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.