Suisei no Gargantia – 11

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More than ever, the split personality of this series is asserting its presence with authority.

The ship has already sailed on Suisei no Gargantia being a masterpiece, or even the best series of the season – both of which certainly seemed like strong possibilities after the brilliant fourth episode.  But I still have high hopes for the show, because it has a world of things going for it – gorgeous animation, a great twist on mecha tropes, and some of the best characters of any Gen series (and some of the worst, in fairness).  Most importantly it has a central dilemma that, like so many (unsolved) ones that Gen proposes, is a catalyst for real intellectual discourse and debate.  That alone makes Ganrgantia a rarity among anime.

There are brilliant impulses behind much of what this series does, but it makes an awful lot of missteps that seem rather shocking for a show with this kind of potential.  I won’t rehash the ones that have been discussed at length here already, but for my money Lukkage (I still say it should be LaCage) and her sex slaves or whatever the hell they are were one of the most egregious.  Because their appearance was mercifully brief they don’t constitute one of the biggest stumbles for Gargantia, but I had an ugly suspicion they’d be back – the rule of thumb with anime is that if there’s no body, they’re not dead (and even then…).  But to see them inserted in the middle of the crucial turn in the plot as we begin the final arc is pretty disheartening, I have to admit.

There are other problems with this episode, too, and they speak to the larger problems with Gargantia as a series.  Pinion has never been especially helpful to the show trying to be special – he’s as stock as they come, a classic butt-monkey who’s role as a crucial plot-driver has never been a strength.  This is that split personality in its most blatant form: Gargantia at its best is one of the most dignified and thoughtful anime around, even elegant.  But it’s also prone to crude, crass, and outright silly displays that undermine that dignity and leave me wondering just what sort of show this is.  Perhaps Urobuchi Gen’s celebrated lack of daily control over the series is the problem, and it would have been much more consistent if he’d taken his usual approach.  That would bring its own set of problems with it, of course, but I have no doubt some of the lowbrow would have been mitigated.

Where this episode really struggles is in seemingly painting the final struggle in such broad and melodramatic terms.  Gen is certainly capable of subtlety but what we saw this week wasn’t very subtle for the most part, though ever here some of the inherent intrigue in the scenario shone through.  I very much like the debate Gen has created here.  On the one side we have the Hideauze, who’ve surrendered their bodies and the most obvious signs of their actual humanity.  On the other we have the Galactic Alliance, who’ve surrendered their individuality and their human dignity.  And now their conflict has extended to a planet where their forebears were, plain and simply, getting along.  I won’t go so far as say thriving, because it’s not as if life was easy for the Gargantians, but there was no war – and what conflict there was is between humans, not between humans and whalesquid.  Both in terms of the larger philosophical divide and the problem of Ledo’s presence on Earth, it’s a rather brilliant construct.

Sadly, though, for most of this episode it was made to look trite and contrived – neither of which it is.  This whole notion of a band of cultists facing off against noble savages isn’t how I wanted to see this story play out – this shouldn’t be a black and white tale.  So why is it?  I won’t speculate on how things might be different if Gen were writing these episodes, but I haven’t given up hope that something of the potential Gargantia has can be salvaged, mostly because the last few minutes of this episode were the best.  Ledo is the heart of this series and one of its greatest strengths, and the way he responds to the situation he’s facing is going to tell a lot about whether we get a finish that the series looked for a long time it deserved.  Gen will be writing the finale, presumably, which is also a good sign in some ways, but does suggest we’ll get the usual punt on actually choosing a side and offering any answers.

As to the mechanics of what’s really going on here, I’m inclined to believe what I initially thought last week – Kugel is dead, and Striker (Fujimura Ayumi – a long way from Neferpitou here!) is acting independently.  It’s no sure thing – Kugel is probably capable of doing what he’s seemingly doing here, and while the disease story is almost surely a lie Chamber’s theory that he’s hiding in the cockpit to make himself more mystically terrifying is certainly not unfeasible.  This plan just feels more consistent with the machine caliber thinking Chamber has spouted than human reasoning to me.  I’m especially struck by “Kugel’s” choice of the word “dignity” to describe what he’s brought to the humans in his fleet – not just because of the irony, but because it mirrors what Chamber said so closely.  There’s a fundamental disconnect here, on the very definitions of happiness and what it means to be human.  Kugel’s dismissive claim that the Hideauze have given up on their humanity because they “live and reproduce as they please” is also a pretty damn ironic one, and whether the product of an A.I. or the soldier of a military dictatorship reflects the huge blind spot in the G.A. way of thinking.

It all comes down to Ledo, I suppose, and I hope Suisei no Gargantia doesn’t drop the ball in showing us how he responds because it’s the crucial moment in the entire series.  Kugel (Striker?) certainly overreached in showing him Gargantia as a target to be made an example of, but I’d like to think Ledo would have seen the hollowness of Kugel’s plans anyway.  Ledo is in a tough spot here – he’s a child soldier who’s never had to think for himself, and seeing Kugel’s face was a huge burden lifted from his shoulders – at last, someone to tell him what he should do.  Yet he’s grown enough to know that what Kugel-Striker is suggesting is an abomination, though not enough to know how to respond.  The key, I think, is that conversation he had with Bevel in episode 4 and the memories it sparked – as he sees the Social Darwinism of the G.A. being enforced on Kugel’s fleet, all of his better impulses are triggered and urge him to resist.  If this show is a metaphor for young adults facing a world of their parents’ making, in which they feel alienated, this is the crucible moment for Ledo – whether Kugel is alive or not, he has the choice to reject that reality and make one of his own, or to play along and make the best of it.

Suisei no Garganta - 11 -9 Suisei no Garganta - 11 -10 Suisei no Garganta - 11 -12
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Suisei no Garganta - 11 -19 Suisei no Garganta - 11 -20 Suisei no Garganta - 11 -21
Suisei no Garganta - 11 -22 Suisei no Garganta - 11 -23 Suisei no Gargantia - 11 -25


  1. s

    I absolutely agree that the setup for this ep in particular seemed a little trite as i found myself itching my head wondering as to what direction the narrative is trying to take. Even so, there where some heavy, thought-provoking stuff and the dialogue as usual was excellent enough to make this ep a solid one for me (although having an extraordinary one this close to endgame would have been nice) so no complaints here.

    On a side note, I didnt find the return of lukkage as disheartening as you did; 1. As agent smith would say, it was inevitable and 2. She didnt bring anything gratuitously fanservicey to the ep…well besides her character design but we already got over that hurdle in ep 3 so no complaints here. If she is going to serve a purpose i am perfectly fine with her being there.

  2. p

    Actually, GE, I think that a much better term to use to describe some of the low points of Gargantia would be "middlebrow" rather than "lowbrow".

    Middlebrow is the term scholars in the humanities and social sciences have used to describe art that attempts to reach the intellectual and aesthetic heights of high culture but still maintain vestiges of lowbrow art's widest-common-denominator pandering.

    That is especially perfect for describing this episode of SNG. Interesting questions raised in regards to the GA and the Hideauze, mixed with crude variations on Kugel et al. being on a "white man's burden civilizing mission" with his cultists to enlighten the savages. Not to mention the busty lesbian pirates.

  3. Did you see episode 5? I think that qualifies as lowbrow by anyone's standard.

  4. p

    Oh yes, *that* is definitely lowbrow. I forgot about that, but making transphobic caricatures is Adam Sandler-tier in its level of meanness, vulgarity and bigotry.

  5. i

    I think Gen just wrote the first four episodes, handed in a plot synopsis and took a vacation until next week. Since that episode there has been no subtlety, massive crass, general floundering, horrid character direction in all but a few characters and the worst set of the plot I have ever seen in a Gen series.

    I think in all truth this is as much a Gen series as 'Man of Steel' will be a Christoper Nolan movie. It's just a name they add the staff to make things very exciting for viewers. It still has the carcass of a philosophical idea he made and probably a few characters (doubt Lukkage/Amy/the woman captain or mechanic were any of his) but not a fleshed out plot to do that train of thought justice. It honestly is as if Gen wrote the beginning and the ending and left some morons to make up the rest and didn't care how they did it. He might have finally created a character (since Madoka's Homura) worthy of emotional connection with Ledo but he fails where he's strongest for me.

  6. I think you're giving Gen a bit too much credit if you don't think he's capable of characters like LaCage (though I admit Amy is more his style). He has plenty of characters who are mainly present to cater to the tastes of otaku.

  7. i

    I'll admit that he puts maybe one moe character per series (save Madoka in which they could be considered all or none) but SnG has a dozen of em' and with the exception of Amy, at times only, all the other are superflous and unlikely to be something he originally thought of. Lukkage was introduced and re-introduced in episodes he didn't even write.

  8. t

    I don't think Urobuchi is the writer you think he is.You can't just throw away the aspects you don't like and pretend that he had nothing to do with them.
    Gen is the "series composer",other writers can't just write in other characters without his approval (the director could I guess but it seems the directors contribution was mainly the setting,and the director was brought on board once Urobuchi liked his ideas),he might not be writing all the script himself but he's definitely supervising the process.

    Have you ever player any of his VNs like phantom (or watched the anime adaptation)?You'll find plenty of girls in those.
    And as much as everyone talks about how horrifying Saya no Uta is, it still personifies a monster as a moe loli the MC has sex with every night.

  9. A

    There is only one way Gen could possibly turn this whole thing into a tragedy for me, and that would be by getting Chamber killed.

    If he seriously managed to somehow predict that tin can would become the most endearing character of the series– everything… EVERYTHING is forgiven.

  10. S

    I think Kugel is alive. Even though he appears to Ledo only as an hologram, when we first see him we get a clear shot of him talking in his cockpit, if I don't remember bad. It would be cheap and basically a retcon if we were told afterwards that he was dead – even though your theory would have been even more fascinating. Truth is, we're toying with the idea that Machine Calibers are the 'true' mind behind the G.A., but I suppose this is not really the case.

  11. E

    I really want this story to have happy ending. I want to see Ledo getting the happiness he deserves, together with the Gargantian kids. Kugel should just die from his disease, Striker and Chamber should just malfunction from a lack of energy recharge(?), and the stupid cult goes in disarray.
    If it has bad ending. I will be really, really, premium mad.

  12. R

    At this point we should realize two AIs are bluffing each other.

    Endemic disease? Please pass relevant data. (Checks on Ledo as he lived for months outside. Sounds fishy.) Kugel not showing his face inspires fear. Why isn't a human who isn't in suspended animation still active inside your cockpit.

    Define: Happiness? That is the Alliance propaganda definition. We're not now in the Alliance are we? Heck I encouraged my pilot to be happy before we left. Take a four week shore leave and pick a girl to get laid. We found a bunch that cooperates for the happiness of the whole community. I'm made to ensure my pilot is a successful human being and I'm serving man. That is paradise for a machine like us. Your humans by what I've learned are not happy. In that they appear to have lost human dignity.

    For that matter I've been trying to reach the Alliance for months until I find out where in the middle of nowhere we are. And you have been maintaining radio silence? Why?

  13. T

    All very good points. Let's see if Gen pulls it off or if the plot holes remain.

    I thought the episode was pretty good, all considering. We may be heading for a clear ending to a Gen series. While this is certainly conventional, this may not be a bad thing, given how this series has built up Gargantia and Ledo.

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