Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: Sunk
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is a mouthful 2013 anime conceptualized by Gen Urobuchi. It tells the story of Ledo, a duty-oriented young space soldier whose life has known nothing but combat with a mysterious alien force bent on wiping out humanity, and his rediscovery of and subsequent adjustment to life on Earth, which was thought lost to time during the endless war with (checks Wikipedia for spelling) the Hideauze. Marooned on the now ocean-covered planet with no way to contact his superiors, Ledo and his robot AI companion, Chamber, must learn to fit in with the societies of humanity’s scattered remnants – now living on fleets of giant salvaged ships faring the seas – with the help of Amy, a young, bodacious, bubbly girl and the first person they come across.
Let’s get to the elephant in the room: thankfully, Gen’s usual super grimdark influences don’t make an appearance throughout the show’s run. I mean, there are other things I can quibble about, and I will, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s touch on the things I liked about it.
I’m sure a lot of you readers who haven’t seen this show are rolling your eyes right now at the premise I delivered above. Sure, it’s bland, but hey, I won’t complain too loudly if a show can execute it right. DOES Gargantia get it right? Well… I suppose you could say I understood the point of it all. And I got something out of this show at the very end.
If we’re talkin’ brass tacks, Gargantia is a tale of venturing out to the outside world. That’s not speculation, because that’s pretty much how Urobuchi described it during one of his press junkets. From Wikipedia:
“Gen Urobuchi explained on the official website that the message of the story is aimed towards those in their teens and 20s, who are either about to enter into society or recently have, and is meant to cheer them on and to encourage them that “going out into the world isn’t scary”. He also said that the feeling of this work will be different from others he’s been involved with.”
Unfortunately for ol’ Gen, though, that wasn’t exactly my favorite part. I did say I understood Gargantia’s message, and I also said I got something out of the show. Unfortunately, those two things aren’t quite one and the same. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
As we see in the beginning of the anime, after a sort-of-brief skirmish with the Hi… the Hide… the HideoKojimas, Ledo wakes up to his new home after months of cryostasis inside the sealed cockpit of his mech. At this point, Ledo is not unlike the prenatal fetus within the protective confines of its mother’s womb. Soon after he emerges from his metaphorical womb, Ledo finally comes face to face with the vast world around him…
…with an expression much like a curious infant would survey its new surroundings.
Chamber, Ledo’s mech and AI companion, frequently refers to itself as a “pilot support system” throughout the show. Simply put, it’s built to aid its pilot in both times of crises and his daily struggle to adapt to the new environment as part of its purpose to ensure its user’s continuing success and happiness. Notice how Chamber doesn’t refer to itself as a weapon, or even a tool. We can conclude, then, that it is much more analogous to a caregiver. It is no surprise, then, that, when the initially suspicious and hostile crew members aboard the ship attempt to ambush Ledo at the end of the first episode, Chamber is quick to put itself in between the attackers and his pilot at the latter’s cry for help. Driving home the metaphor, in subsequent episodes, Chamber assists Ledo in acclimating to his new environment by analyzing, translating, and teaching him the world’s native language; offers him advice on the natives’ culture and the proper way of interacting with them; and even performs menial tasks around the fleet in exchange for room and board when Ledo proves incapable of doing so. Chamber is thus, ironically, akin to a surrogate parent – a machine teaching Ledo how to truly become a functional human.
Perhaps “surrogate” is the wrong word, and Chamber is simply more alike to a new parent. At the beginning, Chamber relies purely on logic and algorithms in suggesting the most beneficial courses of action for Ledo to take. I’m reminded of the fumbling young parent who falls back on internet parenting tips and those cheap pamphlets authored by washed up psychologists. But see, parenthood can’t be pinned down to an exact science where you can just throw some probability results at your kid and expect him to always get ideal results. You don’t plan it out from day one like, say, a camping trip. If it was, everyone would be perfect. Parenting is one of those indescribable, life-changing things that everyone has to discover on their own. Over time, a father or mother grows along with his or her child, and those accumulated experiences continue to shape their approach on being a better parent for their kid’s shifting needs. And over time, Chamber grows enough that he can serve as his “child’s” anchor during a moment of emotional crisis after they discover a particularly ugly truth. When Ledo lashes back at Chamber, having had enough of his military leaders’ propaganda, Chamber retorts that he is no longer reciting military dogma, but had arrived at his own conclusions independently. Essentially, he has matured from a mere caregiver who only tended to Ledo’s survival needs and now further focuses on his emotional ones. Look at what he says during the finale:
“I am a Pilot Support Enlightenment Interface System: I accomplish my sole purpose in programming by ensuring [my pilot] achieve[s] further success . . . My pilot no longer needs support. I can offer him no further enlightenment. And once I eliminate the final obstacle blocking his road ahead, my mission will be complete.”
By the end, Chamber no longer has to defer to logistics or statistical estimations to guide Ledo. After his time and experience caring for his ward, he simply has faith that the person he’s nurtured for so long will succeed and move on to bigger things. That’s why, when Chamber ejects Ledo’s cockpit before sacrificing himself to destroy their final enemy, he can be confident that Ledo will be able to find happiness on his own. Obviously, no one ever stops being a parent in the real world. Sure, chicks eventually leave the nest, so on and so forth, but as long as you’re not a sociopath or whatever, you never truly cut your kids off. Once you have kids, you’re basically in it for life. Perhaps Chamber’s sacrifice can thus be seen as symbolic as well: he literally offers up his “life” for Ledo.
But that’s enough of my own musings. Let’s get back to the nitty-gritty, shall we. In the conclusion, Ledo decides to stay with the Gargantia fleet. In literal terms, why wouldn’t he? They’re the friendliest and most well-adusted group of people around. But figuratively speaking, the other factions simply represent far more insular ideologies, and since this anime is apparently supposed to teach young people not to be afraid of the outside world, well, you can see how it goes. The alliance that Ledo hails from is very militaristic, duty-bound, rational, rigidly structured, engage in selective breeding, etc. In other words, they aren’t a very imaginative or open sort when it comes to new ideas. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cultists that our heroes face down during the finale are more concerned with appeasing their god (by culling the frail and sickly children from the population), and are too engrossed in blissful ignorance to bother interacting with the rest of society. Then you have the HideoKojimas, who are suggested to be some kind of superior beings because their bodies are self-sustaining. They don’t really make an appearance outside of the battle sequence in the first episode though, so one can say they exist more as a concept than an actual villainous force. Y’see, that’s why Ledo and Chamber rejected them! ‘Cause in the real world, striving for perfection in everything isn’t the goal! The people of Gargantia, however, sit comfortably right there in the moderate middle between everyone else. They only want to do their best and support each other! It’s very on the nose, but you get it.
But you know, that’s kind of what makes it grating. Hell, we don’t even see what Ledo’s military alliance that supposedly… also culls frail and sickly children from the population and hides earth-rending secrets from their own soldiers is really like. They dump a whole bucketful of sleep-inducing back story on you in the first episode, but that’s it. Sure, Ledo and Chamber could’ve acted as effective windows into their culture, but other than one or two things about not eating animals or whatever (I’m assuming this is because they don’t have enough room or resources up in space to be raising livestock), they mostly just talk about the perpetual war with the HideoKojimas.
Yo, you want young people not to be afraid of the outside world, right? Well the outside world isn’t quite so compartmentalized into “OPPRESSIVE SPACE WARMONGERS” and “GOOD BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE.” Who’s to say some of those young people won’t choose to sacrifice life’s common luxuries to uphold their own sense of duty? Or find fulfilment in devoting themselves to a religion? It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be closed off to the outside world. The argument comes off as a bit one-sided here.
And wouldn’t you know it, the group of people Ledo finds himself stranded with all turn out to be friendly, capitalistic, freedom-loving peaceniks. Wow, no way, a military man has to learn how to coexist with a bunch of native pacifists who won’t kill their enemies even when threatened with murder and rape? And all the women on this joint are sexy buxom babes?! Especially the one he first meets?! He must have the devil’s luck! Has anyone else heard this story before? Because I sure haven’t!
But wait, there’s more! Despite living day-to-day on nothing but rusted-over ancient vessels in the middle of an endless sea, the people of Gargantia can somehow provide huge prime cuts of beef.
Also, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the sparkling ocean against a clear blue sky any time of the day, and the spellbinding aurora lightshow during the night! It’s like some kind of vacation spot. This outside world sure isn’t scary at all when almost everything in it is practically idyllic. Did I mention that everyone has enough room for shelter, or that they seem to have enough clothing to comfortably last them, not including any young woman’s midriff? Speaking of which, all those sexy nubile girls will occasionally put on sheer clothing and dance for you in what are basically glorified peep shows…
…and sometimes even include a personal lap dance afterwards!
What do you mean this show’s character designs were by a hentai artist?!
Ah, but not everything is worth celebrating. There are negatives to this lifestyle too, of course. For example, once in a while sexy pirates come charging out of the blue to try and loot your shit.
Anyway, back to the good things! Bridging the gap between the somber philosophizing of the first and last two episodes, Ledo spends his days familiarizing himself with Gargantia life. This includes getting to know our supporting cast such as Pinion, an engineer/scavenger who wants to avenge his dead brother or something; Bellows, a busty engineer/scavenger who does something; Ridget, the fleet vice commander who inherits the leading commander’s mantle when he passes away, and, uh, wants everyone to work hard together and protect each other… or something; Amy’s girl friends, who both want Ledo’s something; and Dr. Something, who… uh… something-something or other…
Most importantly out of all of them, however, is sexy Amy’s sexy imou—ah, pardonne moi. I meant sexy Amy’s sexy otouto, Bebel, a frail, bedridden young boy who’s always has a sunny smile ready for everyone and anyone. In his pursuit of knowledge about the fleet’s customs, Ledo forgoes questioning any of the fleet’s many venerable men and women who would deeply understand their own culture and have the years and perspective to provide valuable insight into them, instead deciding to repeatedly place his inquiries upon Bebel’s small shoulders. Not to worry, though; Bebel’s fragile appearance belies his innocent, childlike wisdom that far surpasses his years, which means he is qualified to answer Ledo’s queries with penetrating social commentary such as:
God, that is so weak, man.
It’s almost funny. This feels like a very “lived in” world, so to speak, and I was interested in seeing Ledo reconcile with the same human societies from which his Galactic Alliance had seceded centuries ago. In a way, I was, but eventually it turned more into completely bewildered fascination as Ledo and Amy spent their days together on the Gargantia going on beach excursions and getting attacked
over a jar of barbecue sauce or some other such nonsense. Then Ledo ridiculously decides to drive a certain species of sexy glowing squids to extinction because they resemble the Hideo Kojimas before he realizes the Hideo Kojimas and the sexy glowing squids are actually genetically-spliced humans.
I guess what I’m leading up to is that everything in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet ultimately feels toothless and bland in its purported message. Its already barebones core themes lose any trace of salience because they’re stretched too thin across this scatterbrained mishmash of extraneous shit. Without a strong theme, a story loses its drive, and without drive, well, you can’t really expect to inspire anyone, now can you? Rather, I had to go and actively dig to find something for myself to chew over and enjoy because the story failed to grab me organically. Maybe the self-importance of Gargantia’s intended purpose was simply too bloated. Maybe that’s why the show sunk.