Oh my god, I can’t write this post. Like… this is the end. This is the best, the brightest, the most awesome story ever told, the thing that pulled my soul from living fire with fuming tongs. The thing that made me.
Well, not really, but this is the final post of my “How was I born?” series. Today is all about drills, galaxies, and robots with drills as big as galaxies.
Yup, so, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a neat little anime series from 2007. Humanity has been driven underground into isolated colonies, each eking out a desperate existence, digging and suffering, while the Earth’s surface is ruled by beastmen, the cohorts of the despotic Spiral King.
Enter our fire-hearted heroes, Kamina and SHEEMON! Ruled by their indomitable passions, they break out of their underground prison and ignite a rebellion, fighting first the beastmen, then the beastmen’s boss, AND THEN THE BEASTMEN’S BOSS’S BOSS.
They do so by piloting giant robots that combine into gianter robots! This show is full of them! Also, it’s full of big passions, big boobs, big butts, and BIG, BIIIIGG DRILLS.
If that last sentence made ya think it’s a porno, well, IT IS. But not the way you think.
First of all, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is like, the archetypal shounen anime – a show made for boys. In every episode, there’s a big fight, usually a big explosion, and it’s all peppered with the token girl character, Yoko, showing cleavage. So, uh, yeah. It’s not what you call “high cultuer”. And yeah, it’s grimy. BUT IT’S ALSO KINDA AWESOME.
When I said it’s a porno, I meant it. You see, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a determination porno. Kamina and SHEEMON are always fighting as the underdogs, underpowered and underleveled, and they always pull through by sheer will-power. (Usually preceded by a bout of self-doubt by SHEEMON!)
Ya think that’s cheesy? Yeah, well, it is. You can pretty much predict what happens in each episode. But like soap operas, kung-fu films, and, uh, porn, they do the same thing over and over again and it still works!
I mean, this is a show that can’t be spoiled. Even if I know exactly what’s gonna happen in episode 11, I’m still crying. Every single time. Why does it work? And why does it work even though it’s a misogynistic pile of macho turd? Why is it awesome even so?
I admit I’m not too analytical when it comes to this show (I’m too PUMPED UP), but I’m guessing there are two things at work here.
First, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann doesn’t take itself too seriously. It pokes fun at its characters, its story, its genre ancestors, you name it. It’s not a very serious show – as if you couldn’t tell when Kamina’s robot catches fire and he turns it into a flaming dive kick of men’s burning soul!
…and at the same time, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes itself seriously. Yes, that’s right. It does both, simultaneously. It laughs and cries at the same time. It is heroic and mock-heroic in the same scene.
That’s one of the things that makes it great. If it were only comical, you couldn’t take it seriously, well, uh, because nothing’s for keeps. Conversely, if it were only serious, you couldn’t take it seriously either, because it’s just so goddammed ridiculous. They solve the problem by being both at the same time, which is both genius and deeply natural.
The best heroes are clowns and queens in the same body. That’s what humans are, really. We’re not creatures of either-or. We’re heaps of odd angles. We’re bags of contradicting passions. And both our heroism and our clownishness shine that much brighter because we have all those sides.
That’s why heroes have their weak moments in films. That’s why, when the underdog comes through, it’s always awesome. That’s why Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann works, even though it puts out the same formula for each of its twenty-six episodes.
So that’s the first thing. The second thing ties up with the first.
Like I said, this ain’t a perfect show. There’s a lot to hate here. But the thing is, there ain’t such a thing as a “perfect series” or a “perfect book”. I’ve touched on it when I talked about knights, and barbarians, and videogames of yore. Things just aren’t ever perfect. They’re always stained in some way. And that’s all right, peeps. That’s just all right.
Art is created by humans, and humans are flawed. If you’re under the illusion that only a perfect creation can be loved, poop it out as fast as you can.
Perfect things are dead. They are stale, inert, lifeless. Even if they could exist – and I’m sure they can’t – they would not suffer human touch upon their sleek surfaces. To enjoy a perfect creation would be made impossible by the perfect thing itself.
What we love always has an aspect of decay in it. What we love is always partially of the dirt, the worms, and the rot. Who we love are, always, part-time killers, robbers, abusive alcoholics, selfish loafers, rapists, heartless business magnates, bullies.
When I say that, though, I also mean the opposite. Nothing is all bad. Nobody is all bad. We’re wired to not believe it, but this is true: there is more to every murderer than OMG THIS GUY IS TEH EVIL. I’m not gonna say something cheesy like, “There is good in each one of us,” because that’s simplifying the issue, but I mean something like it.
Now, back to Gurren Lagann. Early on in the series, our hero, Kamina, dies. Like, he’s killed. And it isn’t retconned. He doesn’t come back. He’s killed, he’s dead.
That’s where the story really starts. That’s where all stories really start. Something irreplaceable is lost. And then we’ve got to come to terms with it.
That’s what my perfection rant is about. Life is sucky. Our loved ones die. And they don’t die meaningful, heroic deaths, either. They just randomly die. Or we get diseases. Not as punishments for our sins, but randomly. We just get cancer. Or we fall down, randomly, hit our head, and spend the rest of our lives as quadriplegics.
That shit just happens. Life isn’t perfect. Things don’t have meaning.
The thing is, we can push through that, because we can create meanings. We can overcome the suckiness in our lives (partially, at least), because we decide what things are. Fiction is, literally, just that. We create the world into what we want it to be.
That’s why let nobody tell you that fiction is not “real”. Fiction is the only thing that is real.
Okay, so, fiction isn’t real the way rocks are real. But, hey, I said stuff is imperfect, right? Fiction is the best shot we’ve got. Warts and all, we gotta love it, because it’s all we have.
In Gurren Lagann, they really hammer home that point. Our heroes don’t beat their enemies because of their mighty robots, or because they’ve trained so hard, or because they get lucky, or because they’re brilliant tacticians. No, the heroes win because they decide that they’re gonna win.
Reality – whatever that is – doesn’t urge you on when you’re knocked about. Fiction does. Fiction is the small voice in your ear, saying, “Get up. We will win.” Fiction pulls us to our feet. Fiction dusts us off. Fiction creates us. We are nothing but fiction.
Gurren Lagann is that. It’s ham-fisted, it’s juvenile, it’s laughing at itself snot running down its chin, it’s brave, it’s desperate, it’s big, it’s meaningless, it’s a wizard, a pauper, it suffers from incontinence, and it’s the galaxy’s best fighter. All in one bag.
That’s fiction, and that’s us.
Anyway, I got nothing more to say. This is the end of my “How was I born?” series. These are the pieces of fiction that made me. Good night, peeps, and remember… yours is the drill that will pierce the heavens.