Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – E9 – ‘What, Exactly, Is A Human?’

Housekeeping note: I realised after posting the last instalment in this series that I’ve been incorrectly calling the series ‘Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann’ this whole time, not ‘Tengen Toppa’. I’ve gone back and changed all the post titles, but there might still be a stray reference in there to the wrong spelling. Sorry!

After the tragic events of the last episode, I really didn’t know what to expect coming into this one. I think I knew we’d be getting some sort of ‘Simon goes a bit crazy trying to deal with his grief’ plot, as well as some probable development as the Beastmen seek revenge for Thymilph’s death and the hijacking of Dai-Gunzan (now Dai-Gurren, natch). I also wondered whether the opening credits would change; I haven’t paid that much attention to them, but I’m pretty sure Kamina was in them up until now. Seems like Nia’s replaced him straight away, so it seems clear that she’ll be a big part of Team Dai-Gurren and the story in general going forwards.

Once the credits are over, we start in a place called Teppelin (side note: I knew a guy in uni called Ned Teppelin, who absolutely hated all the requests for ‘Stairway to Heaven’), which is apparently some sort of Beastmen HQ-cum-throne room. It contains an awful lot of spirals. Now, I’m pretty sure spirals turn out to be important somehow, what with the Beastmen’s leader being titled the ‘Spiral King’ and all; the spiral motif is of course most obvious in Simon’s drill, and by extension Lagann’s key, dashboard, and the many drills employed by Gurren Lagann. In the context of Lagann’s read-out, the spiral symbolises Simon’s fighting spirit: the more determined he is, the more the spiral fills up and the more powerful his mech becomes. Perhaps spirals mean power in this universe in a larger way. The inhabitants of Teppelin are the remaining three of the Four Generals, Thymilph having been pretty thoroughly destroyed, and the Spiral King himself. I noticed when we met Thymilph that his name sounded a bit like thymine, an element of DNA, but figured it was just a weird coincidence. Now I’m not so sure, since the other three generals are Adiane (adenine), Guame (guanine) and Cytomander (cytosine). Even more convincingly, the Spiral King’s given name is apparently Lordgenome (given in the subtitles as a single word, so I assume that the whole of it is in fact his name rather than the ‘lord’ part being a title – he’s already a king, he doesn’t need to be a lord as well). So that’s… weird and probably significant.

The Spiral King is a pretty intimidating guy, who looks different to the rest of the Beastmen we’ve encountered. He’s definitely the most humanoid, even more so than Viral; despite their contempt for humans, it seems as if the most human-like Beastmen tend to be the most powerful, as Adiane and Cytomander are almost possible to mistake for humans while low-ranking Beastmen like Team Fluffy Balls don’t put up much of a fight. According to the Generals, the Spiral King apparently created the world. I don’t know how true that is, but they’re certainly convinced that he created them, at least, so he’s certainly either very powerful in some sort of magical skill or he’s got some mad science.

Having caught our first glimpse of Spiral King Lordgenome, thus learning a bit more about just how dangerous the Beastmen threat is going to be to Team Dai-Gurren, we cut back to said team. It’s been a week since Kamina died, and in a perhaps slightly overmilked use of the pathetic fallacy, it’s been raining non-stop ever since. The rain drips down Gurren Lagann’s face, causing it to appear to be crying; the Gunmen have always had expressive faces, but this is a new one. The team have control over the walking fortress Dai-Gurren, which is definitely a positive step for them, but its engine isn’t reliable and it’s not the easiest to control. If this Gunmen works the same way as the rest, I’m betting it’s got something to do with the emotional states of the team inside it. Simon’s not doing well, as expected; Kittan openly blames him for Kamina’s death and it seems that Simon’s been doing enough of that to himself internally. He’s gone off the rails, I think it’s fair to say, engaging in vicious overkill in his fights and shunning all help (seems as if he needs somebody in Gurren in order for him to combine into Gurren Lagann, but he’s doing all the piloting himself). He can’t even take care of Boota. Boota, for heaven’s sake!

Yoko’s coping with her grief in a different way, trying her best to put on a brave face. Inside, she’s hurting bad; I don’t think I can say that either her or Simon is feeling worse than the other, but Simon’s not capable of dealing with it at all, whereas Yoko’s got a lot of grief (completely understandable) but seems to understand how to keep going. She reminds us of something we always knew but never really thought about – her village has lost people before, having been in the Gunmen-fighting game for longer than Kamina and Simon. For those who’ve sacrificed themselves, she’s determined to make their deaths mean something, even if it’s hard. Kamina’s death did achieve something, in that they couldn’t have taken Dai-Gunzan without him, but it still hurts.

Simon and Rossiu, of all people – I’d have liked the random old man from the bathhouse to go, but he doesn’t seem to be available – take Gurren Lagann out to meet a Gunmen threat. Simon fights hard, perhaps too hard. He’s desperate to act how Kamina would have done, forgetting that that’s what got Kamina killed. Eventually, the energy that he uses to control and power Lagann splinters and starts to backfire, causing Gurren Lagann to physically throw up and Lagann to separate. Interestingly, Rossiu seems to think it was Lagann rather than Simon that went berserk; I’ve always wondered whether the Gunmen have minds of their own, and this might lend some credence to that idea.

Simon finds himself stranded out in some valley or other when, apropos of nothing in particular, what looks like a regular Gunmen throws a box down. The box is unlocked using the same drill key that operates Lagann, leading me to wonder what this key is, why it was under Simon’s village, whether he was meant to have it, what connection Lagann has to the box and the key, and perhaps most prudently, why is there a girl in the box? She’s a peculiar sort, with archaic speech that makes me wonder whether she might have been in there for a long time, and she looks pretty much human apart from her slightly odd eyes and hair. She seems to confirm that she’s human by asking Simon why he’s the same as her and lacking fangs or fur, suggesting that she’s only ever met Beastmen before. She then asks him the question that forms the title of the episode. I noticed that the title contained some pink symbols which look a bit like her eyes, so I think the question of what exactly a human is will be explored in her character arc. It’s just whether that’s a question she continues to ask of herself or others, or others start to reconsider because of her. Either way, she first voices it to Simon, and it’s a pretty deep question. His answer isn’t all that thoughtful, though: ‘we look like this, we have a head and stuff’. Good job, buddy. Her name’s Nia, and I think Simon might be a little bit in love with her; when the light comes out and he sees her properly, his face suddenly drops the terrifying expression that’s marked it for most of the episode. This might be a good thing, since only last episode he was getting a bit hung up on the unobtainable Yoko, and certainly I think that Nia’s arrival will be a catalyst for Simon to process his grief and move on, becoming the man he’s destined to be.

At this point, the pair are attacked by a Gunmen, and the drive to protect Nia gives Simon the power he needs to get Lagann going again after having his ability to focus and manifest his fighting spirit pretty well crippled by Kamina’s death. It sputters out, but Nia seems to give him the will to live after he all but admits that he’d been operating with a death wish. Escaping together is, I guess, better than escaping alone; the two run, Gunmen-less, until Yoko (who’d been struggling to shoot her rifle right, but seems to have got the hang of it again in order to make sure nobody else has to die) and Kittan burst out of nowhere to save them.

I’m reminded of Kamina’s early battles, in which he usually ended up in an almost-certain-death situation until Simon or Yoko exploded onto the scene and saved his hide. Hopefully Simon doesn’t make a habit of the same suicide style. He’s safe for now, anyway, since Kittan and Yoko take him, Nia and Lagann (still not functioning) back to the team.

Immediately, Yoko clearly doesn’t trust Nia, though the girl’s oblivious to what everyone else might think of her. She alludes to her father being the only other human she’s ever met, which will be a bit of a shocker in the light of a development that happens in a few moments; she’s very polite, accepting of everyone, and accepts a drink from the old guy, making his triumphant return (apparently, his name is Old Coco). She thinks she might have angered her father by asking why she was born, hence why she was chucked in a box and thrown out. Retribution is always proportionate, of course.

At this point, Adiane appears and rather categorically stakes her claim for ‘next big villain’. It pretty much looks as if she’s about to single-handedly obliterate Team Dai-Gurren, since Rossiu won’t be enough in Gurren and Yoko’s rifle isn’t sufficient to destroy an enemy of this level, plus Simon’s moping again, but then… Nia runs out. And she knows Adiane.

Oh, yeah, that’s right. Nia’s the daughter of Spiral King Lordgenome. (And she even does her own quaint version of ‘who the hell do you think I am?!’)

So, uh…. things we’ve learned.

The Spiral King has a kid. He kicked her out for asking how babbies are made, which is a bit harsh but he’s a king so whatever. According to her, the only other human she’d ever met was her father, which means… that the Spiral King, ruler and possible creator of the Beastmen… is human?!

Phew. Things are really starting to get a bit crazy…

 

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