Gargantia: A Mecha Which Lulls Like the Waves | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2013 anime “Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Murata, and based on the original story by Gen Urobuchi. This will also include special OVA episodes 14 and 15, as well as the two “Far Beyond the Voyage” OVAs. 

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Awakening on Gargantia, the Island of Ships

Far into the future, most of mankind has fled Earth to expand into space, and the Galactic Alliance of Humanity is founded to guide exploration and ensure the prosperity of the human race. Humans soon discover a threat lurking in the dark seas of space, however; strange squid-like creatures called the Hideauze begin terrorizing human existence, resulting in a longstanding interstellar war to prevent humanity’s extinction.

Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance, age 16, leaps into battle against the enemy as per his calling. Armed with Chamber, an autonomous robot intelligence system which resides inside his mech, the Hideauze shouldn’t have stood a chance against Ledo. Unfortunately, Ledo is separated from the Alliance and, in a horrific twist of fate, is flung into the far-off reaches of space, eventually to crash land on a planet submerged in water.

On these endless blue-green waters, Gargantia—a large fleet of scavenger ships comprising a sprawling metropolis in itself—salvages Chamber from the depths of the ocean thinking that the mech must hold something of value. Unknown to the crew, Ledo sneaks aboard the ship and captures a young messenger girl named Amy as hostage, but Ledo quickly comes to find that the people of Gargantia aren’t as dangerous as he initially surmised.

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Faced with uncertainty and separated from his comrades in the Alliance, Ledo struggles to seek newfound purpose on the blue planet. As some the loftier citizens of Gargantia eventually warm up to the space man, Ledo slowly realizes that there is more to a soldier’s life than missions and assignments. But just as he becomes acclimated to this foreign lifestyle, what lurks deep within these cerulean seas starts to bring to question the foundation of this oceanic world.

The coolest thing Gargantia has going for it is easily the titular ship fleet itself. In shows or games that are set near the water, I’ve always found village life to be quite appealing. Gargantia is no exception. If anything, had I watched this anime back in 2013 when it aired, I probably would have loved it a lot more than I currently do. Unfortunately, I am older now, and a collection of ships bound together by giant metal cranes and locks doesn’t excite me as much as it would have the old me. Still, a part of me feels like I was always meant for the seafaring life, to which Gargantia invites me to explore.

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Chilling at its Own Pace

The first six episodes are spent crafting this culture-heavy fleet and its peoples through a slice-of-life narrative. We are given a tour of the fleet through a few side stories. Although they help to explain what they do, how they operate, and how each person—no matter the age or occupation—plays a critical role in Gargantia’s survival, some of these stories are admittedly boring and predictable. For a sci-fi action adventure series, Gargantia chills at its own pace, merely riding the waves until the exciting finale. But I kind of like that about it.

Meanwhile, the second half delivers the climax of the story, along with several intriguing plot twists which help facilitate interest after a relaxing but lukewarm first half. None of the big reveals feel cheap; in fact, it’s just the kind of thing I’d expect from Urobuchi’s phenomenal writing, even if the thriller vibes are occasionally lulled by the slow-moving nature of the story. Urobuchi always delivers incredible stories about the darker sides of humanity, and while Gargantia is lighter than most, that’s not to say it won’t leave you gasping “No freakin’ way” a few times.

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The People of Gargantia 

I’m quite divided when it comes to the cast. As a protagonist, Ledo is great. His gradual development from cold galactic soldier to helping friend is nicely done, and Alan Lee captured the vocalic change from curt, rigid pronunciations to fluent, passionate statements believably well in the English dub. Our resident “hot guy’s” struggle would have been futile without Chamber, however; unlike what you’d expect from a pilot assist AI, Chamber isn’t afraid to sass Ledo around when he needs the encouragement, and Matthew Mercer was a perfect fit for this rather intelligent and resourceful “tin can.”

But I can’t give the same praise to the rest of the people of Gargantia. While Amy the messenger girl (voiced by the ever-cheery Cassandra Lee Morris) is the supposed main heroine, she merely functions as a tool to unlocking Ledo’s inner humane side. The well-endowed pilot Bellows lives and breathes the salvaging life, but her character just as well acts as a guide for the main cast.

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In the same regard, pirate queen Lukkage is a fun Team Rocket Jessie-like character to have around, but her little screentime isn’t enough to fully appreciate her extreme levels of bad-ass. (You’ll definitely want to watch the OVAs to see the Queen in action!) For other antagonistic presences, having the devilishly suave Karen Strassman as Striker is an absolute joy. But oh man, let’s not talk about Pinion, the human epitome of DICKHEAD. Seriously, the guy has no respect for anything!

It’d be a shame not to mention the fleet commander’s daughter, Ridget, as one of Gargantia‘s best and brightest. She works SO hard to live up to the immense role thrust upon her, and I just really enjoyed watching her backstory unfold throughout the series’ run. Strong-willed, passionate, and always looking out for the greater good of Gargantia, Ridget—above everyone else in the cast, arguably including Ledo—shines as the fleet’s most-developed character.

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On Endless Green Waters

From an art and animation standpoint, Production I.G beautifully encapsulates “island life” on Gargantia through its towering structure of rusty, paint-chipped housing and overwhelming marketplace vibes. It’s just such a charming set piece, really. And although it may be marketed as a mecha anime, Gargantia is pretty laid-back, allowing Chamber to strut his usefulness in performing ship tasks in the first half and finally showing off his explosive capabilities in the last couple episodes. Also, at the very least, we should acknowledge the Yunboro as the most practical-looking mech out there, even if not the prettiest. (Chamber looks fantastic though, love his rounded shape.) As a whole, the art is rich, vibrant, and colorful, and the animation is consistently top-notch, particularly so with those endless green seas.

Taro Iwashiro provides a great soundtrack befitting of the “adventure” label, as he’s able to effectively balance island life with Ledo’s soldier strife. Also noteworthy in the sound department is how ADR director Tony Oliver and the crew at Bang Zoom! established the differing language portrayals. Ledo and Amy are separated by hundreds of light years, after all, so it only makes sense that their languages would different. I’m not sure how it was done in the original Japanese, but made-up languages are always fun to listen to in English, and Gargantia is written such that this constant dialogue swapping isn’t distracting in the least.

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Seas of Possibility, Skies of Freedom

Contrary to the high intensity repertoire the mecha genre is known to cater, Gargantia takes the back seat and explores the isolation and ostracism of a mech pilot on foreign soil—or a fish out of water, if you will. It’s a story about finding purpose after a big change in one’s life, and how to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. Most of all, however, Gargantia is about family and belonging, and what it means to be human in a world where the very definition of the word has been obscured by a dark past.

Between the gorgeous animation, creative concept, and interesting plot, Gargantia may be exactly what you’re looking for if you seek a short sci-fi journey. Oh, and don’t be turned off by the mechs—they look great, and the finale in particular stands out for its incorporation of the ideological feud. Although some of its characters may rub you the wrong way, Gargantia is blessed with strong direction and themes. So, answer the call for adventure—raise the sails and set out for those shimmering jade seas.

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One who abandons thought and decision-making deviates from the very definition of “human.” — Chamber


Afterword

It’s a shame that the possibility of more Gargantia got shelved thanks to the idea of a novel adaptation, especially considering that as an original piece, Gargantia is one of Production I.G’s best. While the last couple OVAs are a bit of a pain to track down, they’re a must if you want the complete Gargantia story as it stands. For the cafe, I struggled between whether to place it under the “Coffee” or “Cakes” menu, but after recalling all the effort that went into crafting the island atmosphere and its customs, I gave the series the benefit of the doubt. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet offers a pleasantly sweet ride for any mild fan of the mecha genre, thus a “Cake” here at the cafe! And yes, Viz’s awesome LTD ED release of the show rests calmly on my shelf awaiting my next revisit to the blue planet. 🙂

What did you think of Gargantia? Did you enjoy it enough, or did you find it lacking in a few departments? It may not the best mecha anime out there, but it’s certainly not the worst. Let me know your thoughts about the quiet little title or this review down in the comments, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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End of October Update 11/7/16

*chiseled*

As everyone’s spook day festivities come to an end, so does the summer weather over here. Fall has finally set in, and times are busy, but that doesn’t stop me from making my rounds in the aniblogger community. Now for this past month’s recap–It’s update time!

Recently Finished:

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna – There was only one main reason I began watching this show. That is, the word “ambition.” It’s one of my favorite words. After being thoroughly intrigued by all of the Satsuki Kiryuin/Oda Nobunaga fan-interpretations, I decided to strike up a show with the legend’s name. And lo and behold, I hit a title with two of my needs! Despite it being another fan-service history mash-up with girls serving as ancient Japanese mascots, the show, surprisingly, had a lot to offer. More to come on that if I review it.

Sailor Moon R – My Sailor Moon marathon session continues in Viz’s re-release DVD sets. On October’s plate was R, the season of the rose–of romance. The web of deceit and falsehood continues to weave itself into complex net of twisted relationships. Invaders from distant planets and galaxies try to tear apart our star-crossed lovers, and the tragic legacy left by the evil Queen Beryl doesn’t help our heroes. It’s a bit harder to love, with all the new characters and revelations, but it’s still the same passionate Sailor Moon. Perhaps I’ll review each series if the soon-to-be-released S really gets my motivation going!

Shelter – Everyone saw (heard?) this little diddy floating around Twitter and YouTube. Because my opinion of it wasn’t very different from that of the masses (IT’S AWESOME), I won’t be doing a separate post over it. If you somehow missed this creative music video, I’ll leave it right here for yaShelter’s got a production history unlike any out there, and I hope we see projects like these more frequently in our future! Really neat stuff!

Shiki – This year, my Halloween break revolved around the spooky vampire fling that is Shiki. It failed to really “scare” me, but instead brought a whole slew of psychological realism surrounding skepticism in remote areas. Very peculiar and rife with internal conflicts regarding ethics and rational. I won’t speak more because I DO have a review forthcoming, but it was a spook day well spent.

The Empire of Corpses – The first Project Itou film stole the last day of my mini Halloween break–and boy was it nothing like I expected! From what I had picked up on, it was going to be a gorgeous film with a halfway decent plot. What I got, however, was an intriguing concept lost to cluster-fudge of jaw-dropping visuals. In other words, my eyes certainly got their exercise, but my brain still can’t seem to shake off the events of the film, particularly the climax. Up until the end, it was bloody fantastic. After that, hmm, more to come on the ending with a review [dedicated to blogger-buddy Crimson once again].

Currently Watching:

Izetta: The Last Witch – Oh boy, oh boy, it’s simulcast time–and is it just me or does this season seem like one of the better ones to come in recent years? Let me know what you think. But hey, my first hit-up for this fall was Izetta. I really, really like where it’s going. The most recent episodes, 4 and 5, showed us how the media can glorify anything–including a little girl who flies on a rifle.

Awakened from a cryo-like sleep, Izetta, the last little witch of her kind, is reunited with the princess of a distressed kingdom. Finé , our unfortunate heir, finds her trump card hidden with Izetta’s incredible powers. Set in an alternative pre-WWII world where magic runs deep within the Earth’s roots, Princess Finé must ally herself with whoever she can in order to save her poor country! Check it out on Crunchyroll streaming now!

Sound! Euphonium 2 – More Euphonium = a very happy Takuto. Having been more than satisfied with the first, Eupho has returned triumphantly in order to finish telling the tale of Kyoto’s Kitauji High School Band! I can’t spoil much since it is a sequel, but I did review the first a while back if you want to check that out here. If you loved the first, then the second will only bring you more of KyoAni’s topnotch animation and tightly-knit cast of characters. Five episodes in and still groovin’, Eupho 2 can also be found on Crunchyroll.

Yuri!!! On ICE – I have not felt this inspired to get active since back in 2013 when Free! Iwatobi Swim Club aired. WOW. THIS is easily my favorite title of the fall anime that I am following!!! Heck, I felt so emotionally charged that I had to write about the dramatic episode 3 in a post comparing our two lead characters which you can read RIGHT HERE! I thought I did a decent job on that post, too, so please feel free to share it with the YOI fandom ^.^

But if you didn’t know, the show follows Yuri Katsuki, a 23-year-old figure skater who was feeling a bit dried up with his season until his idol and world champion skater Viktor Nikiforov of Russia paid a visit to the family spa. But why would a star visit a rural Japanese hot springs? Why, to train Yuri himself, of course! Yuri!!! On ICE is about seeing your own reflection in others and finding the inspiration to help them out. In turn, you end up finding fresh motivation from their youth. Full of light-hearted moments that’ll just warm you to the core, Yuri!!! On ICE has proven that even with half of its season still not out yet, it’s definitely earned those three exclamation points–It’s Gonna MAKE HISTORY!!! NOW, seek out Crunchyroll my cafegoers!

Ranma 1/2 (Viz Set 3) – Viz describes this oddity better than anyone else has: “Things just can’t stay quiet at the Tendo Dojo.” I’m not going to describe Ranma  because I really shouldn’t have to. Boy gets hit with cold water: turns into girl. Doused again with hot water: she’s back to a he. Classic anime for ya. But it’s been one of my family’s favorites for years now, so set three here I come! I can tell you that its late 1989 quality has come a long way with its third season–that’s for sure!

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS – I’m a huge WIXOSS fanboy. Hopefully that wasn’t news to you. Naturally, I was so hyped to hear that one of my favorite “magical girl” series was getting a continuation in the same universe. Then it hit me–I haven’t seen the movie, selector destructed WIXOSS yet. Soooo, either I hunt for it online [and then, of course, support the official release later, geez] in order for me to continue, or I skip out this season. Not sure what I’ll do yet.

Outside of anime, fall has finally hit, WUAH! How I love the cool weather! Today it rained off and on from morning to evening, so I’m probably pushing my luck on future cloudy days *sighs*. Anyway, how was your spook day? Also, I’m dying to know what’s piled on your plate for this season of anime? Are you planning with Izetta and the crew, or perhaps are you practicing hard for Nationals with Kitauji? Either way, you’ll never be chill until you settle down with the Yuris. Yes. Both of them. They are sides of the same coin. I’ve even changed my Twitter name just for the spirit of things. I’m also suddenly interested in ice-skating. EHERM. ‘Till next we meet ~

– Takuto, your host

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Follow my Twitter @TakutoAnimeCafe AKA Taku!!! On ICE for all my latest shenanigans~!