Before this spring season of anime began, mecha anime fans were cheering and rejoicing over the fact that there was to be, not only one mecha anime streaming, but three. The first Majestic Prince, which I have already written about in a previous article (here), has proven to be a fairly enjoyable show with its own traits and nuances. The second show, Valvrave, is a near to complete mess of a series that can be summed up with the phrase: Space Vampire Mecha. It is enjoyable only from the perspective of someone who knows that it is terrible. Lastly, comes Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet). Being spear-headed by writer Gen Urubuchi, Madoka, Fate/Zero, and Psycho-Pass, there were many high hopes for this series. As we come to the conclusion of the show though, it is apparent that this hope was for naught. Gargantia’s plot is convoluted to the point where there is no clear direction, the characters are all lacking in true development, and even the overarching political/moral point of the story has been lost.
From the very start of Gargantia, the audience is introduced to the interstellar conflict between the Hideauze and the Galactic Alliance. Just as quickly as we are introduced to this, the setting immediately swaps over to an Earth whose surface is covered in water and the fleet of inter-connected ships called Gargantia. Here, the true plot of the show appears to take off as the main character Ledo is forced to adjust to a new life on Earth. Ledo must leave behind his life as a soldier and find his place within this more post apocalyptic society. This is where Gargantia does manage to shine. Watching Ledo run around and try to find what his “job” within the fleet should be is touching and shows a determination to be useful that anyone could relate to. This is why when Ledo immediately abandons his new home to go fight the “Whale Squids” or Hideauze, it is almost a complete shock.
From a personal perspective, I would argue that this terrible plot development stems from the fact that Gargantia has been written by a multitude of authors. While Urubuchi may have created the overall plot for Gargantia, each associate author appears to have taken their own small ideas about its direction, and pushed it that way. The overarching Galactic Alliance – Hideauze conflict is a good example of this. While this conflict could’ve been left in the background of the entire story, and resolved in a less grand gesture the story, instead pulled a complete 180 and had the focus of the anime shift from Ledo’s new life to the war. This creates a confused air within the anime. While some twenty-four episode anime can handle this kind of tonal shift, with only five episodes left by the time Ledo leaves the fleet to go fight, the audience has already grown accustomed to the show’s previous more calm introspective tone.
Just as the plot is essentially a disjointed mess with no true direction, so too are the characters within Gargantia. After watching Ledo grow into what could be considered a nice and decent human being, he immediately takes ten steps backwards when he leaves Gargantia to go and fight the Hideauze. While some could argue for his change due to how he was raised and trained, for this plot’s purpose, it merely forces the audience to lose faith in Ledo. Ledo blindly abandons all of his new-found feelings for those around him and instead decides that he must do his “soldier’s duty,” without even considering the situation. When watching Ledo struggle to reconcile his feelings for the both the Hideauze and the Galactic Alliance, it appears artificial. Ledo, the boy who just a few episodes before was enjoying his new life on Gargantia with his friends, now cannot even understand what makes something human.
Not only looking at our main character Ledo, there are also numerous other characters within the series are lacking in depth or development. While one could sit around and complain about not only Bellow’s, Pinion’s, or any of the random side characters lack of development, the most prominent lacking character is Amy. After being with her and Ledo for those eight to nine episodes, when Ledo leaves her, so does the audience. After the build-up that had been growing between the two, it is cut off and left broken apart. Though this is a common enough trope within anime, the hero being forced to abandon his love interest, within Gargantia it merely creates a situation where the audience almost forgets Amy exists. Her character having grown so very little throughout the anime up to that point, immediately becomes irrelevant as Ledo leaves her behind. This relevance is why in the upcoming episode, her reunion with Ledo is going to be less than interesting or even romantic.
Before Gargantia had even begun airing, Urubuchi stated that he intended for this anime to “cheer on and encourage teens and young adults to go out into the world.” From the first few episodes of Gargantia, this type of direction was apparent. Ledo was forced from his simple life as a soldier into the more complicated life of having to find a job or role within Gargantia. As the show progressed, this moral or theme began to slowly dissipate. Moving away from the personal growth of Ledo, the show instead decided to bring out a more political theme. The political ideals of the Galactic Alliance are polar opposite to those of the Gargantia, with the Alliance being more communistic and Gargantia being more capitalistic. This juxtaposition between the two political ideals appeared to take a strong point within the plot during the last few episodes, and over shadowed the previous theme of personal growth that had been building within Gargantia for most of the show. This creates a confusing element within the show as the audience is forced to ask itself, “What does all of this mean?” Is the show trying to show which political idea is better, or is the show trying to show that it’s important to grow up and leave the safety of home?
As we approach the final episode of the series, I ask myself, “Is there any way for this series to be saved?” I would like to say that the answer to this question is yes, because I did enjoy the first few episodes of watching Ledo grow as a human being. But in the end I do not see this happening. Gargantia is going to end with Ledo going off to save Amy and the fleet, while Gargantia itself deus ex machina’s its way out of the impending attack with their “Stairway to Heaven.” Gargantia started out as a show with limitless potential, but due to its confused direction and lacking character development, it has written itself into a corner. I can only sit here and hope that the three future OVA’s will redeem this show to some degree and return Ledo to the days when he was learning what it meant to grow as a person.