Suisei no Gargantia Ep. 1-7: “I need myself.”

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So far, this anime is incredibly bland. It’s bland enough that I have to actively force myself to pay attention to what’s happening onscreen or I’ll just find myself browsing the internet on my second monitor for extended periods of time. It’s bland enough that if the cat decides to just wander on by and cover up the subtitles, as cats are seemingly wont to do – seriously, cats are assholes –, I wouldn’t even be mad. Okay, okay, it’s bland, but why? Here’s where I’ll try to explain just exactly why Suisei no Gargantia has, in seven episode, failed to tickle my fancy.

It isn’t because Gargantia has a terrible premise or anything. Here’s a quick summary for those who haven’t seen the show. We first begin with a manly space soldier (Ledo) fighting dangerous space squids. During the opening battle, he somehow falls through a black hole or some shit and finds himself stranded on Earth. Space is vast and empty (for the most part), so he should thank his lucky stars he didn’t end up in the middle of nowhere instead (in before future episodes reveal that the detour to URF was predetermined…). According to his mecha’s onboard computer, humanity has long since abandoned the home planet, so this sudden shift in fate comes as a great surprise to our hero. What the spacefaring humans once regarded as a frozen wasteland is now an incredibly waterlogged planet. Yep, it’s like watching Waterworld anime-style, but cleaner and less grungy. I swear, for every rusty ship in Gargantia, there’s an equally shiny female character. And before you ask, there is sadly no anime Kevin Costner drinking his own purified piss; otherwise, this show’d be a masterpiece. But not only is the planet now inhabitable, a new crop of humans (those who stayed behind?) are now flourishing on this waterlogged world, and although they appear primitive to our warrior of space, these natives are wise in their ways! So you see, the anime doesn’t have a terrible premise, but it isn’t exactly a mind-blowing one either.

(Minor quibble: As previously mentioned, an AI accompanies our hero on his journey, and, of course, it is incredibly smart and knowledgeable. As a result, it serves as a cheap and easy device to dispense exposition when the writer feels particularly lazy.)

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There’s something very Avatar-esque about the narrative, and Avatar itself was derivative of any story in which the “civilized” man encounters the “savage” natives only to discover that they have more to teach him than he could teach them. And likewise, Avatar was an incredible snoozefest. I mean, once you got past the pretty pictures; if anything, James Cameron at least had that going for his unfortunate blockbuster. Oh yeah, don’t forget the strange backplug sexing. But back to the subject at hand, I don’t really have a problem with the idea of a stranger in a strange place. It’s just that, well, the trope is, more often than not, poorly executed.

It isn’t about adding a twist to the trope. I mean, you could do that in the name of originality or whatever, if you want, but the novelty would probably soon wear off. Case in point, Avatar’s graphics managed to only keep me entertained for so long. Rather, it is the depth of the substance that is lacking in like-minded tales such as Gargantia. Y’see, battling space squids is all Ledo has ever known. Where he comes from, it’s kill or be killed, so as the saying goes, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, blah blah blah. You can imagine, then, Ledo’s confusion when he encounters a bedbound kid in this new-but-not-so-new planet. The natives are always in danger of being attacked by immoral, lawless pirates, and of course, resources for terrestrials on a waterlogged planet are severely limited! Thus, why waste time and energy on someone who could never quantitatively contribute to society’s progress?

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You can see where this is going. Gargantia is very self-righteous about its message of peace and coexistence. It even turns out that those space squids can be found on the home planet, but these squids – whalesquids, as the natives call them – pose no threat whatsoever to anyone. W-w-why not, Ledo wonders! According to Chamber, his pet robot, it’s because the whalesquids and the natives share a mutually beneficial relationship. Yep, you’ve been fighting all your life when you could’ve just been friends with the space squids all along! I can see it now: we’ll soon find out that Ledo’s space alliance is only battling the space squids because the former aggressed upon the latter or some shit like that in the first place. Ugh, those imperialist bastards. And imagine, all they had to do was listen to the wise words of some seafaring primitives in faintly racist attire.

I’ve been referring to the earthbound inhabitants of the show as natives over and over because I can’t help but laugh at the streak of cultural misappropriation that runs rampant throughout the anime. I can buy into the premise that the abandoned humans stayed behind on the frozen wasteland of a planet, cobbling together a mishmash of cultures… as in, all cultures that remained and survived through that period of time. So why is it that the female characters — innocent and pure, I imagine — seem to mostly wear clothing that are distinctly Native American-influenced in nature? Seriously, what’s with the headdress?

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Then in the sixth episode, we take a dramatic turn to either the Middle East or South Asia, but then you remember that the characters have names like Amy and Bellows. Yeah, it’s the “white man and the noble savages” trope, but anime-filtered. This is especially so because the male characters seem almost “acultural” in their behavior and appearance, and this only serves to highlight the bizarre “savage-face” being played out by the female characters.

But okay, you could argue that no real harm is being done by the cultural misappropriation in Gargantia. Plus, cultural misappropriation is one of those “interesting to point out, but why are you blowing this out of proportion” kind of thing. Like really, is it that big of a deal if some American starlet wants to wear a sari down the red carpet? Even if I concede, however, that Gargantia’s faintly racist attire “isn’t that big of a deal,” or that none of the female characters ever seem to have a conversation that isn’t somehow connected to one of the male characters – seriously, does Amy’s friends ever talk about anything but how cool and hot Ledo is? – my real contention with the show is that the discussion starts at essentially level one.

Y’see, it’s not enough that these noble savages turn out to have something sage to teach Ledo. It isn’t beaten over our heads enough that they live off a diet of just fish and birds, cobbling together rusty fleets by salvaging sunken ships from ages past (essentially recycling). The story goes one step further to have the innocence of a child serve as a beacon of philosophical revelation to our clod of a hero. No, it isn’t uncommon for narratives to trot out some common-looking character only for said character to dispense with the sage lessons. Who could forget The Matrix’s Oracle being some homely-looking lady? Yeah, it’s an age-old trope, but the bigger problem is when the discussion, as mentioned above, is so elementary in execution.

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I’m fine with seeing Ledo suffer through countless epiphany bombs every time he talks to a native. It’s not exactly original, but whatever. I could even swallow the fact that some of those epiphanies result from talking to a little boy. Hey, you can’t judge a book by its cover; maybe the boy is wiser than he appears… like a shota Yoda or whatever. But when the “epiphanous” (yeah, I know that’s not a word) ownage comes from posing a question as fucking simple as “But then, what’ll happen to the Galactic Alliance once you defeat all the Hideauze?” I’m sorry but that really grinds my gears. You’re telling me that Mr. Advanced Space Man and his advanced space civilization have never once considered such a question? As a result, the great debate between peaceful but admittedly naïve coexistence and brutal, militaristic efficiency begins here? It’s a little insulting!

I’m a pansy, peace-loving leftist too, but c’mon, a proper debate at least allows for both sides to properly defend themselves. Unfortunately, Ledo isn’t too bright; he can’t really articulate his side of the debate very well other than spouting nonsense about his duty or, uh, we’re all gonna die ‘cause you guys are inefficient and illogical. I’m as anti-hawk as they come, but I’m not naïve enough to think the hawks are these one-dimensional caricatures who know nothing but fight, fight, fight. But I suppose that’s the problem. At its heart, the anime is anti-hawk, but it hasn’t really researched the other side’s position. Or maybe it isn’t confident enough to answer some of the tougher questions. As a result, Ledo serves as a stand-in for some pretty flimsy hawkish ideas, flimsy enough that even a mere child can shoot them down with childlike counterarguments. As a result, you get ironically funny scenes where every time Amy’s brother utters a sentence in retort, it blows Ledo’s simpleton mind: “Like OMG, what will I do after the war!”

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The show is neither intellectually stimulating enough nor visually titillating enough to tide me over. Some very basic philosophizing about the nature of unending war and gyrating hips in spastastically low frames from a sexualized 15-year-old aren’t exactly my cup of tea. From what I’ve seen thus far, Gargantia just feels very safe, very undaring, and, as a result, very boring. I read somewhere about how the story is meant to help recent high school graduates adapt to the larger world beyond the confines of the classroom. That’s all fine and dandy, but even so, I think the creators vastly underestimate young people’s intelligence. I think the audience deserves something a little more thought-provoking and complex than what we’ve been given thus far. I mean, if this show really causes you to question your worldviews, I really don’t know what to say. I guess I’ll just stare at you with my mouth agape much like Ledo.


25 Replies to “Suisei no Gargantia Ep. 1-7: “I need myself.””

  1. “Some very basic philosophizing about the nature of unending war and gyrating hips in spastastically low frames from a sexualized 15-year-old aren’t exactly my cup of tea.”

    Agree completely. Old hags need not apply.

  2. It’s strange how well this idea of “philosophizing about the nature of unending war” fits into your previous rev- dual rant about a crappy mecha anime. It seems like this show did the same thing many mecha shows do, and that is talk about war and it’s facet at such a shallow level even it doesn’t even touch your knees.
    …Get it? Shallow? Touch your-? It’s like water is what I’m getting at: transparent and shallow.

    Tortured metaphors aside, I can’t help but wonder if this is typical of anime in general. How often do we see anime that tries to philosophize but either fears getting too complex (which is ridiculous due to it’s chosen subject matter) or goes “full retard” as they say now and throws all logic out the window for abstract imagery and long, arduous speeches detailing some half-baked pseudo philosophy? There’s few shows/movies/OVAs that can find that place in between, I’ve seen.

  3. As a war-versus-peace lecture, yeah, it’s incredibly simplistic. But I think the more interesting questions the show is raising concern the purpose of society and a labor economy in the first place, as well as the role those forces should or automatically do play in shaping individual identity (which are obviously more relevant ideas to young graduates than “war is bad”). I think Ledo’s supposed to come across as being unable to really articulate his society’s philosophy because that’s the result of him being a lowly cog within it, not because the writers don’t think there’s anything else to that argument.

    The show overall comes off to me as Urobuchi finally articulating the opposite, optimistic end of his favorite thematic concern – the ways people interact with, are molded by, and submit to or rise above the larger structures that define their world.

    The cultural stuff strikes me as too incoherent to be offensive… though I was definitely plenty offended by those ridiculous gay panic characters in 5.

    1. the more interesting questions

      More interesting? Perhaps. Overwhelmed by the banal conflict regarding whalefishes and the limp “romance” brewing between Ledo and Amy? Most definitely. Whatever Urobochi’s aims may be, the results seem unfocused to me. I don’t think I can pardon the simplistic “war-versus-peace” debate that keeps rearing its ugly head just because there are more interesting questions being teased at behind all the unsubtle, in-your-face moralizing. It’s the writer’s job to put those interesting questions to the forefront, after all.

      I think Ledo’s supposed to come across as being unable to really articulate his society’s philosophy because that’s the result of him being a lowly cog within it, not because the writers don’t think there’s anything else to that argument.

      Without anyone to balance out Ledo’s inability to articulate his society’s position, there’s really little evidence to support the second part of your argument.

  4. Anime being too abstract or safe with its messages is not a new problem or anything, but man is it disappointing when something so promising fails to deliver on that front. Honestly, it wasn’t until Episode 7 where Ledo just single-mindedly wanted to kill those squids did I realize that this anime was playing it too black and white for my taste. A pity too, because I love the concept of a guy who knows nothing but war trying to settle in with a bunch of citizens who know nothing but peace(?). At least the anime hasn’t really gone into pretentious territory yet, but I’m really not liking where it’s heading.

  5. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I talked specifically about the whole Belly Dancing scene and why that was some real bullshit right there, but you’ve basically summed up my issues with Gargantia in one packed post: a culturally ignorant, racist and misogynic story that attempts to think that peace is the best solution to EVERYTHING, with some even more problematic parts in there as well. It’s sad too, because Gargantia’s world is interesting and I would have liked to see some depth to it, but instead we’re going to focus on squids and how Ledo must become ~peaceful~ to become whole and a validated human being.

  6. Pretty well agreed. Like Flawfinder, though, it didn’t properly hit me till episode 7. I would like to raise a small counter-point, though. I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as the space squids being entirely peaceful unless provoked. Ledo said in episode 7 that the reason they hadn’t attack Gargantia yet is because they weren’t technologically developed enough to be considered a threat, and that the moment they are they will be attacked.

    I think the Hideauze are more akin to a force of nature that stops civilisations from getting too powerful, kinda like the anti-spirals in Gurren Lagann. Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s revealed that the ice age that caused the force reset of human civilisation on earth which led to the waterworld setting was caused by the Hideauze too.

    Not saying this is a big thematic step-up, but I’d be surprised if it turns out he Hideauze are purely reactionary.

    1. I think the Hideauze are more akin to a force of nature that stops civilisations from getting too powerful, kinda like the anti-spirals in Gurren Lagann.

      Or reapers before Bioware screwed the pooch.

  7. I admit I did find the allusions to Waterworld with the settings and all to be unfortunate. Deep down I wonder if it’s worth watching the complete series just for animation quality value, but I did find the dancing scene to be … awkward.

    Also, space-squids are always entertaining. This reminds me of Aquarion Evol, which had pretty character designs, nice OST, and I have no idea what it was about after finishing it.

  8. I normally agree with your rants but come on your acting like the natives view point is going to be right in the end when all evidence shown so far points away from it. The whale squids in space are the aggressors, they eat consume entire stars, And run off of energy from what is shown,Only reason they do not go after humans on earth is because they have better stuff occupying them for now for example the lightning storms and advanced human tech they keep to themselves.The gargantia had to roll over and play dead to not have the whale squid kill all of them that is not coexisting. Plus Ledo is not a ordinary soldier he is a soldier from birth those kind have always been men of little word and terrible in moral arguments. Even master chief from halo is a neet almost most iconic soldier from birth I could think of at the time.What the series could do tho is have chamber argue on ledos behalf and bring up the points shown to us viewers that could have been missed. Because Ledo is just plain beyond terrible at arguing.

  9. I think the point in question here is that Ledo represents less the “hawk” point of view, and more the victim of an extremely militarized society who literally did nothing but fight all his life. It’s not about war vs. peace, it’s about Ledo being someone who’s been trained to do one thing and one thing only with absolute efficiency and total determination and now is outside of his usual schemes, has all this freedom and has no clue about how to use it. So it is more a metaphor for leaving school – a place where you can do well as long as you do what they tell you to do and where, especially in Japan, it’s just do-or-die, win and float or be a dropout destined to fail in life – and entering actual society, with all its scary freedom, and the wish to just apply those same black-and-white categories you learned for years to a world which instead is made of lots of shade of grey (and I’m not talking about E. L. James here).

    Said this, I loved Gargantia until episode 4, possibly because I enjoyed the slow pace as I found it calming. I hated episode 5 and its stupid fanservice, chauvinism, and homo/transphobia, and that kind of ruined the show for me. As of episodes 7 and 8 I feel like there’s been an improvement, but I still can’t look at it with the same eyes.

  10. Suisei no Gargantia has been disappointing so far, to say the least, especially when one considers that Gen Urobuchi’s involved. Might you consider sharing your thoughts on the conclusion of Psycho-Pass? I really enjoyed your write-ups on that series.,

    Not sure if this is the appropriate platform to suggest this, but would you consider writing about Shingeki no Kyojin? It might just be the strongest contender for the best anime of the season.

    1. Not sure if this is the appropriate platform to suggest this, but would you consider writing about Shingeki no Kyojin? It might just be the strongest contender for the best anime of the season.

      Not really my type of show.

  11. Yeah, I know im late to the party but everythign yousaid makes sense, I treid re-watching this show and at the end of the third episode/beginning of the 4th the show just pissed me off, mainly the part about “why you don’t kill pirates” The argument of the natives was so stupid, that if *I* were the main character I would have just taken my robot toy, left, killed the REST of the pirates, then taken it upon myself to explore the rest of the planet, instead of hanging out with those idiots. But yeah the writing from the 4th episode on (when Urobutchi Gen handed off the writing of the story to someone else) was just pretty damn stupid. The plot twist of the Hideazeu is something you see from a mile away, and while THAT part was interesting, that, and the last arc, doesn’t hold off the story as a whole (not to mention all the wasted time).

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