Suisei no Gargantia – Giant robots and water worlds
April 9, 2013 Leave a comment
I have to admit that I was rather cautious when approaching this series, largely because of Gen Urobuchi’s involvement. As a writer he comes up with some interesting ideas and settings, but over the years I have watched series he has written and been consistently disappointed or generally bored by his approach to character and plot development, and largely horrible dialogue. So with this in mind I was wary of something similar happening to Suisei no Gargantia, and the first episode surprised me with its energy, colour and overall feel that made me want to watch it again. The first half of the episode was well directed, although the space battles felt oddly lifeless, without the same sense of energy and life that battles in Macross frontier, Vandred and Mouretsu had. Not that it’s a bad opening first half, but more that it didn’t grab me in the same way that other series have, and while it looked very pretty, it felt slightly like a throwaway scene, one whose purpose was to set up Red’s back-story so that we understand his actions on a strange, and to him, dangerous new world.
In many ways that is precisely what it is, because the first half of the episode takes place in a far corner of the Galaxy and effectively serves as a means with which we are introduced to Gargantia’s main character. The introduction introduced us to The Human Galactic Alliance, who are fighting a seemingly endless war against a ‘terrible alien race’ known as the Hidiaazu. What particularly struck me about this opening sequence is how distant everything seemed, from Humanities refuge of ‘Avalon’ to the aliens who they are fighting against. Kaito Ishikawa does an excellent job of portraying Redo (or Red) as a soldier who has become so utterly detached from his environment that he no longer fears death or a life away from the military. When he is told by his robots A.I. ‘Chamber’ that due to his long service he is now eligible for limited Avalon citizenship, along with the right to reproduce, his uninterested dismissal or something that should be considered basic human rights reinforces how emotionally detached he is from his surroundings. Chambers statements also help to demonstrate that while we are introduced to Avalon as a beacon of humanity, it is clearly governed by a strict, authoritarian regime, and that those who are fighting are perhaps seen as little more than cannon fodder.
This simple conversation between a pilot and his robot’s A.I. helps to demonstrate how little Red really knows about life outside of his pilot suit. Indeed, judging by Chamber’s other comments, along with the various fragments of information scattered throughout the first half of the episode it seems highly likely that pilots spend most of their lives within the robots. This then is setting up Red as someone who only understands war and has little knowledge or perhaps cannot even conceive of a world and society that allows for freedoms such as sleeping and working when you want to. The affect of all of this was slightly lessoned by the detached feeling and occasional lack of energy that I felt while watching the battle scenes however. When watching Macross Frontier (Or another Macross of your choice), perhaps even Mouretsu, Vandred or even Nadesico, you are broguth right into the action with changes in camera angles, while also seeing the battlefield from the viewpoint of different pilots. However, during the beginning of Suisei no Gargantia, we are only ever really given Red’s view of the battlefield, so while it is clear that an entire Human fleet is being wiped out, along with tens of thousands of lives, I still had a feeling of detachment. Having said that, director Kazuya Murata did bring a certain energy and style to this space battle, and clearly likes his classic Space Opera anime – all the laser beams and explosions going off really gave you the sense of a massive war for survival taking place. He also has an excellent sense for music and sound, with the soundtrack really helping to create a certain amount of tension as the Human fleet entered their wormhole and got ready to engage the enemy. In fact, despite the slight feeling of detachment due to the lack of other people’s perspectives on the battlefield, Murata was able to bring the right amount of energy and a feeling of hopelessness to The Human Galactic Alliance’s situation.
It was however in the second half that the series really began to intrigue me, with the introduction of the main cast and the world that Red had been whisked away to. I do like the aesthetic of Suisei no Gargantia actually, with the giant ship looking nicely grimy, like its held together by a lot of welds and rust. Due to this aesthetic, the second half of the episode reminded me of Kenran Butou Sai (Mars Daybreak) and Vandred, with the ship having a patched together feel. The constant banter between the main cast about salvaging and surviving gives the impression of a community that lives on the edge, and that something as potentially valuable as Red’s robot could be a gold mine to them. They are scavengers; pirates perhaps, and also have a cool retro-scavenger look, including quiffs, overalls, and big monkey wrenches. Curiously enough, despite not involving massive space battles and lasers flying about everywhere, this second half appeared to have far more energy and life than the first, perhaps in part due to the increased cast, and human interaction. As we watch Red calmly assess the situation from his cockpit, only to then effectively panic and take Amy hostage really showed us how, despite his military training and 145,000 hours of service, this strange, alien world has him rattled. Righting faceless, strange looking aliens from inside a giant robot is significantly easier than dealing with a strange planet, and people who speak a language you don’t recognise, at least for Red it is.
For that matter, the main cast of Gargantia all seem to be quite interesting, especially Amy, the other main character alongside Red. She is energetic and seems to have quite the bright personality, although she did spend most of her introduction slung over Red’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. But, even then, she continued to fight, yell, and generally be annoying, so she clearly isn’t going to roll over and let a strange alien kidnap her without putting up a fight. Overall, it was a good introduction to the series, and while the first half didn’t really grip me completely, it was the second half set on an Earth that appears to be entirely covered by water that really intrigues me. I m curious to see how such a largely emotionless character like Red who has 145,000 hours of combat experience can deal with a world and a community such as the one of Gargantia. It seems to be a relatively peaceful place – although the presence of so many guns at the end suggest that peace is a temporary thing – but it is certainly more peaceful and laid back than the society he comes from. It is a life full of different trials and tribulations, one that Red’s military training is unlikely to help him with, and I am actually interested to see what happens. I still retain me reservations about Urobuchi working on the script, simply because from past experience things can start to go wrong fast. This first episode does however lack many of his usual elements, something that I think we have the director, Mazuya Murata to thank – and considering the great job he did at building up this clash of cultures, it looks like Suisei no Gargantia is in safe hands. So yes, I will continue to watch this because I am actually enjoying it.