Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – E11 – ‘Simon, Hands Off’

Who the hell do you think Simon is?

No, really.

It’s actually not that simple of a question, as it turns out. If you’re like me, your first thought might have been ‘Kamina’s friend’ or ‘the kid who pilots Lagann’. Or maybe ‘that guy who keeps stealing screentime from Boota, the obvious true protagonist of the show’. It’s really easy to define Simon as a single narrative function, either ‘guy who makes the MacGuffin function’ or ‘guy who assists more important characters’. In fact, even Simon’s own declaration of his identity comes down to ‘Simon the Digger’ (which, naturally, the others think is a pretty lame moniker).

But if you asked Nia, she’d probably just say ‘well, Simon is Simon’. That’s all she needs to know. He is who he is. Much like a lot of Kamina’s old mantras, that’s a circular and – as far as providing any sort of information – completely useless statement, and yet it rings true. Don’t try to reduce Simon – or anyone, for that matter – to anything less than simply a whole, important person, one who’s enough without needing to be defined in relation to somebody else, because it would do him an enormous disservice.

The upshot of this episode, as might be becoming apparent, is that Simon seems to have his mojo back. After a couple of episodes spent wallowing in self-pity and an inability to remember who he is after losing the person he spent so long defining himself in relation to, everybody seemed to have given up on him. Even Yoko tells Nia not to bother, that there’s no space for those who can’t contribute and that it’s meaningless to break Simon out of his funk if he can’t do it for himself. Ultimately, I think she’s half-right. If Simon were left completely to his own devices, with nobody to remind him who he is or to help, I don’t think he’d have recovered. I mean, I can’t imagine that he’d be so determined to escape the pit, even restoring enough of his fighting spirit to summon Lagann, if he were the only one in there, so I think it’s important that he has others to care about and to care about him. That doesn’t mean that his ultimate return to badassness isn’t something he’s doing himself, or for himself as well as others. He’s no longer defining himself by how others see him, but part of that definition involves helping his friends.

Basically, Simon’s back, y’all! I don’t know that ‘back’ is the right word, actually, since this isn’t a side of Simon we’ve seen much of before, but it definitely feels like this is who he’s meant to be.

In other happenings this episode, we got the now-regular ‘Spiral King shows how evil he is and talks to his remaining generals’ bit. Cytomander and Guame are the two still available to attend the ever-dwindling party, since Thymilph got obliterated and Adiane’s either taken it upon herself not to return until she’s destroyed Team Dai-Gurren or been exiled until she does. At any rate, Guame wants to be next in line for a shot at the pesky humans. You’d think they’d be learning by now that this probably isn’t a job they ought to be queuing up for, since the two other generals who’ve had a pop at it haven’t exactly succeeded, but whatever. He also says something about Lagann being an unknown factor, but the Spiral King seems to imply that he’s got some idea of what it actually is.

Meanwhile, Simon spends the early part of the episode digging, which as we all know is what he’s best at. I really hope he defeats the Spiral King through digging somehow; it’d just be a great payoff demonstrating that Simon really is at his most valuable when he’s just himself and not trying to be someone else. I mean, he’s the only one who could have got the gang out of the situation they wind up in later on, and he’s the only one who can pilot Lagann. Anyhoo, Nia tries to cheer him up. I almost wondered whether she was going to fill a sort of Kamina-esque role for him, since we get a bit of explanation from him that Kamina was the only person who cared for him back in the village, where everyone else avoided him, and that’s pretty much the situation on Dai-Gurren now the whole gang think he’s basically useless.

This week’s ‘Beastmen Conflict Bit’ involved a trap set by some sexy ladies pretending to be attacked by Gunmen, which Kittan fell for instantly. I was thinking how they should really have realised that this obviously wasn’t legit given that the exact same thing happened back at the bath house, but then I remembered: Kittan wasn’t at the bath house! He doesn’t know to be wary of babes! Interestingly, I got the impression that the women in the bath house were Beastmen in disguise, but the girls in this village were actual humans who were just working with the Beastmen, whether willingly or otherwise. Guame, who’s being lazy as heck on the beach or something while all this goes on, says something about the gang assuming that because Beastmen are the enemy, all humans must be friends, which is a pretty valid point. After all, The Walking Dead makes a point of making its antagonists more often human than undead. He also says something about them not knowing their number one enemy, which threw me for a moment. He must mean the Spiral King, who we know is human (but apparently an immortal human, as Guame says later in the episode), but I can’t remember whether Team Dai-Gurren have figured that detail out or not. Perhaps he actually meant something more vague about the true enemy being within or some nonsense like that, I dunno. The most sinister explanation would be that he’s hinting that there’s a mole within the team, but I don’t know if I see the show going that route.

Wait.

Boota’s a mole.

Well, a pig-mole, but you know. If Boota turns out to be evil and betrays the team and becomes the primary antagonist… I’ll be kind of pissed off, but also kind of grudgingly amused.

Moving on, the group get captured, naturally, and Nia gets a one-on-one with Guame. Turns out that the Spiral King’s immortality makes him kind of bored, so he ‘creates’ children as a pastime, before tossing them away when he’s done with them. I wonder whether Guame’s use of the word ‘create’ (I don’t know what the word is in the Japanese, so I don’t know whether there are any connotations there) implies sexual reproduction or more of a building or spawning. We find out later that the women in the village are being primed to eventually come to the Spiral King for his amusement, so perhaps the children are the result of… his amusement.

Down in the pit of doom, Team Dai-Gurren pretty much give up and lament that things would be so great if only Kamina were there. As I’ve mentioned, though, it’s Simon’s unique digging ability and connection to Lagann that saves them, both things Kamina would never be able to do. The group bust out, save Nia (with the help of the fantastic and praiseworthy Old Coco) and fight off the Gunmen, culminating in Simon pulling off a solo Giga Drill Break. I mean, Rossiu was there too, but I doubt he had much to do with it. Nia, on the other hand, might have been partly responsible, since it seems as if her hands were the ones on the controls.

I sort of wish Simon’s finishing move hadn’t been the same as Kamina’s, because it feels like it slightly undercuts the message of Simon reclaiming his own identity instead of trying to become another Kamina, but I guess the move is probably more tied to Gurren Lagann itself than the pilot. Guame isn’t killed, somehow, so we’ll see him again.

We finish up with Nia giving the other discarded children a proper burial. There’s a whole flipping graveyard of her fellow once-princesses, all tossed away because they no longer amused the Spiral King, just in case it wasn’t clear that Lordgenome is not a nice dude. I’m still interested to see him interact with Nia or another of his children; she genuinely seemed to believe that he was this great guy, so he must act pretty differently with them. Finally, Kittan declares Simon the true leader, which everyone supports. Even Yoko, who’s demonstrating a capacity to be a bit of a bitch when she feels like it, seems to have swung back towards thinking he’s a pretty decent sort of bloke, and we end with Dai-Gurren stomping off towards the capital.

I mean, we’ll see how long it takes to get there. I’m fully expecting the next two or three episodes to get them no closer whatsoever, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun trip.

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