In case I’ve been too subtle on the point, I really liked Gurren Lagann. It’s not a particularly kind story though. It gets pretty rough with its cast. Of the survivors, few if any are unscathed. One of the prevalent themes of Gurren Lagann seems to be that a life well led is as rich in pain as it is in joy. Only the strong can thrive in such circumstances. And Yoko is one strong lady.
When we first get introduced to Yoko Littner… Ohh sheeze guys, forget this. This isn’t me. It’s not what I want to say about this character. Let me start again.
I freakin love Yoko. So so much, guys! And it’s not the costume or anything. I mean those are really nice too. Bottom line, I want to be like Yoko. I want to not let vulnerability rot into weakness. I want to be petty and superficial and care about my looks and remain smart, efficient and kind. I don’t want to be defined by my relationships, but I want to be able to melt into them. I want to give my heart over willingly and freely but never lose myself. I want to be a person who can take bitter tragedy and pound it into experience, then nurture that experience into wisdom and hand that wisdom over to those that need it most.
I want the fact that I am a badass warrior and expert sniper to be the least interesting things about me.
It’s not going to happen. I know that. I’ll only ever get to be Yoko for brief instants in my very greatest moments. If I’m lucky. And that’s already pretty extraordinary.
Yoko is probably the main supporting character of Gurren Lagann. One of the few characters to be there almost from the very beginning to the last seconds of the show. And her contribution to the fictional universe of Gurren Lagann is impossible to overestimate.
I won’t deny that part of the appeal is that Yoko is a strong female character. But not because she’s female really, rather because it doesn’t matter. Yoko is a complex layered individual. She is undeniably feminine and there’s little confusion about her character type and that is completely irrelevant to the roles she serves both in universe and as a structural element of the plot.
There is a moment towards the end of the series where all the main characters are thrown into what amounts to a mass delusion, trapping them each in an ideal dream world. Everyone gets to live the life they most want. It’s a well-used trope for a reason. Not only is it fun for the audience to see characters in different settings and alternate styles but it’s also a powerful way to build character development without resorting to exposition. A person’s fondest dreams are one of the most revealing things about them.
Yoko sees herself as a world renown super hero and beauty queen. Her inability to stay put and her need to protect others are well illustrated as is her pettiness and need for recognition. It tells you what you need to know. But as the dream goes on she suddenly sees herself in a traditional wedding ceremony with her recently lost love (Kittan and also spoilers…). **By the way, is anyone worried that guys Yoko kisses don’t tend to make it past a week?**
This is the hidden little part of her. Under the bluster and rebel attitude, is a quiet longing for a simple life. Something safe and nice that she can hold onto. A place where she belongs. It’s the final beat of the dream sequence that tells you all you need to know.
The spirit of Kamina, her first love and a man who has haunted her heart for years is standing there holding a television screen showing her an image of herself marrying Kittan (the only man we’ve seen her show any interest in since Kamina). It becomes suddenly clear to her that none of this is real. She’s not a famous superhero, at least not in that way. Both her loves are gone. There’s a real chance she will never find that simple life she’s been searching for. For the first time in years, she’s face to face with the man that both broke her and shaped her into the woman she’s become. Finally, she can pour out her pain and anger at being left behind. She can grab the moment to really let her feelings shine through and give that love a new life. She can create closure and say goodbye, explain about the new man, ask Kamina how he’s been….
Yoko smiles gently, turns off the TV and walks away without ever looking back.
I don’t think it’s my place to explain the significance of that sequence. Take from it what you will. All I’m going to say is, I want to be like Yoko.