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.