I’m having some real problems with Suisei no Gargantia. All of the conflict in it seems phony, either it is between groups which are horribly unbalanced in power or else it is resolved in some cheap way. Let me explain the history of conflict in the show to date and why none of it is interesting.
There was some actual real conflict in episode 1! It tricked me into thinking this would be a good show! The first episode started out with a reasonably kick-ass space mecha battle from the perspective of a bad-ass mecha pilot.
We didn’t know much about the two forces or what was at stake, but we knew the protagonist was fighting to protect the Edenic light of humanity from being extinguished by the alien Hideauze, and that was enough. They fought, they were forced to retreat, the protagonist was accidentally caught in a space warp, thus setting up the main plot. If you had looked up promos or read previews or anything you already knew the premise and so you already knew how the fight was pretty much going to turn out, but that’s your own fault for spoiling yourself. The initial battle was legit.
Then Ledo crashed down on Earth, and as part of his attempt to figure out what was going on and blend in, he ended up kidnapping one of the locals.
This was sort of a farcical scene as the misunderstanding caused by the language barrier between Ledo and the Earthlings spun out of control. It was clear that the two sides weren’t going to actually start murdering each other, but at least there was some tension as to how embarrassed everybody was going to be once they finally sat down to talk out their differences. So on the basis of this first episode, I picked Suisei no Gargantia as the show with the most potential of the season. Bad choice.
By the second episode the hostage chase was over and the two sides had to decide if they were going to kill each other or what. Ledo’s AI buddy was in favor of killing the savages before they could pose a threat, and on the side of the savages the guy with the pompadour whose name I don’t recall was all in favor of dumping Ledo’s body in the sea and looting his sweet mecha. Cooler heads prevailed, though.
But since it was the cooler heads that were in charge, there wasn’t any real conflict over what should be done. Ledo’s AI is just an AI, and it has to do what the human says even if it doesn’t see the logic in it. The pompadour guy has no political influence and everyone obeys the fleet leader, so the most he can do is whine about how he never gets to murder people for their awesome technology. There was no conflict here, just two people deciding that the groups they led weren’t going to have a conflict. And that’s wonderful IRL, I highly recommend it, get me the Kings of Israel and Palestine on the phone because I have a suggestion for them, but it doesn’t make for gripping TV.
But then pirates showed up! And they didn’t seem interested in deciding not to have a conflict! Hooray! Time to have some cool mecha battle scenes!
Or, Ledo could just pop into his ludicrously overpowered mecha and disintegrate all the pirates in a flash. Sigh.
OK, so the fight with the pirates was sort of a letdown, but now the people of the Gargantia fleet are a little freaked out by Ledo, since he has a mecha that can disintegrate dozens of people in the blink of an eye. And anyway everybody knows that you’re not supposed to kill pirates.
So there could be an interesting culture clash here, between the hardened soldier who thinks enemies are for killing and the idealistic civilians who think every life is precious. But their philosophical disagreement on this issue was quickly overshadowed by a pragmatic issue – the Pirate Queen had heard about the deaths of her underlings and was coming back for revenge! So rather than resolve this conflict, the Gargantia fleet was forced to ask for Ledo’s help.
The second battle against the pirates certainly lasted a lot longer than the first, but the outcome was no more in doubt. Ledo was trying not to kill anybody so as not to piss off the Gargantians further, so he was reduced to punching the pirate ships with his mech’s bare hands rather than just disintegrating them all instantly with fire from the heavens. But the pirates didn’t have anything that could even scratch his over-technology armor, so the fight was basically reduced to a long boring slog. Not even fun as spectacle. Well, maybe the pirates’ ridiculous lobster-mechs were a kinda cool, but they would have been even cooler if they weren’t totally outmatched and helpless.
Ok, the fighting is over, and now Ledo has to prove that he can contribute in peacetime as well.
How does he solve this conflict? The same way he solves everything, with his brokenly-powerful giant robot. He tells it to go haul freight while he sits in the shade whittling. Capital will trump labor every time.
Then he gets in an argument with Amy about whether the weak should be ruthlessly culled. His position is that you can’t beat up the Hideauze if you have less than fully optimal soldiers holding you back, whereas Amy’s position is that her little brother is weak and she loves him very much. I guess it isn’t really fair to expect a rational debate over the pragmatic pros and cons of something like involuntary euthanasia that’s widely accepted in the audience’s as horrifying (not that Urobuchi doesn’t have plenty of people after his head anyway). Even so, the end of the argument was totally cheesy, where Amy’s sick brother plays the flute Ledo whittled, and suddenly this makes him start crying realize that all life has value.
What is to be done?
They’ve really written themselves into a corner here in terms of providing meaningful threats to the protagonist. Ledo’s mecha is just leaps and bounds above anything that can be found on Earth. There might have been some grist in the culture clash between Ledo’s militarism and Gargantia’s more laissez-faire semi-anarchism, but they seem to have mostly glossed over that with tears and defense against pirates and some light carcass-eating. Possible things that could still pose a threat:
- The Hideauze track Ledo to the planet and threaten the Earthling’s edenic way of life.
- The Galactic Alliance finally responds to Ledo’s distress signal, but by this point he’s already gone native and would rather munch on carcasses than fight the Hideauze.
- Somebody steals Ledo’s mecha. Of course then there’s the opposite problem of how to deal with an enemy that has a ridiculously broken mecha, but he’s the hero so I’m sure he’d figure something out.
- A much bigger fleet than the pirate fleet probably still couldn’t hurt Ledo, but it might be able to overwhelm his ability to protect Gargantia, which would make him sad.
- Ledo’s AI buddy decides it’s had enough of his illogical actions and goes rogue, claiming it’s “for his own good”.
But given that they haven’t cared about meaningful threats for the past four episodes, why should they start now? I’m close to dropping this show, I’m only hanging on because it’s gorgeously animated and because I liked some of the writing in the culture clash scenes. Otherwise I’d be gone already.