I think, fundamentally, Suisei no Gargantia is proving to be more like an Urobuchi Gen series than it might have looked a few weeks ago – but not because of the requisite butchery (though last week’s calimari-bake was pretty grisly). Gen’s darkness is subtler than simple violence – at its heart I think it’s nihilism that makes Gen such a depressing writer, and even if he said he wanted Gargantia to be a different sort of show philosophically and tonally, the struggle with despair and meaninglessness is starkly apparent this week.
As well as that, what I see as a fundamental attribute of Gen series is a keen ability to raise interesting questions, and an indifference when it comes to answering them. There’s no one working in anime today who’s better at creating scenarios which challenge us to examine the meaning of our existence, which along places Gen far above the likes of most anime screenwriters. But invariably his only answer is “there is no answer” – but a pox on both your houses isn’t enough. This lack of moral and ethical commitment is what ultimately makes Gen’s shows a sterile, intellectual experience rather than a truly meaningful one. I would argue that it’s been the case for every one of his series, without exception, and we have three weeks left to find out if Suisei no Gargantia is going to meet the same fate.
To be certain, the intellectual exercise is always interesting and the dilemma posed in the second half of this episode is one of the most fascinating we’ve seen in anime for a while. As for the first half, it’s mostly a video log of Pinion drunk with power and Ledo having a breakdown. It was a pretty disgusting display to be honest – Pinion isn’t the subtlest of characters, and his combination of greed and lust for meaningless revenge is not admirable in any way. I’m torn when it comes to feeling sympathy for Ledo, though. He went into this with his eyes open, allowing himself to be used by Pinion, and driven by his own hate. Of course the flipside of it is that his own human rights have been systematically denied him by the G.A., and he’s a product of their brainwashing and propaganda. In the end Ledo is a victim as much as anyone, and that does mitigate his own complicity in Pinion’s crimes – to a point.
It was probably necessary, but that first half was incredibly depressing and felt draggy to me – I just wanted it to be over with so that we might move forward to wherever the story was taking us next. That happened in the second half, and while things didn’t get any less depressing they certainly were more engaging to watch. What a mess Ledo has created here: Pinion is digging up weapons along with the rest of his spoils, among them beam weapons Chamber describes as having 1/50th his power – still many times more than the entire fleet combined. He’s broadcast a message basically gloating over his success and challenging any pirates who’d like to come and try to steal his treasure. Flange is seeing his best-laid naive plans of restoring the greatness of humanity buried under a mass of greed and stupidity, as Pinion is slowly turning his fleet into a privateer navy. And inept Ridget deals with the reality that her newly rejiggered fleet is going to splinter again, as more ships leave at Pinion’s sirens song of wealth and glory.
Never mind exterminating the whalesquid – Ledo’s actions have forever broken the balance of power among Earth’s remaining humans. This genie can’t be put back in the bottle now, especially with the revelation that Kugel and Striker are on Earth too. This is a bit of a confusing reveal – it’s hinted that Kugel has formed some kind of anti-Hideauze cult, though I can’t be 100% sure their appearance and his are connected – would he really have had time to do that? It’s even possible that Kugel himself is dead, and Striker is acting independently – a development that wouldn’t be wholly out of line with other developments in the third act of the episode, which frame the conflict in a very different way than it was going into the episode (though one that some of us felt might be coming).
As important as Striker’s appearance is, the key moment of the episode for me is Chamber’s argument with Ledo a few moments earlier. This pretty much lays the conundrum at the heart of Gargantia out in a nutshell, another classic Gen dilemma for him to abdicate on confronting. Chamber – perhaps surprisingly – confirms that the video account of the Hideauze’s creation appears to be accurate. But, he says in response to Ledo’s protests to the contrary, this changes nothing – the only possible course is a battle to the death. In choosing to evolve their physical bodies (Chamber’s proof is the revelation that the lightbugs are nanomachines with identical structure to the Hideauze) they’ve rejected their humanity. They are by choice no longer human, whereas the Galactic Alliance is fighting to preserve humanity. The proof is the civilization they’ve created, and the fact that they’ve chosen to put their faith in machines like Chamber – to augment their bodies with machines rather than augment their bodies themselves.
To an A.I. like Chamber this argument surely is perfectly sound, but to my ears it’s incredibly hollow and semantic. Chamber uses words like “pure” and “civilization” a lot to defend his position – surely no coincidence. In his logic any sacrifice is justifiable to preserve civilization, and his own existence is the proof of the purity of the cause – effectively “Because I exist, the cause must be just.” This is a dark path Gen has charted, indeed – we have one side that’s given up their physical humanity and the trappings of civilization, and another which has kept their physical form on the strength of eugenics, slavery and advanced robotics. Yes, it’s a mess – I know – but what I long for here is for Gen to put himself on the line, just this once. Choose a side and stick with it – make someone the good guy, and tell us what he thinks the right answer to try and resolve this terrible mess is.
Ledo, of course, could be the good guy. He’s a fine protagonist, and certainly a victim – but Gen has already proved himself adept at creating those. What will Ledo choose to do from here, and will it make any difference? It seems now as if we have indeed reached the point where Ledo’s interests and Chamber’s are as irreconcilable as Chamber claims the causes of the G.A. and Hideauze are – even in a Gen series I can’t see Ledo accepting Chamber’s line of reasoning. But Ledo is seemingly helpless to do much of anything on his own except be a martyr. Striker’s presence – with or without Kugel – certainly complicates things, and the practicalities of the plot can’t be hammered out until we know the circumstances there. Does he offer Ledo a path back to the Alliance? Is he indeed on a crusade to destroy all the whalesquid on Earth (assuming Ledo hasn’t done so already)? If this really is a different sort of show for Urobuchi Gen, what I want to see is for Ledo to make a stand for what he believes in his soul is right – and for that act to actually have an effect. Based on past history, that may be a futile hope – but Gen hasn’t broken me yet, so I’m hanging onto it for at least another week.