For when there is beauty in life, there lies a utopia beyond the horizon.
The utopia in question would be Gargantia, the setting that the show Suisei no Gargantia is mainly focused on. We are thrust upon a world where there are no boundaries, no territories, and no international law anymore. It’s all just the endless sight of oceanic currents and the clear blue sky. It’s not often we get a mecha anime with this amount of ambiance or majestic atmosphere that could almost be as close to Aria quality to a little degree. Going into this show with the intention on forming my own opinion of a positive or negative nature is still hard to express because of the fact that the show is excellent in quality, but it could have been a masterpiece in the grand scheme of things.
Gargantia opens us up with a galactic conflict that involves Ledo who gets miraculously teleported out of it from a wormhole, although its never clear what it was so don’t take my word for it, and lands on Earth that is now engulfed in water with no dry land in sight. He is now put into a world where there is hardly any war besides the occasional pirate attacks on Gargantia but it is nevertheless portrayed as a peaceful city with lively people in every corner. From here he meets the heroine of the show Amy who he kidnaps in order to gain some information on where he is. Once he is accepted into the culture he soon tries to examine this world that he is now a part and try to make sense of its own ideology.
How the show builds up Ledo into growing into Gargantia’s society as he interacts with the people, seeing how he doesn’t know what type of society everyone else is living, is the strongest point of the show. You have the character Amy who is Ledo’s guide in showing how Gargantia works in its resource management and its overall world building makes for a really spectacular character story. You can deeply feel Ledo’s confusion and fascination just from his expressions and the fact that he was raised to fight in wars while the people here aren’t. Amy herself, while it can be argued is a cop-out to build up a romantic interest, is portrayed in a really down-to-earth fashion rather than trying to make her seem like she’s there just to put a cute girl into the mix. She’s mentally and physically capable to handle herself making her not a useless character and she’s written to have a lot of willpower in giving the show a nice needed level of charm and sublime beauty. Ledo is definitely no exception when it comes to great character writing, his development through the eventual twist near the half-way point in the show shows how he changes as soon as he is shown this whole new reality that he had never considered to be true.
Do the rest of the characters have the same amount of development as our two main leads? No, but then again it’s not really needed given in context to the scale of the show. You have the sexy female character Bellows who has some degree of involvement in Ledo’s development in how she shows him how fishes are the main source of food for Gargantia. The other person who helps Ledo is Pinion a sly cocky sidekick kind of character who actual does have some decent exposition in his past and how he has felt towards the whale-squids that were involved in his history. The rest of the characters come and go but they don’t carry much weight to the show but considering how some of them eventually do become important figures in Gargantia in the later half of the show can be forgiven. One example is Amy’s close friends who at first seem as thought they are just there for sexual appeal but they actually do contribute to the plot so that they don’t seem like filler characters.
That is not to say that Gargantia doesn’t have fan service since the show is set on an ocean and like you would’ve guessed we get to see Amy and the rest of the females get into their swimsuits and play in the water and relax. However if you actually look at how these people live and how their clothing almost represents how go about in their daily activities, it is not at all distracting or comes out of nowhere at all. With fan service you get from a lot of shows these days that do them to sexually arouse the audience, here in Gargantia it seems natural to the setting and breathes all new life into the show for everyone.
Before I talk about the writing itself, it would be safe to state my position on Urobuchi’s credibility as a writer and his recent popularity in the current mainstream of anime. I’m one of the few who is indifferent on the man. I never understood the love or hate this man gets each time he writes or produces a show, the man knows how to write a show with nice action and psychological thriller aspects with really stylized flair in the characters but he doesn’t really know how to write convincing meta theories within his shows when he tries to implement them. It’s a situation where on the one hand the man has potential to write great stories but on the other he just needs more practice when dealing with his own themes that he tries too hard to make them seem convincing. With the case of Gargantia, it can be safely said it’s probably one of his better ones simply by the fact of the way Gargantia handles its own philosophical themes with less melodrama and directed more subtle to add more clarity to them rather than making them muddled or confused with itself. That is until it quickly isn’t fully realized in the end.
With all the compliments mentioned for Urobuchi for this work, Gargantia does fall into an unfocused narrative from the last act into the show. Without spoiling the show for people who haven’t seen it, it involves another group of people who are not a part of Gargantia or the pirates that aren’t fully realized with their intentions or their way of life. There is a brief explanation on how the people live but it felt like Urobuchi just wanted to show a dark element to the story to remind us that we are watching a show written by him. Not that there is a problem introducing us to a darker side of the setting of Gargantia but in this particular case it doesn’t work from how predictable and uninspired it was from the very fact that they pulled off a “Heart of Darkness” sub-plot right out of nowhere that isn’t very convincing or effective in the slightest bit. It does reach to a nice climax involving Ledo’s mecha Chamber but not even that could have saved it from reaching all new levels of poor narrative focus.
Then there is the art and animation with its lush colors and extraordinary effects, it’s one of the most beautiful shows to grace the screen in a long time. It’s not even the most technically impressive show with regards to the high budget shows of today, but given the amount of detail given to the water and how it’s reflections are clearly drawn on everything give the show are very relaxing atmosphere and makes you feel like the you’re really a part of this utopian society from the art alone. There is one scene that involves an aurora borealis and Amy performing an elegant dance for Ledo makes for a really memorable and beautiful scene based on the careful detail the animators put into making it. Or whenever you see the Hideauze swim underwater and how they glow underneath the water is absolutely wonderful from an ascetic point of view. While the animation may not be the most fluid in some places, it nonetheless does it’s job extremely well in creating a beautiful atmosphere to make the city of Gargantia and the people living in it astounding to look at.
The music, composed by Taro Iwashiro, is not only composed in standard orchestral instruments but also some New Age musical endeavors as well. Pan flutes can be heard in a few specific scenes that almost give off a Chrono Cross vibe to it that make it seem very natural to the world of Gargantia. The OP while catchy isn’t especially anything special or memorable but the female singer of the Ending song sings a very nice melody that is backed up with some instruments that actually fit well into the show rather than your standard J-Pop song.
Gargantia, while not the masterpiece that everyone was hoping, is still a great show to watch regardless of it’s poorly written last arc. The first half of the show alone should definitely be well-regarded as brilliant with its relaxing slice of life aspect. Sure the last act is quite disappointing in that it didn’t live up to its expectations but it’s hard not to give the show a run for its premise. The characters and the atmosphere are what makes the show a splendid joy to watch; it might be obvious that we might see a continuation of Gargantia in the near future, not anytime soon that’s for sure. It can’t be denied that the story could be more fleshed out that way it can achieve what it wanted to be in a better scenario. One can only hope.