Friday, July 12, 2013

Suisei no Gargantia - Review

Year: 2013
Studio: Production I.G
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Drama
Director: Kazuya Murata
Series Composition: Gen Urobuchi 

What a fantastic ride Gargantia has been and I'll surely miss the dazzling emerald that has become such a trademark of the show. I think we may have to find a new nickname for the ever so prominent Urobuchi-sensei, as he has proven himself perfectly capable of creating sentimental characters and human situations. But of course, we are not getting off without being fed the good old Urobuchi social commentaries – there is plenty in Gargantia that will make you think twice about dismissing it as un-Urobuchi. Though, what we see is probably a combined effort of multiple talents, including director Murata, who was able to take on Urobuchi's sharp mind and keeping it under reign. 

The atmosphere of the show reminds me in many instances of Eureka Seven – the ship crew, the vibrant life style, the political intrigue, the theme of co-existence, and even the emotional height it manages to reach – but perhaps less ambitious in comparison, which I think is smart decision in the case of Gargantia, being a much shorter anime. Of any story penned by Urobuchi, we can expect a plot twist somewhere to expose the ugly secret of a corrupted social system and turn our hero's beliefs upside down – it's really no different in Gargantia and I can't help but muse just how much disdain Urobutchi has for the totalitarian regime. Frankly, I think anyone familiar with his works should see what's coming with the Hideauze plot line; we can almost argue for a similar case in Madoka where the enemies are also the victims, and the organization in command is the biggest evil. I would've been more surprised if I wasn't already so acquainted with the twist, though even with that said, I don't think being predictable is necessarily a drawback as long as the situation and character response makes sense.

Well, this leads me to another point I want to make – Gargantia is probably one of the most well-paced anime I've seen in recent years (if I'm willing to overlook the lack of development for the entire Galactic Alliance), particularly when we take into account the inherent complexity of the sci-fi genre and the anime's own limited run-time. There is a lot happening in each episode, yet I never really felt bombarded. Owning to the amount of rich details in the character interactions and the breathtaking landscape they occupy, the series almost feel longer than it actually is. There was not a single moment of boredom, my eyes were always eagerly drinking in the rich colours, beautiful designs and great camera angles – they bring such a pleasant, refreshing experience to the senses, I find myself right there, in the middle of the festivity. Added to the cultural dimension are the mundane but human activities – the collection of rainwater, the celebration, the dancing – which I'm sure, captivates us the audience, as much as they do Ledo.

I've mentioned this in my Psycho-Pass post, I think Urobuchi is quite aware of his weakness as a storyteller, and with each subsequent work, I get the sense his characters are gaining more and more of their own voice. Ledo is not just a vehicle for ideological transmission, but an introspective personality struggling to confront his own existent and learning to make individual choices in the process. For the first time, we see a character whose actions are not necessarily driven by situation, but personal conviction. I find it especially interesting to see Ledo lapse right into his soldier mentality when Chamber identifies whalesquids as genetically identical to Hideauze, whose erasure from the universe has been his entire life purpose up until that point. It's a believable psychological reaction given the kind of training and brainwashing Ledo had undergone. Living among the people on Gargantia has significant impacts on his psyche, but the commands and a sense of mission had been drilled into him. It takes courage to defy one's established identity and Ledo's transformation from soldier to a real human being is consistent and gradual. It's quite the message Urobuchi-san is getting across at the end when the enemy was literally a machine with a dead human housed in the cockpit – a glaring representation of a regime under which machine and human can no longer be differentiated, and a truly Urobuchi symbolism all the way. On the other end of the stick, in an almost ironic reversal of situation, we have Chamber, the robot who defied his very own identity so his partner could have a chance at life – he seems much more human than the brainwashed lot. Well, if there is an award for the most awesome mech, I think Chamber wins it without competition, I mean you'd be hard-pressed to find another mech who can issue an ultimatum like "Go to hell, metalhead". He's quite a personality alright, not just as the biggest comic relief throughout the series, but also the unlikely hero in the final showdown. Chamber, why are you so hopelessly adorable?

While I find Amy to be run-of-the-mill female lead (optimistic, energetic, name it), she's a likeable character and an effective counterpart to the reserved Ledo – as Ledo puts it, "I knew how to die, but Amy taught me how to live." It's a conventional setup if you will, in the sense that her role has been obvious at the get-go, but the interaction between our two leads is brimming with chemistry, owning large in part to the excellent execution. What I also enjoyed getting to know is the dynamic supporting cast – the sassy Bellows and Amy's little brother Bevel in particular. It was a pleasure watching them interacting with Ledo and showing him, each in their own way, what life is. My feeling towards Pinion on the other hand is somewhat complicated; while I'm fond of him as a character and genuinely respect him for that he did at the end, it was low of him to use Ledo as his revenge proxy and frontline soldier. Well, okay....that little expedition of his did some good in exposing the ugly truth, so from the plot perspective, I guess it was needed for someone to kick start the hunt and the impulsive Pinion happens to be the perfect candidate. As for the antagonist, I'm not sure there is one – Urobuchi loves to work in the greys and it's often difficult to label a perpetrator responsible for the chaos. It all comes to the idea of human nature – the bad and the good are two sides of the same coin, there is never a convenient answer to why social systems malfunction or prevail. But that's hardly the discussion here in Gargantia. The ending is surprisingly cheerful and optimistic, more so than any other anime Urobutchi had a hand in; it doesn't leave us with a big, empty question mark but a small happiness we can easily empathize with.

It's truly a fantastic anime – beautiful all around. With I.G on the production line, the animation is something to behold, as expected. Whether it's kites gliding through the vast sky, ships on the waves, or ever-changing lights on the horizon, the visuals leave me with much to long for. Lastly, I must fangirl over the itano circus of the final battle, it boasts amazing energy, intense but all the while graceful. I can even overlook the CGI when I.G is clearly on their best game. There is not much left to say but declaring Suisei no Gargantia as one of my favourite anime of 2013.

Overall: 8.5/10

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