Suisei no Gargantia – 10

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One way or another, Urobuchi Gen’s genes are showing through.

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.

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14 comments

  1. J

    Here's also a 3rd possibility for Kugel. He may actually have a god complex and become a generic final boss, and possibly utilises the Hideazu teachnology 😀 The existence of the cult is not reassuring either.

    As for choosing a side, I do believe Gargantia offers the way out for Ledo. No longer has he have to get himself involved in this petty conflict, and he could finally live a life of his own. It may turned out to be his own Avalon

  2. l

    Decided to stick with this series, since I was already (as of last week) 9 episodes in. First half of the episode almost made me regret that decision, with all the moping and sulking going on. Small Peon (aka Pinion) went mad with power sooner than expected, though I suppose it's better than going mad without power (Simpsons Movie reference). Amy is still an utterly pointless existence.

    Thankfully, the second half saved the ep. Good ol Chamber. Interesting twist, seeing Kugel's mech at the end there. I think the possibility of Kugel being dead and the mech acting on its own is a believable one; basically it would be Chamber's reasoning turned up to 11, taking everything into its own hands in order to justify its purpose.

    If past works are anything to go by, the only "side" Gen will chose is his own – that of a navel gazer. Hopefully he'll show us something new here and put the characters before himself.

  3. G

    I was waiting for Chamber to tell Ledo he has deviated too far from the core beliefs of the alliance and he would not follow his commands any more.

  4. i

    I didn't really like how the squids were once humans but Ledo's reaction to it and his argument with Chamber made it better than it should be for me. The questions Gen asks are fascinating and it feels like a proper show by the Butcher.

    But if last week's news summary courtesy of CNN was lacking in finesse than this week's Pinion (rhymes with Minion, Googgaahaahhaa- Banana) was as subtle as a crane in the face. I think Gen was trying to show how greed for power escalates and becomes a chain reaction for destruction. Still I feel Pinion's new us against the world standing will hopefully cost him his life, though unfortunately taking a fair few Gargantians and Bellows with him.

    Also GE isn't it nice that with an original anime you don't have to man LiA like its the Alamo?

  5. B

    I guess I'll take the opposite tack here and say that I'm glad Gen never gives answers to the questions he raises. The questions he raises are of the sort that have been debated by philosophers for thousands of years. There ARE no right answers or people wouldn't have been debating it for so long. With that in mind, if Gen did provide an answer, it could never be anything more than his personal opinion, which I'm just not that interested in. I'd rather leave questions like that open ended, so we can continue debating them for years to come.

  6. Don't you think it would be nice if Gen actually expressed a personal opinion once in a while? Apart from life being meaningless?

  7. H

    I certainly didn't think the end message of PsychoPass was 'life is meaningless'. Especially since the guy who represented that viewpoint was the guy who lost. It didn't end conclusively, but neither does life.

  8. A

    I agree with Beckett – but then again, I don't think Urobuchi has exhausted all possibilities with nihilism, because there are a combination of different responses to existential nihilism or the thesis that life lacks intrinsic meaning:

    * Reject the thesis, and conceive of the meaning of life, then preach it. (theism)
    * Accept the thesis, and complain that it is terrible. (pessimism)
    * Accept the thesis, and revel in it. (Nietzschean nihilism)
    * Abstain from accepting it or rejecting it, by concluding that the meaning of life is unknowable or ineffable. Because there are no metaphysical or psychological consolations that are not trivial, and because all we have are our own understandings.

    As an absurdist, Urobuchi, via one of his characters, could rebel against the Absurd and try to establish some lucidity in the middle of what negates it. The absurd character (like Silver Surfer) exalts himself before what will crush him. In freedom and passion, revolt joins together in lucidity. No solution is possible, and perhaps no solution is necessary.

    As a writer, Urobuchi is better off painting a world of impressions, than forcing a singular judgment on the reader, like some of us would like.

  9. Z

    Even if Gen committed to some sort of stance it wouldn't fundamentally change anything.

  10. s

    One could also look at chamber's argument from another angle; that reagrdless of Ledo's realization that the hideauze are evolved humans, war is still war. In their past, war has always occurred between two or more different party of human beings and those human beings killed each other in order to survive because it was their duty to do so. Regardless of what Ledo has learned, he still needs to fight in order to assure his survival and that his fight with the hideauze is no different from two group of humans going to war.

    I guess Ledo cant handle that kind of stress since he's probably never been to war with another group of humans having always been under the impression that what he has been fighting this whole time was some alien race. If that's the case, why was it so easy for Ledo to kill those pirates in ep 2; perhaps he saw them as primitive and their deaths inconsequential. Im sure it most likely had to do with the federation making soldiers and their people in general not view themselves as humans, so when Ledo finally arrived on earth and was humanized by the gargantians, his whole perspective on life changed which is causing his breakdown. That also begs the question, if the federation have dehumanized themselves, then what's the point of fighting this war against the evolved human beings? one could argue that what they've been fighting for, the perservation of their humanity, has already been lost since they kill off those that they deemed weak, unnecessary and a danger to their society (Strong SSY vibes here). Yes, im aware self-perservation keeps us going as a race no matter what the circumstance, but I think the federation have lost sight of their humanity in the same way the evolved humans have.

    While I dont think Chamber's argument to Ledo is as black and white as he made it out to be (i guess since he is an AI, there was no other way he would phrase that), but he is right about one thing, and that is that Ledo still needs to survive and must do what he has to protect himself and those that are dear to him no matter what the cost. In some weird way, I kinda found what Chamber was saying to Ledo as friendly advice…in a weird way. Still, now that he is aware that he is up against evolved human beings, just like any war between two or more party of human beings, peace between the two warring parties has become more likely than ever before. Lets see how things turn out.

  11. H

    I thought that Chamber's speech to Ledo was a bit too decisively put: "You need to keep fighting forever! Fight to the death against the Hideauze!" Maybe that was more of a translation thing, but that seemed a bit too 'cog in a giant machine'. Although that could fit in with the G.A.'s attitude on their soldiers.

    Pinion really stepped up to jerkass level this week. I'd been giving the guy the benefit of the doubt as a basically good-hearted guy whose kind of a jerk, but he stomped on that image with his self-aggrandizement. Something that would have helped me with the story so far is if they had told us what other fleets there are: Is Gargantia alone as a mega-fleet? Is it the mega-fleet of the North Atlantic? Is it just an average fleet? With Pinion talking about taking over, that would have given us a good idea of what he's trying to take over.

  12. S

    I strongly disagree that Gen "never gives an answer" to the questions he raises. He likes to present the pros and cons of both sides of the argument and he often comes to the conclusion that the answer is neither black nor white, but gray.

    I can't enter into the specifics without spoiling but I think that both Madoka and Kiritsugu made a clear choice in their respective shows.

  13. I also can't answer without spoiling, but if I could i would tell you why I think the endings of both those shows support my view on Gen (and that's taking into account that Gen had to get the narrative to a specific place at the end of F/Z).

  14. E

    Hollow, eh…
    I was conflicted last time, but I was convinced by Chamber on this episode. Those things are by no means humans anymore. They have turned themselves into completely different species. They don't even belong to Primates order. We are also given another screenshots of space snails and space flowers. And they have a millenium(?) hatred /conflict with GA, so co-existence is no longer possible. When two species go into unavoidable fight, the only thing you can do is siding with your own species? Fighting for them? Oh. There is another option, though, that is running away.
    😀

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