Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Japanese Title: Suisei no Gargantia
Release Year: 2013
Genre: Mech, Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi,
Director: Kazuya Murata
Script: Gan Saunaaku, Daishiro Tanimura, Gen Urobuchi
Studio: Production I.G
Episodes: 13 (+ 2 OVA episodes)
Plot SummaryIn part, this anime is a cliche "fish out of water” story, however, it does explore some deeper issues for anyone who cares to look beyond the surface. Gargantia is more slice-of-life than a mech action, but one shouldn’t be too disappointed by that fact. It is a worthwhile coming of age tale of a young man who is basically thrown into a primitive society with no choice but to fit in.
In the distant future, following the destruction of our planet, humans have left the seemingly uninhabitable Earth. The Galactic Alliance of Humanity has taken to space to ensure the continuity of mankind. At some point in history, an alien species called the Hideauze came into conflict with humans over space territory, resulting in an interstellar war that pushes humanity ever closer to extinction. Fighting for humanity’s survival and armed with an autonomous robot named Chamber, 16-year-old child soldier Ensign Ledo is thrown off course during a battle with these alien monsters. He is cast through a wormhole, crash-landing on a water-covered Earth. This futuristic version of Earth is somewhat reminiscent of that in the 1995 film, Waterworld.
Ensign Ledo wakes up to find himself on what he later discovers is the home planet of the human race, long abandoned and believed to be frozen and lifeless. In the space military, humans are born for one purpose only; war. If a person is found to be “defective” they are not allowed to live. In other words, babies with abnormalities are destroyed. It does poke at some current day controversies right there, but I’ll leave you to decide what those are. It doesn't explore those too deeply though, just enough to make us think about the kind of world we are making for future generations. The people of Earth live with modern day values, so he finds it intriguing how an invalid boy was allowed to survive and is cared for by others. He had never encountered an elderly person before either, which leads us to believe that in his space “society" everyone fights until they die in battle, or are disposed of when they are no longer worth keeping around. In his sociopathic world, the strong are chosen to fight and anyone else is viewed as a waste of resources.
Ledo is experiencing major culture shock in his new surroundings, which is both really awkward for him and amusing for us. Of course, his arrival with Chamber somewhat upsets the balance of power, so he has some learning to do in order to fit in with the Earth people. The presence of Chamber and Ledo on Gargantia would equate to giving nuclear weapons to humans in our world, many hundred years ago. Imagine if that happened, the consequences would be insane. Ledo doesn't immediately understand what his presence means to these people, or how it could impact them negatively.
Literally, everything that Ledo knew to be true proves to be false, and he has to find his own path in life, opting to work on the floating city and earn his living. He has to learn what it is to be truly human, to have relationships with other people, to experience friendship and love.
The anime stuck to one major plotline, rather than several arcs, exploring questions around what it means to be human, and what if we lost our humanity. Unfortunately, Ledo doesn’t forget his primary objective (killing things) even while on Earth, and that lands him in a bit of hot water with the natives. What they hold sacred, he holds in contempt, due to what he has been engineered to believe. We learn a little bit more about Ledo's personality in this sequence, as he learns about consequence. We also discover that there is so much more to the history of the planet than meets the eye.
I love that this show never stops developing Ledo’s character. In fact, it focuses a lot more on character development and themes than it does on plot development, but that’s okay. From episode to episode, it’s almost as though the writers are peeling away the layers of skin from an onion to see what's inside, and Ledo is that onion. His story unfolds perfectly, and at an even pace. In the beginning, we are just waiting for him to screw up. He starts out as an absolute sociopath, bred and trained for killing without remorse. We later we see him develop some form of moral conscience and become a more competent, contributing member of Gargantian society.
I grew to absolutely adore Chamber, and he's my favourite character by far. He’s not just a robot, he's a fully functional A.I.. At some point during the show, it’s even suggested that Chamber might be self-aware, and perhaps, with a conscience. He’s witty, and at times comical. I’m glad that they gave him an entertaining “personality,” rather than just leaving him as a plain old Gundam type suit with kickass physical abilities thrown in.
Amy is Ledo’s love interest. She’s a girl who delivers letters on Gargantia. She starts out as this adorable companion to Ledo, one he initially took as a hostage before becoming his guide to life on the floating city. I was a little disappointed at how Amy lost some of her presence halfway through the series. I thought that there should have been a little more to her since she started out as a really strong character. She ended up being just... there. It was almost as though the writers figured that once she had done her job helping Ledo to integrate, she could just become another generic cutesy girl like her two friends whose names I’ve already forgotten. She deserved much more than this.
Art and Music
This anime is visually beautiful, which makes it all the more worthwhile. You could watch it for the visual experience alone, with the added bonus of a well-written story.
The backdrops are stunning, the ocean is rendered beautifully and feels very much like a utopian paradise. The characters are well designed to fit with the post-apocalyptic world. However, in one of the later episodes, I recall a crowd scene where all of the people are basically blobs. That irked me slightly due to the high quality of the rest of the series. It seemed just a tad bit lazy.
The soundtrack for the anime is great and I don’t mean that it has a bunch of memorable tracks. It really does its job in conveying feeling relative to what is happening throughout the show.
What About Fanservice?
The fanservice is kept to a minimum for most of the series, except for episode 5, the beach episode. One of my prerequisites for anime is that it should have little-to-no obvious, embarrassing fan service. Blatant panty shots and that kind of awkwardness can actually make me stop watching a show. Apart from this one episode in the middle of the series, we see very little fanservice. I don't even think the beach episode is all that off-putting. It was more or less in context of what people on an ocean paradise might do on their day off. They didn't include awkward angles and lingering shots. In fact, if you wanted, the beach episode could have been skipped entirely since it was a complete step-a-side from the main storyline.
While part of me thinks they included the episode to pander to a certain demographic, I also kind of understand where they were going with it. It was a "stoic protagonist needs to relax" episode. Ledo came from a civilisation where there were no human relationships. People were bred to be soldiers, and their purpose was to fight until they are killed in battle. This episode also explored Ledo's sexual awakening. He's starting to come to terms with sexual attraction, something that he's clearly never experienced before landing on Earth.
They did include a rather questionable scene in this episode with stereotypical examples of cross-dressers, or trans people chasing Ledo around the red light district as he was delivering a letter. He emerges dishevelled and covered in lipstick kisses – a real "wtf" moment. Sure, they did it for comic relief, but at the same time, it probably could have done without that. There are other ways of adding laughs. The episode had other successful comic moments, but this wasn't one of them for me. Japanese media is sadly still behind in this respect. Had it been a western show where we expect better, I’d be less forgiving.
Were they even thinking here?
I'm not going to sit here and say that Gargantia is the best anime ever, but it does rank quite highly on my list of all time favourite shows. It’s just such a relaxing little show to watch. I’m going to give it an 8/10. It’s nothing special in regards to its singular plot, but for what it is, it is executed superbly.
If you’re looking for a worthwhile short anime to pass some time, this one has only 13 episodes, plus 2 additional OVA episodes.
Looking For Something a Little Similar?
If you like this show you’ll probably like Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, which deals with some of the same real-world issues that are touched on in Gargantia, mainly those surrounding the use of child soldiers. Iron Blooded Orphans is a fantastic standalone show from the Gundam Universe. People might be put off by the fact that it's Gundam, but you really do not need to have seen any of the other Gundam series in order to understand what is going on. It's developed with new viewers in mind. It was actually the first Gundam show that I've seen and I was more than pleasantly surprised.
This review is a rewrite of one I had written a long time ago. I recently rewatched Gangantia and revisited my thoughts on it. Thanks to @Kuze for proof reading.