I like Suisei no Gargantia – quite a lot actually – though it’s hard for me not to look back on the series with a sense of disappointment. The air of what might have been hangs heavy over this series, which started out looking like it might be the best series of 2013, and of Urobuchi Gen’s writing career. It wound up being something a lot less than that, though there were still fine moments over the last weeks of its run. It’s only really in comparing it against itself in its first four episodes and against the potential it seemed to have that Gargantia feels like a letdown.
The trouble here is that this OVA, like most, effectively functions as a side-story for the series. And Suisei no Gargantia more than almost any other recent anime is a show that’s at its best when it focuses with laser-like precision on its core themes. This isn’t a series that does the light-hearted and comedic especially well, and while “Abandoned Fleet” isn’t particularly humorous in tone it’s definitely pretty lightweight. The setting is a ghost fleet discovered by the Gargantia (sometime between Captain Fairlock’s death and the series finale, it seems), just as the three courier girls were telling the children of Gargantia ghost stories about abandoned ships (ones that Ledo took all too seriously). Ridget, Bellows and Pinyon head off to investigate – and the girls tag along for the purposes of the plot.
Soon after arriving, Ridget discovers that she’s been on these ships before. The backstory concerns Ridget’s visit to the fleet back when it was operational, one she made with her friend Storia. There they meet the local ops hunk Retna, who saves Ridget when she slips and falls off a beam and breaks his ankle in the process – and seemingly falls in love with Storia, who nurses him back to health. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but we aren’t given much reason to care one way or the other. Who are Storia and Retna that we should give a damn? Yes, Storia was Ridget’s friend and she missed her when she stayed behind, but I think it’s asking a lot of an audience to feel any buy-in for a relatively trivial plot about people who we don’t even know. And as is pretty much the standard for Gargantia, the humor is very hit-and-miss – and since none of it involves Chamber, there aren’t many hits.
What I think it boils down to is that Suisei no Gargantia is really only any good when it’s about something – but when it was about something, it could occasionally reach greatness. That doesn’t lend itself well to the modern OVA format, and the results are pretty predictable. “Abandoned Fleet” is pleasant enough, with Gargantia’s usual attractive visuals, and it’s nice to spend a little time with Ledo, Amy and Bevel again – but it’s eminently forgettable. Given how strong the Blu-ray and DVD sales were, a second season may be a possibility down the line, and if that happens hopefully it will present an opportunity for the series to showcase it’s strengths – though whether there would be any involvement from Gen is anybody’s guess.