Suisei no Gargantia – 13 (End) and Series Review

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For me, among the myriad questions facing this finale one stood out – would Gen finally answer one of his own questions?

Short answer: Yes (pretty much).

Long answer: Well…  Still mostly yes, I think.  Gen Urobuchi promised this would be a different sort of series than we’re used to from his pen, and I think he kept his promise.  Certainly, this was an ending that was radically different from any other Gen show both in terms of substance and in the fact that yes, he sort of put himself on the line and actually picked a side.  For me those are undeniably good things – I like to see a writer of Gen’s talent stretch himself outside his comfort zone.

Without wanting to seem like an ingrate, I also think this finale shows up some of the risks when a writer stretches himself outside his comfort zone.  In the broadest terms I like the way Gen chose to end Suisei no Gargantia (yes, he did personally write this episode), but in the actual execution I liked it less.  In a word, this ending felt conventional.  It didn’t soar or transcend or particularly challenge, if you care about such things.  It was pretty good, with some fine moments, but more in keeping with the inconsistent nature of Gargantia’s second half than the sheer brilliance of the first four episodes.

The biggest problem for me, I think, is that while Gen does indeed seem to put himself out there by choosing a side, Gargantia’s conflict over the last couple of eps lapsed into very broad and simplistic terms.  Starting with the crazy cult and then Striker’s almost comically stereotyped megalomaniacal  descent into robot insanity (she did everything but twirl a cybernetic moustache) Gen took what had been a pretty subtle and divisive ethical and moral dilemma – the kind he’s great at creating but not at solving – and turned it into a push-button drama where the audience was pretty much told what to think.  In the end the series still chose the right side from my perspective, but I’d rather have seen a continued focus on the difficult nature of the situation and less cartoon villainy.

As I’ve said before, if Gen has any consistent theme running through his meager catalog of taking sides, it boils down to “a pox on both your houses”.  He generally falls under the “everybody’s wrong” school and Gargantia is certainly no different there.  While the audience was busy taking sides in the Galactic Alliance-Hideauze schism – both it and the viewer debate were the most interesting intellectual aspects of the series – they were missing his point.  Gen takes neither side, and indeed he went out and stated unequivocally in this finale that both the G.A. and the Hideauze were wrong (though one could make the case that he comes down harder on the G.A. and frankly, so do I).  Basically, they reacted to a crisis by turning the other half of the species into an enemy – and then compounded their sin by taking the conflict out into the galaxy via their wormholes and extending it for Millennia.  The Hideauze’s sin wasn’t surrendering their human form, as most of their detractors claimed – it was in being half the reason the human species descended into a state of eternal warfare.

Where Gen departs from his S.O.P. is in acknowledging the possibility that hope exists.  There is another way, and it’s the way of the humans (and whalesquid) who stayed behind (we learn some detail from Bevel – who it seems Dr. Ordum may be grooming as the next “Sage” – in the epilogue).  They actually figured out a way to salvage life on the planet, though it meant great sacrifice.  But they accepted the sacrifice and whether explicitly or not, agreed to leave the other be – the biped humans in their floating cities, the whalesquid humans under the water.  And yes, Gen comes right out and endorses their way of thinking – they were right, and the others were wrong.  In the process he frames the question so broadly that it would be almost impossible to come to any other conclusion, but still – it’s a decision.  I’ve been begging for one from the Urobutcher, and he gave me one.  Domo arigatou gozaimasu.

Structurally, one of the biggest problems with the finale for me is that it’s built around a series of Deux ex Machina plot twists.  There’s this business about Ledo merging with Chamber and only having 482 seconds to live.  There’s the Stairway to Heaven, though at least it was named last week, and the existence of some sort of Navy that comes to Gargantia’s aid.  There’s also the fact that rather than subtle character drama or ethical debate the episode was pretty much an extended combat sequence, competently executed but nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times before. And then, that Rack and Pinion are probably the two most irritating characters in the series, and their scenes have a tendency to drag the whole enterprise down to their own level – whenever the ep started to feel magical or profound one of them would appear on screen and grind the momentum to a halt.

And then, Chamber and Striker’s duel, the centerpiece.  As with the rest of the episode I’m conflicted on this.  I think the larger conflict was on-point – we had a fundamental disagreement on the nature of what an A.I.’s role is.  In the end it worked out very simply – Chamber was loyal to his pilot, seeing his role as to serve Ledo.  Striker seemingly ran with Kugel’s erroneous moral compass and extrapolated its logic out to mean she should become a God, and complete what the G.A. has started by relieving all humans of their free will.  But I didn’t care for the asspull introduction of the “neuroplus” system for artificial drama, and I didn’t like seeing Chamber leap wildly out of character to say “See you in Hell, Tin Can!” just to cap the scene with a signature flourish.

That said, I do think the scene rises above those flaws to deliver the most powerful moments of the episode.  In the first place I think Chamber realized that this Earth would be far better off if neither he or Striker existed – they, along with Pinion’s “castle”, had to go.  I also like the fact that it was when Ledo admitted at last that he wanted to live that Chamber realized his ultimate duty – to give his pilot a chance to explore his existence as a human being.  Declaring Ledo “unfit to be a soldier” is a nice way of giving him a left-handed compliment – Ledo has finally grown beyond the conditioning of the G.A. and  realized his potential as a person.  I certainly hated to see Chamber go – he was a great character and Sugita Tomokazu was his usual brilliant self.  But in the context of the moment, it was the right thing to happen.

It’s a shame there wasn’t more time spared to actually show the human interaction that Ledo craved so badly that it moved him to tears, which in-turn moved Chamber to his decision.  Actual contact between Ledo, Amy and Bevel was sadly almost non-existent for the final four episodes, and that’s a real shame.  While Amy was a stock character she wasn’t an unpleasant take on one, and Ledo’s relationship with her was critical to the series’ development – and his conversations with Bevel were some of the most important and most powerful scenes in the entire series.  It seems very possible that the Blu-ray bonus material will return to the mode the series was in for most of its first half – Ledo exploring what it means to be a human being living in a society that’s not in a perpetual state of war.  There are risks involved with that – the middle of Gargantia’s run clearly illustrates them – but potential rewards, too.  I would also hope we see a little more interaction with the whalequid, as they remain quite an intriguing and mysterious plot element.  I’d like to know just how their sentience expresses itself, and what Ledo discovered as a way to make them feel secure in his presence.

All in all, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed in Suisei no Gargantia – I think that’s only natural when a show flashes so much potential greatness as this one did, but realizes only a small portion of it.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that it was a very good show indeed.  Some of the best anime moments of the year came in those first four episodes, and the scenario Gen introduced in the second half was a genuinely fascinating one that sparked real debate among the viewer base.  If this is a taste of what Gen can offer when he’s not mired in Nihilism and gimmickry, I’d love to see more – there’s enough here to show he can be very good indeed at delivering humanistic stories with characters worth caring about, especially with a bit more practice at it.  He’s a writer of prodigious talent and while I’m never less than interested to see what he comes up with next, I hope we see him continue to expand his horizons both stylistically and philosophically.

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ED Sequence:

Suisei no Gargantia - 13 -26 Suisei no Gargantia - 13 -27 Suisei no Gargantia - 13 -28
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  1. S

    If GenU created this geared towards the youth of today, I wonder what these young'uns will takeaway from the ending or from the entire series? I'm taking this show seriously with regards to the many possibilities humankind can invent or think up of in terms of trying to live in a perfect world (which will never be possible as we have gained from the past). Just recently, news from England surfaced regarding a genetically engineered fetus (3 biologic parents!) just so as not to inherit the original mother's genetic malfunctions and IT SCARED me to think that this kind of future is HERE NOW. My future depends on the next generation and how they will take care of me towards the end of my life and I really hope they will not shuttle me into space just because I have gone useless and senile.

    Pardon me for my rambling, but I really enjoyed this anime and your posts and I can only imagine GenU reading your reviews of Gargantia and maybe post some comments as well.

  2. Z

    I'm not the biggest fan of Urobuchi but it seems he's damned if he doesn't, damned if he does.
    Urobuchi only wrote one out of the four episodes you regarded as the highpoint of the series. In the end his only actual writing contribution to the series were two bookends. Yet despite this this is still largely regarded as a Gen series.

  3. L

    "Gargantia's conflict over the last couple of eps lapsed into very broad and simplistic terms"

    YES. EXACTLY. I was wondering why it's so clearcut in this Gen series, as it didn't have the usual mix-up with good and evil. This is probably at the very opposite extremity from PPass, where he tried a bit too hard for that signature Gen-grey area.

    It was a nice soft touch when Chamber said Ledo was "unfit to be a soldier." I felt that was one of the more powerful moments, even more so than the fights or whatever other previously unexplained tech there was. Seriously… with Ledo gone, apparently Chamber's fighting ability skyrocketed, with his laser splitting and hitting (damaging?) Striker like never before. If Gen were writing this in its entirety, we might not have gotten the deus ex, but neither would we have gotten an answer plus something so lighthearted at the end, methinks.

    So Enzo, if you could have it your way, would Gen's future works fare better posing questions and leaving them open, or answering them?

  4. I don't think I can answer that question in such simple terms. I like a lot of what SnG represents for Gen – as I said, I like to see him broaden himself beyond Nihilism. This was only his first crack at actually trying to resolve something – I think with a few more tries he could get a lot better at it.

  5. S

    I just came up with the lamest pun. Considering how there are glowing squids who are actually humans and stuff… does SnG stand for Suisei no Gargantia…

    …or for Shingeki no Gyojin?

  6. L

    ^ Make that Gyoza and we got a winning restaurant name. =X

    Enzo: I told a friend earlier that I expect Gen's future works may still be the dark stuff that he's known for, but (and this is the gamble) we don't know how much experience he really got from Gargantia. He only wrote two episodes and was the series composition. Someone more knowledgeable than me on this said that's lighting, framing, scene arrangement, and soundtrack insertion, which is far removed from scripting the more "human" characters in Gargantia.

    That said, he's probably trying to progress in the character department so I've no doubt his best works are yet to come.

  7. i

    I think for anyone who felt that Gen's series are somewhat hollow and difficult to connect either due to his coldhearted killing of characters or complexity of the themes he writes, should watch SnG. It is wave after wave of both ends of the spectrum rather than the neutral ground he usually stands at.

    SnG had both the two best characters and the two worst characters Gen has ever created or used. His question was the best I think he's forged but the worst 'answer' he has ever provided, I prefer his almost no answer in Psycho-Pass.

    Simply put I think Gargantia would have been a lot better a series if it hadn't caved to the needs of Otaku: boobs, no boobs, underage fanservice, deus ex machine, simple mindedness, flashy rather than thoughtful ending. Suisei no Gargantia is not flawed greatness but greatness reduced to good by its flaws, which so easily could have been avoided if the game of commercialism had been set aside. Its not the anime version of Transformers 3 (loud, brash, meant for people with children's mentality) that is SnK but it doesn't reach for say District 9.

  8. A

    See, this is the difference between killing off a character you barely knew and giving him a funeral for the sake of drama, and killing off someone you've grown to love for the sake of an ending. They're both cheap literary devices, but have fun setting up the latter.

    Yes, it was shallow and contrived, much like the second half of the series, but this was a Chamber episode, and I really did give a damn about Chamber. They earned it. Out of all the possible ways they could've ended the series, this was easily the least pretentious and most emotionally engaging I can think of. I loved it.

    …still would've liked to see SDF Gargantia taking off, though.

  9. R

    Stand and be judged!

    Been reading the Bolo books lately. From the pilot machine interface to the self sacrifice to the vague ending with Chamber's remains I can't help but think Chamber as a Bolo.

    Chamber's sacrifice is right up there with Bolos, Tachikomas and the Iron Giant.
    With his remains fairly intact I can imagine several centuries later he can be recovered as Bevel is laying the foundation for archeology in their world.

  10. S

    I was remembered of the Iron Giant too. The shot was all too similar. The difference being, "Go to hell tin can!" was a much more badass, if definitely cheesier, way to go than "Superman!".

  11. m

    I LOVE Iron Giant!!!!!!

  12. J

    I though the "Navy" were the Gargantia defence force we saw back in ep3?

    Also I actually like the fact that Chamber used Pinion's words as his last, since it's the only "anti-mech" phrase that he knew. It shows a difference between Chamber who's learning from the surroundings, and Striker who's stuck to the ideas in her head (literally). I may be thinking too much about this, but I wonder if the symbolism of the pilot being in the mech's head is intended or just convenience.

    Overall a good but flawed series, especially ep5 and to some extent 6. If only those two are written better then the whole perspective from the audience would probably change.

  13. A

    Of Gen Urobuchi's work, this is my least favorite – which goes to show how much better a series is if he is writing most of it. Madoka, Fate/Zero, and PSYCHO-PASS are all on another level, dialogue/thematic-wise. I hope Urobuchi is back to his hands-on approach in his next work, or hire more talented writers to work with.

    Like Ishruns said, this show was sabotaged by audience pandering. Great start, solid ending, ruined by a mediocre middle.

  14. M

    I’m going to throw everyone a bone – there’s a chance Chamber is hibernating not destroyed. The whalesquids are usually attracted to electricity in general and since Chamber is now one of their nest, I think there’s a chance that the generator thus the system is still operational. Will they be a reunion with Ledo? Maybe…

  15. f

    I think Urobuchi's again trying to stuff someone else's world view in his show, like what he did in psychopass. The one time he did well in doing this is in F/Z, but that's because Nasu explained everything to the audience for him already, so there's no need for him to try to stuff things in while developing his characters. As I understand Urobuchi, he's the kind of writer that is more skilled in character development in contrast to Nasu who loves creating worlds. Though he might do better if there's more episodes to use.

    As I see it, I don't really think urobuchi is nihilistic at all. I think he's just pessimist. Most certainly his characters very often fail at what they are doing, but I never had the impression that he's trying deny what they did is meaningless. Basically the values is in the character's good/noble intentions, but most of his characters fail in their goals because they are lacking in certain traits. To succeed in Urobuchi's world you have to be prepared for the worst case scenario, or you have to renounce humanity. But in that case what you do is no longer good.

    I think he mentioned in F/Z, or at least in one of his novels, that he just doesn't believe that love and truth and all that stuff can be easily attained. So he's quite happy to write F/Z because there's already a happy end. He can't persuade himself what his character did can absolutely lead to a good end.

    Writing F/Z might have changed his mind though. You do sort of see a change in madoka in that sayaka actually find value and peace in her sacrifice in the end. Personally I'm very interested to see if Urobuchi will write a character that went through hell but still managed to not give up his goals or his humanity.

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