Around the middle of this past anime season, I called Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet one of the five anime you should be watching -- and with good reason. While it's not as action-filled or plot-heavy as some anime this season, it is filled with interesting themes and enlightening allegories for those willing to dive in.
Good –A Struggle to Find Yourself
On the surface, Gargantia is a fish-out-of-water tale following a mecha pilot, Ledo, who crash lands on humanity's long lost home world, earth. But instead of the abandoned, frozen world he was taught to expect, he finds a watery planet where the remnants of humanity live in giant floating cities.
But it's not just a change in scenery that shocks him but a change in culture as well. While humans in space are 100% utilitarian (aka born and bred for specific roles and are killed if “defective”), the humans on earth tend to follow our modern day values.
Thus Ledo finds himself in a society he can't understand -- literally, at first, as he doesn't even speak the language. Moreover, he discovers that he is unsuited for life on earth -- that even the most basic of jobs (unrelated to what he trained in) are outside his capability. And moreover, he learns that much of what he “knew to be true” was, in fact, not.
Thus, behind the sci-fi plot, Gargantia is really just an allegory for growing up, leaving the controlled world of school, entering into the real world, and realising that it's far different from how you were always told it was. On this level, it's a universal story about something we all must face and strikes a great emotional chord because of it.
Good — A Messed-Up Twist
[To avoid major spoilers, skip to the next section.] As the man behind Gargantia is Gen Urobuchi -- the writer of Saya no Uta, Madoka Magica, and Psycho Pass -- a messed-up plot twist was pretty much a given. And Gargantia doesn't disappoint.
Eventually, Ledo learns that the enemy the humans in space have been fighting for generations, the whale/squid-like Hideauze, are actually just a race of humans who have genetically altered themselves to survive in harsh environments -- like the ocean or deep space. Of course, he learns this after massacring not only hundreds upon hundreds of them but also their children.
The scene is as shocking as it is horrible; but it not only serves to make a point about the dehumanization that often accompanies war but also serves as a catalyst for Ledo's personal growth into adulthood.
Good — A Super Weapon Changes Everything
Another diligently explored theme in Gargantia is how the existence of super weapons can rapidly and catastrophically change the world. The arrival of Ledo and his mecha, Chamber, on Gargantia destabilises an entire region. Gargantia itself suddenly goes from a peaceful, non-threatening city, to a fortress capable of unparalleled destruction. Pirates, religious zealots, and even the various factions of Gargantia battle both overtly and covertly for control of the mecha and its pilot. Moreover, Ledo's burning need to kill the earth-based Hideauze potentially ends a peace that has lasted for generations.
Just look to the history of the Cold War to see what happens in this situation on a real-world scale.
Mixed — More About Themes than Plot
In all honesty, the basic plot of Gargantia is rather cliché. After all, “a civilised human living among the savage natives -- only to learn their ways and eventually side with them against his own people” is the basic plot of Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, and Avatar, just to name a few.
But as you may have gathered from reading above, Gargantia is an anime where the plot is only the surface layer -- a framework to explore various issues and themes. The characters are more developed than the plot, but they, too, are used as tools to explore these themes. Thus, if you are watching for plot alone, little beyond the two major plot twists will seem anything but predictable.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is an anime that is far deeper than it appears on the surface. If you like to think about and dissect your anime, this is a must watch. And even if you don't, you may find the characters and the very world it explores make it more than worth a watch.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It is available in the United States with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.