If the question “What would it look like if Matsumoto Leiji and Urobuchi Gen had a kid and Miyazaki Hayao designed its wardrobe?” sounds interesting to you, then Suisei no Gargantia may be right up your alley.
OP: “Kono Sekai wa Bokura wo Matteita (この世界は僕らを待っていた)” by Minori Chihara
Any way you look at it, the first two episodes of Suisei no Gargantia have been spectacular. I’ve often wondered what would happen if Urobuchi Gen – who’s obviously a very smart and talented guy – put all that brain power behind a straight-ahead action or drama, without there having to be a point to everything he writes. Writers willing and able to populate their anime with big ideas are rare, so I’m certainly glad Gen is around to do it – but maybe one reason his series always end up falling short of greatness is because he loses himself in all that navel-gazing when he doesn’t have the inclination (or ability) to answer the questions he raises anyway. If he channeled his energies in another direction, perhaps his characters could rise above the level of archetypes and become real, believable people?
It’s too early to say if Gargantia represents a shift in that direction but for two episodes anyway, this is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen from Gen. It’s a straight-ahead sci-fi epic with a compelling premise and it’s written with Gen’s usual intelligence, and that’s a wonderful combination. There are a few things that don’t quite win me over – while the series is still gorgeous, the over-reliance on CGI is more apparent when the entire episode is Earthbound, where CG isn’t as seamless and impressive as it in space battles. And there’s some of Gen’s usual otaku pandering, most obvious in the design of Amy, though she’s hardly the most egregious example of her trope (and the always winning Kanemoto Hisako behind the mic doesn’t hurt).
I really love the way the standoff between Ledo and the Earthers has played out – I think it’s handled in a quite realistic fashion (though of course we can only speculate). From his perspective, Ledo has made perhaps the most important discovery in history, but he’s in a very odd position. Yes, he could wipe out the humans pointing their primitive weapons at him with ease, but that would be morally and strategically unacceptable. As Chamber slowly works out the mechanics of Earth language, the humans debate how to handle the situation, with some like Pinion (Konishi Katsuyuki) arguing to “sink” the stranger before he does them all in, and others like Amy pushing for communication. The Fleet’s leader Fearokku (Tezuka Hideaki) rules for a wait-and-see approach, leaving the two sides quietly staring at each other.
Meanwhile, we learn a bit more about the situation of the humans. Amy has an otouto, Bevel (Terasaki Yuka, who earned a special place in my esteem with her performance as Zushi in H x H and kid Arata in Chihayfuru), apparently unable to walk, who dreams of space and correctly guesses that Ledo in fact came from the sky, not the sea, and that he’s likely descended from the humans who legend says escaped the Earth millennia earlier and fled to space. Something big has clearly happened on Earth – Chamber’s records show it as frozen and dead due to irregularities with the Sun, and indeed the entire planet apparently did freeze over once – but the ice melted. That left the surface covered in water, with humanity surviving in “fleets” like the one Ledo landed near – known as Gargantia – surviving by salvaging old human artefacts from the sea floor and following the “Ginga Michi” – avenues of luminous sea creatures that provide them electricity.
The scourge of this ragged civilization, apparently, is pirates – and a band of them soon attack Gargantia, finding them woefully unprepared. Ledo sees this as an opportunity to gain some leverage with the populace by acting in their defense, which seems like a smart move on paper. However, his methods may end up doing more harm than good. Taking the soldier’s approach that an enemy is an enemy and must be destroyed, he launches his mecha and in the blink of an eye utterly annihilates the pirate fleet. Setting aside the issue that the pirates are humans, this display of raw power is surely going to complicate any chance he has of an amenable relationship with the people of Gargantia. How can you feel comfortable in an alliance with someone who, by all practical measures, is effectively a God? Chamber especially was already something they perceived as magic more than science, given the gap in their technology.
All this plays out in coherent and very feasible fashion. Sugita Tomokazu is his usual brilliant self as Chamber, and 19 year-old Ishikawa Kaitou is delivering the goods big-time as Ledo, capturing his modest demeanor and sense of bewilderment at his current situation. If Robotics Notes was like Adachi Mitsuru doing mecha, there’s an Urobuchi Gen takes on Matsumoto Leiji quality to Suisei no Gargantia thus far with its blend of futuristic tech and hardscrabble living-rough setting, and the contrast between Ledo and Chamber and the almost Princess Mononoke-like trappings and costumes of the Earthers. Adding Gen to that mix is a pretty fascinating notion, and it’s exhilarating to imagine just how great this series could be if all the pieces fall into place.
ED: “Sora to Kimi no Message (空とキミのメッセージ)” by ChouCho