It’s possible that this episode might satisfy some of the Gen-con loyalists disappointed at the lack of body count in Suisei no Gargantia, although I’d be the wrong one to ask as I’m, not one of them. It was certainly depressing enough – a most bleak and soul-wearying spectacle from the opening moments right up to the last. For me that’s what Gen specializes in more than gore and violence – it’s the rejection of hope and the futility of justice and mercy that’s at the heart of most of his work. In that sense, this episode was among the most “Gen-like” of any of his series. The question is, where will we go from here?
This is the sort of episode that’s pretty difficult to digest at first viewing – there was so much information dumped on us and so much emotional impact that it’s very hard to define both the practical implications of what we were shown, and my purely emotional reaction. Nevertheless as a blogger I think it’s probably better to go ahead and post my first reactions, even knowing they may change over time. I think it’s sort of ironic that I used the “We have met the enemy, and he is us” (originally used in the comic strip Pogo in 1952, by the way) line yesterday in relation to another show, Attack on Titan, when it could just as easily have been used here. And I don’t think this is by any means a total surprise, though the degree to which it’s true probably exceeds expectations.
I’ve been saying it for weeks, but really, I’m baffled why so many viewers of this series were so eager to believe that the Galactic Alliance should be taken at their word. As a good general rule, it’s wise to treat information from military dictatorships with a good degree of skepticism – and for Heaven’s sake, in a Gen universe distrust of authority is the stock and trade. We’d already seen that they kill children they deem unfit to fight, and that they keep their child soldiers in cryogenic sleep until moments before they’re sent to die for the cause. Have they really done anything to earn our trust as viewers? What they told Ledo was the truth as they wanted him to believe it, no more and no less – as much as they felt he needed to know to attack the enemy with all his might. There were surely elements of truth in it, but it seemed logical to conclude they were couched in omissions and lies. That’s how military dictatorships – especially those in a state of war – operate.
There were really two dramas playing out side by side here. We have the personal story, Ledo pursuing his own vendetta and being used as a tool by Pinion, himself on a sort of Ahab-like mission to avenge his brother and overcome his own feelings of inadequacy at leaving him to die. And the larger story – just what are the whalesquid, and how are they connected to the Hideauze Ledo hates so desperately? On that score I’m still sorting through the mountain of information Chamber and Ledo found inside the old research headquarters that had become the whalesquid nesting ground. There was an element in this that was a bit too convenient – Chamber giving in too easily to Ledo’s order that the information be declassified for his benefit, for starters. And then, having everything neatly packaged in a made-for-TV form, as if the founders of the base knew a boy and an AI would by there in a few Millennia and would need a recap episode. But there’s no denying the fact that the content itself was a whopper.
As best I can make this out, the Hideauze – the ones we know in space – are descendants of the “Evolvers”, a group that sprung up on Earth in order to use genetic engineering to prepare the human race to flee into space and escape the fifth ice age. Resistance against them from traditionalists eventually coalesced into the Continental Union, which presumably eventually became the Galactic Alliance. Full-scale war broke out between the two factions, devastating the Earth. The C.U. eventually managed to create a wormhole drive which they planned to use to escape into space and then destroy, stranding the Evolvers behind on a dying Earth. The Evolvers found out. Clearly – though we don’t see exactly how – both sides ending up escaping through the wormhole, and brought their conflict with them. What does that make the whalesquids Ledo is happily Uro-butchering under the sea? Perhaps the descendants of the Evolvers who never made it off the planet, just as the Gargantians are the descendants of the unmodified humans left behind. How much intelligence the whalesquid retain is anyone’s guess – they seem either unable or unwilling to communicate with humans – but it seems very obvious that there are several different sub-species of them there. Included in this group is one who looks identical to the modified human that was the wife of the pioneer Evolver – perhaps it even was her – the one Chamber crushes into pulp against Ledo’s order in the final moments of the episode.
I think the general tenet of Gen works is “a pox on both your houses” – and so it is here. There are no good guys in the larger war. The Evolvers were a bunch of Eugenicists who arguably gave up their humanity, and the Continental Alliance was prepared to pull a Committee of 300-type escape and save only those they deemed worth saving. And in the passage of time, it seems likely that neither side (though we know nothing of the Hideauze propaganda) relates much of this war to what it was originally about – the only thing that matters is to annihilate the enemy. There are elements of the “Kaleds vs Thals” story from Doctor Who here (the Kaleds being the humanoid precursors to the Daleks). Left behind on Earth, it appears the remnants of both sides had achieved something their ancestors didn’t – peace. They left each other alone, at least, each in their own environment – though arguably at the expense of advancing their societies. That is, until Ledo came along and upset the balance, a soldier out of time able to kill indiscriminately.
Existentially, this is a very dark and difficult turn. Conditioned or not, Ledo displayed a real blood-lust in pursuing the path he did. Now that he knows the truth, that the creatures he massacred were the descendants of humans, this is something he must live with for the rest of his life. As always Chamber’s role is a matter of some fascinating debate. There always seemed the likelihood that there were things he wasn’t telling Ledo, and the end of the episode suggests that he may have killed the humanoid whalesquid in order to prevent Ledo from potentially communicating with it. Certainly, Ledo directly ordered him to stop, and he crushed it anyway. The superficial explanation of his argument at the end is that he simply pointed out that the information they’d restored contradicted official records, therefore must be fabricated – but it seems more likely to me that he’s performing a programmed task to keep Ledo to keep from finding out the truth at any cost. If Ledo should turn now, what will Chamber do? I don’t think it’s impossible that we could see Ledo and Chamber on opposite sides of a conflict before this series is done.
It could be argued that this massive turn in the story is a continuation of the alienation theme at the heart of Suisei no Gargantia, in-line with what Gen suggested he was trying to do with this series. A new generation of young people forced to carry the weight of a war they had nothing to do with starting is nothing unheard of in Japan, that’s for certain. Is there a path for redemption for Ledo here? It certainly doesn’t lie in massacring all the whalesquids on Earth, that’s for certain, and going back to the Galactic Alliance to continue a war he now knows the truth of doesn’t seem like one either. In effect this is now a time travel story as much as a space travel one – the Hideauze and the Galactic Alliance are the future and Earth is the past, but theoretically at least that gap can be bridged using the same method that brought Ledo to Earth. Perhaps it’s Ledo’s fate to stop that from happening, and the protect Amy, Bevel and the surviving descendants of both the Evolvers and the Continental Alliance from being drawn into the ongoing war they started.