Suisei no Gargantia – 03

Suisei no Gargantia - 03-9 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-13 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-18

With each masterpiece of an episode, Suisei no Gargantia is starting to convince me that Urobuchi Gen may finally have harnessed his powers as a force for good.

This is a pretty good season on the whole, and certainly presents a crowded field of shows, but things are starting to clarify themselves.  For me it’s become clear that Suisei no Gargantia and Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge are far above the rest of the field in terms of overall quality.  The fact that the two series are so thematically different is, if anything, that much more of a bonus – because what they both have in common is technical brilliance, compelling premise and characters, concise, incisive writing and brilliant direction.

To my perception Gargantia, thus far at least, is quite different from any other Gen series.  As has been pointed out he’s not exerting the same level of fine control over this show as he normally does – Gen appears to be more focused on the overall concept here than the minute details (and that may not be a bad thing).  His presence is still the elephant in the room, and like most people watching the series I feel a sense that it’s a ticking time bomb – a massive explosion of angst and despair could come at any time.  But I hope not, because while Gargantia so far isn’t the bleak experience Gen series usually are, it’s no less serious as a show.  The difference is that this time it’s the horse before the cart, and not the other way around: there are important ideas on the table, but they’re acting as developers for the characters and the story rather than those elements merely being devices for Gen to think out loud.

I think this is the week when I knew Gargantia was truly special, and that’s because it’s this this episode that’s seen fan reaction started to splinter about the series.  It’s been obvious since the beginning that Gen was using this series as a chance to offer his own take on some classic mecha anime concerns: the child soldier system most obvious among them.  But what this episode proved is that Gargantia is also a disdainful thumb-in-the-eye to the usual simplistic anime approach of destroy the enemy before he destroys you.  Other mecha series (even the sometimes-but-not-always-justifiably ridiculed Gundam AGE) have of course tackled that issue before, but generally lacked the literary and intellectual chops to cut to the core of the matter the way Gen is doing with Gargantia.

We started the see the divide in the audience with the conclusion of last week’s episode, which saw Ledo annihilate the attacking  pirate fleet.  Many saw that as a straightforward GAR moment, while others realized Gen was setting up a conflict but saw no problem with Ledo’s actions.  The shit hit the fan big-time this week, both on-screen and off.  As always seemed likely the leaders of Gargantia were horrified at what Ledo did – not just because of the loss of life, but because of purely practical concerns.    With their fleet annihilated, the pirates would surely come looking for revenge – as indeed they did.  As Bellows (Itou Shizuka, who really had a breakout episode) explains to the puzzled Ledo, “The drawn weapons themselves are a type of negotiation.”  The essence is this – the fleets like Gargantia and the pirates are the residents of Earth, and even if they don’t play by the same rules they have to co-exist in order to survive.  Ledo is an outsider, a visitor at best and an intruder at worst.  He’s not likely the one who’s going to feel the full brunt of consequences for whatever he does.

The bottom line: war is messy, and there aren’t always neat answers.  No revelation there of course, but Gargantia is presenting the problem in a believable and compelling way.  Ledo isn’t at fault for what he did – he acted as any military man from his civilization would.  They’ve been taught that the only good enemy is a dead one, and he made a lot of dead enemies.  What this highlights is the huge gap between Ledo and his hosts both in terms of technology and perspective.  Some are decrying their attitude as hypocritical – they don’t want Ledo to kill unnecessarily, but they also openly consider handing him over to the pirates as blood payment for what he’s done.  I don’t see the hypocrisy here because neither Bellows or anyone else suggested that the Gargantians (Gargantuites?) are pacifists – they’re certainly not.  They’re merely doing what they have to do to survive in a world where survival is tenuous (“Give the fresh water to the one who catches the fish” exemplifies the necessarily practical nature of their viewpoint) and the tenuous nature of that existence has given them an impulse not to take any life unnecessarily, even that of an enemy.

One of the messages here, no doubt, is that life is full of contradictions and moral compromises we’re often not even aware we’re making.  Ledo himself thinks nothing of wiping out a fleet of pirates he knows are human, but is repulsed at the notion that the Earthers kill animals for food and keep making him eat their carcasses (and what’s with a carnivorous squirrel?).  When the full fleet of pirates comes on a revenge attack under the leadership of their lusty and busty Captain Lacage (Tsunematsu Ayumi) the full breadth of the dilemma becomes clear.  There’s a delicate negotiation over what to do next, within the human community and then with Ledo, which results in him being asked to defend the fleet without taking any lives unnecessarily.  Well, just ask the troops who fought in Iraq just how hideously difficult that is, and not even Ledo’s huge advantage in firepower makes this an easy task.  Lecage is a smart and well-weaponed enemy (in more ways than one), and under any reality she could reasonably have expected she’d have won easily.  As it was she managed to inflict damage and casualties on the “allied” (Chamber’s term) side before Ledo was able to put an end to the battle.

That was an ugly battle, too, with Ledo fighting with one hand tied behind his back at the request of the Earthers, putting his own safety at risk – though more so the safety of those he was protecting – to avoid superfluous bloodshed.  Was it ideal?  No, certainly not – but was it the wrong approach?  Many viewers are hooting and hollering that it was a preposterous mistake, but I’m not sure there was a better course.  This is a dilemma often faced when superpowers intervene militarily in conflicts between less-powerful forces – to some extent they can keep a lid on the powder keg as long as they’re present.  But Ledo is going to leave one day, and the Gargantia will have to deal with the repercussions of whatever he does.  Just how many would he have to kill to prevent reprisals in the future?  How preemptive does he have to be?  As is so often the case Gen may be better at asking the questions than offering answers (we’ll see) but if so, in this instance I think he has a pretty darn good excuse since there are no good answers.

I might quibble with some small things here: given how beautiful Gargantia’s backgrounds and cel animation are (for example, the gorgeous starscapes visible on a planet with virtually no artificial light sources and no land), I wish it relied less on middling CGI than it does.  Some of the choices with character design (see Lecage and her half-naked slave-girl concubine lieutenants) are a bit too pandery for my tastes.  But on balance they’re meager flaws – this is a series that both delivers up a terrific plot and characters who behave recognizably and believably in fantastical situations.  I’m always on-edge to see where the story will go next, and this week is no exception: with the reveal that Ridgett (Ohara Sayaka) is the daughter of the former leader “Chevron”, it seems likely that the old Fleet Commander will give way to her (most likely through a heroic death) soon enough.  The alliance between Ledo and the Gargantia is a tenuous one – and Ridgett gets right to the key question: if Ledo can do that to the pirates, can’t he also do that to us?  This series presents a scenario that’s overflowing with possibility, and that’s one of many reasons why it’s such a joy to watch.

Suisei no Gargantia - 03-10 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-11 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-12
Suisei no Gargantia - 03-14 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-15 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-16
Suisei no Gargantia - 03-17 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-19 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-20
Suisei no Gargantia - 03-21 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-22 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-23
Suisei no Gargantia - 03-24 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-25 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-26
Suisei no Gargantia - 03-27 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-28 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-29
Suisei no Gargantia - 03-30 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-31 Suisei no Gargantia - 03-32
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

19 comments

  1. K

    I don't even think Gen wrote this episode. From what I understand he is only writing the first and last. Of course that doesn't mean he doesn't have overall control on the story (although I think the director has a say in this story as well).

    Anyways I was disappointed in this episode. Not because of the Gargantian's not wanting to kill the pirates but because the pirates themselves were so silly, the fan service really didn't help.

    The final scene did help though, it was such a great moment.

  2. i

    It really is a slightly different Gen Urobuchi from the start but I think that his theme for the series is starting to pan out: When is war or military intervention justifiable?

    It's a question which indeed has no answers because there will ALWAYS be casualties from a conflict like this, intentionally or unintentionally, during the conflict or after it.

    And while all conflicts are different, I think that one motivation for them is always the same and its a sad one: Happiness. Everyone wants it but it seems not everyone can have it. Its not equally distributed and many will live without it for most of their lives.

    I say happiness because a greedy arms dealer who wants a war feels happy when he makes a big sale. A rebel feels happy when he kills an enemy because he feels he's aiding a change that will help him or his family. An in power politician feels happy when his army wins a victory and distracts voters from his corrupt behavior. An opposition politician feels happy when he sees support for his cause no matter what harm it will his supporters.

    The only people who will feel the sadness are those who never wanted this conflict, those content with their lives: the families living in peace in the war zone and the soldiers, and their relations, asked to lay down their lives. And the most unfortunate thing is that these people will always outnumber the people who are happy in a conflict.

    But that aside Suarez's bite was the funniest thing I've ever seen. What kind of athlete bites another in a match. This isn't a chicken fight.

  3. l

    3 things I've learned from the first 3 episodes of Gargantia:

    1. All this "cloud computing" business – where you store vital info on the net – sucks when you get stranded a few light-years away from your people and need access to translation software. All important stuff should be stored locally, like on Chamber. You hear me, Google?!!

    2. Vegetarians are useless!! Send a vegetarian to negotiate, and he'll f*ck everything up the moment the other party offers him a carcass as a form of friendship.

    3. Flying squirrels eat bird meat!! O_O

    Decent series. We all know Gen will f*ck it up sooner or later, but so far it's been enjoyable.

  4. s

    Some viewers have also pointed out that Chamber likely can't operate forever, and the prospect of a dwindling power supply will no doubt make Ledo a strategic asset to be used even more carefully as events unfold, should things turn out that way.

    I suspect something will come of Captain Lacage's musing about Chamber's capabilities underwater, as well. Ledo's space-bound civilization likely had no reason to even consider designing their weapons for use in a fluid medium, and I suspect the sea may turn out be an Achilles Heel.

  5. I've been assuming Chamber is solar powered, but it would certainly make an interesting plot twist.

  6. .

    I'm curious, the lady pirate's name is written as ラケージ

    The subs all have different romanizations of her name: Lacage, Rackage,etc..

    Is there any one correct romanization?

  7. 1

    Well, Rackage would be, uh, you know…

  8. The literal translation of that Katakana is "Rakeeji". Rakeeji is the Japanese pronunciation of the French "Lacage". That's the correct romanization.

  9. B

    Not knowing everything makes it hard, of course. We don't know how many pirates there are overall and so it's impossible to know what the right thing to do here would have been. But based on just what we knew to be true I'm in the camp that sees the "try not to kill anyone" directive as an absurd handicap. Reverence for human life is an admirable trait and I would definitely be on their side if they were conducting good faith negotiations with a normal rival fleet, for example. But these guys were PIRATES. By definition they do not play by the normal rules of society (such as it is) and therefore no negotiations with them can ever BE in good faith. Ledo utterly wiping them out seems to me to be a perfectly acceptable Plan A.

  10. G

    You have to realize the repercussion of his actions. Well, okay..Pirates may not always trade fairly, but it seems to me that their so called Queen isn't one to be summoned under normal circumstances; only when the power balance is seriously disrupted, as in the case of Ledo annihilating the pirates, does she come to their aid. Mind you, it doesn't make her less savage, but Ledo is the one who tipped the scale first. Also, considering the Gargantia crew has survived all these years successfully fending off the pirates, negotiation certainly isn't impossible.

  11. I see that as the thing that Gen is challenging here – that there are easy "correct" answers here. War is a mess – what happens if the pirates Ledo annihilates have allies, and they find out that the weird alien with the powerful mobile suit went home?

  12. B

    I can see that as an argument for why he should never have stepped in in the first place, but that ship has now sailed and Ledo now has a responsibility to try and resolve the situation. Think of it like the US invading Iraq. Strong arguments can be made that it never should have happened, but it did happen, and pulling out before the region is stable and leaving it in chaos would now be wildly irresponsible. Ledo's in this thing, it's too late for him to just pull out now. That said, what is the best solution here? To keep fighting them off with minimal loss of life over and over again? Or to just wipe them out once and call it a day? As I said in my original post, without knowing exactly how many pirates there are and how many allies they have we can't armchair quarterback the decision so easily but based on what we've seen it APPEARS that Lacage may have been in charge around this area and so we can at least have some grounds to assume her resources are not much more than what she already brought to bear.

  13. S

    I wouldn't exclude other fleets seeing Gargantia as a menace for its sheer power if they just start blasting pirates out of existence. One thing is defending oneself, and a different one is being obviously overpowered. The weak tend to gang up on the strong when they are afraid they could become too much of a menace and upset the balance of power.

  14. This is an interesting rabbit hole Gen is taking us into with this plotline, that's for sure, and one full of allusions to RL geopolitics.

  15. G

    Fantastic episode! Okay, the pirates are kind of the one dimensional characters who are more like cartoon villains than intelligent, calculating opponents. But I guess we'll have to see how it goes. As far as execution goes, this episode is pitch perfect, especially the ending when Ledo utters his first sentence in earth language and this being "Thank you" – such a heartfelt moment.

  16. K

    "and like most people watching the series I feel a sense that it's a ticking time bomb – a massive explosion of angst and despair could come at any time."

    This. is the same feeling i felt, but then i found interesting opinion from wikipedia:

    “Gen Urobuchi explained on the official website that the message of the story is aimed towards those in their teens and 20s, who are either about to enter into society or recently have, and is meant to cheer them on and to encourage them that “going out into the world isn’t scary”. He also said that the feeling of this work will be different from others he’s been involved with.”

    Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gargantia_on_the_Verdurous_Planet#Introduction_novel

    Looks like there’s still a hope that this anime won’t end tragically :)

  17. P

    He also said that Madoka Magica would be a cute and happy magical girls show.

  18. N

    Note that the squirrels have probably adapted to eating meat. Alot of herbivorous animals are capable of eating some meat. I don't think there are many nut and seed trees around these days. They probably survive on a mix of fishing, high density agriculture on what soil they can scrounge up, and feed their chickens kelp.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/11/deer_eat_meat_herbivores_and_carnivores_are_not_so_clearly_divided.html

  19. E

    The goons are stupid, yes, but I think the pirate queen was pretty smart in planning how to deal with Chamber. Chamber was made to pulverize space flowers and snails, it was never intended to be used underwater. She miscalculated the difference of their raw strength, though.
    :-)

Leave a Comment