Recap: Everybody fights. The heroes win. Who knew?
This would have been a satisfying conclusion if it didn’t have so many hokey bits. Unfortunately, Gargantia was unable to pull out of the massive hole it dug for itself over the past month or so. Individually, many of this episode’s elements are strong, but they rely on so many dumb parts that the whole suffers.
Even though I wasn’t here to cover the show last week, we pretty much covered how dumb it is that Kugel’s robot decided to subjugate humans and become a god. Because it really is dumb for a robot to interpret its programming as “I’m a god so I will create a religious cult around myself”. I mean, really? Why not just have Kugel actually be inside Striker? Did the writers figure “we can’t have Ledo kill another human!” or something? Deciding that Kugel was no longer acting with humanity’s best interests (like Chamber rambles on about in multiple episodes, including this one) and had to be put down probably would have been better for Ledo’s character arc, too.
Pinion mostly redeems his character by trying to pull one of those tsundere heroic sacrifices, but then that’s ruined by Lukkage/Rackage rescuing his ass. Speaking of, I don’t really buy her sudden interest with the guy, especially when she was giving him shit a couple episodes ago. All things considered, though, it’s one of the less egregious issues, so I’ll let it slide. What’s I won’t let slide is that they let Rackage onto Gargantia with no problem at the end of the episode. What’s up with that?
The fight scene is decently choreographed and nice to look at, but the sudden introduction of a pilot integration system is massive ass pull. It serves no purpose other than to artificially ratchet up the tension, because apparently Ledo wasn’t in enough danger while inside Chamber’s cockpit, he has to become Chamber himself. The episode could have done entirely without that, just having Ledo fighting a desperate, losing battle that requires Chamber to make a death charge. As for Chamber detaching Ledo to self destruct against Striker, that’s on the razor’s edge between stupid and satisfying.
The last big twist is that Gargantia is actually a giant gun, which managed to be barely foreshadowed earlier in the show (as much as you can count “that is a fucking stupid design for a sprinkler system” as foreshadowing, at any rate). Unfortunately, even this is handled with baffling foolishness, with Oldham spouting stilted dialogue straight from a JRPG. It’s just a big gun and you’re just dudes! Why are you calling it a “ladder to the sky” and calling yourself Sages? It’s dumb!
The worst part about all of this is that just a mere tweaking of how things went down would have made it all okay. If Kugel had turned out alive and had arrived on Gargantia without his own fleet (possibly having discovered that Gargantia was built upon a machine that indeed did allow space travel), then set about subjugating them through military force, everything would have made more sense. Ledo would have a more legitimate reason to be torn between following his commander and protecting the world he’s come to love, leading to greater catharsis when he makes the right choice, and we would have sidestepped all the moronic religious cult bullshit. Everybody wins!
So it’s official. Gargantia is hands down the most disappointing show I’ve watched this season. You’d think it’d be Titan with its lopsided pacing, but I’ll gladly take that over the disappointing train wreck that Gargantia has become in its finale episodes. So as Iro already said, we’re treated to an utterly insignificant fight now that Kugel’s dead, which basically leaves us with an utterly generic “I AM ROBOT, BEEP BOOP, SUBJUGATING HUMANITY IS LOGICAL” villainous motivation. Absolutely nothing in this series ever implied the kind of robotic idiocy Striker showed which just made the whole affair seem even more ridiculously last-minute than it already was.
It’s one of those things were if Kugel were actually still alive, Gargantia’s finale could have easily been one of the most climactic and philosophically challenging endings we’ve seen in a while. Here we have Ledo, a guy who’s constantly torn between two different worlds, and Kugel who was basically a culmination of all of Ledo’s former belief system. It would have been an amazing finish to a good series if Ledo were forced to make a hard decision for the sake of saving Gargantia. It would also have helped us avoid the utterly tired message that everything the Galactic Alliance did was bad. There’s nothing worse than a message that beats you over the head with a stick, and that’s exactly what Gargantia did in this final episode. Okay, I get it. Everything the Gargantians do are good and wonderful, everything Ledo ever learned was bad and terrible. As much as I utterly disagree with that message, I could accept it in the scope of this anime if it hadn’t been presented so poorly.
And that’s only the beginning. While the so-called Heaven’s Ladder wasn’t the world-ending game changer I expected such a poorly-conceived deus ex machina to be, its utter insignificance in the grand scheme of the narrative makes it feel even more redundant. It’s almost as if it were introduced solely to give the Gargantians some kind of relevance in the finale, as if the show’s writers couldn’t even come up with a better way to bring them back in the finale other than basically give them a Shonen power up.
Speaking of terrible power ups, did they ever allude to the neural linking in earlier episodes? Because that shit came out of nowhere and I was supremely disappointed that Gargantia would do that just to add some false sense of tension to a fight. It makes me wonder if people still know how to write good tense conflicts without resorting to some idiotic fatal power up that would be more at home in the likes of Naruto or Bleach.
Well hey, at least Pinion lived! I suppose I should be thankful they decided to forego the groan worthy curmedgeonly heroic sacrifice. The random attraction from Lukkage makes no sense to me though considering the two basically have had about 15 minutes tops of interaction with each other. But hey, anime.
As for our climax and finale, things aren’t much better. When our ol’ robot buddy/exposition machine Chamber has more narrative impact on the story’s conclusion than Amy, y’know, the chick who gave Ledo a reason to enjoy life on an uncharted planet, you know you’ve screwed up your ending. Hell, Amy was barely there, which makes things even worse considering she barely existed in the past 2-3 episodes. Somehow they managed to throw out everything that made this show interesting and fail to even provide us with an emotionally satisfying conclusion. That almost deserves an award.
This is a finale which is solid, functional and avoids any major plotholes or loose ends. Yet because of that, it somehow feels extremely underwhelming. I’m not saying we needed some sudden swerve or massive cliffhanger, but when a story ends in exactly the way you think it’s going to end you can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. I think part of the reason here is that there’s not really any philosophical conflict at play behind the battle here. Striker’s laughably corny I AM A GOD speech is drawn up from the deepest wells of cliche and sets her up as such a cardboard cut-out baddie that it basically becomes a shonen-style battle where there’s no goal beyond beating the crap out of the other dude. As Iro ably points out, there’s no reason why it should be this way. If Kugel was genuinely alive, there’s an additional edge to this conflict. As it is, you’re literally battling an AI opponent.
It’s not like the conflict in the surface is that much cop either. Sure, we get Pinion doing his best to redeem himself via an attempted heroic sacrifice, but it never really feels like the stakes are that high, especially since Gargantia is miles away and raining down fiery death on the enemy fleet. The ‘Ladder of Heaven’ isn’t the ridiculous deus ex machina I feared when it was clumsily introduced last episode, but the flipside of that is that it isn’t actually very important either – it’s a huge gun which ultimately serves little purpose aside from giving Amy a convenient excuse to be flying up around Ledo’s battle, in a sequence which varies from alarmingly rubbish looking (Amy in all the long shots) to utterly amazing (the final sequence of the battle with some great panning and tracking shots).
Ultimately though, she’s little more than a visual prop to provoke a reaction out of Ledo and I think that’s my major issue with this finish. The compelling thing about Gargantia has always been the way it’s dealt with huge, earth shattering questions of humanity and philosophy through small, interpersonal relationships. The frienship-cum-romance between Ledo and Amy has been the engine which has driven the story along, humanising our cold spaceman protagonist and leading him to question the way he lived before arriving on Earth. The thing is, she’s essentially frozen out of the finale, and in fact the two haven’t had any meaningful interaction for several episodes now. I was expecting a big emotional reunion – instead that’s relegated to a ten second scene in the credits. Ledo does gamely try and pull off the ‘the things I’ve learnt have made me a better person’ speech solo but this is certainly a situation where THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP could have been invoked without too much cheesiness, and the fact that Ledo’s wingman for this final scene is instead Chamber speaks volumes about the gap between my expectations and what the show delivered.
That’s not to say Chamber’s heroic sacrifice is bad – it’s actually quite a powerful moment. But Chamber hasn’t really been much of a character as an exposition machine and authorial mouthpiece. He’s got personality, but that personality hasn’t grown or changed much in the time we’ve spent with him. He’s mostly a cross between a yes-man and a walking encyclopedia, and the rather cold, unfeeling way he decides on his sacrifice diminishes its impact. I hesitate to say you should have killed a human character instead, but it certainly would have delivered a much greater punch (I’d have used Bebel because I’m a bad person like that) as well as hammering home the ‘some die so others can live’ message that would have perfectly counteracted the Galactic Alliance’s cold, hive-mind mentality.
As it is, we have about the most convenient wrapup possible. Chamber’s sacrifice means that his future tech is no longer an issue, Ledo goes native and Gargantia is a seaborne paradise once more. It’s not a terrible way to end, but it’s a touch unfulfilling and leaves me wanting more – more time, more interaction, more answers. Sometimes leaving you wanting more is a good thing. This time, I suspect it’s not.
Iro’s Final Impressions:
When we started, Gargantia was the most hyped anime of the season, so full of potential. That just made its missteps even more painful. As with most shows, I remained skeptical for the first several episodes, and just after Gargantia had won me over, it screwed up irreparably, departing from its introduced themes and changing tone entirely.
Moreso than most rushed anime, Gargantia would have benefited from being a two cour show. Most of the worldbuilding was frontloaded in the show, and all of real plot happened in the second half, all so quickly and straight to the point that the audience was unable to get a feeling for the plot elements. It set itself up too well at the start, and departed too far from that when the time came to wrap things up. More time would have allowed Gargantia to take things more slowly and prevent the audience from feeling betrayed.
Alas, Gargantia won’t be remembered as anything more than a slightly above average show, and certainly not as the potential classic we wished it would be.
Gee’s Final Impressions:
Gargantia had so much going for it. An interesting universe, a gorgeous art direction, wonderful character design, and a great writer (even if he only wrote 2 of the episodes). I went into the beginning of this season more excited for this show than even Attack on Titan. So you can only imagine how I feel after finishing this show. Gargantia was an anime with a great premise and a lot of wonderful moments early on. And in a way, a lot of those good things never left the show. The show still had its interesting premise, unique moments, and great character designs. It’s just that a lot of bad writing was introduced, ranging from the redundantly inconsequential to the insultingly stupid. And I suppose the sad thing is that even a few minor changes to some of these points would have made the show much more enjoyable and intelligent.
I guess if I wanted to succinctly sum up my exact feelings about Gargantia. It’s that I had a lot of hopes for this show because it started off doing a lot of things differently from other anime, but it ended up being exactly like every other anime out there. Not amazing, but not absolutely terrible either. Just far below the potential heights it could have reached.
Zigg’s Final Impressions:
I think it’s important to emphasise that neither I, nor I believe anyone else on the staff, believe that Gargantia ever became a bad show. What it did become though was disappointing. And the reason it was disappointing was that it set such a high standard for itself in the opening half-dozen or so episodes.
I think what struck me most was how refreshing it was that a show actually focused on its characters and worldbuilding. Gargantia was not afraid to give time for its story to breath, for us to develop affection for these people and join in Ledo’s bewilderment and wonder at discovering this entirely different way of life. The opening episodes were not pointless filler or slice-of-life antics, but instead allowed us to see the growth of Ledo and get to know Amy, Ridget, Pinion et al along side him. In this age where show’s tend to prioritise standard character tropes and irritating charm points, it was refreshing to see interaction that felt so natural and unscripted. That’s not to say the show was entirely free of character cliché, but it certainly hid it much better than some others.
My personal enjoyment of the show was also buoyed immensely by the interesting and innovative setting. I think part of what made this work is the contrast – the Gargantia is not low-tech by any means, but there’s a pleasing robustness and simplicity to it, and the lovely art and seaborne setting gave it a fresh, breezy feel of escape and adventure. The contrast between the ‘simple’ but homely Gargantia and the cold, hard technological stylings of the Galactic Alliance was one of the strongest aspects of the story.
The thing is though, once that story gets going it’s the undoing of the show. I’m perfectly OK with the Hideauze twist, which while a little predictable is executed well enough and creates a compelling history for this world that helps justify the endless war angle. The problem is, we don’t really explore that, and for the most part the Hideauze are actually irrelevant to the plot. The could have been replaced by any generic doomsday villain, or even a villainous faction of ‘regular’ humanity, with no real repercussions. I appreciate the creepy body horror they bring but the fact they’re barely mentioned in the last three episodes basically speaks for itself.
Likewise, those last three episodes are torpedoed by dumb, poorly thought out plotting. The idea of Ledo vs. Kugel is great in theory – it’s an ideological battle between the Alliance and Earth, and turning on a former leader is always a satisfying end to character arc. But the execution is baffling – the religious cult, the ‘dead all along’ reveal and the decision to abandon the Gargantia crew in favour of Pinion and the pirate whose name I’ve not even bothered to remember is baffling.
I think my biggest disappointment with Gargantia was how the show seemed to abandon the grandiose ambition it held in the opening episodes, where it hinted at a galaxy and epoch spanning tale that would encompass the history of the earth, the conflict between humanity and the Hideauze and the nature of the apocalypse that overtook the world. At the time, and given the relaxed pacing of the opening episodes I fully expected a 26 episode series. Instead, the 13 episodes we were given were too little for the promise inherent in the premise to fully bloom and led to a somewhat underwhelming climax. Given time I was confident Gargantia could have become a new Eureka Seven – a sci-fi epic that successfully melded a fascinating world with a strong, character driven story and interesting science fiction concepts. Perhaps that’s on me for getting too far ahead of myself, but the fact remains I saw the potential there.
I enjoyed my time with Gargantia and I stand by the statement I made at the opening of the season that it’s the best show of the spring. At its strongest points, it was a hugely rich, immersive and impressively mature character drama that was powered by smart questions about the nature of humanity. It’s difficult not to be a little discouraged where we ended up though. As it is, Gargantia is an excellent sci-fi adventure, but true greatness was in its grasp, only to slip away with the tides.