Fair warning, I’m writing this rant after only watching the first three episodes of the show.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet also known as Suisei no Garugantia is an anime that aired in Japan April – June 2013 and was streamed by Crunchyroll at the same time. According to various sources online, the series was also nominated for a Seiun Award, which is the equal to the Hugo Award, in April 2014, meaning it was considered one of the best Science Fiction works in the spring of 2014. The show also has at least a handful of manga attributed to it as well.
The story of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet occurs in the distant future in which humanity both exists in space as the Galactic Alliance of Humankind (of whom I will henceforth refer to as GAOH) and on Earth in various sea faring fleet communities (of whom I will henceforth refer to as the Earth People). Both separate civilizations of humanity are a result of some catastrophic astronomical events which forced the planet into a massive ice age. Apparently, it was thought by those in space that all of humanity had fled the planet Earth some time ago in the distant past. However, this is all shown to be an erroneous belief due to the possible loss of historical information on the part of GAOH once the main character, Ledo, finds himself stranded on the water covered Earth. The bulk of the first three episodes involves Ledo meeting the main characters who are part of the community of Gargantia, one of the sea fairing fleet of ships which are capable of attaching together to form what would appear to be a massive sea vessel. One of the main characters is Amy, who appears to be the female lead designed to share the spotlight with Ledo. Also, one of the major issues in the show is the conflict between GAOH and a type of organic-techno species in space known as the Hideauze. Of course with this being an anime, the humans fight in mechs known as Machine Calibers which are complete with artificial intelligences and Ledo calls his A.I., Chamber. On Earth, the Earth People scavenge the endless seas for resources while also seeking these things they call sea galaxies or the galaxy path which appear to be a strange form of sea life that provides electrical charges to power their ships and form paths through the seas. Ledo is found during a scavenge expedition by the Gargantia and he and Chamber are brought aboard the ship while Ledo is under stasis induced by Chamber. Chamber, after being awakened by the crew’s attempts to open the mech, awakens Ledo which leads to some awkward interactions between Chamber, Ledo and the leadership of Gargantia for the entire first three episodes so far. Another point of information I need to convey is that the conflicts on Earth appear to be between the sea communities and the sea pirates and almost immediately Ledo finds himself caught in between.
This brings me to my reason for writing this rant about Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. At the end of episode 2, another female character named Bellows takes her scavenger crew to the area where they found Chamber and Ledo. While attempting to find something of equal value to Ledo and Chamber her crew comes under attack from the pirates. The Gargantia scavenger vessel and its defensive ships are quickly overwhelmed and Amy runs to Ledo for help. Oh, I forgot to point out how Ledo has been only speaking with Amy about his time in space as a warrior. It appears he was born into the soldier profession and in his culture he cannot even experience “normal” life until him, and many other soldiers, serve a certain amount of time in the war against the Hideauze. Before the unfortunate event that brought him to Earth it was revealed he was due to receive citizen status and a visit to their capital home ship known as Avalon. This is important considering Amy asks him for help in combat. Apart from the restraint he’s shown thus far to the Earth People of Gargantia, Ledo has no real limitation when it comes to handling enemies once he perceives you as an enemy. He held back earlier in the show while dealing with the Gargantia crew because he didn’t perceive them as a threat and he thought they might become allies to GAOH since he alleged they were another space fairing human tribe. Thus, when Amy haphazardly asks the soldier for help, he does what a soldier does best and kills all the enemies as efficiently as possible while fulfilling the parameters of his mission…saving the Gargantia scavenger crew. However, what bothered me was the inconsistency in the immediate portrayal of characters, their actions and this short portion of the story’s forceful hand at preaching a measure of selective pacifism in order to teach Ledo a lesson about human life as idealized by the Earth People.
The pirates overwhelm the Gargantia scavenger crew without any reservation. They take out the defensive vessels with ease and with no qualms regarding the sanctity of human life. The Gargantia Scavenger Crew Defensive vessels fought valiantly also seemingly without any issues against killing the pirates. However, when Ledo comes to the rescue and kills all the pirates with ease, including destroying their ships with a series of one shot kills, everyone amongst the Gargantia Earth People seem suddenly horrified. Such appalling hypocrisy in the characters made the start of the show feel very inconsistent. Especially from Amy, who incited Ledo’s actions in the first place. After finding out from Ledo and Chamber that there were no casualties among the Gargantia scavenger crew then when Chamber informs her all enemy forces have been destroyed she gets upset, calls Ledo an idiot and runs away. Seriously? I wonder if the writers of the show paid attention to the hypocrisy they’re forcing their main heroine to portray here?
Immediately after this scene the leadership of Gargantia are seen debating on how to handle Ledo. Actually, let me clear this up, other than Amy, the people of Garangtia believe there are two space boys, Ledo and a pilot of Chamber. They believe this because they find it hard to believe in automated Artificially Intelligent machines. So from here on out when I refer to the third person the leadership believe is piloting Chamber I refer to this false person as the Phantom Pilot, but remember this is actually Ledo. The viewer and Amy knows this is Ledo, it’s just the Gargantian leadership who refuse to acknowledge, at this point and I should say inconsistently so based on the events from the story, that Ledo is the pilot of Chamber. With all this said, the Fleet Commander, Fairlock, who seemed to be level headed initially regarding Ledo, the Phantom Pilot and Chamber, suddenly wants to develop a contingency plan to counter the Phantom Pilot’s actions. The leadership see Chamber, Ledo and the Phantom Pilot as threats despite the latter group helping save Bellows and her crew and dealing with the pirates. To be fair, the leadership is concerned with the retaliation of the pirates, but some of their theories on how to handle the Phantom Pilot are outright absurd given what they just witnessed in regard to the mech’s ability to take down a small task force of pirate ships singlehandedly with extremely little effort. Only one among the leadership, Pinion, seems to be aware that one of the theories, which would be giving Ledo and the Phantom Pilot to the pirates or even attempting to do so, could mean Ledo, the Phantom Pilot and Chamber joining the pirates and thus Chamber being used against Gargantia. However, to be honest, all Pinion wants to do is get rid of Ledo and the Phantom Pilot and get his hands on the mech to salvage it. Also, to be totally forthcoming, by the middle portion of the third episode I believe the leadership has accepted there is no such Phantom Pilot since they are forced to ally fully with Ledo in order to fend off the pirate attack once and for all.
Expanding on the other issue of inconsistency in this situation comes from who I will call the Gargantia Defenders during the battle to defend the Scavenger crew before Ledo arrived. During their small time in the conflict, the Gargantia Defenders failed to bat an eye at killing pirates in defense of Bellows’ ship. Coupling this with Amy’s actions which led to Ledo going to battle on behalf of Gargantia in the first place makes me see all this as quite incoherent story telling. Then when Ledo reveals he pulled no punches and showed no remorse to the Pirates, the people of Gargantia all suddenly become emotional and/or politically strategic pacifists. Amy even admits to herself she was naïve because for some strange reason, although she believed Ledo was form outer space, the whole concept of him actually fighting a war and being a soldier went past her. So now she’s all upset that she even asked for his help to begin with because “Oh my Gosh he killed those poor defenseless pirates” in defense of my friend whom I sent him to go save in the first place.
Afterwards, Bellows, who appears to be among the leadership council of Gargantia, persuades Amy to take her to meet with Ledo. During this meeting, she does the right thing in thanking him for saving her skin as well as her crew. I didn’t even go into how one of the pirates exhibited rapist tendencies during the conflict before Ledo swooped in and saved Bellows and another female crew member. With that said, one would be floored to hear her lecture him once she asks him why he killed all the pirates. Ledo simply replies, “Does eliminating the enemy necessitate a reason?” Ok, to be fair, I know this response is pretty cold, but we have to remember Ledo was born into war and that is all he knows. Her response was equally annoying as all the other reactions thus far to Ledo’s intervention in the Earth People conflict. She motherly lectures, “I don’t know how things go on in space, but around here taking a life is something that must be justified…” Not only does this assume Ledo doesn’t somehow justify his actions or respect the sanctity of life…I mean all his actions thus far indicate he has a pretty strong value for life, but mostly from a practical defensive position. So if you think like me you’re probably wondering what in the world is she talking about? Was she not one of the women about to be raped by a pirate, was she not the leader of a scavenger crew who just got soundly defeated by pirates, was she not someone who’s life was in danger and he saved her life as well as the lives of her surviving scavenger crew by killing said pirates? For those of you out there who lean towards the pacifist philosophy, let me say this, I’m not advocating killing just because someone feels like it, that’s absurd, but Ledo did have a reason and that’s the point here. His reason was to actually preserve life while also fulfilling the hope that his assistance would forge a temporary alliance between him and Gargantia instead of the “Mexican standoff” they had going on for the past three episodes. That much was obvious from the plot of the show. He had justification for killing the enemy and his response, although a bit cold and could use some shaping…which I imagine this is all designed to do, is also justified. The pirates were the enemy, he had a mission, he had to save Bellows and her crew, he was requested to do so by the representative of the people of Gargantia and he desires to make an alliance with these people on Earth. He fulfilled their request, he took out the enemy and saved the people he hopes to befriend, but now they’re coming at him like he’s the villain all a sudden? Ultimately, the whole philosophical argument between Ledo and Bellows seems contrived, especially from Bellows’ position. She’s forced to argue these pretty weak points about Passive-Aggressiveness, but mostly Passiveness. Her argument is summed up as so, it’s best to be passive unless forced to fight against someone attempting to kill you. The weakness in her position is shown when Ledo calls her on her contradiction because the Gargantia people carry weapons and fight with them. Bellows then goes into this long speech about how they carry weapons because some people think they can kill because they want to kill and carrying weapons is sort of a negotiation by itself, but the Gargantian people won’t roll over and die because someone wants to kill them. It’s a whole lot of double talk if you ask me. They get into a philosophical theory about humans helping humans with in-story cultural phrases she imparts to Ledo which is all fine and dandy. Humans should help one another, I get that and in fact agree with it, but the problem in all this is when she tries to argue that their message in resisting the pirates is to show them it’s not profitable to attack the Gargantians, but when someone kills the pirates it forces the pirates to go to extreme measures to gain their position as the aggressors, in other words, the position as the bully. This will cause the aggressors to retaliate and spill more blood. Need I remind you of the simple fact the Gargantian Defenders were actually firing on the pirates, with very little reservation, before they lost to the pirates. All this occurred before Ledo even came on the scene and easily defeated the pirates. Which, in my opinion, seems to be the crux of the problem. The writers want to impair Ledo and Chamber and in order to do that they have to find some philosophical means to do it…weak and inconsistent as it is. So the problem is about how fast Ledo killed the pirates in my opinion. Nevertheless, at the end of her speech she admits the Gargantians want to rely on Ledo’s strength to balance the powers and she gives him a communication device to speak directly with Gargantian leadership. All in all the Gargantian people seem to portray a combination of Conditional, Selective and Active Pacifism.
The inherent problem in her and by extension the Gargantian or anyone who would argue this idea is that even if you fend off the pirates or the aggressor you are challenging the position of the aggressor. In doing so you will more than likely always draw blood, whether it’s fatal or not, you will draw blood. Even if you somehow do not draw blood, you will injure the aggressor’s ego and they will still feel the need to retaliate and show their position of strength. In other words, “teach you a lesson about not being in your place as prey.” In real life if/when the bullied stands up to the bully, it’s a combination of humiliation and defeat that often gets the bully to go away. However, this doesn’t always work as cleanly as one would think. The bully could retaliate to the aggression of the formerly bullied just as quickly as the pirates or aggressive force retaliates to the loss of life in their ranks. Ultimately, this philosophy is not without its positives and negatives. It also relies heavily on a variety of variables to support its conclusion. Variables that may have very little to do with the pacifist position, but more to do with lack of resources, if we’re talking about nation versus nation or group versus group. If the aggressive leader is smart and not simply a brute, he/she will consider the fact they lost people and may not have enough fighters to actually retaliate to begin with. In this instance Bellows view works, but it’s not necessarily because of the passive-aggressor’s restraint in taking life, it may be in the limited resources to support another conflict campaign. So this form of pacifism tries to have its cake and eat it too. While I get, Ledo could have shown some type of restraint during the incident and in the future, I do not necessarily believe he was wrong nor should he had been lectured to. I think if the creators of the show wanted to give Ledo some serious moral grounds to contemplate on, they should have gone to great lengths to show why Ledo should think first before annihilating all the enemies when he switches to soldier mode. The fact the story already shows he’s capable of restraint makes this whole mini-plot point forced to preach pacifism to the audience and Ledo. Maybe the argument should’ve been, “Look, Ledo, we get it…they’re the enemy, but one of the ships, although armed, could have had families on it…” There you go, now you have your moral dilemma with outright annihilation of enemy forces. No, it’s not pretty, it’s not sweet, it’s not safe…but neither is war, neither is combat, neither is aggression. The show struck me as attempting to be safe while trying to challenge the issue of how to deal with enemy aggressors while trying to be the more morally ethically sound military force.
It shouldn’t be any type of surprise that the plot immediately proves the Gargantians right as the pirates come to Gargantia with the bogus request to attach with them in order to get repairs and such. Immediately at this point the leadership show their hypocrisy by speaking with Ledo through the translation device Bellows gave him. At this point they’re still shaming Ledo for causing this situation to begin with. Really? He kills your enemy, which you were doing in the first place and suddenly it’s his fault the pirates retaliate in an actual conflict campaign? Do this show’s writers comprehend their own internal plot situations? Did the Gargantia Defenders never once kill a pirate, ever? I mean they had rifles, missiles, etc. They fired on the pirates themselves when the pirates attacked. Were those blanks? I don’t think so? Or is it they just show force and then lose and as a result lose some people and resources all the time? Is it okay to fight back just as long as they fulfill their empty philosophical need to “show force” just for “showing force’s sake” as some type of philosophical “negotiation” which the pirates don’t adhere to?
Despite all this, Ledo obeys Gargantia’s rules of engagement and agrees not to take any pirate lives while helping Gargantia defend its fleet. The funny thing, again, is Gargantia has a defense navy complete with gun turrets firing shells at the pirate fleet. They’re only able to do this due to Ledo and Chamber shining light on the pirate fleet in the night. They force Ledo to do this ineffective thing in the battle in order to keep him from killing the pirates while the two naval fleets, of which the pirate fleet is the larger one, have a traditional naval battle. To be honest, I can’t tell if the Gargantia Defenders are missing on purpose or just suck. Is this a scare tactic? Are they firing warning shots? I don’t think so because one shell hits a pirate ship and bounces off. It seems the pirate ships have harder hulls than the Gargantia Defender ships. Thus as a result of their missing and the armor or sturdy hulls of the pirates, the Gargantia Defenders start losing ships to the pirate’s gun fire. Is that how their political and defensive strategy works in the Gargantia fleet? Either way, I guess having an intent to kill, but a lack of ability to do so is not hypocritical either? In the end, their strategy to use Ledo and Chamber to shine light on the pirate ship while the 4-6 Gargantia Defender ships fight off the larger pirate fleet is proven to be stupid. The Gargantia ships’ numbers drop down to a small number of capable fighting ships as they take hit after hit. Ledo and Chamber, being veterans of combat can see the futility in this strategy which inevitably forces them to enter the battle. He’s forced to hop from ship to ship taking out gun turrets, but the problem here is the pirates are not just fighting a sea battle from the front. They have mechs too and their mechs board Gargantia from the rear. The other problem is even though Chamber and Ledo manage to only take out the turrets, he still causes heavy damage to the ships which I feel will eventually cause human life unless the pirates are rescued from the water. Even so-called passive attacks will cause collateral damage that could possibly cause fatalities.
Still, at the climax of the conflict, even the creators of the show admit the flaw in their philosophy. Certain aggressors don’t care how much you preach to them about peace, surrendering, negotiations, diplomacy, etc…the very point that you did not roll over and let them walk over you is an affront to them and a reason they will never give up their campaign to crush you. The pirate Queen Lukkage expresses this in her own words as Chamber demands her surrender. Lukkage defiantly declares, “You can just go to hell…I’ll never surrender…even if it kills me!” Of course, once Chamber and Ledo defeat her mech and cast it into the sea the other pirates retreat to save their queen and the Gargantians are shown cheering. But for what? If she’s not forced by the plot to be an ally later, she’ll be back again and she would be back again if this were real life too and she had the resources to mount another campaign or a weapon to contest Chamber. She wasn’t captured, she wasn’t jailed for war crimes…she was thrown into the sea to come back and terrify the Gargantians another day. So this is supposed to pacify her appetite for conflict? Is that how it works in the world of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, just as similar stories force this sort of outcome to prove their internal pacifistic philosophies as well? As I alluded to before, Lukkage will probably be forced to align with Gargantia, or at least Ledo because this is the typical formula for Shonen stories. The hero faces off against a villain in combat, sometimes the combat includes exchanging philosophies about life, the villain is defeated and more often than not said villain becomes an ally. Especially if, like Lukkage, the villain is seen early on in the story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine if done well, but often when contrived philosophies are forced from the mouths of hypocritical characters….it bothers me.
Overall, the show has potential beyond this simplistic portrayal of a look into the moral dilemma of taking human life in self-defense or in sanctioned combat. The premise alone is interesting and I will more than likely continue to watch this show. Yet, if I’m forced to watch fallacious philosophies preached in every conflict…I don’t know how far I will get.