Kamina is NOT Manly
Kamina doesn’t have his back turned away from us because it makes him look cool. He has his back turned because the truth shames him.
Updatedude and I were chatting the other night with some other dorks in our IRC room about anime and manly men and all that shit. A couple of them (Not me and not Updatedude.) made the traditional claim that Kamina is the most manly/badass/GAR (Whatever the hell that word means.) anime character ever in the history of forever.
No. Kamina is not the manliest of anime men. Hell, he isn’t even manly to begin with.
Before I go any further: I think Kamina’s a pretty cool character. He’s the coolest character from Gurren Lagann (Although, if you ask me, that isn’t saying much, but that isn’t relevant to this conversation.). He’s pretty badass in his own way. Just wanted to get that out of the way to show that this isn’t a hatefest. It’s just a counter argument to the “Kamina is OMGWTFGAR!” rationale.
Kamina is a glorified cheerleader. Throw him into Heroman and he wouldn’t be Joey or Doc Brown or Psy or Agent Hughes. He’d be a skirt and a pair of pompoms away from being Lina. What did he do in Gurren Lagann? He cheered Simon on and helped give him confidence in his abilities. Then he died. The End. That’s exactly what Lina does in Heroman, except she doesn’t go and die at the first sign of adversity (Thus making her more “manly” than Kamina by default.).
That’s exactly what Kamina does. The first time the group gets into a major fight, he runs around saying “Rawh Rawh Fight Tha Powah!” then gets killed by a monkey that ends up being nothing more than the anime’s first miniboss. It’s like if you’re playing Super Mario Bros 2 and you die in the first level to that fucking crossdressing dinosaur that shoots eggs at you. You suck if you die to that thing, and that’s what Kamina does.
To be a truly manly man, you can’t just be a man of words. You have to be a man who backs up those words with action. If you’re gonna make claims, you gotta be able to back up those claims and you have to show that you can succeed. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t always have to win. You don’t have to be Jesus or Cobra. You just have to prove that you’re more than talk.
Kamina never does this. He talks a mean talk, and he spouts some good propaganda, but he never backs up those words because he goes and dies during the first chance he has to truly prove his worth. All of the other encounters up to that battle were meaningless build-up to this moment. They proved nothing about the prowess of the good guys or the bad guys. It was all the means to reach this point in the narrative, and Kamina failed. He may have been the spark that lit Simon’s fire, but that just makes him the catalyst for Simon’s growth. Being a match doesn’t make you manly. It just makes you fodder for something greater than yourself.
Even if one were to accept that a manly man can merely be a man of words, I’d argue against that point in Kamina’s case as well. Most people take Gurren Lagaan to be a series about the triumph of the human will over any adversity. And, yeah, that’s the series’ main theme. I agree with that. But at the same time, is it really “the human will” that triumphs in the series, and is it really Kamina that sparks this attitude in the other characters? I don’t think so.
Kamina certainly sparks it in Simon, but it’s more of a matter of Kamina’s death giving Simon no other choice in the matter. His crutch is no longer there and he’s forced to man up and help save the day by his own means. But look at it this way: If Simon didn’t have his mecha, the one that he conveniently found underground and became the series’ ever-handy plot device, would his efforts have been possible?
Simon’s mecha was the true catalyst for the events that transpired in the series. Without its ability to funnel the inherent “spiral power” found in humans, not even Kamina’s rhetoric would have sufficed to lead an attack on the beastmen and lead to the series of events that led to humanity’s “ascension” to a seemingly higher life form. While the mecha becomes less necessary as the series progresses and the other characters exhibit “spiral power” in their own way, none of it would have been possible without Simon showing them the potential for that hidden power by using his mecha as a means to focus it. And I’d argue that given the events of the series, Simon would have come to this realization without Kamina’s cheerleading. In a do-or-die situation, Simon was bound to “snap” and realize the full potential that comes from the symbiotic relationship between his “spiral power” and his mecha.
Kamina was just a convenient plot device to act as that catalyst, nothing more. Being the sacrificial lamb to awaken Simon’s power does not make one manly. It just makes you the equivalent of a land card from Magic the Gathering. No one says “My forest is so manly because I tapped it to bring in my Giant Growth spell!” You’d get laughed at for saying that.
So. Kamina. Cool? Yes. Manly? Only if you think cheering from the afterlife and tapping to pay the cost of a spell is manly.
Yeah. Keep dreaming, Kamina. If only you were that awesome.