By Daniel Gulyas / May 20th, 2013
So far, this has been shaping up to be an amazing anime season. We’ve got Devil Survivor 2: The Animation, which has been a very strong adaptation of a great game. There’s lighter fare, like Henneko, which has been extremely entertaining. There’s the juggernaut Attack on Titan that our own Jared is covering and then there’s the total oddball Suisei No Gargantia, or Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, as the English translation calls it.
This first bit is going to be spoiler free, before I dive into all the goodies the show has to offer. Gargantia follows Ledo, a human soldier from space who pilots a giant mech named Chamber. During a battle with humanity’s greatest enemy, he finds himself stranded on a very strange and unfamiliar planet: Earth. The story sounds very standard, until you see the name associated with it; it’s written by Gen Urobuchi, who was responsible for Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero. Since after this point, I’m going to start spoiling things, I’m going to just say this: If you haven’t started watching the show, it’s well worth the time so far; it’s been very, very good, with the potential to really be something special. The animation is very pretty, the world building has been fascinating, the characters are easily empathized with, and the music fits every scene perfectly. If you’re still a little iffy, the trailer is below.
SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 6 WILL FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. EACH SECTION WILL BE MARKED WITH THE EPISODE.
Episode 1: Castaway
The first half of this episode takes place entirely in space and it mainly serves to introduce us briefly to Ledo, his “normal” world, and the intergalactic war. It’s shockingly the least interesting bit of the episode, even though there’s not anything wrong with it. While Ledo’s design is pretty awesome, Chamber’s isn’t nearly as interesting. The battle is tense but hard to follow, due to the fact we really don’t know who is winning at any point. It’s a lot like jumping to the final boss battle before you see the lead in; we don’t have any real scale for the battle to really know what’s going on. However, as an initial setup, it’s perfectly acceptable and very fluidly animated. The segment ends with Ledo falling into a wormhole before what would have been a commercial break.
The really interesting things start in the second half of the episode. The first half of the episode focused on dark, futuristic colors where everything is either black or neon. Suddenly we’re then introduced to color: Amy, the female protagonist, wears a bright red and yellow poncho while Pinion, who’s more of the comic relief role, wears a bright blue shirt with light brown pants. We find out that Chamber has been recovered somehow on Earth by an excavation crew, who’s shocked at how pristine he is. Of course, what they don’t know is that Ledo is in suspended animation inside…
The episode really catches your attention when Ledo wakes up for the first time. There’s something captivating about when he immediately takes Amy hostage, and the audio jumps rapidly between his rapid conversation with Chamber to try to decide what to do, and everybody on earth trying to figure out just what’s going on. The show uses a really cool idea, in that when you follow one character’s perspective, you can only understand what they can. This also leads to a few bits of brilliant comedy. I’m sure you guys know what I’m talking about…
The episode ends on a standoff and Ledo’s realization that he’s on Earth, which leads into the next episode pretty well.
Episode 2: The Planet of Origin
This is a much slower episode than the first, but no less interesting. We get an introduction to Amy’s brother for the first time, as well as a really interesting look at Gargantia, the mass of ships that everybody lives on. Amy is the one to really drive things this episode, between her meeting with her brother and asking Ledo for help when the pirates attack later in the episode. Since Ledo is still speaking his native language, there’s still the jumbled language whenever he communicates with others. It’s still as captivating here as it was in the first episode.
The episode ends with Amy asking Ledo to help them fight off a bunch of pirates. And man, Ledo obliges. We get a two minute build-up to Ledo absolutely vaporizing the pirates. This is good in some ways, as we have some reference now for exactly how brutal that first fight scene is, but it also shows what the show has as its biggest weakness. It really struggles with action because Ledo does not feel like he really ever has a chance of losing. It deflates a lot of the suspense of fights, and it’s shown to be a recurring problem. Ledo just really doesn’t have a weakness…
Episode 3: The Villainous Empress
This episode has a much more basic plot, and it’s where the show starts to find a bit more of its groove. This sticks much closer to the classic mech episode where a bad guy shows up in a powerful mech, and it’s up to our hero to save the day. Again, the action suffers because you really don’t feel that Chamber has any chance to lose; but the episode is just tense enough thanks to the the larger scale of the pirate attack. We still get just enough humor from the juxtaposition of an outsider in the human world, and we get a lot of lessons about why what Ledo did in wiping out the pirates was wrong. While it’s pretty easy to say that yes, that was absolutely brutal, it’s not like Ledo was actually wrong in doing it; he did save the entire ship. While this wasn’t the best episode in the series, it’s still a solid build, and there’s really not much to complain about.
Episode 4: The Flute of Recollection
This is the episode that really is scaring me a bit. The episode really does a great job at trying to get you to understand the feel of living on Gargantia. The brilliant thing is how it manages to make Gargantia feel both very normal, but different enough where it feels foreign to the viewer. This is one of the show’s biggest strengths: you clearly understand how life on this Earth works, but there’s the slightest difference, due to the fact there is no land. Thus, we are able to share in Ledo’s wonder when the first rain comes while he’s on board.
This is also the first episode that we start to really get a better feel for Amy’s brother, Bebel. He and Amy make a great foil to Ledo’s serious demeanor, between Amy’s hyperness and energy, and Bebel’s uplifting spirit in the face of his illness.
There are two scenes in this episode that stand out, both for very different reasons. There’s the rain, where you get this feel of childlike wonder. This is one of those moments where the soundtrack really shines thanks to a very light melody and you really feel like you are Ledo, experiencing rain for the first time. This is probably one of the scenes from the show that will stick with you, despite only lasting a minute or so. The combination of the shocked look on Ledo’s face, the smiles on all of the children as they play in the rain, and the adults happy they’ll have lots of water to drink for the next few weeks really makes an impression, and its moments like this that show just how good the show is at what it does.
The other major scene is the final conversation between Ledo and Bebel. This is meant to show the absolute differences between Ledo’s world and Bebel’s, where Bebel would have been weeded out to breed stronger and stronger warriors. There’s a hint that beneath Ledo’s hard exterior there’s some basic truth in human nature that life is something truly special, and the flute/ocarinas Ledo keeps making are starting to serve as a symbol of that. However, through six episodes, the show still hasn’t gone back to the boy that taught him how to make the object. I have a feeling that’s eventually going to elevate to be one of the main conflicts.
Episode 5: Calm Day
It’s amazing that they managed to cram a swimsuit/beach episode when the planet has no land, but they manage it extremely well here. It’s a great change of pace from the very heavy, intellectual material in episode four. I love how they manage to create a “beach” by having Chamber stand on the side of a boat and submerse one side of it. The rust also looked a lot like sand, which was a nice touch. This is another episode where the animation shines, as we all get a great look at the beach-side barbecue.
This is also where we finally get a full look at Amy’s “sail kite”. The way it worked had been hinted at in the show’s great ending, but seeing it in full action during the race was pretty awesome. It’s a great way to showcase the new yet familiar feel of this version of Earth. This episode also had a great sense of humor, like the non-working grill, the smell of cow manure, Pinion’s lazy attitude, and using Chamber, literally the most dangerous thing on the planet, as a grill all got some well deserved laughs. That said, there were a few jokes that missed the mark. I could have done without the homophobic feel to the guys chasing Ledo; the joke would have worked just fine if they were, for example, attractive girls or even just normal guys. Still, as a change of pace, this episode accomplished its goal extremely well.
As a side note, the last line of the episode really scared me for some reason. I know it’s probably just going to be written off as humor, but I see Chamber as the most likely candidate to ruin everything for Ledo, since Ledo is slowly adapting to the new way of life on Earth.
Episode 6: Festival
This episode was somewhere between Episode 4 and 5 in tone. Much like episode 5, a new event leads to some interesting developments. This time, a wealth of fish leads to a new festival. However, this episode isn’t all fun and games, as we’re starting to see some serious psychological problems with Ledo. I loved seeing each of Ledo and Chamber’s initial efforts at fishing, as each manage to botch it spectacularly in their own way: Ledo by not understanding the concept of swimming, and Chamber missing the point of fishing entirely.
Amy’s dance is touching, but it feels a bit out of place when it’s first introduced. I love the dance itself, but I don’t think it was necessary during Pinion, Ridget, and Ledo’s meeting. It did make for an extremely tender moment between Ledo and Amy, and is probably the best hint of a future romantic relationship between the two. It’s not that it was doubtful, but it is a pretty nice reassurance, and the background to the private dance really adds a touch of romance.
Ledo also finally finds work he can be great at thanks to Chamber’s assistance. We’ve spent a few episodes with him trying to understand the concept, and it was simultaneously funny and sad to see him complain about them paying him “too much”. However, this episode is probably the turning point. Between the octopus and the squid, it’s pretty clear that the adjustment is probably not going as well as the characters had hoped. The hope for a happy ending is that he can discard his immediate reaction that these are Hideauze, but I don’t see Chamber doing that.
A small technical note here: the production staff has fallen behind some, so some people have been complaining about the quality of the animation in this episode, especially relative to the others. Production IG has promised a cleaner Blu-Ray, but since I can’t speak to what that will finally look like, I can say that this is fairly normal. I know Madoka had a similar issue, and honestly, the animation is still amazingly crisp and vibrant. Some things may be a bit less detailed, but personally, I really am not noticing a huge difference.
The character designs in the show are extremely awesome. I mentioned it before, but I’m a huge fan of the way the different ways of life for Ledo and the others are reflected in their clothing. Ledo wears very simple, dark clothing, while the others all wear very bright clothing that looks like something of a mix between Hawaiian and Indian clothing. Ledo is a protagonist that you instantly empathize with, despite having little in common with, which is a very well done way of making sure you care about him. Amy is going to be annoying to some people, but she’s a great foil to Ledo, and reminds me a lot of Mimiru from .hack in that she’s a bubbly character who pushes the plot along because she can’t let things go. The only design I really don’t like is Chamber’s. I love his character and personality, but he’s very generic looking, coming off as halfway between an Eva and a Gundam from Gundam Seed. The odd proportions really don’t do him a lot of favors either as it’s just an unattractive mech.
From a technical standpoint, the music has a very light and airy vibe that fits the vibrant color palate and crisp animation well. The animation is probably only second to Attack on Titan for this season in quality, which is nothing to be ashamed of; Attack on Titan is one of the best looking anime I’ve ever seen. The opening in this series is mediocre, but I’m absolutely in love with Choucho’s ending theme, “Kimi to Sora no Message”.
All in all, I feel that even with some of my minor issues, Gargantia has been an extremely good watch. I’m extremely attached to every character, which is both a blessing and a curse, knowing how Urobuchi likes to just destroy his audience’s hopes. That said, it gets my hearty recommendation, and I can’t wait for future episodes to come in. If you want to watch it yourself, it’s streaming on Crunchyroll right now, and you can let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
CrunchyrollGargantia on the Verdurous PlanetGen UrobuchiSuisei No Gargantia