Monday, July 8, 2013

Anime Review: Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Just chugging along with my spring anime reviews, this one is the only one out of the three mecha shows that I watched to completion (although I might pick up Valvrave again and then review the whole thing in one fell swoop in December, maybe) which did surprise me a bit. I was expecting that I wouldn't like all three mecha shows and would probably drop one of them but I was expecting to be so disappointed by all three, although I was the least disappointed with Gargantia in the end, I feel more ambivalent on it than anything else.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)

Summary: Ensign Ledo lives in the far future where humanity is engaged in perpetual battle against space-squids who want to destroy humanity and while returning from a skirmish he is accidentally wormhole-d across space to Earth, the homeland that humanity had long forgotten the location of. People still live on this water covered world however yet it's going to take some time for Ledo to adjust to this new culture with morals and values the complete opposite of those he was taught.

The Good: I'm a fan of both slice of life and space opera settings (which isn't the best description of Gargantia's settings but it gets the point across) so I didn't mind the shifts back and forth and thought that they actually worked well together and Ledo's character development (which I think is at the heart of this show) wouldn't have worked if he had experienced that shift. I do like how Ledo eventually ended up developing, although I had some problems with it as well so more on that later. Finally, I was a bit worried when I saw Amy since Cute Genki Girl who is the side character in a story with a Male (Straight) Brooding Main Character often involves some tropes I'm not fond of. But thankfully Amy's character is written more smartly than this character normally is, she's perceptive enough to realize that many of Ledo's actions are out of ignorance rather than meanness (so we're spared of any tsundere scenes between the two of them) and has her own troubles and joys in life as well. Finally, early on in the show the people on the ship Gargantia have to explain to Ledo pacifism, how it works and why they do it and while a lot of viewers seemed to take issue with it I totally understood their philosophy and loved that it was included. This post on tumblr (both the initial link at the top and an author's reply in the linked page) help spell it out, I am of the belief that most of the people in the world, except in the more dire of circumstances (which the people on Garganita were not yet at) would have trouble killing people. It's just too emotionally difficult to acknowledge other humans as people and then be fine with taking away their lives and the philosophy of the people on Gargantia matches with this perfectly so it would have been more jarring if they hadn't been at least semi-pacifistic. Yet a lot of writers would prefer to take the simpler way out and have them simply kill the characters instead of wrestle with that choice and then find a way to live with it and I do really respect any of the writers involved with that decision to make that call and then make it work. 

The Bad: This is a 13 episode show and for short shows your pacing and timing has to be nearly perfect to make the show amazing, there just isn't the time for filler the way that longer shows have. Sadly Gargantia flounders in some of it's middle episodes, instead of using them as a way to show how Ledo's character is developing from point A to point B we instead get a little bit of that and then more fanservice than the show has time for (and I'm still a little creeped out by the dancing scene when I remember that the characters involved  are just 14 or 16). And then as if to make up for that the show races off in a bit of a different direction and focuses on different side characters around Ledo so in the end while he develops we neither get to see all of the steps of his development (which leads to some rather abrupt changes of heart) nor do any of the side characters develop as fully as they should and it makes this show come off flatter than I think the staff hoped it would be.

The Production Values: Holy smokes that was a stunning looking series, the backgrounds were rich and detailed and you can tell that some of the staff put some serious thought into both the lighting and color schemes for this show. Heck, the lighting alone on the very last mecha fight looked downright cinematic and then it was followed up with great animation and wonderful usage of the fact that you can put the "camera" for animation where ever you want. I will admit that that last fight was so great looking that it did help make me think more highly of the show overall, it was that awesome and I really did like a lot of the other designs throughout the show (although I also questioned some of them, not entirely sure why the ladies always seemed to be running higher body temperatures and therefore always needed a tad bit less clothing than the guys). The voice acting seemed fine, apparently this is one of the first big roles for Ledo's seiyu and I thought he did just fine along with everyone else. Although, while I don't think that either the OP or ED were bad I just never got into them and felt like they didn't fit the series as well as I wish they had.

In the end, I give this series three starts out of five (3.5 if I'm still feeling hyped up about that fight) and I'm not sure if I want to buy it. I saw the series streaming on crunchyroll but it has since been licensed by Viz and they plan to bring it and the OVAs over (according to some Anime Expo sources they may even stream the OVAs which would be great), dub it and release it which doesn't help me decide. On the one hand, they've making a concerted effort to actually interact with anime fans instead of chasing after a more "mainstream" audience that doesn't seem like it'll ever materialize and even put out a survey asking about LE sets (I'll admit I'm quite jealous of the fans who can afford the Japanese BR set with the art book, I'd love to see scans of that). But on the other hand they don't do combo packs and by the time this is out I won't have a BR player (and there's no reason for me to buy something this pretty on DVD) and I tend to not like their dubs very much either. So for now I'm on the fence, also on the fence about recommending it since I feel like the middle brings down the series that much but it's certainly not terrible and at this point I do recommend it more than Majestic Prince and Valvrave

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