Gargantia On The Verdurous Planet (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 356 minutes approx.
Gen Urobuchi is proving to be quite a prolific writer of late with Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Psycho Pass delighting anime fans with his dark, psychological and often existential take on popular themes. Urobuchi latest collaboration with famed animation studio Production IG sees a shift into lighter territory.
In the distant future humans have been forced to relocate into space, forming the Galactic Alliance of Humankind as they become embroiled in a brutal and costly war against tentacle liked aliens called Hideauze. Battles are fought with Mecha called Caliber with Artificial Intelligence operating systems. During a particularly hazardous clash a wormhole opens up in space, sucking in teenage pilot Ledo and his Caliber, Chamber.
When Ledo awakens after six months in cryo-stasis both he and Chamber are unable to recognise their surroundings, shocked to discover that not only is there naturally breathable air but humans who speak a language unknown to them. The planet of course is Earth, having now been covered entirely by the ocean forcing people to live on giant floating community ships. Ledo has been rescued by the people from the Gargantia fleet who try their best to help him acclimatise to his new peaceful surroundings that he only knew of from legends passed down through the ages.
Gargantia’s culture clash tale evolves into a heart warming and poignant tale reflecting the relationship between humans and their environment but suffers from to many cooks to make this a broth that could rival similarly nourishing essays from Hayao Miyazaki. That may not have been its intention but the Miyazaki influence – Nausicaa is chief among them – is certainly palpable.
Urobuchi instead says his motive for this tale was to assure those of school/college leaving age that the big “adult” world they are about to enter into needn’t be as scary as they assume it to be. A noble sentiment but one which ironically could prove redundant when the rise of hikikimori in Japanese society is taken into consideration – not to mention how many of them are anime otaku!
The stranger in a strange land scenario dominates the early episodes in this thirteen chapter series (which also includes two bonus OVAs) after the huge info dump of the opening instalment. Since Urobuchi only penned the first and last episodes, he cannot be held accountable for the onslaught of sadly hackneyed anime conventions which have been shoehorned into what began as a promising alternative to the current cookie cutter laziness prevalent in anime today.
Granted they serve to chart Ledo’s assimilation and gradual adapting to his new surroundings but was the trip to the beach or the exotic belly dancing parade really necessary? It’s bad enough the female cast – perky delivery girl Amy who takes Ledo under her wing, her two friends Melty and Saaya and the pirate captain Lukkage – are skimpily attired, the latter almost obscenely so, and are well proportioned in the upper body department. Thankfully this is the exception rather than the norm once the main story kicks in.
During a routine underwater fishing trip Ledo instinctively kills a Whalesquid due to its resemblance to the Hideauze. Considered a sacred animal by the humans Chamber’s analysis of the corpse yields a connection to the Hideauze yet they co-exist with humans. Shortly after Gargantia repairman Pinion, whose brother was killed by Whalesquid, leads a group of people who wish to secede from Gargantia, with Ledo being one of them to further explore their discoveries about the Whalesquid.
From here the story diverges into a tale of political intrigue and social dysfunction born from distorted values and tenets in which technology is both the cause of and the supposed salvation of these situations. Ledo and Chamber’s investigations into the Whalesquid’s relation to the Hideauze forces Ledo to confront and question everything he has known and believed in while a potential civil war looms around him.
As developments go this is standard fare but the various revelations that arise are significant enough to keep the audience engaged and invested in the story’s progression. Working against it however is the episode count which doesn’t allow for the plotline of the second half to be fully explored, resulting in an idea that feels it was dreamt up for convenience rather than by congruent design.
That isn’t to say it doesn’t work and it is crafted well enough into a dramatic crescendo for the denouement, but its application is rather rushed. This also applies to the character development outside of Ledo or Chamber, leaving the majority of cast members thinly drawn despite holding important roles within the story. A full twenty four episode run would have rectified this instead we are left to witness actions and changes of loyalty which seem to be made on a whim since so little of their characters and backgrounds is shared with us.
The reputation Production IG have as the anime studio (not named Studio Ghibli) is again in evidenced in full in this series and should engender few complaints. The backgrounds and artwork are simply stunning, rich with intricate and studied detail in both the futuristic and alternate worlds. There is a slight X’amd Lost Memories vibe to be found in the Steampunk-esque representation of Gargantia with a noticeable but not overwhelming Native American influence on the female attire. The battle sequences are a thing of beauty to watch, a stream of smooth fluid manoeuvres of the crude air crafts, the missiles and of course the Caliber. The Whalesquid are given an ethereal appearance and move with grace underwater.
An undeniably eventful and visually appealing show Gargantia On The Verdurous Planet offers plenty to satisfy even hard to please anime fans, yet leaves an unfortunate lingering aftertaste of not fulfilling the potential hinted at the start. Even if it had no ambitions of challenging any paradigms it could have made a more resonant impact with a little more time to let its story unravel.
A fun and thoughtful ride for what it is.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0
Rating – *** ½
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