Synopsis (From MAL, edited by Zen*):
The story begins in the distant future in the far reaches of the galaxy. The Human Galactic Alliance has been constantly fighting for its survival against a grotesque race of beings called “Hidiaazu.” During an intense battle, the young lieutenant Ledo and his humanoid mobile weapon Chamber are swallowed up into a distortion of time and space. Waking from his artificially induced hibernation, Ledo realizes that he has arrived on Earth, the planet on the lost frontier. On this planet that was completely flooded by the seas, people live in fleets of giant ships, salvaging relics from the seas’ depths in order to survive. Ledo arrives on one of the fleets called Gargantia. With no knowledge of the planet’s history or culture, he is forced to live alongside Amy, a 15-year-old girl who serves as a messenger aboard the Gargantia fleet. To Ledo, who has lived a life where he knows nothing but fighting, these days of peace continue to surprise him.
*I changed the name in this synopsis to Ledo, which is the name used in the subtitles on Crunchyroll. I have seen it reported as anything from Red to Redo to Led as well.
The latest anime written by Gen Urobuchi (Fate/Zero, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, Psycho-Pass) and produced by Production I.G., Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet) has to be considered one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the Spring season, along with Aku no Hana, Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan), and RDG: Red Data Girl. A distant future fish out of water story, from the description, it starts out looking quite promising.
Any show with series composition by Urobuchi-sensei is automatically going to draw my interest. His writing is, in general, excellent. That said, the first thing that draws my attention in this show is the art!
Whether it is an amazingly rendered CG space battle scene, with giant space aliens, plasma lightning, starships, and mecha, or a rundown looking hanger in the later part of the episode, all of the backgrounds and designs are stunning. The attention to detail and artistry displayed is top notch. In the 2nd episode, the art gets more impressive, with wide open vistas of deep blue-green seas. Truly gorgeous stuff.
The character designs are also very strong, with distinctive and realistic features and a whole lot of cuteness. The designs are very reminiscent of those used by Studio Ghibli. Interestingly, the Animation Character Designer, Masako Tashiro, was also the designer for Fractale, which also had a Ghibli-esque feel to the characters.
The animation is smooth and fluid, with transitions from CG to hand drawn done very nicely. The space battle sequences are amazing, but the animation is possibly more impressive in the more mundane scenes, like Amy sliding down a stair railing or Ledo running through the hanger carrying Amy over his shoulder.
These moments really highlight the attention to detail and quality of the animation. I don’t recall any scenes that used stills and pans and the action is extremely well done.
The music, sound effects, and voice acting are all well done. The OP, “Kono Sekai wa Bokura o Matte Ita” by Minori Chihara (Yuki in Haruhi), is a solid, upbeat J-Pop number, but is pretty standard fare, though the piano in it is very nice. Interestingly, Minori Chihara doesn’t voice any characters in the show, which is a bit different, since she is a very well known seiyuu and it is so common for one of the actresses to sing the OP or ED. The ED is “Sora to Kimi no Message” by ChouCho, a singer with a considerably shorter anime resume, but including some songs that I am particularly fond of, including the fabulous “Kawaru Mirai”, the OP from Kamisama no Memochou and the equally amazing “Yasashisa no Riyuu”, the first OP to Hyouka. Her effort here is equal to her earlier work. It is a spine-tingling and slightly romantic sounding ballad. The sense of romance is heightened by the visuals, featuring only the two principles (though Ledo is in Chamber), with a symbolic “joining and uplifting” sentiment. An odd thing that I discovered: The images used in the ED are different on the Crunchyroll feed than they were on another that I saw. Perhaps they were not ready in time for the first airing of the show? In any case, see the screenshots section for samples of the ED and OP art.
One interesting choice was how to deal with the language barrier between Ledo and Amy and the other people. They chose to have the character whose perspective the scene is viewed from speak Japanese, while the other side of the conversation speaks what sounds like gibberish. I have seen many shows, both live action and animated, where they would use subtitles for those sections of gibberish, but that is not the approach taken here. Instead the gibberish is left untranslated, leaving the viewer the impression as perceived by the perspective character. This means that who is speaking gibberish and who is not switches between the characters several times. It is quite effective and leads to some of the best humor in the first episode.
The story so far is extremely strong and engaging, with some great action scenes, good character and world building, and some nice touches of humor as well. Similar to Psycho-Pass, which brought to mind some of the classic science fiction stories from the psychedelic and cyberpunk sub-genres, Gargantia is evocative of several classic SciFi stories, such as Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Dune, and, of course, Full Metal Panic!, with a touch of Rip Van Winkle, as well as some “not so classics” like Waterworld. Some would consider it derivative, but so far, it comes across as fresh and well thought out to me.
The story begins with a nice bit of world building that has a sort of “propaganda news-reel” feel to it. It explains that, after untold years of wandering, humanity has finally built a “home”, called Avalon. However, the human race is threatened by an aggressive alien race, the Hideauze, which seems to consist of giant space snails and giant space flowers that shoot arcs of plasma. Regardless of the silliness of the shapes, it is a fairly impressive concept for an enemy with which compromise is not a solution. They are nothing like us and have no common ground to negotiate from. This is the enemy which our protagonist, Ensign (or 2nd Lt., depending on the translation) Ledo, is fighting against. This bit of back-story is delivered in the guise of “REM Hypnosis Education”, which Ledo and his fellow pilots are awakened from for the battle. Ledo’s commander then gives the pre-combat briefing, explaining the task at hand and the objectives of the strike.
They will be travelling through a wormhole and emerging close to a Hideauze “Nest”. He informs them that the Alliance is throwing everything they have at the enemy in this surprise attack and if they fail, the war is essentially over. Ledo’s mecha unit’s AI, Chamber, informs him that he will have logged enough military service time after this upcoming battle to qualify for limited citizenship, including the right to visit the human “home world” of Avalon for up to four weeks. Chamber notes that this news doesn’t seem to thrill Ledo. While he once had a desire to see the human “homeworld” for himself, now that he is on the cusp of achieving that goal, he isn’t sure he cares. The whole concept of a “home world” is foreign to him. Chamber informs him that he will “be granted the right to sleep, eat, drink, and reproduce freely”, which tells us a great deal about the society. Chamber ensures him that he has proven himself a valuable asset to humanity and is fit to reproduce, Ledo thinks that those type of activities are “a little beyond” him. Evidently, those in military service are provided with nutrition and hydration and sleep on the military’s schedule, and not through the normal methods. (We’ve already seen that they use sleep periods for training.)
After a bit of philosophical musing between pilot and AI, the commander informs him it is time to move out. They pass through the impressive, obviously man-made, wormhole. The fleet opens fire on the enemy and, eventually, the mecha units are deployed. Ledo muses over his lot in life as the battle commences. “When was the last time I felt scared?” He has thrown away everything that does not help him achieve his goals as a soldier, only seeking “what is sought from me”. All that matters is the victory ahead of him, nothing else. It is not a pretty picture when you consider that he is all of 16 years old.
As the attack proceeds, complete with an impressive amount of technobabble, the “blossom sail”, which is the enemy’s primary weapon, regenerates faster than expected. Taken by surprise, the majority of the fleet is wiped out. The commander is informed that the “wormhole stabilizer will cease supplying exotic matter in four minutes.” (A very nice touch including exotic matter in the discussion of the artificial wormhole generator, by the way!) Which means it is time to get the heck out of there, or they’ll be left behind as flower and snail fodder.
As they retreat, Ledo attempts to aid some of his fellow soldiers in a delaying action and we get to see some impressive features of his mecha unit. Failing to save anyone, but providing time for the other mecha pilots to get to their ships, Ledo is ordered to return.
Realizing that the enemy is still to close and there is a danger of bringing some back with them through the wormhole, the commander goes off for the final delaying action himself, a suicide mission, ordering Ledo to land on the carrier, informing him that his decision as a soldier is that they younger Ledo will kill more of the enemy than he will, making Ledo the more valuable of the two.
Ledo tries to follow that order, but is attacked right before docking. He grabs onto one of the ships to try to traverse the wormwole hanging on, but looses his grip, careening through the wormhole independently of the rest of the surviving fleet members.
Cut to a new scene: a bunch of people with a far lower tech level than Ledo are trying to take apart his mecha, and having absolutely no luck. The main female character shows up here.
Amy is a 15 year old messenger girl. She has an older sister named Bellows that runs salvage operations, a younger brother named Bevel who appears to be ill, a pet squirrel, and seems to be a bit on the reckless side. She has a cute little mannerism where she crosses her arms under her vest and flaps her hands like wings. It appears to be something she does when she is thinking. By the end of the 2nd episode, that is about all we know about her. Is she the “romantic lead” or simply the female lead? Hard to say at this point.
Eventually, the crew heads to bed and Ledo gets out of Chamber to take a look around. Of course, Amy is the “early bird” who wants to come take a look at this strange mecha unit before dawn. She and the mechanic who was working on it arrive and Ledo takes Amy hostage in order to prevent a “shoot first ask questions later” approach.
This is where the language changes by perspective, with Ledo speaking Japanese at one point, then Amy and the mechanic speaking it at the next. Eventually, Ledo scoops Amy up and runs away, carrying her on his shoulder, all the while trying to get Chamber to translate their language for him. Chamber begins to get bits and pieces but wants Ledo to keep her talking. He pats her on the backside to prompt her to talk, and eventually chamber starts to understand, leading to one of the absolute funniest lines of the episode.
Another puzzle for Ledo and Chamber is the design of the ship they are on. Nothing is designed with zero-g in mind. Ledo seems very confused, but Chamber obviously has a hypothesis, since it also indicates to Ledo at one point that this may not be a “wandering tribe”. Eventually, Ledo’s escape path leads him to a startling discovery: the outdoors!
They are on a planet. One with the ideal mixture of gasses in the air for supporting human life, and with water as far as the eye can see. Now we find out something else about the space-faring far future civilization: they have never found another habitable planet. This is why their “home world” is Avalon. There is only one planet in Chamber’s records that matches the specifications of the one they are on: Earth!
Episode 1 ends here, with Ledo having discovered that he is on Earth, the real home world of humanity, the two sides unable to communicate (though chamber is starting to get a grasp on the translation), and a stand off with regular guns on one side and laser pistols and whatever armaments Chamber has on the other.
Episode two starts off right where the last one left us, but with primitive mechas from the earth side joining in. Soon Chamber begins to communicate with the earth people, telling them they don’t want to fight and trying to explain things to them. There is quite a barrier still, as everyone is convinced that there is a second person still inside the mecha unit. The concept of machines that talk is beyond them.
Soon the people in charge seem to agree to a stalemate, leaving their guards there, while Ledo cools his heals waiting for them to decide how to deal with him. There are several nice touches in this section, such as Ledo passing the time making holes with his laser pistol in the fang/thorn from the plant beast that nearly got him in the battle.
Another is when the leaders bringing in Amy to ask her impressions of Ledo. Her response: He seemed … normal. When this statement is met with surprise, she suggests that having found himself in a strange place with people whose language is not understandable would lead anyone to panic a bit and, while he did kidnap her, he didn’t mistreat her, despite the tap on the butt when he wanted her to keep talking.
Amy’s very moe friends want to know what the “merman” (since he was found underwater) was like, but Amy is pretty closed lipped about it. We get a bit of intro to the earth culture, with flying gliders being used to go from high spots on the ship to low spots, and stuff like that.
We also meet Amy’s brother, Bevel, who appears to be ill in some way, but also may be the smartest of the bunch. He posits that Ledo came, not from the water, but from space. It seems that there is a legend about people from earth leaving when the planet was in a very nasty ice age. Amy dismisses it as a fairy tale, but the Bevel is convinced. Interestingly, Chamber and Ledo were discussing the fact that their records indicate that the earth was completely covered in ice when humanity went to the stars.
But eventually, the task of communicating with him falls on Amy. Partially because she is more familiar with and to him, but also as a way to be “non-threatening”.
She brings an offering of food, which Ledo is uncertain about, as it is the corpse of an animal. Yet another tidbit about life in the military. He doesn’t eat regular food, but most likely just has liquid supplements or something.
Chamber convinces him to eat it, and conversation begins in earnest. They find out that the earth did go through an ice age period, but afterward, the thaw lead to a world covered by water. People live on rafts of ships attached to each other. Theirs is called Gargantia. They spend much of their time searching the ocean floor for lost technology and artifacts.
Ledo confirms Bevel’s suspicions, telling her he came from space. They also show her the inside of Chamber and convince her that it is the AI unit talking, not another person. She is pretty stoked about that!
If I might mix in a comment about another show this season, I’d like to point out to the makers of Majestic Prince that it is perfectly possible to make a cute girl make cute faces without the face looking unnatural or totally deformed. See the pictures on either side here for the evidence!
Another nice tidbit is revealed when there is a thunder storm in the distance. It seems that Gargantia gets its electricity by sailing over charged areas after storms. Some sort of electo-active plankton or something? Interesting to say the least.
It looks like our two protagonists at least are getting to understand each other, but the leaders are still reticent. The mechanic guy wants to take apart Chamber and actually kill Ledo, which suggests that their culture is a bit on the violent side. Amy did mention pirates earlier…
Of course, seeing the tech level of Chamber, the leaders are a bit smarter than that. Meanwhile, Bellows, Amy’s big sis, is out looking around the site that they found Chamber at to see if there are more goodies to be found, but a group of pirates is looking for them!
The pirates are a sufficient combination of nasty and practical. They want to recruit Bellows to work with them, as she evidently has well known skills. But they also make it clear that there are consequences she may not like if she refuses them, like perhaps being forced to do “things” she would rather not do.
When Amy hears of the attack, she immediately thinks of Ledo and Chamber. They are strong! Super strong! They can save her sister. She goes to Ledo and asks him to help. He decides this is a way to get these people on his good side, so he goes out to save the day.
What happens after that is a very impressive display of tech level differences and of Chamber’s capabilities. I won’t spoil how it plays out, but the set of screen shots directly below will give you an idea of the reaction by the earth people.