Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. Currently, he is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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(hack cough wheeze) My it’s dusty in here…
I’m going to once again try and resurrect my old blogging habits. I don’t guarantee regularity, but since school is out for a few weeks, I figured I would update the old Nerdcore Theology a bit, and I’ll try to do it with some style.
This time, it’s with a different kind of nerdly goodness… anime. Giant. Robot. Anime.
You know you love it. Oh, and uh, SPOILERS. I guess.
A word on the series:
Gurren Lagann is one of those series that has the sole purpose of being ridiculous, and making you love it every second of the way. Every episode gets bigger, the action gets more intense, the situations become more and more massive with scope, and every time you think that there’s no way that things could get any more mind-blowing, they rip open the fabric of space time with the power of love. AND IT’S AMAZING.
Really, this series is sort of a reconstruction of the Saturday Morning Cartoon genre of TV shows. What I mean by that, is that it boils down all the aspects of a cartoon that made us love them when we were kids, identify what made them great, and amplify it times 100. In essence, it rebuilds what it means to have a giant robot science fiction space opera. That means the heroes are more heroic, the robots are more gigantic, the ladies are more… well, scantily clad. The thing is, it’s cheesecake, the show knows it’s cheesecake, and totally makes you remember that it’s just a show, and you should really just relax. it won’t win any points on the feminist scoreboard, but in it’s defense, the main heroine does have an awesome sniper rifle, and is pretty much the only mature person in the show for miles. So, you got that going for you.
But I digress.
The show, like many of it’s genre, revolves around a ragtag bunch of rebels in a post-apocalyptic earth, trying to take back the surface from an oppressive regime. At least for the first season. The second season takes that same ragtag bunch of rebels, puts them in charge of the government, shows that perhaps the people who were really good at fighting oppression are maybe not the best people to run a peace-time government, and then winds up fighting an even bigger oppressor anyways. It’s got a lot of big ideas, and each episode builds masterfully on each concept they introduce in the show. I don’t have the time to analyze every episode, nor would you want me to, so I’ll just focus on some of the major concepts that I find relevant to the study of theology (ha ha! you thought I wasn’t going to get there, did you? Well, here it is.)
The Pneumatology of Gurren Lagann: The Drill that will Pierce the Heavens
The entire show is focused on a central concept: Spiral Energy. Essentially, Spiral Energy, as defined by the show, is the kind of energy that is most fully realized by a fighting spirit. The will to fight, to adapt, to survive, is the key to what makes humanity distinct, what makes us special. The central image of Spiral Energy is the drill, and the primary hero of the show, Simon (pronounced See-moan) is a digger by trade. We meet him as a teenage boy, who is a little bit of an outcast, but has an aptitude for drilling. This comes in handy, especially when guided by his somewhat bellicose and arrogant mentor, Kamina, who becomes an older brother figure. Kamina is the kind of guy who doesn’t take no for an answer, and doesn’t back down from a fight, and while he doesn’t have much skill or power on his own, he inspires and directs Simon to dig further, to break to the surface, and to eventually meet his fate head on.
Spiral energy is the thing that operates the giant robots, although it is most commonly referred to in the first season as “fighting spirit.” And this is what piqued my interest. The operating factor is spirit. It’s volition. It is both a destructive force, one that can be used as a blunt object to break down barriers, as well as a creative force, something that can heal, rebuild, and reinforce something that’s broken.
Naturally, my mind wanders to the nature of the Holy Spirit when this theme of both a power to destroy evil and build up good was introduced and built upon in the course of the series. Spirit is what makes it possible for the robots to combine; it was also what made it possible for Simon and Kamina to truly come together as brothers. Spirit is what breaks through the defenses of the oppressive powers, the Beast-men nobility and eventually the Anti-Spirals (both are bad guys.) Spirit is what operates in all of these cases. Spirit is the engine of freedom for humanity, and it belonged not only to the main characters. Throughout the course of the series, more people followed the lead of our heroes in Team Gurren (yes, I know it’s goofy, just go with it) and eventually what inspired an entire army of humans bent on breaking through the chains of oppression that had held them down for generations. Spirit doesn’t belong to just a few; it’s available to all people, and anyone can have this spirit.
Spirit is in this way something endemic to humanity. It’s explained in the show that the reason we are able to harness this spirit is because of the way our genetic makeup is composed; because our DNA is arranged in a double helix, a spiral pattern, our entire evolution as a species was guided and empowered by our fighting spirit and our will to adapt and survive, no matter the consequences. Spiral Power, Spirit power, is the salvation of humanity.
The problem is that it has the potential to be our destruction as well.
The Spiral King and the Anti-Spirals: Can oppressors have a good reason for being so?
All of the villains in the show actually seem to have logic, at least from an ethical standpoint. The big bad of the first season, the Spiral King Lordgenome (GET IT?) drove humanity underground out of a sense of obligation and survival; he was trying to protect humanity from extinction from a far greater power than he. The big bad of season 2, the Anti Spirals, are the guys Lordgenome was trying to protect us from. By keeping humanity under the magic population number of 1 million, he kept humanity from being exterminated from the Anti Spirals. The Anti Spirals, in turn, also have preservation in mind. The Anti-Spirals are an alien race who feared the potential destructive power of of the Spirit, and because of this, thought it their duty to protect the universe from possible destruction at the hands of people with Spiral power, fighting spirit.
Did you get all that?
Basically, the oppressors of the show invariably all have, in their minds, valid reasons for doing what they do. By oppressing the masses, they are in fact saving them from themselves. The problem though, is that they justify mass war and genocide because of it, all in an effort to establish some kind of control over others.
There’s just one problem with that.
The thing about the Spirit is that it defies containment. By it’s very nature, it breaks through things, no matter how strong the box is. It finds a way to break through the walls of oppression, and simultaneously heals and rebuilds in the process. It replaces an oppressive reality, with a liberating reality. And it does this with giant robots.
At least in the show, that is.
It doesn’t really matter how noble the cause is. Yes, the villains in the show may truly have compassion, and may think they have the greater good in mind, but the methods are not justified by the virtue of their goals. If the means are overtly oppressive, they certainly don’t justify the ends. In the end, the Spirit will find a way to overcome, and rebuild, and make all things new.
Going Beyond the Impossible
All this said, the show is beyond ridiculous, as I mentioned earlier. In fact, one of the constant refrains of the show is “Kick reason to the curb, and dream the impossible!” No, the show does not make any kind of scientific sense. It’s really more of a science fantasy than science fiction; I would love it if any one of you guys could come up with a sensible theory as to how the power of love can warp space and time in a coherent fashion (we all know it does though).
But something I can take away from that is to defy those that say something is impossible, just because it’s never been done. The very essence of the show is disproving what is and is not impossible. The very virtue that we exist in the manner that we do is beyond miraculous. What this show emphasizes is that with the power of Spirit that is given to all people, despite whatever divides us on the surface. Because of this, nothing is impossible.
Really, it’s just best if you don’t over think this one. Enjoy it for what it is, and go beyond what you think is possible with the aid of the Spirit.
EDIT: I realize that this is probably the most I’ve ever written from a liberation perspective; it’s all pretty new to me, so thanks for bearing with me.