GARGANTIA ON THE VERDUROUS PLANET
A review by Dennis D. McDonald
GARGANTIA ON THE VERDUROUS PLANET is an anime SF series that combines clichéd anime tropes with an engaging and complex story in a dramatically entertaining way. To top it off the artwork and animation are terrific.
The series begins inauspiciously with another one of those magnificent battles in space complete with human piloted flying power suits, energy beams, missiles, evil creatures, the whole works. It’s hard to follow despite the bright coloration and sizzling sound. I thought to myself, oh great, another battle in space with machine-suited humans.
But one soldier escapes total destruction through a wormhole and arrives on an Earth thought to have perished long ago. This Earth is now totally covered by water and humanity has retreated to giant floating cities constructed from interlocked ships and vessels of every imaginable shape and size.
We now embark on what initially looks like a traditional “fish out of water” story populated by many recognizable characters: a perky young messenger girl who flies from ship to ship via a remarkably agile hang glider; the ancient leader of the fleet whose executive officer is a sober and businesslike young woman; a hothead male salvage explorer who embodies just about every egotistical masculine fault possible; the sickly little brother of the perky messenger girl; and, of course, a cute little squeaky animal companion for the messenger girl.
The main characters are really the young soldier from space and his AI equipped “magical” power suit. They frequently engage in conversations that overtime reveal the nature of the militaristic society from which the soldier comes and the difficulties the soldier has in adjusting to this new society that seems at first to be run in a nonsensical fashion but which, in reality, is an obvious stand-in for contemporary human society.
Ordinarily all of the above would be sufficient to sustain a decent TV series. Plot twists develop that are unexpected and handled in surprisingly dramatic and original ways. I found the series getting more interesting as it progressed as it addressed issues of militarism, greed, social structure, duty, honor, generational transition, artificial intelligence, and reliance on technology.
Two additional comments follow on what I found to be a fascinating and entertaining series that far transcends the plethora of high school themes that so many Netflix-distributed Japanese anime series seem to dwell upon.
First, the artwork, animation, and coloration in this series are excellent. Hand drawing and computer animation are blended seamlessly. Colors are vibrant and the level of detail is amazing; check out the series website for an example of the ships, machines, and characters.
Second, there is relatively little fan service in the series. True, many of the female characters boast the voluptuous figures that are typical of Japanese anime series that target young people. At least on the Netflix distributed version I watched (in Japanese with English subtitles) we see very few gratuitous flashes of female underwear.
There is one segment, though, that is totally bizarre and seemed weirdly out of place to this reviewer. Over several episodes we see a society built up where women have both very traditional leadership positions as well as action-oriented risk-taking roles involved with machines. Yet at one point the three young women who serve as the fleet’s flying messenger service don bikini-style outfits and dance in front of an appreciative male dominated crowd. There’s nothing that I would call overly suggestive about the dance but the skimpy costumes and settings seem totally incongruous. It reminded me of those exotic themed movies from the 40s and 50s where dancing girls would be trotted out to show some flesh. Really weird.
Dramatically the purpose of this sequence seems to be to show that the main female character is also a dancer since later on she dances for the visitor from space with tasteful delicacy against a gorgeous background of a nighttime star filled sky. It’s totally opposite from her earlier participation in the raucous can-can.
These concerns aside I’m very impressed with this series. The story is well done, animation is excellent, and several complex social themes are explored in intelligent and dramatically satisfying ways.
Review copyright (c) 2015 by Dennis D. McDonald