The above, by the way, is not meant as an insult to the intelligence of said fans. That is a perfectly valid way to watch the series. I kind of wish I could watch it that way, because it sounds like tons of fun. I have found, however, that I can't. Which brings me to my next point: I'm not trying to degrade the show by analyzing it like this. Honest I'm not. I really, really wanted to watch it just as the best anime ever, full of glorious gar. I couldn't. This isn't me trying to be cool and pretentious and overly intellectual. This is just the only way I can enjoy the show.
So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on gar.
I'll be honest. The first four episodes kind of bored me. I thought Simon was adorable and the way he and Kamina bonded was touching, but it didn't really grab me. Viral was interesting and I wanted to learn more about him, but it seemed like that "more" would be a long time in coming. I found Kamina's reaction to his father's death kind of interesting--it gave us a hint that he was broken rather than the obnoxious EPITOME OF MANLY AWESOME he made himself out to be. But if not for everyone cheering the show on, I would have dropped it by that point.
A few weeks later, I soldiered on with 5 and 6. I liked 5 better than the previous episodes--I found Rossiu sympathetic and touching, and I actually cared about what happened to him. But I still couldn't muster much interest in Kamina. Episode 6? Hated it. Now, I hear that the recaps were added as censorship. But from my reaction to some of the rest of the episode...I don't think I would have liked it even if it had been allowed through, ah, unmolested. See, it was in that episode that I came to the realization that so far, only the males of Gurren Lagann were treated as real characters. All the females--Yoko and Kittan's sisters--were there as window dressing. To propel the guys along, to support them, to react to them, to fanservice them. I finished the episode and stalked off to play video games and watch some Excel Saga downstairs instead.
I was really bothered by my inability to appreciate the show everyone else seemed to worship, though, so I found myself forming a theory. From everything I'd heard, the first bunch of episodes were very different from later ones. Could this be because the first several episodes were meant to epitomize Kamina's extremely male, supposedly "gar" attitudes, held up as some kind of glorious ideal by mecha fans despite how impractical and annoying they could be, despite how freaking crazy you had to be to really believe in them sometimes? What if the point of Kamina's death and the show's turning of mood was to show that this ideal alone, although forceful and inspiring, was ultimately not enough for a life, was something that you needed to learn to grow out of while still keeping in mind to provide you with hope and light? And what if the show's treatment of sex and gender was an essential part of exploring this theme?
Normally I'd roll my eyes and think, that's just crazy talk. It's an anime. But...it's Gainax. The people who came up with FLCL and Evangelion. They love ridiculous, overwrought symbolism. So I decided to go with it and keep watching with this in mind.
Enter episodes 7 and 8. I found myself liking them--if I could look at Kamina as symbolizing a heroic but essentially broken mode of thought, he was fascinating. If I could see Yoko as being simultaneously intrigued and held back by these phallocentric (shut up) ideals, she was less frustrating. Plus, it seemed like she was actually going to get the chance to be useful, which--considering that the series was approaching the turn of mood--backed up my theories. And I was more and more looking forward to Simon's development.
Episode 9! Suddenly, while there were still crazy mecha fights (and the cool mecha designs were one of the things I'd always liked about the series), there was more of a focus on Simon's emotions. I found his brokenness both believable and touching. And then there was Nia--and by the way, her sudden replacement of Kamina in the OP backed up my theories of the switch from masculine to feminine modes. On the other hand, it made me wince thinking of how it must have fueled hatred for her from Kamina fans.
Anyway, I was immediately struck by how she was the opposite of Kamina in some ways. While Kamina valued his glorious ideals above individual human life (except Simon's individual human life), especially his own (I think he had a deathwish), Nia was the exact opposite. She didn't understand concepts and ideals, but she understood that if you're in danger, you should run and save yourself. This was phrased in such a way as to contrast it with Kamina's "never run from battle, rarr!" Where Kamina tended to dismiss individual people and their issues in favor of painting great strokes of glory and heroism, Nia simply got to know people and decided she liked them.
I have to say, Nia was refreshing for me. She was obviously not a Mary Sue, at least at first--for one thing, she was freaking clueless, so spoiled she didn't even know she was spoiled, and full of screwy ideas. I could see that she was as much of an anime type as Kamina was, and equally exaggerated--where he had been the big bold manly gar mecha pilot, she was the delicate ingenue who fills everyone with love and hope and peace. Those types can be really annoying, but I found the way she interacted with her environment--and especially Simon, who desperately needed such a type to patch up the holes in his life that had been revealed by Kamina's death--endearing enough to forgive her. It also helped that, thanks to my theories, I was convinced that the typecasting of both characters was deliberate. I'm not sure I like the implication of male = BIG DAMN (crazy) HERO and female = delicate flower that gives everyone hope, but I'm willing to go with it, because I find Nia charming. Also, to be fair, I enjoy her character design and look forward to iconing her.
Anyway, episode 10 gave me more food for thought. Where did the beastmen come from? Especially since their leader was called 'the Helix King, Lord Genome'? Hmmm. Could it be that they had something to do with genetic experimentation? Did they come FROM SPACE, or did humans create them in the distant past? I could tie this into my theories, sure, but by now I was interested enough in the plot that, while my theories helped, I no longer needed them to keep watching.
This made me wonder: was it because, after the switch from "masculine" to "feminine," the show appealed to me more? Was that why so many people had loved the first eight episodes to pieces and worshipped Kamina--they were more comfortable with a masculine mode of thought than I was? I can't say for sure, but it's possible.
In any case, Viral has gotten even cooler in his crazy-dorky way (is he another Helix King kid?), and Adiane is a badass, sexy scorpion-bitch. I'll definitely keep watching. Meanwhile, plz don't kill me kthx.