Ai KayanoTomokazu SugitaYuka TerasakiKaito Ishikawa
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Also known as: Suisei no Gargantia
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2013
Director: Kazuya Murata
Writer: Gen Urobuchi
Actor: Ai Kayano, Ayumi Fujimura, Hideaki Tezuka, Hisako Kanemoto, Kaito Ishikawa, Kana Asumi, Katsuyuki Konishi, Sayaka Ohara, Shizuka Ito, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuka Terasaki, Yuki Hayashi, Yuki Ono
Keywords: anime, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 17 episodes
Website category: Anime 2013
Review date: 29 April 2024
Gargantia Verdurous Planet
It's a mecha show I like, which is unusual but not unknown. Mecha shows are often harder SF than most anime, with detailed portrayals of zero-gravity, space exploration, interplanetary politics, etc. This is no exception. It's a pleasure to watch this show exploring the ship-state of Gargantia and its technology, culture and morals. It feels like a fully thought-through fictional world in the way you'd want to be the baseline norm in SF, but isn't.
An important factor is that it sidelines the mecha themselves. ("Mecha" in anime means "giant war robot with a human pilot", e.g. Gundam and Macross.) The Gargantia has some small, primitive ones, but only one mecha here really matters. It's called Chamber K682, it's a character in its own right (thanks to a chatty and clever-but-stupid AI computer interface) and it was flown here by Ledo, although neither of them know how to get back. They're shipwrecked, with no way home.
This is a culture clash story, involving these two civilisations:
They're the ultimate communists, fighting a never-ending war with the Hideauze. They think individuals exist to serve society, not vice versa. They don't even have a word for money. They're worker drones, defining "welfare" as "greatest communal benefit" even if this means turning weaklings into fertiliser. Personally, I'd have been cheering for the Hideauze and wanting to wipe out the Alliance... but Ledo is a proud Alliance soldier and a good man who believes in their principles. He's confused by the meaningless behaviour of the Gargantia's crew, e.g. having fun and wasting resources on non-essentials.
"Please note. At this moment, the service time of Second Lieutenant Ledo has exceeded 145,000 hours. After this operation, you will be granted permission to apply for limited citizenship rights and four weeks' leave on Avalon."
(NOTE: I think they started counting his "service time" from birth.)
"Oh, okay."
"No change in adrenaline generation. Your reaction is below expected levels."
"Avalon, huh? I used to want to go there, but now I have the opportunity I'm not sure I want to. Homeland? What is it, exactly?"
"It is a place where citizens' rights are guaranteed. You will be granted the freedoms of sleep, food and reproduction. You have proven yourself a human worthy of living and reproducing."
The Alliance think they're humanity's last hope. A Hideauze victory would imply mankind's extinction... except that there's also:
It's mythical. It doesn't exist. No one knows where it is... i.e. Ledo and Chamber probably won't get rescued. Long ago, there was an ice age and the sun failed, so the planet could hardly support life. The ice has now melted, but that means the planet's a waterworld. (There is still a bit of land, but its inhabitants are dicks who'd destroy world-changing technology if they couldn't monopolise it for themselves. Even the Galactic Alliance is less obnoxious.)
The Gargantia is one of many fleets on the endless oceans. Ships link up to make floating cities. They have their own technology, culture and capacity for idiocy. For instance, the Gargantia's chief engineer is a greed-driven idiot called Pinion who's cheerful and likeable, but guaranteed to choose the forehead-slapping option. (He is, though, a good mechanic.)
This world is so thoughtfully portrayed that I'd have been happy even without a plot. Often, we're just watching Ledo try to understand his new neighbours. He's a soldier among pacifists. He's doing his best, but his military mindset is capable of leading him in bad directions. I'm surprised his friends didn't shoot him in the head in ep.7. Then, though, we discover that there's worse than him out there. A lot of this show's revelations are exactly what you'd expect given the SF premise and a bit of genre awareness... but they surprised me at the time and the show's intelligence makes them work.
It comprises:
1-13 = the original 2013 TV series, which ends satisfyingly and didn't need a continuation at all.
14-15 = two 2013 OVA specials. One's an amusing but dispensable flashback set halfway through the TV series. The other shows us how a sincere man created a genocidal situation, which is less unpleasant to watch than I'd expected but still doesn't end cheerfully.
16-17 = two hour-ish-long specials set after the TV series. They're good, they expand our view of this world and I enjoyed seeing how things had developed without [SPOILERS].
The show's most interesting characters are Ledo and Chamber. I liked all the Gargantians, who are nice people with civilised instincts and a refreshing propensity for sensible choices... but Ledo and Chamber have none of that. They've got to learn everything afresh and only one of them's capable of changing his mind. Chamber's super-intelligent, but the Alliance worldview has been hard-wired into him and his recommendations can be scary. Fortunately, though, he'll defer to Ledo on all decisions, correctly seeing himself as a flawed support system whose judgement shouldn't be trusted over a human pilot's. I liked both of them. Also Chamber becomes really cool if he ever talks himself into disagreeing with someone who espouses Alliance-like values.
I normally avoid mecha shows. They think mecha are cool and don't consider the possibility that some of us might disagree. This show's mecha, though, are great. They're characters in their own right. They talk, translate and make mistakes. Chamber's just much of a person as Ledo... and all that slow build-up and getting to know him means that when serious mecha action started, I was cheering as hard as anyone. (Mind you, I was surprised that Chamber can't calculate Earth's position from the stars.)
I really enjoyed this show. It's the kind of thing to get you thinking about its premises and possibly even writing fanfic, e.g. about how things work out with the whalesquids. I'm thunderstruck that this was written by Gen "Urobutcher" Urobuchi, although apparently his involvement was mostly with the first episode's script. It's way too likeable and emotionally engaging for him. I'd definitely recommend it.
"That concludes the playable data. It contains multiple contradictions with information released by the Galactic Alliance, so its credibility is extremely low."