Review for Gargantia On The Verdurous Planet: Complete Series
There I was, lamenting the dearth of proper sci-fi in anime, the good, thought provoking stuff, or the grand space operas, and here I am, already reviewing what is potentially the third sci-fi anime title this summer. We’ve had the hard stuff in From the New World, a show worthy of the classics of science fiction, and we’ve had the cooler than cool cyberpunk Psycho-Pass. Will Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet continue that trend for strong science fiction? Okay, it has a giant robot in it piloted by a young teen male, it’s got a cute female character, and it’s even got a mascot animal. So far, so generic anime. But the story looks strong and interesting, and there’s no reason why a decent science fiction show has to preclude the usual anime tropes.
It’s a glorious future for humanity, having spread out into, and colonised outer space, creating a vast space-going habitat called Avalon for the countless millions of mankind. It truly is a golden age, or it would be, were it not for the alien menace of the Hideauze, an implacable foe against which there can be no negotiation, no quarter, and no mercy. To that end, Avalon’s populace are bred solely for one purpose... war!
Ledo is the perfect soldier, piloting his intelligent mecha Chamber into battle. And it was meant to be the final, triumphant, victorious battle against the Hideauze; only the battle didn’t go to plan. Defeated and fleeing, Ledo is knocked off course, and lost in space, in hibernation. He wakes up some unknown time later on a ship... on an ocean... on a planet... with a natural, breathable atmosphere. It’s more than a ship, it’s a manmade mobile archipelago named Gargantia, and there are indeed men on this planet, humans who have never heard of the Galactic Alliance, or the Hideauze, people who just live their lives on this endless ocean, random, chaotic, disorganised. And if Ledo can’t get back to the war, the consummate soldier will have to learn how to live with them.
13 episodes of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, plus OVAs are presented across two Blu-ray discs from Manga Entertainment.
2. The Planet of Origin
3. The Villainous Empress
4. The Flute of Recollection
5. Calm Day
7. A Soldier’s Fate
9. Deep Sea Secret
10. Island of Ambition
11. Supreme Ruler of Terror
12. Moment of Decision
13. Legend of the Verdurous Planet
14. OVA – Abandoned Fleet
15. OVA – Altar of a Rare Beauty
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p ratio across two dual layer Blu-ray discs. It’s a splendid transfer, clear, sharp, colourful and with exquisite detail for a television animation. Compare it to the usual Funimation or Sentai sourced disc, and you can see a whole lot more in the way of robustness and clarity in the image. It almost looks as if this show was actually animated as native 1080p, as opposed to the usual 540 or 720 lines and then scaled-up. It’s a good thing too, as this is a visually imaginative sci-fi show, beginning with a whole lot of space opera visuals, plenty of high tech and bright and shiny new kit, before heading planetwards for some distinct Waterworld style, with weatherworn and aged technology, as well as the rough and ready brightness of a human civilisation living day to day on the high seas. Gargantia also boasts some memorable character designs, and smooth and detailed animation, which makes the Blu-ray the only real choice for this show. That’s despite the usual digital banding, most notable in the darker underwater scenes.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated English subtitles. There is no songs and signs track, and you’ll have to flick the subs on for the song lyrics if you’re watching in English. Otherwise, there’s no Japanese text in the show that actually needs translating, so you’re fine without the signs track. I went with the Japanese audio, and was very happy with the voices for the characters. The dialogue was clear throughout, the sound effects and the action come across well, and the show gets some really strong music, as well as a couple of agreeable theme songs to tap your toe at. The subtitles were timed accurately and free of typographical error. I gave the English dub a try, and Viz Media who have licensed the show in the US have given it a top notch dub, with a decent script that flows well, and the actors, suited well to their characters. Gargantia goes on my, still exceedingly small, good in either language pile.
These discs have been authored locally by Manga Entertainment, hence the two dual layer discs, the unlocked subtitles, the random chapter marking, and the absence of extras. The discs present their content with animated menus. There are no extras on this UK release at all; there aren’t even any next episode previews at the end of each episode.
You’ll have to get the US Region A locked release for the Petite Gargantia Mini-Episodes 1-13 & Petite Gargantia Special, the Clean Openings & Ending, Textless Episode Scenes, Original Japanese Commercials, and Original Japanese Promotional Videos.
We’ve had three sci-fi shows in quick succession, and all three of them have turned out to be absolute corkers, shows worthy of any collection. I found Psycho-Pass to be a cut above the rest, but From the New World and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet are of a similar standard in my mind, although both appeal to me for different reasons. From the New World has a higher concept story, and a more adult approach to its storytelling. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet on the other hand has higher production values, and a lot more cohesive and engaging a narrative, even if it uses far too many anime tropes and clichés in its runtime. The irony is that both shows have the same twist, the same grand revelation that throws their main characters for loops, even though the stories are completely different. Because I watched Gargantia second, the twist wasn’t such a surprise for me, which is a shame, as it’s actually accomplished better here, an integral part of the narrative rather than an almost Outer Limits style epilogue. Actually there are two twists in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, but I found the second one to be telegraphed so forcefully that it was hardly a twist at all.
It is a classic sci-fi tale in many ways. Ledo’s the consummate warrior, been bred to fight in the war against the alien Hideauze, and indeed all of human society in the future is geared solely towards war. We learn that anything else is not tolerated as weakness and wastefulness. It’s a distant future where all of mankind now lives in space, where the home of humanity is a vast, artificial habitat named Avalon, and the Earth is merely a legend of the distant past, lost to some unknown disaster. It’s when a battle against the Hideauze doesn’t go to plan, that Ledo and his mecha, a Machine Calibre named Chamber are thrown across space. They wake on a planet, an actual world with a free atmosphere and inhabited by humans who’ve never heard of the Galactic Alliance, and the Hideauze.
It isn’t much of a spoiler to reveal that the planet is Earth of course. It’s recovered after the tragedy that sent the majority of the population into space, but that recovery has ensured that the oceans have risen to engulf the planet. It’s now become a Waterworld, and the remaining members of humanity now live their lives in city like fleets, ships that have been carefully preserved from the past, living in a comparative state of freedom, salvaging what they need from the sunken cities, trading with other cities, and avoiding pirates. When Ledo wakes aboard the Gargantia, it’s an instant culture shock, as he meets vibrant, free and enthusiastic people. When it becomes clear that he’s not going to get back to the Alliance in his lifetime, he has to learn how to fit in and become part of this community, although having the power of Chamber at his command, as well as its ability to translate the Earth people’s language is a useful advantage.
The culture clash might have been terminal. Ledo’s shocked at people that eat animal flesh, and who waste energy on pursuits that don’t contribute to the greater whole, while the people of Gargantia are awed, and indeed shocked by his military bearing, and the ruthless way that he deals with what he deems are threats. But it’s when a young courier named Amy befriends him that they begin to bridge that culture gap. The first few episodes in the series follow this process, the gradually easing of Ledo into their society, and we get to explore Gargantia and meet its inhabitants. It’s pure anime cliché at some points. Amy fits the cute girl demographic perfectly; she even has a cute animal mascot as a pet, another flying squirrel of which there are so many in anime. The nadir of the show is when Ledo’s trying to fit in, to contribute, and he’s just realised that getting Chamber to do the work on his behalf isn’t exactly work. Amy’s introducing him to a career as a messenger, and one of his first missions takes him into the bowels of Gargantia, where he has to make his way through the gay district. Cue the anime stereotype of the butch gay man, big muscles, flower dresses, heavy make-up, and designer stubble, and as camp an accent as you can find. There are clichés in anime that I can do without, and this is one of them. I was about to throw Gargantia into the also-rans, but then all of a sudden it hit us with the story.
For when Ledo tries his hand at salvage work, he discovers that the Hideauze are on Earth, living in the oceans beneath the surface, and apparently co-existing with humanity. For someone’s who’s been raised to hate, and kill the Hideauze on sight, that’s almost a betrayal, and it sours his relationship with the people of Gargantia. He’s all fired up to resume his war, even if it means fighting alone, but when it becomes apparent that he can deal with what the humans call Whalesquid, where most salvagers fear to tread, it causes a split in the people of Gargantia, with some of the salvagers believing that they can follow Ledo into Whalesquid territory, and plunder lost riches that they’ve been unable to access up till now. But it turns out that Ledo has still more to learn about the Hideauze, a truth that will shake his whole worldview, and before he can act on that information, it turns out that he’s not as cut off from the Galactic Alliance as he once thought. He’ll have to choose between his old world, and this new one.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet turned out to be an exceptional sci-fi series in the end. Space opera, lost technologies, lost histories, culture clash, giant robots and action sequences, it’s all great fun, very well put together, and rewarding to watch. The characters are wonderful and rich, while the level of thought put into the narrative is more than you get in the average sci-fi anime. While I like the concepts behind From the New World more, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet excels in the execution. It’s more fun to watch, and other than the odd clichéd misstep, the story is more coherent. Manga Entertainment really have to stop leaving out the extras, even if they did get the OVA episodes (one of which is disposable, but the second actually tells the story behind this show’s second, well telegraphed twist), but in every other respect this is an exemplary Blu-ray release. Best of all, a sequel to Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is in the pipeline.