I feel like I’ve spent long enough already discussing Kamina’s tendency to brash action, but it just keeps coming up. We open this episode with him proudly reciting the tale of Episode 2, basically: ‘I got pinned down and that would have been the end of me if it weren’t for Simon’ is the thrust of it. Compared to Simon, who must by now be aware that he’s capable of being heroic but spends most of his time trying to avoid heroism, Kamina’s far too eager to be the hero. A lot of heroes end up martyrs – as indeed did Kamina’s father, although according to Simon he’s actually not too broken up about that because the man himself was never the goal. It was more about what he represented. The scene at the end of the episode, wherein Kamina tells his father’s grave that he’ll go over every horizon in his place, seems to suggest that Simon’s half-right: it is the journey and the exploration that’s more important to Kamina, but his father was… well, his father, and that does mean something to him. He certainly isn’t going to spend the rest of the series moping about his dead dad, though, which is probably a good thing.
I think this episode reaffirms Kamina’s priorities a bit, in that he’s demonstrably more concerned about how things look than how, or indeed whether, they work. Yoko’s weapons, for example, are apparently super cool despite the fact that he’s got no real idea what they are; the scene in which he attempts to combine Gurren with Lagann (one of the most hilarious things I can remember seeing in anime is the brief moment that it doesn’t work, Lagann sticking awkwardly and ineffectively out of the top of Gurren) despite having no clue whether ‘combining’ is something that actually works mechanically re-establishes that Kamina’s mind – and, since it seems to work so far, the universe of Gurren Lagann in general – functions mainly on the Rule of Cool. (Stated shortly: Cool is more important than functional.)
I wish I didn’t have to spend almost the entirety of every instalment of this series talking about Kamina, because I do think this show’s better than just a character study of one flawed hero. Annoyingly, it just so happens that he is a flawed hero in the Greek sense, and a darned good one at that, and that’s a great source of discussion.
Moving on for now, though, Episode 3 introduces us to Viral, who’s apparently a captain or commander or something in the Human Eradication Unit. Interestingly, he’s the most human-looking Beastman we’ve met so far – even more interestingly, surely the fact that a Human Eradication Unit exists in the first place means that there are, or have been, several other humans on the surface? Kamina’s dad might well have been one of them, which means Viral might well turn out to have been the one who put an end to him. Viral shows up as a sort of foil to Team Gurren; while their battle strategy revolves around ‘just be super determined and everything will work out A-OK’, Viral correctly points out that haphazard bravado isn’t enough to stand up to a trained soldier. He’s immensely confused by Kamina’s utter refusal to back down, and it’s fun to see that Kamina continuously thinks he’s the one with the upper hand even as Viral dismantles him in combat. ‘Real men don’t think, they act,’ says Kamina. Viral, of course, is not a real man as such – although I can see some sort of Beastmen-used-to-be-people twist potentially popping up later on in the series – but he is more than a match for Kamina in Gurren. It’s only the intervention of Simon and Yoko, once again, that saves Kamina from total annihilation.
Speaking of, I think I might have actually misjudged Kamina’s own perception of himself a little bit. He’s brash, yeah, but not dumb. He knows that his reckless abandon puts him in danger, he’s just that confident that Simon will save him. The ridiculous circular logic he uses to justify this (‘I believe in Simon, who believes in me, and I believe in the me who believes in Simon, so it’s all the same’) is weirdly touching while also providing an (admittedly flawed) explanation for his willingness to keep throwing himself headlong into danger. It’s also completely appropriate for him to justify himself in such self-referential terms, I think.
Simon gets a bit more agency here, too. ‘Don’t be scared, you’ve got your drill,’ Kamina tells him – but Simon is scared. It’s once he starts being able to admit that that things actually start making a bit more sense for him: he’s scared out of his wits, but helping a friend in need is just more important. It’s the beginning of a rise to heroism for the young digger, who’s spent most of his time so far digging away from things. I think it’s important that Simon encourages Kamina to retreat after they fight off Viral not because he’s scared (although he is) but because it makes more sense to back off this time and come back stronger. Sometimes, backing off is the smart thing to do, not the cowardly thing; ‘it’s that sensible side of yours that keeps me breathing,’ Kamina tells him, and that might just illustrate why the two of them work so well as a pair. They balance each other out, even while Simon seems to have trouble balancing himself, fluctuating almost instantly from terrified up to super-Saiyan angry yelling. Anyway, Simon’s starting to be someone who contributes to the strategy in a level-headed sort of way rather than someone who just runs away. When he helps Kamina escape from Viral before their newfound power erupts, it’s totally the right move for the situation, even if Kamina thinks he should be digging only towards the heavens.
Meanwhile, Yoko’s relationship with the two of them develops a little, though it’s still a bit bare-bones. She’s got a bit of a crush on Kamina (but won’t admit it). As for Simon, she starts this episode liking him well enough while knowing he’s no fighter, but gains respect for him over the course of the episode’s events. A big part of his new respectability is probably due to her pep talk; there’s no denying she wasn’t wrong about him not being cut out for fighting, but by the second encounter with Viral it seems safe to say that that’s changed. It’s kind of satisfying to see Simon so broken, deciding it’s totally time to give up after Kamina gets so thoroughly beaten, until Yoko gives him the energy to go and save his friend.
While we’re on… a completely different subject, I like how this episode plays with anime tropes. Kamina telling Simon that it’s time for the ‘special move’ or the ‘you-know-what’, which confuses Simon to no end because no, he doesn’t know what; deciding that Gurren and Lagann can probably combine because that would just be cool (more specifically, a ‘perfect combustion of manly souls’, which I bet Yoko wants to get in on); the fact that Gurren Lagann (the mech and the series) seems to solve any and all problems through sheer dumb luck, determination and more drills. All of these things are presented in such a way that you just know everyone present is fully aware of how ridiculous the situation is, but just goes along with it because what the heck, it seems to be working.
We end the show with Team Gurren (Kamina, Simon, Yoko, and Leeron, who seems to be planning to usurp Yoko’s place in Kamina’s romantic affections) heading off to take out the Beastmen headquarters. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll be as easy as Kamina seems to be assuming, but I bet it’ll be entertaining as heck.