One of my biggest approaches to life is this––come into things with an open mind. This concept tends to extend to the media I consume. When I read quite a bit about the anime Gurren Lagann being one of those shows “the ones to watch,” I must admit I wasn’t sure if I’d really like Gurren Lagann. Mech animes never really appealed to me. Maybe it’s because on the surface it seemed like the type of anime that wouldn’t have anything to offer beyond lots of action, mech battles, and plenty of fanservice. Okay, Gurren Lagann does have all of that, but one of the reasons I stuck with watching the anime until the end were the characters. One who particularly stood out to me was Simon. Fair warning, there will be some spoilers about the anime.
Gurren Lagann follows the adventures of Simon and his best friend and brother figure Kamina, citizens of underground cities who long to break out from their dark dwellings and into the light of the surface world. When a series of events leads to the discovery of a spiral key followed by the unearthing of mechas, Simon and Kamina name Gurren Lagann, and a girl from the surface world named Yoko crash lands into their underground home, both Simon and Kamina find themselves bursting through the surface and taking part in mecha vs. mecha battles against the Spiral King for their chance to stay above ground.
Stories are only made stronger when you have characters who grow and change over time. We identify with characters and are more invested in their journey when we see them struggle with who they are and figure out who they want to be. It’s a common theme all of us as humans can relate. We’re all on a journey in life and our experiences either helps us grow or they keep us stuck––never really moving forward or becoming who we are capable of being. What I like about Simon is he’s working towards figuring himself out, making him beautifully flawed but brimming with the ability to access all the potential lying just beneath the surface.
When you first meet Simon his identity seems confined to being a good worker, drilling through the dirt and tunnels much more quickly than anybody in their underground city is able to do. Simon appears to be okay with this, never really thinking about if there’s more to his life than drilling through dirt. Kamina, on the other hand, isn’t as serious of a worker as Simon. Kamina has big dreams and goals and is more focused on busting out of this joint of a city he calls home to get to the surface and find his father who he hasn’t seen in years. Kamina is loud, brash, and maybe viewed as a little delusional in his desire to get to the surface by others but he doesn’t let anyone stop him from believing in something bigger and better for himself and the rest of the people in their underground abode. The relationships and interactions Simon has with many of the characters in the anime, especially with Kamina and later with the Spiral King’s daughter Nia, help shape and trigger the evolution of Simon becoming a changed guy for the better.
It’s easy to see Simon has a lot of work to do as an individual. He has confidence issues, he second guesses himself, and he’s a bit of a wuss in a fight. Simon looks up to Kamina, his “aniki,” with awe. Kamina is everything Simon wishes to be and more. He’s fearless, has a lot of confidence in himself and his abilities, and isn’t one to give up on anyone or anything. Kamina is seemingly perfect, but he has weaknesses like anybody else.
At one point in the anime, there’s a scene which Kamina admits to Yoko where he gets his strength and bravery from, as he recounts a cave-in that happened in their underground city. It was dark and there was really no way of knowing if he along with the other men trapped with them would survive. Kamina just about thought their situation was hopeless until he noticed Simon diligently drilling away at the dirt. It was in that moment Kamina found his strength to go on. Simon may not have thought he was doing anything special, but just the simple act of doing something rather than nothing was enough for Kamina to believe they will get out of this okay. And naturally they do. While Kamina confesses to Yoko that he didn’t really know if all of them were going to find a way out, he just rallied everyone to keep digging and kept morale high. This moment shows Kamina is equally inspired by Simon and is always quick to defend and believe in Simon when no one else would. The problem is Simon has a hard time believing in himself and it takes the tragic death of Kamina to start reflecting on his own life and pushes him to redfine how he wants to see himself.
Kamina’s death plunges Simon to a dark place. He’s racked with guilt and he loses the will to keep going on with his life. While Kamina’s final words to Simon are, “Believe in the Simon that I have faith in,” Simon struggles to live by his beloved aniki’s sage advice. The final piece to Simon’s growth and development as a character is when he meets Nia and is the one person to finally get Simon motivated to embrace and live by the words Kamina constantly has to drill (no pun intended) into Simon’s head.
Nia comes at a time when Simon needed something to live for, a purpose to his life. He’s lost, directionless, and closes in on himself. When Nia is placed into perilous situations and stands up to the Spiral King and his subjects who fight on his behalf from decimating the underground dwellers who defy him, Simon begins to snap out of his slump and rises to the occasion of leading the charge against the Spiral King. He begins to see everyone is doing their best to keep fighting even when the odds may not be in their favor. It’s the type of spirit and legacy Kamina leaves behind and one he hoped Simon would realize he has all along––a fighting spirit who has the means to accomplish anything if he has faith in himself. As someone who just met Simon, Nia already places her full faith in him. It isn’t because Simon has done anything to receive such unwavering confidence from Nia, but it’s clear that just like Kamina, Nia sees something special in Simon he wasn’t able to see in himself at first.
Simon has his drill and a skill at digging himself and anyone else out of any messes put in front of them. It’s the drill that will “pierce straight through the heavens,” as it is said many times over. All Simon needed was more confidence in his abilities and knowing he’s good enough as himself and he doesn’t need to live up to or be like his big bro. Kamina is good at rallying and motivating people to move, while Simon is good at executing a plan into action. Nia’s own quiet strength and support accelerates Simon’s growth into becoming someone who has come a long way from the wimpy, uncertain kid from the earlier part of the anime. Like Kamina, Nia becomes a significant part of Simon’s life and in many ways he wouldn’t be who he is if he didn’t have either of them in his life. There’s already a great post done by Michaela of At the Buzzer that describes the relationship between Nia and Simon perfectly.
Throughout watching the entire anime, you really begin to root for Simon’s success and his beautiful transformation as a character. It’s really easy for me to get attached and invested in Simon as a character because who doesn’t want to believe in the change someone is capable of being if they find the will to seek it out within themselves? You oftentimes hear you can’t force people to change unless the individual wants to, but the people in your lives can certainly have an influence or effect on how you go about shaping your own life. Simon is lucky to be surrounded by good people who believe in him, especially having the strongest cheerleaders in his corner like Kamina and Nia. When you have the best people in your life who have that much faith in you, it’s almost impossible to not find your own strength and confidence buried underneath all the insecurities and doubts. It’s strong characterizations like this one that make Simon a noteworthy character who will always stick out in my mind of characters I fully enjoyed watching their evolution from start to finish.