Recap: Kugel presses forward with his plans to attack Gargantia, forcing Ledo to pick a side once and for all.
Zigg’s Thoughts: Gargantia has entered a weird phase through the last few episodes where it’s become almost an entirely different show from the one that it began as. What was originally an intensely character focused drama and worldbuilding piece has become a (dare I say it) much more conventional giant robot action show. That’s not to say the level of execution has dropped or that there aren’t merits to this new format, but it does feel a bit odd for those of us who have been following from the beginning.
As it is, there’s some decent plot to be had here. I like Pinion’s turn back towards the good – it proves that he isn’t completely dumb and completes a satisfying little character arc for him, albeit one that might have worked better spread out over a greater amount of time. There’s good emotional gristle for Ledo to chew through too, and his decision to face off against Kugel is given suitable weight. Their showdown is dramatic and though the subsequent fight is not the most amazing bit of robot choreography in the world, it’s smooth and well animated and does the job of conveying tension well enough.
The thing is though, this episode is dogged by some pretty major issues which dragged my enjoyment of it down considerably. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ scene is an extremely heavy handed way of getting your point across, and while big dumb emotional sledgehammers have their place in pulpy shows like this it just reinforces how incredibly stupid the whole religious cult aspect is. Kugle and Ledo at most can have been on the planet a few months, you’re really telling me that that’s enough time for people to have become so indoctrinated they’ll happily stand by as others are murdered? We’ve already established that Kugel and Ledo come from a society that supports the euthanization of the old, weak and infirm – wouldn’t it be far more in character (and way scarier in its own way) for Kugel to dispense with the bullshit religious trappings and simply give the real reason he’s axing a bunch of kids and pensioners?
Then there’s the twist at the end, when we find out ‘Kugel’ has actually been Striker all along and the real Kugel is dead, presumably has been since their arrival on this world. This is initially a shocking twist, but it’s also one that, after about two minutes thought, makes next to no sense. Why is Striker acting this way, since everything we’ve seen of Chamber suggests Machine Calibers are strongly reliant on their pilots for instructions? The entire ‘evil religion’ makes less sense than ever if it’s a MACHINE running the show. Does Striker even have enough of an imagination to cook up a scheme like that? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it severely undermines the entire theme the show has been trying to sell. The interesting thing about Gargantia has been the clash of human philosophies, from the Alliance’s cold-hearted militarism to the Hideauze’s survive-at-all-costs abomination to Gargantia’s warm, friendly, ‘real’ society. By making one faction a mechanical puppet you’re robbing that debate of a lot of its nuance, since Striker is by definition a mechanical strawman who won’t be able to adapt or debate.
It might sound like I’m piling on Gargantia a little and that’s true – the work it did earlier means the show remains intriguing and interesting to watch, with characters who are engaging and multi-faceted. But it’s also frustrating to see how much of what I enjoyed about the earlier episodes being lost. Next week sees our finale, which I’m hoping can provide a fitting emotional and thematic climax to our story. The lingering presence of possible deus ex machina (the until-now-unmentioned ‘Heaven’s Ladder’) is a concern but at the very least we’ll get to see all of our heroes reunited once again. Let’s hope they can pull it off.
Gee’s Thoughts: OH MY GOD, KUGEL’S BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME. LIKE I TOTALLY DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING SINCE THE FIRST EPISODE HE SHOWED UP IN. Anyway, like Zigg said, Gargantia’s taken quite a different shift in tone and narrative development in the last couple of episodes and it certainly has not been for the better. It seems the writers of the show are quite content to watch Gargantia’s amazing potential crash and burn. With the final conflict shaping up to be a tired old “heartless machine vs. spirited humans” conflict, any moral quandaries we may have gotten the chance to watch is completely gone. And honestly, the “heartless machine” isn’t even very logical when you think about it. Human sacrifices? Religious cults? What kind of support AI (which no longer has a human operator, mind you) from a society of logic, structure, and eugenics advocates the kind of utterly hamfisted behavior we’re witnessing?
All that said though, I do want to highlight the utterly amazing animation Gargantia featured this episode. The panning shots and a lot of the choreography during the fight between “Kugel” and Ledo was absolutely top notch. Probably some of the best robot fighting I’ve seen this entire season. It says something when these 5 short minutes managed to get me excited about Gargantia again.
Alas, the finale is so patently obvious that I’d be genuinely surprised if it deviates in any way from my expectations. Obviously Gargantia will use its “Heaven’s Ladder” as some kind of plot device, likely as a last-minute save, despite it never even being alluded to throughout the entire series. Pinion will continue to team up with the pirates to fight off the cultists. Finally, in a turn of events I’m sure nobody will see coming, the Hideauze will probably come out of nowhere, also aiding in the fight. It’s all been telegraphed so heavy-handedly that if I hadn’t already watched 12 episodes of this, I wouldn’t even watch the finale because I already know what happens.