In the retreat of a failed battle campaign against an alien enemy, Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance is separated from his company and sent through a wormhole. He wakes up six months later on Gargantia, a city on Earth made from a series of interlocking ships. Cut off from everything he’s ever known, Ledo starts a life on Gargantia but assimilation proves difficult when you can barely speak the language. Spoilers onward.
The beauty of Gargantia on the Verduous Planet is in its simplicity. Unlike other mecha shows, Gargantia discards a traditional wartime story in exchange for a story about peace; thus the focus is on Ledo’s assimilation to a new culture and ultimately a new life. The show takes its time working through Ledo’s main obstacles of establishing his place on Gargantia: forming relationships, learning a new language, and acquiring a profession. However, Ledo is only able to build his new life after discarding all connections to the Galactic Alliance, the most painful of which is the sacrifice of his pseudo-parent Chamber.
Chamber is the name of the artificial intelligence inhabiting Ledo’s Machine Caliber (mecha). The AI’s main purpose is to ensure the safety and well-being of its pilot by suggesting courses of action, questioning the logic behind Ledo’s decisions, and even providing for him. On Gargantia, Chamber earns money for Ledo by working on the docks. Chamber bridges the language barrier by analyzing the language spoken on Gargantia and translating for Ledo. Ledo’s language integration is slow, taking at least half the show until he is proficient enough without a translator, and realistic in its depiction. Whenever Ledo has to convey a message too complicated for his limited Earth-language vocabulary, even after being proficient for day-to-day interactions, he switches to his native space-language and Chamber translates. The most heart-warming moments involving Chamber, besides being used as a grill in Episode 5, is Chamber questioning the logic behind the Machine Caliber Striker. The show frames the interaction as though Chamber is purposefully siding with Ledo despite Chamber’s supposed neutrality. In the season finale, Chamber declares Ledo unfit to be a soldier and ejects him from the cockpit. Unable to get the upper hand in the battle against Striker, Chamber self-destructs in an act of self-sacrifice.
Yet it is by losing the lifeline provided by Chamber that allows Ledo to fully integrate into his new life on Gargantia. Throughout the show, Ledo’s only connections to the Galactic Alliance has been through machines, which highlights the coldness of his home culture. The show takes pains to depict the culture of the Galactic Alliance as something borderline evil: culling anyone unfit to be soldiers and regulating people’s upbringing for the service of humanity. Yet the show fails to acknowledge that kind of society is born out of desperation. Space is one of the most brutal environments a human can live in, and unless drastic measures are taken humanity is toast out there. Those same choices when applied in the peaceful environment of Earth, however, are poorly received.
For most of the show, Ledo struggles with an existential crises. As a soldier for the Galactic Alliance, his usefulness to society was clear: fight the alien threat Hideauze to ensure humanity’s survival. Major decisions by the Galactic Alliance are made around this mission, hence the previously mentioned culling of the unfit. Earth lacks that constant state of war. Since Ledo is unable to fight aliens on Gargantia, he spends most of the show struggling to find a suitable profession until he discovers ancient records at the bottom of the sea. The records enlighten him on the origins of the war he spent his entire life fighting and provide the profession he sought throughout the series: archaeologist. Given the importance of history in the final half of the show, I find it surprising history does not play a major part in the rest. Why was Gargantia named after a mass driver? Who are the sages that decree appropriate use of the mass driver? How is their knowledge passed through the generations? What is Gargantia’s reputation to everyone not on Gargantia? These are questions the show did not have time to answer.
The anime has a satisfactory ending with Ledo finally coming into his own with the promise of a peaceful and happy life. A couple OVAs were released after the series’ completion in 2013, two of which are available for streaming on Netflix. One is a fun yet meaningless side story that runs parallel to the events in the first half of the show. The second follows Commander Kugel, Ledo’s superior officer who is also sent through the wormhole in episode 1. I found them to be disappointing overall, even Commander Kugel’s episode which had a promising premise. These episodes don’t contribute much to the overall story of Gargantia on the Verduous Planet, instead serving as a fix for people who want more of the anime.
Gargantia on the Verduous Planet is a refreshing installment to the mecha genre. It’s slow storytelling and lovable characters make it worth a watch, and it does good by limiting itself to 13 episodes for the main story. It’s a quality piece of science fiction and easily accessible to people getting into the anime or science fiction genres. I recommend it for novice anime watchers and people looking for something different.