First Impressions – Suisei no Gargantia

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The eternal quest for a truly great Gen Urobuchi series is off to a terrific start.

I was a bit worried about the Spring season after the first batch of premieres, but this weekend has brought a pretty impressive crop.  Some of that is the power of sheer numbers, of course, but among that group are quite a few shows that seem to have the potential to be exceptional, and Suisei no Gargantia definitely counts among that number.  It grabs you in a way few series do in their first episode.

There were two series among the biggest-in-years crop of sci-fi anime that stood out in looking at the schedule.  The first was Shingeki no Kyojin, which delivered with a very strong, gripping opening episode.  Suisei no Gargantia was the second, and it too delivered with a premiere that was equally strong in quite different ways.  Seeing Gen tackle a mecha anime holds a lot of appeal in the first place, and the premise behind this one was intriguing as well.  With the might of Production I.G. behind it there was really nothing on paper standing in the way of Suisei being a very notable show.

This premiere reminded me a bit of Saving Private Ryan, in that it launched directly into the action with an extended and brutal combat sequence.  Combat in space is quite different than on the killing fields of Europe, of course, but Gen and director Murata Kazuya do a splendid job of showing us that death is the soldier’s one constant companion, no matter the battlefield.  We’re dropped right in the middle of a story where a galactic human alliance is in extended struggle with aliens called Hideauze, all to preserve a future for the idyllic homeworld of Avalon.  Solders spend most of their time in cryogenic sleep, and if they survive long enough to build up servie time they’re granted the privilege of a few weeks away from the front to go to Avalon and do all the things that make us human.

Such a soldier is mecha pilot Ledo (an excellent Ishikawa Kaitou, a clear rising star in the seiyuu world), but his leave will only come if he survives the current battle – for which he’s woken a mere 5 minutes before commencement.  It’s a kind of all-in attack on a Hideauze base using wormhole technology, and the entire sequence – like the opening of SPR – is stunning.  It’s about as good an extended space battle as you’ll see in a TV anime, but as with that Spielberg film, there’s a feeling this isn’t going to be typical of what the rest of the show is going to be like.  Indeed, when the attack goes disastrously wrong, Ledo is forced to retreat and only survives thanks to the sacrifice of his commanding officer Kugel (Ono Yuuki) who memorably tells him, “You’re younger than I am.  You’ll be able to kill more of them than I will.”

This is all pretty much perfectly executed, but the real seemingly story seemingly begins afterwards – as we join a ragtag salvage operation trying to make sense of Ledo’s mecha.  He’s awoken after a six-month slumber by his A.I. unit, Chamber (Sugita Tomokazu), to a strange world (later revealed to be the mythological origin planet of Earth) where the language makes no sense (Chamber busily starts to work trying to make sense of this).  We get a sense of Ledo here in his unwillingness to risk the lives of the strange primitives outside his mecha in order to escape – he’s not socially adapted, but he has integrity and a soldier’s well-drilled concern for civilian collateral damage.  I love the chemistry between Ledo and Chamber, and the salvage crew seems as if they were ripped from the pages of a Matsumoto Leiji story.  Most important among them for our purposes is Amy (Kanemoto Hisako) who, with her pet squirrel and spunky nubile sexuality, is easily the most conventional part of the episode.  Gen always includes at least one character of this type in every story – it seems to fill a sort of security blanket role for for him as a writer.

I would say that, on balance, this premiere was about as close to flawless as you could want.  It was gorgeous to look at, well acted, briskly paced and immediately sucks you in to the story both in space on on the ground.  The dialogue is witty (Sugita, typically, gets the best lines) and the sci-fi side of things holds water.  Gen has a very interesting mix here – combined with the larger struggle of galactic survival and returning to his people, Ledo is going to be dealing with a classic lifelong soldier’s struggle to integrate into a non-military social structure for the first time.  It doesn’t need to be repeated than Gen struggles to take shows across the finish line – he’s always been better at introducing interesting situations than resolving them.  But for my money this is as good a start as he’s ever gotten off to, and all the pieces are in place for Suisei no Gargantia to be something special.

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  1. i

    'soldier's well-drilled concern for civilian collateral damage' I think that's only in fiction. If they aren't killing then you're just a possible threat that they will kill if you're jumpy.

    But yeah this was the first premiere after Maousama that hit me like its a definite keeper. Very interesting, likeable and (listen to this Kaiji Yuki) well acted characters, especially the Tomokazu Sugita AI.

    Animation was superb from the grand space battle which had a few of the elements of Rinne no Lagrange to the scene in which Chamber builds a model of the salvage building while Ledo is running.

    Also that scene with the commanding officer. He didn't say you must live to save mankind or some cliche like that. Just you can kill more of them than me so live now and die later to fulfill that.

    I always thought Gen is best a writer when, like Mari Okada, he has someone to reign in his style and keep him from going into a full depression mode. With Madoka that was Shinbo Akiyuki and hopefully there's someone at IG doing it as well.

  2. That's not how it works in the US military, anyway – you can ask any of the guys who did combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and put their own lives at much greater risk because of strict orders prioritizing minimizing risk to civilians.

  3. e

    As anime space battles go this one looked pretty good and not confusing to follow. Also, so many attractive light beams and organic design for aliens things. These ones and the dimenstrom grabbed my attention for once. <— Yes, I tend to get distracted and/or bored easily by space battle sequences otherwise.
    'spunky nubile sexuality'? you english mothertongue mofo you :,D.
    I'm not too sold on on said sns sexy squaw cosplay girl's costume truthfully and her borderline Candy Candy pet squirrel but everything else seems promising. And Chamber made me laugh a couple of times.
    We'll see how this goes…

  4. .

    Naruko Hanaharu did the character designs. He(She?)'s an erotic manga artist. I suppose it explains Ensign Red's bodyhugging spacesuit.

    Here's a sample of Hanaharu-san's work:

    Taro Iwashiro did the music. I LOVE the music, it's very cinematic.
    He's done the soundtrack for John Woo's historical Chinese epic Red Cliff,
    and the Live-action Rurouni Kenshin Movie.

    Samples: Red Cliff:

    Rurouni Kenshin :

    With that, enjoy!!Let me know what you think!

  5. e

    @.Lime: ooh, nice foreshortening views and pretty decent hands and tendons+muscles details but… lactation hentai, kiss the womb *wince* and uber-massive twin harbringers of back pains? Ooooh boy. I'm perfectly fine with skintight spacesuits though. I was actually disappointed at the uniforms double standard in Yamato 2199 for instance :p.
    About the other links -pardon me while I momentarily swoon on the side at Kenshin and at Takeshi Kaneshiro respectively – I did not find those music tracks outstanding but they sound competently made and pretty fitting :).

  6. Well, you know, the character designer for Seirei no Moribito was also a hentai doujin artist – some of them have remarkable talent. And some well-known mainstream mangaka moonlight that way, too.

  7. e

    I know. A few among hentai tropes are just not my cup of tea but I can appreciate the draughtmanship just fine when it's on display (have you read Hanafuda? some of the prettiest panels and color palette around if you can stomach the content), sorry if that was not clear enough in the above case :).

  8. e I can't remember where I found it for reading anymore, but it's still online somewhere for sure.

  9. .

    Glad to see you both enjoy it!

    elianthos:Sorry if you didn't enjoy my hentai link πŸ™ I thought it was pretty funny…legendary molester >_<

    Takeshi Kaneshiro's pretty popular in China, HK, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. He's also called by his Chinese name, JΔ«nchΓ©ng WΗ” (ι‡‘εŸŽζ­¦).
    Some Japanese buddies say Takeru Sato's become very popular from his Kenshin role. To think he started out in Kamen Rider Den-o!

    Have any of you seen either Red Cliff or Rurouni Kenshin movies?

  10. e

    @.Lime: ahah don't worry, I'm old enough and I've seen enough stuff, this is still mild (I mean no tentacles? no raep? no orgiastic excesses? no abuse and umilation? o extreme fetishes? and it's consensual? and they're adults? this is a walk in the park :p ) just not for me. The legendary skill bit per se was quite funny actually.

    They're both on my watch list, I just need to find more time. Acually I caught a bit of red cliff on an Italian channel recently but the signal was too weak. And as usual the dub for Asian movies tends to be pretty questionable… it's especially noticeable with Kaneshiro (the man has quite the deep voice… in Italian he sounds like a tween and they give him the same Italian VA they used for Inuyasha X,DD). DVDs and original audio with subtitles all the way.

  11. .

    I'd personally recommend the original Mandarin-dialogue release in 2 parts, each 2 hours long.

    It's long, but it's the complete original. The Western release is just the 2 parts cut together into one movie, meaning you'll miss out on some things.

    Hope this helps! Otherwise it should be available for download somewhere.

    I saw Rurouni Kenshin at the Japanese film festival where I live. Pretty good, although the cinematography and sets could have been greatly improved.

  12. e

    @.Lime: good to know, thanks.
    In terms of draftsmanship one of my top favourites comic artists worldwide, Milo Manara is actually mainly specialized in hardcore erotic works. A lot of the times I've gobbled up his pages thanks to the mere beauty and elegance of his lines regardless of content (I think he has covered every possible kink and position known to man, beasts and supernatural entities X,D). He's pretty prone to pwp when left alone, his strongest works plot-wise are usually collabs with the likes of Hugo Pratt ( the latter is the creator of [non-erotic] comic – and later animated – series of adventures of Corto Maltese Good stuff. He wrote the script for the grahic novel Indian Summer while Manara did the drawings ) , Neil Gaiman and so forth.
    There is an extensive sampling of Manara's works here , I don't think it needs saying but a lot of those pics are very NSFW.

    Sorry for hijacking the thread Enzo XD.

  13. 1

    Well damn, should have been obvious. Naruko Hanaharu did the character designs for the Kamichu! anime and the manga art. If you can get to the gallery at his site you'll see that he brought the three girls over from (probably) previous works. He does know how to draw an attractive female.

  14. .

    @elianthos: just looked at Hanafuda, the pictures are beautiful.

    Enzo: True. It's a shame when some really talented artists are unable to make it to mainstream popularity, while some mediocre ones get to hog all the glory.

  15. l

    "and the sci-fi side of things holds water."

    Yes, indeed. A whole planet full of water. πŸ˜€

    A super strong debut episode. After my husband and I watched the show, I must have said "I really liked this" at least a half-dozen times to him for the next 15 minutes. Then I dragged out Newtype and showed him the promo art that first caught my attention. You could say that I'm impressed, I guess. LOL

    As far as I know, I've never made it through an entire series that Urobuchi was involved with. Maybe, just maybe, Gargantia will be my first one.

  16. .

    heya Enzo,

    Just saw your review on Dr Who's 2nd ep, and it got me thinking when people are going to start writing crossover Gargantia/new Dr Who fanfiction.

    Imagine the possibilities! The Doctor and Clara Oswald investigating the Galactic Alliance conspiracy with Red, or adventuring on the high seas of flooded Earth, trying to find the titular Gargantia!

    This will have to wait until lore for both shows are properly established, of course.

  17. l

    Not seen this yet, but I noticed it's mecha and has a silver haired protagonist. Looks good (other than the fact it's written by Butcherfapper), but I have a couple of reservations. Two, specifically;

    1. Does the protagonist do the corny "I wanna be a HERO" announcement every 5 minutes, like that other mecha anime I saw a few days ago?

    2. Does the protagonist come with an annoying autistic voice, typical of silver haired teenage boys this season?

  18. t

    You're in luck. The protagonist doesn't have a hero complex. Instead, he's portrayed as a very level-headed person. Also, no autistic voice, just a no-nonsense one.

  19. m

    Got battlestar galactica vibes from this show based on how the population ships looked . plus the fact that they believe earth to be mythological ( but it turns out to be real). This show was not even on my radar until yesterday but now is on my short list.

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