That’s the beauty of NGE (yes, Drizzle. There’s some good to be had from this clusterfuck of insanity) and TTGL. While NGE is brain-bleach-required and TTGL is OMGMANLINESSGROWSMYBEARDTENFOLDFIGHTTHAPOWAH, both series present us with leaders thrust into crazy-ass situations in a way that kind of mimics real life. We won’t always have all the answers. Shoot, sometimes, we’ll have to think on the fly and pray our solutions don’t get us killed. And while the ways these leaders tackle the problems presented aren’t always the very best, there’s always something to be learned. Sometimes, you’ve got to reach down, think, pull yourself up from a crappy situation, and GRIT THOSE TEETH! Just don’t, y’know, destroy humanity while you’re at it if you can avoid that.
As much (warranted) shit as I’ve given Neon Genesis Evangelion for being a series in which brain bleach is required due to the sheer insanity lopped onto the last couple episodes because “whoops we ran out of money,” it did give us Shinji Ikari. As flawed as he is, he’s a pretty memorable character. And, my God, he’s flawed. Kind of like the human condition, but we’re not gonna talk too much on the psychobabble here.
Now, I’ve seen pieces written on Shinji that place him in one of three categories. Either he’s a “giant pussy” because he doesn’t run roughshod over every Angel (and/or stand up to Gendo earlier), he’s a “complex human” because he doesn’t run roughshod over every Angel, or he’s just an incredibly screwed-up teenager who represents parts of Anno’s own mental stability at the time of NGE‘s release. These pieces also draw comparisons between Shinji and another Gainax protagonist, Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
When we think Kamina, we usually think that badass leader of Team Dai-Gurren. We see him as the big brother who makes impossible shit happen through dumb luck, row row fight the powering, and believing in the Simon who believes in Simon. We think of the catchphrases and the sheer cool factor Kyle Hebert brings to Kamina in the dub (and Katsuyuki Konishi in the Japanese version). And, of course, we think of “WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?!” But, there’s a side of Kamina that gets brushed over, potentially intentionally, in the process of indulging in his awesome. It’s the side that, probably because Kamina is (spoiler alert) not the true protagonist of the series, we only see glimpses of throughout the run of TTGL.
Now, we can see Simon’s evolution in the series a bit more pronounced. He’s the, when it’s all said and done, the star of the universe-spanning team. He’s the guy who tells the story of Gurren Lagann and its fights against oppressors and intergalactic anti-Spirals. No, seriously. He’s the narrator. We’ve also seen comparisons between Shinji and Simon, as both started out meek and unwilling to do what needed to be done. Both dealt with fears of disappointing their father/”father figures” while dealing with typical young protagonist tropes. Both lose people they care about early on in the series and go through dark times in getting through these losses, ultimately finding salvation in someone who wasn’t really meant for them to love (in any way). On top of this, the TTGL team has gone on record saying that Simon’s evolution through the first arc of TTGL is meant to mimic and pay homage to Shinji Ikari. But, Kamina is just as Shinji-esque as his “protege” in some ways.
I know, I’m speaking blasphemy and will probably draw the ire of some blind-to-the-truth TTGL mega fans. “But, Speed,” you’re probably typing at the speed of sound (get it?). “Kamina is so much more badass than Shinji and always took action.” Eh…hear me out.
Kamina, like Shinji, is actually kind of a scared guy thrust into some high-paced, balls-and-brains-to-the-wall-or-else-you-die shit. Sure, Kamina hides this through his idealism and his bravado. But, this is a guy who was, at first, too afraid to go to the surface and ended up never seeing his father again. This is a character who is actually more calculating and panicked than he lets on (a power in its own right). Let us not forget that Kamina, when TTGL started, was kind of just winging it. Sure, that’s all fine and dandy. That’s why we love Kamina. He’s the badass leader who kind of figures it out as he’s going and it works out pretty damn well. But, pull the bravado away and you’ve got, like Shinji, a guy who didn’t know, at first, fuckall about anything other than “I know I don’t want to die yet. Let me think about this and figure it out.”
On top of that, Kamina usually drew his strength from others and their need to believe in him. In Simon’s case, this’d kind of make Kamina more Kaworu than Shinji (Kamina, like Kaworu, allowed for Simon/Shinji to tap into some powers/will initially hidden through the power of [brotherly] love). But, the dynamic is still there. Both Shinji and Kamina had individuals they didn’t want to let down. Gendo isn’t the only one for Shinji, though. I don’t want to run down the list. Meanwhile, Kamina had his own father’s memory, Simon, Yoko, and the rest of Team Dai-Gurren. Without that drive to not fail–and the desire to protect something bigger than oneself, both Kamina and Shinji were able to unlock their full potential. Kamina was able to be a motivating force for Simon while not dying right off the bat (and eventually living on in memories). Inversely, Shinji “saved” humanity, even though he’s also been charged with its destruction/Instrumentality.
Now, is the comparison perfect? No. In the end, Simon in the first act of TTGL is like Shinji’s spirit animal. And, in reality, Kamina probably would tell Shinji to man up. However, let’s not kid ourselves. Our badass leader, the man of indomitable spirit and masculinity, shares some similarities with the kid with daddy issues.
Speed on the Beat
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