Suisei no Gargantia – Cultural Divides and Collateral Damage
April 25, 2013 Leave a comment
The story of Suisei no Gargantia seems to be one about the differences between cultures and how they shape our perspectives on life. Ledo, for all of his combat experience is currently incapable of understanding the way of life on Gargantia. As we found out in episode one he has spent 145,000 hours in combat, effectively living his entire life inside the cockpit of Chamber either in combat or stasis waiting for the next deployment. We have seen him flying emotionlessly into battle, neither fearing death, nor worrying about what the future might bring, instead he is utterly focused on the task at hand and carries out his duty as a soldier with ruthless efficiency. This is the kind of attitude towards his and others life that can only really be created through constant exposure to war and the fight for survival. Ledo’s society, what little of it we saw, is militaristic, with citizenship and the ability to breed only granted to those that survive. In effect, their fight against the Hidengauz acts as a form of natural selection, one that weeds out the weak elements and attempts to breed strength – although this way of thinking is inherently flawed and largely reinforces the strict, militarist governance that they have to live with.
Such a society effectively reduces the cost of a human life to the bare minimum, something that Ledo has been indoctrinated with since birth, and clearly believes. During these first few episodes we have seen his shock at discovering Earth supports life, and how little he really understands about human interaction. Living your life inside a space suit and the cockpit of a robot doesn’t really help when it comes to talking to anyone for example, and this clearly shows in his attempts at interacting with the citizens of Gargantia. Ledo is constantly alert, and expects danger or some form of assault at any time, this inevitably leads to problems when trying to enter into a more peaceful dialogue with the fleet. The other main obstacle to Ledo is the language barrier, something that Suisei no Gargantia has done an excellent job of depicting. As anyone who has studied language will know, certain phrases or ways of addressing others can have a variety of meanings depending on the social situation, language and people your addressing. Your environment also largely dictates how you react to any given situation or request, with Ledo carrying out a request for help in the only way he knows. He doesn’t necessarily do it out of kindness, although Ledo isn’t a harsh individual, but his military training means that he has been analyzing his situation and considers this request to be in his advantage.
Episode two provided an excellent demonstration of the sheer destructive power of Chamber and how everything currently available on earth (at least that we know of) pails in comparison to the havoc that Ledo could wreak if he wanted to. Watching Ledo mercilessly target and vaporise every pirate, turning them into little more than dust, further reinforced the stark differences between the society of Gargantia, and the one he comes from. It also helped to demonstrate how powerful the Hidengauz are if it requires such a powerful weapon to fight them, although this is more background information at the moment. What is so chilling about this scene is the complete lack of emotion from Ledo – he doesn’t attack the pirates out of rage or any other personal feelings, instead it is a simple request, a job that is to be carried out with ruthless efficiency. To him, the idea of helping the salvagers equates to eliminating the pirates, rather than simply stopping them through less lethal methods. Such a difference in cultural norms cannot be easily expressed through words, these are the subtleties of language and society that get lost on those who are not familiar with them and do not know what to look out for. Ledo’s inability to comprehend why Gargantia are far from grateful for what he clearly views as efficient and ‘good’ work stems from the clash of social and cultural norms that determines how you act in any given situation. To him the use of overwhelming force to save others clearly comes from his military training and the overall situation of his society, but in Gargantia, there are more subtle ways of acting.
There are delicate social and political considerations to balance with the necessity of life – by killing a pirate patrol, Gargantia automatically sends a message to other pirates that they are strong and willing to fight back. This in turn presents a target for retribution, and the pirates must reassert their control by using Gargantia as an example of what happens when they are defied. The presence of weapons is out of necessity, and as Bellows points out, they act as another tool to negotiate with, but they do not actively go looking for fights. Obviously the presence of guns, gunboats and other forms of weaponry means that they are used, but this is largely seen as the last resort, with the city fleets holding weapons incase they need them, rather than owning weapons so that they can use them. Which is where their attitudes towards weapons differ from Ledo’s – to him weapons are merely another tool, the use of weapons and the constant warfare that he has lived through clearly mean that the idea of not using overwhelming force is as alien to him, as he is to the people of Gargantia. Admittedly, this notion killing as a taboo, and weapons only existing as another form of negotiation is mere sophistry and entirely illogical. In fact, as we see later in episode three, the pirates aren’t afraid of using their weapons and charge headlong into a battle that they think can easily be won. The people of Garganita obviously fight back with as much force as they can manage, thus demonstrating that in many respects they are similar to Ledo, although his situation was infinitely more extreme.
I must admit that this scene did slightly derail the series, with a sudden lecture on the nature of humanity that didn’t really fit in with the whole aesthetic of the series. While it might have been an interesting point, it arguably wasn’t necessary since we could already tell this from the shocked looks on the members of Gargantia. It was out of place and slightly hurt episode three, although it was only a very small moment, and luckily there was enough after that made up for it. Where Suisei no Gargantia shines is showing the clash of cultures and the effort that Ledo must make in order to live amongst the members of Gargantia. He has to learn a completely different set of social norms and attitudes, while also reigning in his destructive power for the sake of their peace and safety. He might have the ability to wipe Gargantia, and the pirates from existence, but in doing so he would label himself, and those he aids as a force to be reckoned with, and create a target for retribution and vengeance. He also has to come to terms with a different method of survival, and while the people of Gargantia still fight on a daily basis, it is a different form of fighting, and one that doesn’t always involve the use of deadly and overwhelming force. There are subtleties in this new life that he clearly doesn’t understand, and even simple phrases such as ‘Arigato’ make no sense to him. The series has so far excelled in demonstrating the clear gap between his life and the life of those around him, reinforced through the language barrier and differing attitudes towards fighting and killing. I do like this aspect of the series, it is neither too serious, nor too carefree, and instead it is a series about differences and everyday survival.