Recalibrating Expectations in Suisei no Gargantia

Suisei no Gargantia is one of the three mecha anime airing this season (four if we count a certain HD remaster). Out of them, it’s the one with the loftiest concept in the vein of Toward the Terra or Battlestar Galactica. That said, it’s more of a science fiction show with robots than a true mecha anime, with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

I think the biggest perk the show enjoys is not having to resort to employing its mecha to justify itself as a mecha anime. In general, mecha anime can’t spend more than an episode without using or alluding to its mecha, for that is its primary hook and appeal. Gargantia is comfortable with relegating Chamber to the sidelines, employing it when it is needed for the story but never when it’s gratuitous to do so. In fact, I enjoy the show’s creative use of Chamber’s incredible abilities beyond their intended scope, which is combat. It’s entertaining to watch Chamber having to limit its powers in order to not kill humans, or acquire fish without mincing them. I liken it to Turn A Gundam, where Loran’s limited operational knowledge of the Turn A levels the playing field, keeping combat fresh and exciting.

Aside from that, the atmosphere of fleet Gargantia is very lush and vivid. It’s a gorgeous show with great visual design. Humanity of Earth has a rugged, yet cheerful glow in them, and it’s an interesting culture to clash with Ledo’s ultra-militaristic Galactic Empire. While I, like any proper adult anime fan with proper adult tastes, turned up my nose at the mention of swimsuits and belly-dancing (episode 5-6), those episodes have turned out to be pretty good and in line with the show’s tone. (Those who complain about butts should be ushered to the nearest Strike Witches episode.)

Now, let’s talk about disadvantages. I’ll link you to this interview of the director, in which he reveals that the show’s message is to encourage the Japanese youth to bravely integrate themselves into society (which is probably a nice way of telling NEETs to get a job). Learning about this intent actually removes some of my enjoyment from the show. If they want to get this point across, then they’ll have to write themselves in a way that supports it, which may not be the most interesting plotline to follow. It even narrows the possible endings the show could do.

Why does this make me upset? You see, I like stories because they’re good stories. I like them because they’re clever, well-written, and entertaining. I can decide what a story means to me after I’m done with it. I don’t trust the author saying that their work is about this or that, because they could imbue their story with whatever themes they want and I could feel bad for missing it, or worse, elicit the opposite reaction. Now that I know Gargantia’s theme, I start seeing it everywhere in the show. If Ledo stands for the young Japanese graduates who are unequipped to adapt to modern society, then what does Chamber stand for? The irrelevant skillset that the educational system equips him with? A mother who spoils her NEET child? I want to be entertained first! I can think about that later.

Perhaps I’m to blame here, too, for letting the interview cloud my approach to the show, but in my opinion, the high-concept premise is a little squandered if you’re just going to make an appeal to Japan’s disenfranchised youth.

But I don’t also deny that Gargantia is a show that the Japanese do need. It’s probably just not what most of us were expecting it to be, but it’s still not as bad as its detractors have been claiming. Knowing this, I’ve recalibrated my expectations a bit, and can continue on watching.

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16 Responses to Recalibrating Expectations in Suisei no Gargantia

  1. omo says:

    To me, seeing how everything strings up together given the premise about a story that encourages Japan’s “lost” youths is actually kind of fun. But I understand how it might take away the enjoyment for others. I guess that’s kind of like how some people like pure sandbox games and others want a tight story to follow in the same game genre.

    Whatever it is, though, Gargantia is doing it right.

    • schneider says:

      It’s doing well for me, though I’m still unsure if they can really succeed with what they set out to do. I’m worried about the ending, because the interesting twist I thought up is probably not gonna happen.

  2. krizzlybear says:

    I love taking in fictional media using both approaches. What I almost always do is set my initial approach right away, and for the most part, the first time I watch or read something, I’ll do it purely with the intent to enjoy (or attempt to enjoy, at least) the production, paying no heed to analytical elements until the second time around, assuming the piece is enjoyable enough to experience again. Then the second time, I’ll go about doing my analyses and picking out things that I missed the first time, or revisiting things that I did notice naturally, and analyze how the author brought it out as naturally (or blatantly, depending) as it did.

    As far as Gargantia is concerned, I’m very intrigued with the message that they’re trying to send, but the means of which that message is being sent does not really sit well with me, particularly because it doesn’t resonate well with the writing style that I would like to employ for my own stories.

    Fantastic post, schneider. Keep doing your thing.

  3. IKnight says:

    Are we even sure this is something that is needed? As a piece of encouragement Garg seems at best naïve, and at worst dishonest in its rosiness.

    • omo says:

      You bring up a good point.

      Approaching Gargantia’s methods via the psychology of fear, the idea behind its rather “healing” feel is to provide encouragement so people will take that (maybe first) step into the world in order to find a place they belong. I think painting a honest image might do the exact opposite of what they want to achieve, depending how half-empty your glass of water is.

      FWIW, showing Ledo being unemployed for some time is already a good deal more honest than the usual scenario.

      • schneider says:

        Well, yes, Ledo has a lot more going for him than the people he’s supposedly modeled after. Unlike them, he has leverage (in the form of Chamber), and his outsider status works as a buffer between him and Gargantia society’s norms. And he doesn’t really need to integrate himself to the fleet.

        I like the fact that he has to get to know Gargantia first, and spend a good deal of soul-searching, though.

  4. I’m in agreement here,

    (1) This very specific, regional theme puts constraints on the places it can go. I’m not opposed to an author creating this kind of through line in her work, but yeah, knowing about it beforehand is a downer because it limits the story’s possibility.

    (2) What are the criteria for success with this? Right now, it almost seems less like the seed from which the story grew and more slapped onto it after the fact.

  5. DoctorBaronvonEvilSatan says:

    I don’t see how knowing the author’s intent detracts from the enjoyment. Maybe watch it for enjoyment first rather than watching it critically immediately. They’re two different things.

    • schneider says:

      You make it sound as if I’m not enjoying this show, but that’s not true. I only begin to pick on it after the episode is finished. The hype for Gargantia gave me some high expectations but the actual product isn’t really like that. I expected it to be a modern Orguss, where a person finds himself in another world and has all sorts of strange adventures in it. The reality is a lot quieter. I thought about it and stopped wishing “it should be better”.

      I’m a writer, so I can’t ignore authorial intent even if it’s going to skew my reading, because I also want to evaluate how successfully the author channels his intent on the page. Is it going to work? Will he be able to communicate what he wants through his work? I want to know, because I can learn from them.

      • DoctorBaronvonEvilSatan says:

        You can only do that after experiencing the complete work though. Otherwise you are filling in the gaps with meta-information. Your knowledge and experiences actually get in the way when that happens and you are unable to get a clear picture of the author’s intent. Reading/watching critically is a different thing and that’s why the good critics pick apart the work only after they have experienced it in its entirety. The equivalent of letting the person finish talking rather than interjecting with rebuttals after every sentence.

        • DoctorBaronvonEvilSatan says:

          Additionally, that’s why you write the entire draft first then do edits rather than editing as you write.

  6. I had to readjust my expectation when I learned that Urobuchi only wrote the first and last episodes. It made the show a lot less… stressful(?) knowing that a twist probably won’t happen for a while.

  7. rusty says:

    I enjoy Gargantia. Though now that I know the intent of the author, I find the way they make the message ineffective. Maybe I’m an incurable escapist, but I’m more intrigued by the Galactic Alliance, who seem to be a tribe wandering in space searching for a hospitable home world. Also, Ledo is hardly an idle youth afraid to engage society. If anything, he’s the career soldier suddenly finding himself irrelevant to a peaceful society, and to me it’s not quite the same thing as the creators want to say.

  8. I’m definitely enjoying Gargantia, and I did read the interview in question. Still, it hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment of the show, and I like it for it’s “fish out of water”/”stranger in a strange land” atmosphere. I also like the fact that we see Ledo change–thanks to his interaction with Amy and the people in the fleet–and learn about being, well, _human_.

    I don’t know where the show is going, and that’s fine with me.

  9. sadakups says:

    This show is actually a unique specimen. As much as the epic space battle suggests standard mecha fanfare, it all changed after Ledo crashes to Earth. Seeing him Sousuke-ing his way in this relative alien world was fun to watch, and pretty much I accepted that this show is all about Ledo fitting in this world, since as of the last episode, he is not able to go back to the Galactic Alliance.

    Now there’s the deal with the aliens he’s fighting against are actually “gods” in Earth makes for some interesting stuff. And then there’s the possibility of the Galactic Alliance making an appearance on Earth and that’s some bigger shit to happen, which will make Ledo determine his allegiance – to the people he served for, or to the people who showed him a different side of life outside of battle.

    If this does not happen, then it’s still okay.

  10. Ray Trace says:

    I really enjoyed Gargantia, I thought it’s story was enjoyable, characters not annoying, and I REALLY liked it’s art, the colour balance of every scene was really nice.

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