I don’t want to take up this post rehashing the last two episodes, but the two subjects are linked pretty closely and I think the question of what was accomplished in episodes 5-6 is an important one. In one sense it seems like a very odd choice to have fully detoured for two episodes (minus the last 10 seconds of episode six) and then jumped back into the story as if nothing had happened. And, well – it is. But I think the issue isn’t that what happened was beside-the-point – the issue is with the execution. Those two episodes should have been one episode (#6) and the transition between the Hideauze storyline and what happened should have been smoother, in both directions.
A lot of this comes down to what kind of series you think Suisei no Gargantia is, and a lot of that comes down to the involvement of Gen Urobuchi. Absent hard evidence to the contrary I’m assuming his role is the conventional “Series Composition” one – write a few eps (usually the first and last), and supervise the general direction of the story. It’s only unusual because that’s not the way Gen usually works, but then, thematically Gargantia as a whole isn’t either. Again, I’ll take him at his word when he says this is a different sort of series – one directed towards teenagers and young adults just beginning their lives.
As such, I think what happens with Ledo (especially last week) is quite relevant because I think to some extent Suisei no Gargantia is intended to express the alienation of the current generation of young adults in Japan. In this instance quite literally, as Ledo is an alien on his ancestral home world – but I think that symbolizes the way many young Japanese feel. They have no connection to the world their parents made for them – their parents struggles and their prejudices mean little to them, and they enter a world where the virtual guarantee of lifelong economic security their parents and grandparents had is denied them. Of course they feel alienated – they’re forced to make their way in a world someone else made, and they don’t share its values. Japan is perpetually a struggle between the old and the new, between tradition and change, and I think the way Ledo feels as he struggles to make a life for himself is meant to express that. The frustration at the way he’s “mismatched” to this world, the first feelings of serious romantic love, loneliness, intellectual curiosity – I think these are different themes for Gen to be putting on the front burner, and I think he should be taken at his word about what he hoped to accomplish with this series.
So where does that leave us now, as the plot has kick-started again? I think those expected a quick turn towards conventional Gen brutality, nihilism and despair are going to be disappointed – not least because I don’t expect him to write another episode before the finale, but also because I don’t think that was ever his intention. I do feel as if the way the two-episode meander was handled has robbed the show of some of its magic, and I didn’t find this episode to be as gripping as the first four (the last of which remains the best anime episode this year, probably). Nevertheless, I think the series is in very interesting territory and I think the questions it’s posing are genuinely interesting, and worthy of a Gen series. As we all know Gen loves to pose moral and ethical questions in all his works, and he’s very good at doing so – it’s my personal opinion that he generally punts on trying to answer them. What will be the case here?
The fundamental practical question is the underpinning of the moral one – just what are the Hideauze? The Gargantians call them “whale squids” and to them, they’re something between a sea monster and a Kami. They’re feared, yes, but also worshipped and revered as Gods. Chamber has confirmed that, genetically, they’re identical to the creatures the Galactic Alliance has been fighting in space. So while it’s hard to blame Ledo for killing one on his salvage expedition with Bellows, it’s equally hard to blame the Gargantians for being horrified when he does. After all, they have no reason to attack the whale squids, who apparently never bother humans unless they’re attacked first. And being a relatively primitive culture technologically, they’re susceptible to real harm if the squids do become hostile (as we see hard evidence of later in the episode).
What’s the truth of the matter? At this point I don’t think we have enough information to say. It would be easy to say the Gargantians are right and it’s unwise to pick a fight, but Ledo’s theory that the Hideauze simply haven’t attacked the humans because they’re too primitive is not unrealistic. The Commodore’s response when a shoal of squids come at the fleet (which suggests an intelligence at work) is to kill all the engines and declare total silence, which suggests the squids are attracted to energy or artificial light. And then there’s the seemingly rampant belief that the whale squids’ territory is loaded with “treasures” from the ancient world – which in this instance could be conjectured to be technological advances (weapons or otherwise). On the other hand, Chamber informs us that the language of the Galactic Alliance has no words for “co-existence” or “prosperity”. Perhaps they started this fight in the first place, or perhaps the squids somehow left Earth when humans did (some kind of “arc” project?) and evolved into the enemies we see in the premiere.
What all this leads to is the alienation issue again. This is not Ledo’s home, and these are not his people. He sees the world differently than they do – for him, it’s survive or be destroyed, and peaceful co-existence is a concept beyond his comprehension. The Garngantian way of thinking has worked adequately for them, but they seem to be running in place, and it’s the human way to want to move forward and expand (for better or worse). The conflict over the whale squids brings this to a head, and the Gargantians’ feeling that Ledo has brought them big trouble is quite justifiable from their circumstances. It’s only Ridget’s gun pointed at his head that keeps him from attacking the squids when they approach the fleet, and the implication seems to be that he’s reached a point where he can no longer stay with them without compromising his ideals to a degree he finds unacceptable. But can they simply turn a blind eye and let him leave if his intention is to destroy as many whale squids as he can before they destroy him?
Worse still, Ledo’s presence seems to have fundamentally altered the dynamic in Gargantia and shattered their unlikely stability. The designated asshat character, Pinion, has a more sinister role than it appeared – his brother was likely killed by whale squid, and in Ledo’s hatred of them he sees a natural ally in exacting some payback and getting rich in the process. And this has emboldened Flange (Tsuda Eizou), who controls enough ships so that his departure would cripple Gargantia’s defenses, to likewise petition to leave. In this we see how tenuously Ganrgantia’s survival is balanced on the head of a pin, and how little it would take to effectively destroy it as a collective body. It’s been telegraphed for a while that the Commodore, in failing health, would give way to Ridget at some point – and the crisis seems to have brought us to that moment. She’s going to effectively face the dissolution of her country if she allows the others to leave – and it all starts with Ledo, who she likely could only prevent from departing by killing him. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Gargantia manages to tie the larger plot in with the central theme over the next few eps – more than in most series, they’re quite distinct from each other, and we’ve already seen evidence of the narrative difficulties that’s caused.