They are people who will not be denied their dreams. They will succeed or die trying.
The world could use a lot more of this sort of manliness, of manhood, of men, and a lot less of the James Bond and Gordon Gekko types. It would also be a welcome relief from men like Iron Man and Batman, who never have anything at stake, who never care about any collective effort, who aren't devoted to anyone, and who just wander their way through life. There is nothing manly about our superheroes. They all act like spoiled children.