In the not so distant future, a tremendous ice age begins, and humanity is forced to flee Earth, searching for a new home among the cosmos. In the far distant future, humanity has created such a place on the other side of the galaxy, the artificial Avalon. But among the stars another threat has emerged for the Human Galactic Alliance, the monstrous squid like alien force, the Hidiaazu, with whom they are in a perpetual war for the survival of the human race. During a major battle against them, lieutenant Ledo and his AI powered Pilot Support System, Chamber, fail to enter a wormhole properly, and hence end up warping unpredictably through the vastness of space, eventually emerging incredibly far from the intended destination, and incredibly far from any contact with the Alliance.
At first Ledo doesn’t know where he is, emerging from hyper sleep in his mech surrounded by an unfamiliar people speaking an unfamiliar language. He immediately sets off in search of information, and ends up taking a local girl named Amy hostage in the process. Eventually, the misunderstandings begin to get resolved to some degree, heavily in part due to Chamber beginning to understand their language. He comes to understand that he is on Earth, that the Earth had gone back to some level of normality following the ice age, with the obvious exception of a tremendous rise in sea levels wiping out most livable land. Hence, a post apocalyptic humanity lived travelling the oceans on massive fleets, such as the one he had found himself on, Gargantia. Most of the technology of the old world had been lost, but humanity had pulled through.
As he has no way of getting back to the Alliance, he sends out a distress beacon and waits, though with little chance of it reaching anyone. He begins to learn more and more about the people of Earth, and while originally confused at how inefficient they are compared to the Alliance, still having primitive structures such as family and festivals, he comes to appreciate them and grows closer to them, slowly coming to learn the language and culture. He helps out in numerous ways, some involving his high spec abilities such as in fighting off pirates, and some just involving solely himself such as in setting off in search of something for a barbecue. He also gets closer to various people such as Amy, the girl he originally took hostage, Bellows, a savager that scoured the seas for artifacts from the previous generation, and Pinion, an arrogant but exceptional mechanic. But eventually things change when he discovers that Hidiaazu exist on Earth, albeit very different, and he’s forced to make a string of decisions on who he is and what lies waiting for him in the future.
Gargantia is an anime that goes through a number of different phases in terms of both themes and tone. It has an intense start that sets up Ledo appearing on Earth. It then switches over to a rather different tone that’s more curious as Ledo tries to understand the world around him, its people, and how different their culture is from the one he’s accustomed to. While this does start off with a reasonable degree of intensity, for the most part it is very much lighthearted with a strong focus on the people involved and show casing the exotic but happy atmosphere of Gargantia. The themes largely seem to revolve around what is to be gained by looking into other cultures as well as efficiency not being the be all end all of human progress. When Ledo encounters the Hidiaazu, there’s another shift. Things get a lot more involved as Ledo’s previous values and identity clash with those that he’s developing on Gargantia. The atmosphere gets a lot darker and there are a string of more shocking revelations. And ultimately, the main theme filters into whether conflict is truly necessary. The last shift comes when Ledo encounters Kugel. It forces Ledo to essentially choose between how he was prior to arriving on Gargantia, someone that didn’t really think for himself and just obeyed commanding officers, or instead choosing to side with the part of him that grew into his own person on Gargantia, someone with a very different view on what it means to be human and what humanity needs to strive for.
There is a certain level of disconnect between these various phases due to the rapidly changing themes and intensity, and to a certain degree it somewhat feels that all of them were rushed with a certain level of disconnect, but at the same time there are themes that carry through the entire show. Primarily that of growth. Each phase involves Ledo growing in a certain way, and ultimately the growth by the end of the show for Ledo is tremendous. He’s very much a completely different person than he was in the beginning and it is easy to see how he progressed as so. This growth is also showed off with some very evident cues, such as his clothes changing, as well as him slowly picking up on the local language. While the overarching plot is reasonably good, its the progressive growth in Ledo that’s the highlight of the show. Furthermore, I would also like to remark on how Chamber, the AI, grew as well. Growth in AI that are so obviously AI is something rarely seen, and even more rarely seen done well, but Chamber actually pulled it off. It’s quite hard to see until the end, but he has an amazing finale.
The Petite Gargantia specials were reasonably funny, though pretty much what you’d expect of chibi mini specials. The first long special about the ghost ship was ultimately forgettable in context, as you’ve already seen Ledo’s growth and ultimately it doesn’t add much. The second special about Kugel gaining his fleet was amazing, and ultimately a completely different twist on the same tale that Ledo went through. It felt a bit rushed however, and it may have been better to just use both specials for that. Still, it was one of the best things I’ve seen in terms of extra episodes.
There wasn’t as much action as I expected, but the action that was there was very good, especially the final battle. There was a good amount of laid-back comedy, which was pretty good as well though more so for contributing to the tone than actually being funny. The designs and style for the various characters and locations were great, in that they were just very pleasant to look at. The contrast between Ledo and all the others, as well as between Kugel’s fleet and Gargantia were also demonstrated very clearly stylistically. The Hidiaazu designs seemed a bit lack luster though, and we never really got to see too much of them surprisingly, but I suppose that helped keep an air of mystery surrounding them which is a key point in a way. The animation was excellent. It was really smooth and they made sure to show that off a lot. The soundtrack was very good as well with a lot of variety, as expected of the many tones throughout the show.
A very well made show with an air of exoticness that goes through a number of somewhat disconnected phases, but has its highlight in being tied together by the strong character development.
This review is for the main series and not the OVAs. I did watch them, and thought they were very good in a way. They very much carried forward a lot about what made the original series great, and would serve as a great bridge to the second season. However, this second season was unfortunately cancelled, which annoys me tremendously. The way the main series ends is a really good place to end the series, and if it ended there I wouldn’t be too frustrated. But the OVAs did a really good job of setting up doing a lot more with the world, and hence there not being a second season is incredibly annoying. Hence, as the context for the OVAs is completely shot, I am not going to review them at all, as there’s really no fair way to do so. I am hopeful that the novels that will be made instead will get translated as I very much would like to read them.