Gurren-Lagann: Simon’s Heroic Journey

June 19th, 2007

Joseph Campbell has some interesting things to say about Simon and how the series is going… but does it also mean that the show has nowhere to go but down? Wookies, Jung, Dragonball, and Jesus… all in one post. Try topping that.

How much do you want to bet that it’s no accident those two pictures are so similar in structure?

If you’re not familiar with Joseph Campbell, he wrote a book back in 1949 called “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” which was basically an analysis of epic myths and stories from cultures all around the world and an attempt to find and disseminate the common links and themes through them all. Much of this stems from Jung’s work on archetypical themes in a person’s life and how even if the exact manifestations of imagery may differ, all people have basically the same core archetypes, they just manifest in different ways. 

Campbell concluded that all epic stories contain the “Hero’s Journey,” also commonly known as a ‘monomyth.’ It seems like a simple and obvious concept, but at the same time, accepting the truth of that equates that the stories of Odysseus, Jesus and Luke Skywalker all stem from and appeal to the exact same portion of the human unconscious. In short, “all religions are true, but none are literal.”

I’ll spare you the tedious details of what exactly comprises a Heroic Journey, but suffice it to say that it’s broken into three parts; Departure, Initiation, and Return and there is almost always a common set of mythic elements throughout. Each is further broken up into specific pieces, and while there is a fair bit of chronological shuffling, the events mostly stick to their own categories. These events have been shown to crop up in everything from L’Morte d’Arthur to Dragonball and all shades in between.

Turning to Gurren-Lagann, Simon’s Heroic Journey is nearly complete and only a few elements of it are left undone. This quest is a large part of what is so captivating about the series in its appeal to our unconscious and visceral nature. At the moment, he’s pretty much the Luke Skywalker of the currently airing anime world. Let’s face it… drills are the anime equivilent of light sabers. The parallels, however, in his development are a lot closer than you might think. Original chart stolen from here.

Campbell’s Journey

Star Wars


I: Departure

The call to adventure Princess Leia’s message Kamina’s quest to go to the surface
Refusal of the call Must help with the harvest “All I can do is dig”
Supernatural aid Obi-wan rescues Luke from sandpeople Yoko saves him from the Ganmen
Crossing the first threshold Escaping Tatooine Simon pilots the Lagann and launches to the surface
The belly of the whale (a confined dark place, spiritually and/or physically where the hero is trapped) Trash compactor Rossiu’s village

II: Initiation

The road of trials Lightsaber practice Sparring with Kamina
The meeting with the goddess Princess Leia (wears white, in earlier scripts was a “sister” of a mystic order) Yoko (although Nia could also be argued here given that she’s more central to Simon through his ‘Departure’ phase)
Temptation away from the true path Luke is tempted by the Dark Side Simon becomes jealous of Kamina’s relationship with Yoko
Atonement with the Father Darth and Luke reconcile Simon decides to follow Kamina (father figure) in fighting with his all
Apotheosis (becoming god-like) Luke becomes a Jedi The Giga Drill Breaker Form
The ultimate boon Death Star destroyed Dai Gurren is seized

III: Return

Refusal of the return “Luke, come on!” Luke wants to stay to avenge Obi-Wan Simon sulks in his room
The magic flight Millennium Falcon in hyperspace The Lagann (the Dai Gurren is also viable)
Rescue from without Han saves Luke from Darth Nia protects Simon and the rest
Crossing the return threshold Millennium Falcon destroys pursuing TIE fighters Simon drills to freedom when the group is captured
Master of the two worlds Victory ceremony Simon is declared leader of the Gurren Brigade
Freedom to live Rebellion is victorious over Empire ???

Common Mythic Elements

Two Worlds (mundane and special) Planetside vs. The Death Star Underground vs. Above
The Mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi Kamina
The Oracle Yoda Nia
The Prophecy Luke will overthrow the Emperor Simon will become king (the start of the first ep)
Failed Hero Biggs Kamina’s father
Wearing Enemy’s Skin Luke and Han wear stormtrooper outfits Riding the enemy Ganmen
Shapeshifter (the Hero isn’t sure if he can trust this character) Han Solo ??? (perhaps the women of the hot spring episode… but that’s tenuous at best)
Animal familiar R2-D2, Chewbacca Bunta (the molepig)
Chasing a lone animal into the enchanted wood (the animal usually gets away) Luke follows R2 into the Jundland Wastes; The Millennium Falcon follows a lone TIE fighter into range of the Death Star Simon chases a Ganmen to Nia’s dump site

Nearly all of Campbell’s specified elements easily matche up with Gurren-Lagann, which brings us to the central question of “now what?” While Simon still hasn’t achieved his ‘Freedom to Live’ by triumphing over the beastmen, at the same time, he has effectively finished pretty much every other stage of his quest. There’s not really any space left for him to develop as a hero since he has reached his apex.

This isn’t to say that the show is doomed to collapse between now and the end, but it does mean that Simon’s epic journey is effectively on hold for awhile. In the here and now, Simon is fully developed as a hero and any flaws or weaknesses that get tacked onto him will only diminish his current mythical status, even if he quickly overcomes them. Gainax is going to have to make sure that the show gets by on the strength of the other characters and provide sufficiently captivating episodes centered around them. Alternatively, they can rehash older pieces of Simon’s journey, such as recreating temptation to abandon it or create another failed hero, but at best, that’s all it would be… a rehash and just something to fill the space between Simon’s Return and the inevitable conclusion of his journey.

Is Gainax going to be able to pull it off? I couldn’t really tell you one way or the other. Part of me remembers back to the episode 4-7 range where the show temporarily got itself lodged into a rut where almost nothing happened and all the 2Chan drama erupted. The show deviated from the Heroic Path and it started to become undirected (literally… heh) and aimless. When it returned to the path, things picked up immediately. That said, episode 12 was already a step away from the journey and advancing Nia and Yoko’s development instead. It remains to be seen if that’s going to be par for the course for the next few weeks or if they’re going to go some other route, or even finish up his journey and start a new one for the second half of the series. Hopefully Simon’s development and current mythical status won’t be too badly diluted, but for now, all we can do is wait… and watch.

Thoughts? Comments? Things I missed? Feel like flaming me?

Posted in Deep Thoughts | 2 Comments »

2 Shouts From the Peanut Gallery

  • John says:

    Wookies, Jung, Dragonball, and Jesus… all in one post. Try topping that.

    I’d like you to meet someone.

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