In a sense it’s almost hard to believe that Suisei no Gargantia is a one-cour series, because it sure as heck isn’t acting like one. I think that’s only one of many reasons why fan reaction to this series is all over the map, most of them centering on what seem to be misplaced notions of just what kind of series this was going to be. It was hyped (by the third-party fan community far more than the series itself) as a mecha series reimagined by the Urobutcher – kind of a Madoka Magica for the giant robot set. As it turns out, of course, it isn’t really much of a mecha series and so far at least, it isn’t acting like a Gen series – the latter a combination of the fact that Gen isn’t writing every episode this time, and that he intentionally set out to be a philosophically different kind of show this time around.
For me, I’m really fine with all that. I’m pleased to see Gen’s idea machine being used in the service of something other than nihilistic despair, and as beautifully animated as most of it has been I think Gargantia is at its best as a dignified, empathetic character drama. But then we had the expectation-defying 5th and 6th episodes – two eps which at best should have been combined into one, and for which the series has offered no explanation to contradict the Occam’s Razor-friendly one that it was strictly for crass commercial considerations that they weren’t. So there’s my expectations confounded too, and while the series has regained its footing we’re now staring down the barrel of the final four episodes, with huge amounts of the story seemingly untold.
It’s in that context that an episode like this one is worrying, though on its own terms I thought it was very good indeed. Like Red Data Girl, this is a series that seems ill-suited for a one-cour format. Like all Gen’s shows it’s full of interesting ideas and lays out some fascinating ethical dilemmas to be considered, and more so than most of them it gives us an interesting character story to go along with that. With two cours to play with a fanservice episode (though hopefully a better one) would be an allowable change-of-pace, and we might have seen the relationship between Fairlock and Ridget – indeed, both of their characters themselves – fleshed out enough to make the events of this week as emotional as they wanted to be. It still worked – I loved the way Fairlock’s funeral procession was animated. It was somber, dignified and oddly beautiful – all terms I’d apply to Gargantia itself when it’s on its game. And I’m on-board with the depiction of the dissolution of the fleet – quiet, sad and regretful rather than full of arguing and threats. It’s just that with a certain remove towards Fairlock and Ridget, the emotional impact was muted.
In point of fact, right now it’s hard to put much stock in Ridget as a character. It’s clear that Fairlock has chosen her because she’s the daughter of Chevron, the former Fleet Commander and presumably his best friend. But Ridget herself hasn’t done much to inspire confidence. I don’t think she’s distinguished herself in her interactions with Ledo, which have involved almost no trying to understand him and his motivations (Amy, Bevel and Bellows have more or less tried to do that on their own volition), but rather either asking him to fight for her or pointing a gun at him. She hasn’t shown herself to be especially decisive or confident. And she almost made a terrible, terrible mistake in not attending Fairlock’s funeral. The fact that she did do so at the very last minute is better than nothing but doesn’t excuse the lapse in judgment in almost not doing so at all, which can only be attributed to a fear of facing the expectations of the people. We don’t know Fairlock well but he was clearly much revered by the Gargantians, and she owes her position to him (indeed, Flange and many others would seemingly have preferred the experienced Crown take over) and she shouldn’t have needed a last-minute flash of inspiration to realize that her place should have been with the others, showing Fairlock respect in his final moments on Gargantia.
As for Ledo, he seems no less determined to carry his fight against the Hideauze to the whalesquids, and that certainly doesn’t change when Chamber delivers a shocking bit of news: he’s located the Galactic Alliance. The catch is that they’re 6582 light-years away, meaning his SOS won’t even reach them until then, and Chamber says he has no way to return them home without help (accent mine). I’m not sold that a method won’t present itself – Ledo having to make a choice about whether to return is a logical dramatic climax for the series, though not the only one – but for now, he’s stuck on Earth. And with Ridget’s decision not to allow him to go to war with the whalesquid, that means leaving the fleet along with Flange and Pinion. And that means another painful separation in a setting that’s undergoing many at the moment – Melty is leaving along with Flange, among others – and sets up the twin pillars of the final arc of the series, seemingly.
On the one hand, we have the dilemma over the whalesquids, which in effect forces us to confront the larger question over the Gargantian way of life. In typical Gen fashion the issue is clouded, with no clear-cut “right” answer. I can’t blame Flange or even Pinion for what they want to do – they want to move forward, and to them (Flange more altruistically than Pinion) that means confronting the evidence of mankind’s past, and if that means confronting the whalesquid too, so be it. Ridget takes Fairlock’s view that Gargantia has a peaceful way of life – mostly – and has never had a reason to battle the whalesquids, so starting a fight makes no sense. It’s a similar dilemma to the issue of the pirates in a way, except unlike the pirates – where what seems to exist is a sort of appeasement policy – we see no evidence the squids have ever done Gargantia (or humanity) any harm on a large scale.
Likewise, from Ledo’s perspective confronting the whalesquids makes perfect sense. Even knowing he can never return home, he still sees them as a threat to humanity – except on the scale of it’s scattered Terran remnants and not the Galactic Alliance. The problem is, he’s still trying to start a war with an enemy who so far isn’t an enemy, and other than genetics he has no conclusive evidence that the whalesquids will ever be a threat to humanity. Is he justified to preemptively try and destroy them, based on what he knows? It’s a hard question to answer, and it drives the personal drama that’s the series’ most powerful component.
While Amy has been a fairly superficial construction so far – perfectly pleasant and likeable, but mostly a plot driver – it’s in Ledo’s interactions with Bevel that Gargantia has achieved its greatest emotional depth. Ledo admits to Bevel this week that the original owner of the flute was probably his younger brother, doing so as he gives the new one he’s made to Bevel. For Ledo Bevel is a reminder of his old world in the most painful way, and also the reason he wants to exterminate the squid now – so that Amy will never have to experience the sacrifices he had to experience as a result of being a species under perpetual threat of extinction. It was quite powerful seeing Bevel not just lift himself from his bed, but to actually run to Ledo’s side after he sees what the older boy’s planned departure is doing to Amy – while Ledo struggles with being an alien on his own world, Bevel must deal with his inability to be a fully functioning member of society. Both of them, in their own way, feel useless – and because of that I think they understand each other in a way no one else understands either of them.