Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet: Good Enough

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It’s down to the wire on the amount of time I had left to complete June’s r/Anime Anime Swap (which you should join here), but it’s done. In contrast to my punishment of watching Onimai!, Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet was… fine. For the sake of clarity with my experience, I can very much complain about various pieces, but my overall interest in those complaints is very little. As a bigger picture, Gargantia doesn’t quite make the cut to be all that worthwhile, but in the same breath it does more than enough to have not been a waste to watch. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet presents a unique and engaging world, but fails to deliver characters or a story that improve upon it.

One of the first things that really caught my attention with the series wasn’t the mechs or the space fights- it was the massive freighters that ferry the vestiges of humanity across the infinite seas of the planet Earth. A visual that reminds me of Children of The Whales (an incredible read), it’s a type of world that viewers rarely get treated to. Something wildly different and creative, speculative and free of much of any comparison. And it’s an anime that was conceived over a decade ago. Still, there’s not many that choose to reach out as far as Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet has. That said, my only real complaint with the world of Gargantia is how it was built. It’s great work from Gen Urobuchi with exposition that naturally expands this world, but the narrative is largely incompatible with this world- something I’ll talk about later.

Getting back on track, Gargantia‘s favortism towards a symbiotic world is strongly felt, and acts as both a comparison and opposition to main character and war veteran Ledo’s experience. Rather than children being used as tools of war, they’re employed as messengers across their home fleets, for example. Rather than mechs being used as tools for war, they’re used for salvaging and exploring the deeps of this verdurous planet. And as the story expands, so does the scale of that reflection. Altogether, it’s a wonderfully crafted and creative world that I’d love to have seen more of. Well, sans the odd obsession with a lack of clothing for girls and women during the middle stretch of the series, but that’s beside the point.

I can wish and wish all I want for more Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet, but I certainly won’t get it. Partly because it’s over a decade old, but also because of the limits of the story and its characters. There’s really only a single negative to this work, and it’s how the narrative tightens the scope of Gargantia. I get it, it’s very Urobuchi. It’s just that in this case, I really wanted it to not be. The conversation of war and the dichotomy presented with Gargantia is fine– I like it, I think it results in some good reveals. I also think, though, that Urobuchi takes that war dialogue too far, alienating the series from its more comfortable and slower paced exploration of the world. What Urobuchi accomplishes in the latter half/back third could absolutely have been something that functions just fine within the framework of the earlier episodes. Drama could be manufactured without a weird religious cult and a literal foil of a villain.

Alongside that, though, Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet suffers a bit from having the spotlight on Ledo 24/7. There’s very little time afforded to developing the supporting cast- and even when they do, it’s too little, too late. Being a little more honest, Gargantia is fine with having Ledo be the only fleshed out character. I truly didn’t mind him being the only character to really take those steps forward- largely because it sticks closer to a story of him acclimating to Gargantia. Trying to have other characters keep pace with him is a struggle for two reasons. First of all, Ledo eats up all the screen time available. Second of all, the side characters for the series have little to no depth to them. They’re accessories to Ledo’s story and don’t have much room to change or grow in the first place. Because of that, the gambit of the final act ends up a little flat and predictable with several characters attempting to take those steps forward.

Let’s take a step back into the world of interesting, though. Just for a little bit. For a 2013 anime, I was frankly stunned by how much CGI Production I.G. had employed for Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet. I know they’d make comments recently about attempting to better integrate it with series like Heavenly Delusion, or the now nearly finished Kaiju No. 8, but it’s still quite impressive how much there is. Of course, it does stick out a bit as you’d expect, but it still looks considerably better than some of what we’ve been treated to in the last year. Plenty of texture and design, very solid rigs that result in good animation, there’s not a lot to complain about with it. Comparatively though, there’s not a lot to chat about with the 2D animation. Being a more slow-paced series, there’s not a great deal of animation in the first place (despite some… “interesting” dance sequences), and the direction and boarding isn’t incredibly noteworthy (outside the first episode) either. It’s simply “good enough”, and I think that’s perfectly fine.

So, putting together an outstanding world, unremarkable yet good visuals, and an okay story that weighs down the world, what do you get? Something that’s good enough. Gargantia on The Verdurous Planet isn’t the next coming of christ as an anime, nor is it a dumpster fire that’s aged like milk. It’s firmly in the middle ground that a lot of older anime tend to inhabit. There’s nothing offensively wrong with it, but in the Spring of 2013 (the same season as Gargantia), it doesn’t quite make the cut for “top” series. Which of course is to say nothing of its standing within the year as a whole. Nothing is inherently wrong with being a middle of the pack anime, though. Gargantia is perfectly okay, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The world was plenty cool, and that’s about all I needed to keep me engaged with a science fiction story. Others might want more, or need less to watch something, but in my eyes it’s (narrowly) made the cut.


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