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From Production IG (Psycho Pass, Blood: The Last Vampire, Ghost in the Shell) and the creator of Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero comes an action-packed sci-fi adventure like you've never seen before. While fighting an intense inter-galactic war, a mecha pilot was accidentally warped into a space-time neither he nor the computer of his mecha could recognize. After waking up from a long-time hibernation, he found himself trapped on a planet, with human residents talking in an unknown form of language, using inferior technologies, and – most shocking to him – naturally breathable air...
Airing in mid-2013, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (an unwieldy pulp sci-fi title that at least has the virtue of being distinctive) is a 13-episode series that weds classic sci-fi themes with the unflinching sensibility of star writer Gen Urobuchi. Following a colossal, decisive space-battle against inhuman aliens, seemingly a conscious nod to the 1988 mecha classic Gunbuster, young mecha pilot Ledo is cut off from his militant, brutally collectivist spacefaring culture and marooned on the high seas of the forgotten planet Earth. Salvaged by the freebooters of the city-sized fleet Gargantia, Ledo finds himself in demand thanks to the incredible capabilities of his sentient mecha Chamber, yet struggles to adapt to his hosts' values. Free-spirited aeronaut messenger Amy, whose character overtly echoes both Miyazaki's Nausicaä and the titular heroine of Nadia of the Secret of Blue Water, proves to be Ledo's best chance of bonding with his new home.
Series overseer Urobuchi has carved a niche for himself in anime as a purveyor of stark explorations of the nature of responsibility and sacrifice, punctuated by horror and gore, and while Gargantia is lighter fare than the likes of Psycho Pass or Madoka Magica, it's of a piece with his other works. Ledo's inherited values of cold-blooded utilitarianism and devotion to the collective are contrasted with the warmer and more humane, but still cautious and pragmatic attitude of the Gargantians, with neither side portrayed as wholly justified. A twist midway through the series forces Ledo to reconsider his lifelong devotion to the militant cause, yet it's not as simple as choosing to side with Gargantia, as different individuals and factions within the fleet have their own ideas as to what he and they should do.
While Gargantia's sci-fi storyline is well written and satisfyingly executed, the show can't resist sabotaging itself with the most common pitfall of contemporary anime, titillating male-oriented fanservice. It's no coincidence that character designer Hanaharu Naruko's background is in hentai, as nearly every woman and girl in the cast is skimpily dressed and has copious attention paid to her body by the leering camera; indeed, the mid-series episode in which teenage Amy and her chums put on a belly-dancing show for a festival while grown men cheer them on led me to give up on the series during its first broadcast. The inclusion of strong-willed, decisive women such as Gargantia's acting captain Ridget and pirate queen Lukkage doesn't excuse their receiving identical visual treatment; the lack of faith in a good story to hold the audience's attention is almost as dispiriting as the exploitative content itself.
Despite these serious flaws, Gargantia manages to draw its plot threads together admirably in the last half for a fine denouement, and while the resolution might be a little too pat for some it's a perfectly enjoyable single-season anime. The designs and animation are as good as it gets for a TV anime series, and the characters and their relationships are well portrayed; in particular the cool-headed Chamber fills the role of droll AI companion perfectly.
While the DVD release is light on extras, a pair of bonus episodes shedding light on two supporting characters' pasts are a welcome inclusion.
A fine, even gripping sci-fi show marred only by some exploitative visuals.