One moment, Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance is engaged in a life-or-death battle in deep space with the alien enemy, the Hideauze. The next, Ledo and his mecha Chamber are sucked into a wormhole. When Ledo is reawakened from hibernation induced by Chamber, he finds that he has landed on an unfamiliar planet. In fact he has been fished from the sea by humans who speak a different and unrecognizable language and use primitive technology. They are trying to use their primitive technology to open Chamber up – with no success. What’s more, to his astonishment, the air outside is breathable – there is no longer any need to wear his helmet for life support. He has landed on Earth – which his ancestors abandoned during the Fifth Ice Age.
Befriended by fifteen-year-old Amy, a lively redhead who delivers messages for a living, the bewildered Ledo tries to communicate using Chamber to translate. The young man has been bred as a fighting machine in outer space and finds it hard to adjust to the free and easy way of life in his new home. He has landed on Gargantia, a vast group of vessels who travel the seas together, forming a self-sufficient and self-governing community.
Gradually Ledo tries to overcome his resistance to this unfamiliar and haphazard way of life, learns the language, and offers to work (with Chamber’s help) to earn his keep. But when a giant whalesquid appears, he recognizes it as one of the Hideauze and destroys it (as he was programmed to do by the Galactic Alliance) much to the shock of the Gargantia community. But how could the Hideauze be on Earth? Even more confused and angry than before – and shunned by many of the Gargantia community – Ledo is on the brink of a deeply disturbing discovery that will alter everything he has ever known and believed.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is from Production IG, directed by Kazuya Murata, with Series Composition is by the much-in-demand writer Gen Urobuchi (Psycho Pass, Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero). In some ways, Urobuchi’s sci-fi adventure is a more predictable outing in its genre than the ground-breaking dark fantasy Madoka Magica or equally dark future dystopian thriller Psycho Pass. I can’t help wondering if Gargantia is a deliberate homage to earlier classic mecha series – especially when the soundtrack by Taro Iwashiro consciously or unconsciously references Yoko Kanno’s Escaflowne mecha fight musical motive at times when Ledo and Chamber are preparing to defend or attack.
Visually, Gargantia is a treat to watch (especially on Blu-ray) with intensely bright colours used to portray the people of Gargantia, and the seas and sky above (and the rust on their joined vessels – very realistic!) The futuristic world of the Galactic Alliance with its technological mastery has, in contrast, an almost psychedelic quality. The animation is admirably fluid with very little reliance on stills.The character designs are attractive. The people of Earth whom Ledo encounters, from the rival salvagers Pinion and Bellows to Ridget, the young woman destined to command Gargantia, are believable. Women play significant roles in the various communities Ledo encounters, but even so, yes, there is some (unnecessary) fan service, although that could be explained away by the hot climate that Gargantia is enjoying…
However, some critics have complained that the story is not very profound and that issues that could (and should) have been explored are skimmed over in a perfunctory way. Maybe so, but the way in which Ledo’s tale unfolds is genuinely exciting. And – even if you’ve guessed what revelations are in store – it’s hard not to relate to Ledo’s difficulties as the stranger in a strange land, trying to understand and relate to the customs of the people who have rescued him. And it’s not all angst; the script doesn’t shy away from seeing the amusing side of the confusions and misunderstandings caused by his attempts to make sense of this unfamiliar world (check out Chamber’s literal translation of the crew’s startled verbal reactions to his sudden appearance from inside the ‘tin can’ as Pinion calls it. They are sailors, after all…)
The US dub script flows well and is graced by a good voice cast. Alan Lee (a relative newcomer to voice acting?) does a great job as the serious and strait-laced Ledo, admirably portraying his gradual awakening to human feelings. Matthew Mercer (Levi in Attack on Titan, Sinbad in Magi) is also excellent as Chamber. A special mention should go to the ever-versatile Michelle Ruff who doubles here as Amy’s younger brother Bebel and Amy’s cute flying squirrel, Grace.
The unremarkable but vivacious Opening Theme is “Kono Sekai wa Bokura o Matte Ita” sung by Minori Chihara and the equally bland but pretty Ending Theme is “Sora to Kimi no Message” performed by ChouCho. Taro Iwashiro’s solid soundtrack provides sympathetically dramatic underscoring and yet somehow fails to do much more than that; most of his previous experience seems to have been in writing for live action cinema (Ruruoni Kenshin, SHINOBI).
There are no extras – except for the fact that two bonus OVAs are included after #13, fully dubbed.
Unless you’re a sci-fi purist, forget the less favourable reviews you may have read; Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is an enjoyable, well-told adventure tale with an interesting protagonist way out of his depth. And it looks stunning!