Quickly: think of three words that come to mind when I say the word ‘anime.’ Okay, got it? What were they? Let me guess, some variation of “violence” “boobs” and “big eyes” popped into your head. That’s fine, I get it, but what if there was an anime out there, all ready for your purchasing splendor, that didn’t focus on any of those? I’m here to say it’s real and it’s pretty darn good.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Viz Media)
Okay sure, there are girls in bikinis, violent situations and big eyes in this anime, but the beauty of Gargantia is the fact that those are not the focus. No, instead this anime is more in tune with its message and ultimately the philosophical look at war, isolation and the grand purpose of society than anything else. That may sound boring, but trust me when I say there isn’t a better work in the last decade or more that’s looked inside what it means to be human and what it means to take responsibility for your actions than this anime.
Ledo and Chamber
Originally aired April 2013 and released in the states on Blu-ray October 7, 2014, this is a 13 episode series with a supposed two more episodes being released right now in Japan. The series opens with a soldier named Ledo who is the pilot of a mech spaceship named Chamber. The mech has its own AI and its designed to help its pilot make the best choices in order to kill the enemy known as Hideauze. The Hideauze are organic creatures that look seem aquatic, similar to squid and crustaceans. In an attempt to kill the Hideauze’s home base—which looks like a giant flower—the humans are beaten and Ledo is cast into space. Six months later he wakes up on a giant boat named Gargantia on Earth, a planet Ledo and humanity have long forgotten. Ledo must befriend these strange people because, without Hideauze to kill, his purpose is lost.
This show simply nails the philosophical aspects it’s exploring without being preachy or overt. There are cliches that set things up—the fish out of water that is Ledo for example—but the concept of a kid who lives and breathes science fiction space battles is sent to an Earth where humanity has a bare minimum of technology is an interesting one. The show immediately captures your imagination as you wonder how this is even possible, what has happened to Earth and how Ledo can change his soldier behavior and become capable of living in a peaceful society.
The show tackles questions and moral issues like religion, war and propaganda to name a few and at the same time has a few character dynamics to play with too. Ledo meets a girl named Amy who wears some kind of Native American garb, hang glides and has a pet squirrel and they quickly become friends slash love interests. The show never presumes their relationship is more than it is, particularly because Ledo is a symbol for young boys in school who aren’t familiar with their own bodies or life direction, let alone sex. Along the way he meets other characters that pose different characteristics he must deal with, but for the most part its’ the relationship between Amy and Ledo that builds towards his understanding of the world and himself.
The show also nails some interesting aspects when it comes to language. To start, Ledo can’t speak English, and when he does speak with Amy her language is foreign and not understandable. Chamber is used to translate between them, and when we are watching from Amy’s perspective she speaks English and Ledo speaks something foreign. It’s a neat way to convey the language gap between them and it’s used to show how bridges can be built to create peace and harmony.
What’s even better?
I’m of the mind that if you simply mention there’s a plot twist you’ve ruined it, but I can’t help myself, the twist in this series is spectacular. It’s delivered later in the show, so when it finally dawns on us what Ledo has done we feel awful and sickened. I won’t ruin it here, but the concept of dehumanizing your enemy is explored and it is a great example of how we lose sight of what’s real when we go to war.
In space the bad guys are flowers.
The animation is top notch, especially when it comes to showcasing qualities of things that are opposite. For instance, we see Chamber hovering over the always moving and organic ocean whilst the solid and unmoving ship hovers impossibly. Or in comparison to Chamber, the massive boats are caked with rust and wear and look ancient while Chamber is spotless and clean. The character design is also very clean and nice on the eyes. Considering this was a TV show I was a bit surprised how high a production value it all had.
Okay, so what’s bad?
Well there is some gratuitous sex in there, some breasts that shake and shimmy as well as a dance sequence that only seems to be there to cater to a young male audience. Considering that audience though, it’s not a big deal and in a way it does set off questions as far as Ledo growing up and being exposed to sex. Imagine living in a tin can in outer space, being fed tasteless goo and you can only imagine the shock at seeing a curvy woman while eating a hamburger. Never does the sexual content go overboard or demean the women, so that’s a plus.
It’s also a bit surprising there isn’t more variance of race in the show. It seems everyone in the future is white.
Should I buy it?
This was a very enjoyable TV show that went by way too fast in a good way. The science fiction and action are great and the philosophical questions raised are compelling. One might assume it’s another mecha anime but if you give it a chance you might actually learn something!
You can pick up the entire series on Blu-ray from Amazon.