(Note: I updated the title after I decided to name this feature In Search Of …)
Welcome to a new feature here on In Search of Number Nine, where I invite other people to recommend shows to me. I’m thinking about something clever for a title, like “The Search” or “In Pursuit.” Hopefully, by the end of this, I will come up with something exciting.
I wanted to recreate something I saw on Hardcore Gaming 101’s Top 47K Games and Jared Petty’s 100 Best Games of All Time. I really wanted people to bring me their favorite shows, so we could talk about them, and I could see if I would like them.
See, there are a lot of anime that I haven’t seen. I don’t have any illusions about catching up, but everyone has that one show they think every anime fan should watch.
Well, I want to watch those shows. So if you want to suggest one to me, you can do it here.
This week’s suggestion comes from RedBlinky, who hosted The JCS on my page in March and did an excellent job of it. He recommended Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.
Before I go any further, I would like to point out verdurous means green. There are precisely zero green planets in this anime. That isn’t a knock against it, but I do think it needs to be noted.
So why is he recommending this show?
“It’s short at 12 episodes, but packs got thematic punch. The Gen Urobochi script is solid, and it will give you some things to think about. It also has a very unique setup and setting. You can’t judge the show on the first episode. It’s a sci-fi mech show but a bit unique and deeper, so I think you’ll appreciate it.”
I will be honest. He had me at Gen Urobuchi. Yes. I know. Gen Urobuchi is a writer that carries a certain amount of baggage. Either you think Pyscho-Pass and Madoka Magica are the best things ever or as one review put it:
“Gen Urobuchi is just a hack who makes up cool ideas, stuffs them with pretentious dialogues that he steals from books, and then doesn’t give a damn when it comes to making sense out of them, since he knows the average anime fan considers Naruto to be an amazing show.”Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet Anime Reviews | Anime-Planet
So I love the first season of Psycho-Pass. Not because it had a deep thematic world filled with thought-provoking social structures. No, what I love about Psycho-Pass is that you don’t need Sibyl to enjoy the story of two men on a collision course and the woman trying to save one of them.
It’s a human story, even if it’s a thought-provoking world.
Blinky said the most significant selling point of the show is its uniqueness. So let’s get into it. Just how unique is Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.
Gargantia tells the story of humanity in the distant future where the survivors of the human race are locked in an ongoing struggle with the Hideauze. We meet our hero, Ensign Ledo, as he and his Machine Caliber named Chamber (read: a giant robot with artificial intelligence) are heading into battle with a Hideauze ship/fleet. It’s not particularly clear what it is, and it’s not really important.
This whole introductory scene has a voiceover that reminded me of Chirico Cuvie’s monologues from Armored Troopers VOTOMS. Basically, all he has ever known is war. His entire life has been shaped by war. Really, his entire culture has been shaped by war.
We are also told that they are the last humans to escape Earth as it succumbed to a new Ice Age and that they met the Hideauze out among the stars.
Well, it seems the humans aren’t really up for taking up the Hideauze, and they run away. Ledo and Chamber play rearguard as they try to save some of their fellow pilots. They barely manage to make it to the carrier ship as it’s entering the portal back to the human ship.
Ledo and Chamber won’t quite make it, and they get knocked out of the wormhole and across space. They end up on the bottom of Earth’s ocean.
Because surprise, surprise, the Earth thawed out, and now everyone lives on giant flotillas as they cruise around the sea and scavenge for materials.
Fair warning. Do not think about this too much. You’ll quickly find yourself in the logic swamp of trying to make sense of the senseless. Just accept that somehow the entire planet flooded, and people were able to build boats. They are also somehow able to find fuel. I don’t understand it either, and I don’t think I found an explanation about it.
Buuuut… Moving on.
Ledo gets picked up by one of those giant flotillas — the titular Gargantia.
This begins our main story: Chirico Cuvie Dances with Wolves.
Nearly every interaction between Chir… I mean, Ledo and the Gargantia is a clash of cultures. The crew of the Gargantia lives in something similar to a floating 19th-century city with robots. Ledo is a 31st Century man suckled at the teat of war and with a talking and thinking robot.
Reasonably early on, though, he meets the other character that will form this dynamic pair — Poca… Wait. No. Um. Katsu.. oh no. Not him either.
Amy. Her name is Amy, and she has a sugar glider and a people glider. She delivers messages around the ship and is charming. The character designs and the animation from Production, I.G. really shine here.
What’s a few pirates between friends?
It’s pretty fair to say that child soldier with advanced military technology in a somewhat primitive society quickly leads to a clash of cultures. A lot of this story could be described as Ledo only understanding social interactions that involve shooting things and the rest of the Gargantia trying to get him to realize that shooting things isn’t necessarily the best way to handle problems.
I don’t want to go too far into the plot because it has a fair number of turns.
At it’s heart, Gargantia is a story of a child soldier finding himself in a somewhat more peaceful and primitive society. As it goes on, he finds he enjoys its complexities and its simplicity.
A review from T.H.E.M. anime blog said that the people aboard the Gargantia aren’t “noble savages.” By the strictest of definitions, I agree. But it’s hard not to draw those comparisons to a long line of other “Going Native” stories like Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai.
Much of the story is about him discovering things like wiping out every single person in an attacking force is frowned on, or killing the sacred wildlife will get people angry at you. We see Amy explain having sick people and money and work. We see them go shopping.
While it could become boring, there is a turn that livens things up every few episodes or so. It’s a jaunty 13 episodes. I didn’t watch the last two OVAs because I didn’t feel like I needed to, but there is nothing terrible in this show.
The Comfort of the Familiar
To me, the strength of Gargantia isn’t it’s uniqueness. I’m not convinced it’s that different from a dozen other stories where a technologically advanced person suddenly finds himself living among “purer” but less technologically advanced people.
Now, I do think if the show had a second season, I might have escaped that trap, but with 13 episodes, they only had so much space to work with. Think of it like a superhero origin story. You have to hit specific plot beats, or else it’s not going to make much sense.
The same is true here. While the specifics might be unexpected, the general shape of the plot isn’t.
Everything feels familiar enough for it to be comfortable. Ledo is a child soldier who grew up in a child soldier world. His society is all about defeating the Hideauze to the point where he has a strong emotional reaction when he meets one.
For its part, the Gargantia is a floating city that operates under relatively modern precepts in a quasi-feudal manner. Amy is an optimistic and caring girl who just wants the best for her new friend.
I would say the show has three strengths. The first is that both Ledo and Amy (and later Pinion and Ridget) are charming. Seeing Ledo try to grasp with the idea that people get paid for work, or seeing Amy trying to understand why he would just evaporate a flotilla of pirates, well, those are the heart of the show for me.
This carries over when seeing Pinion turn from a lovable loser into a first-class hero by the end of the show and seeing Ridget grow into her position.
Just like Psycho-Pass isn’t a show about Sibyl, Gargantia is not a story about Machine Calibers or Hideauze. It’s a show about two people and two cultures struggling to understand each other.
This carries through the writing, the directing and the soundtrack. Even if it was familiar, I found myself really caring about what happened next to the point where I dreaded watching the next episode because I was afraid that everything would go wrong.
At times, it runs the risk of getting stuck in a slice of life, but any time it would, the writing soon moves to the next act.
This is the second strength of this show. It’s rarely still for long. Even though I was ready for its ninth episode turn, it’s 13-episode running time does not allow for much waste. By the time I reached the end, I had run through all of the emotions.
Again, no spoilers. You just need to watch it.
And for that third strength, well, I need to go back on something I said earlier. Psycho-Pass might not be about Sibyl, but the Sibyl System sure is interesting.
The same is true with Gargantia. This story isn’t about Hideauze, giant flotillas or space exploration, but, boy, when you’re done with the story, you’ll surely be thinking about them. So far, I’ve seen two Urobuchi works, and both have fascinating worlds that really do inform their characters.
As I’ve been putting together this review, I’ve been thinking to myself, “Man, I would like to explore that point in a post,” or “I wonder if this would make a good show for one of my series of reviews.”
For me, that is a mark of a good story. It can take the familiar and somehow turn it into something thought-provoking and fresh. Yes. Gargantia is Chirico Cuvie Dances with Wolves, but it really takes the time to ask, “What type of world would foster that story?”
And that is all I can ask.
When I went into Gargantia, I was prepared to enjoy it. I had seen Psycho-Pass and Expelled from Paradise. While I don’t think either of them breaks new ground, I do think they’re both fun.
And from reading this interview with the director of Gargantia, it’s pretty apparent that this is an Urobuchi joint. So if you’re not into him, I wouldn’t give this a shot.
When I left the show, I felt satisfied. I had laughed. I had cried, and I had fallen in love. The two OVAs just seemed tacked on at that point, and I wasn’t that interested in watching them.
It’s not a dark story, but it’s also not afraid of exploring it. It may deal with the triumph of humanity over its darker natures, but it’s also not scared of sympathizing with those natures as well.
If the mark of a good story is that it leaves you wondering about the world around you, then Gargantia succeeds for me.
For now, dear readers, this is iniksbane, broadcasting from somewhere on a small blue planet in the middle of the immense darkness of space. Over and out.
As always, thanks for reading.
Please, if you think there is a show that I should watch that I don’t have marked on my My Anime List, please please fill out this form and tell me about it. Please remember to leave your handle in the first answer box, so I know who sent it.
Please. Pretty please.