With seven new anime series watched, I had seven shows to choose from to how I wanted to lead off my coverage of the new spring season. If I wanted to sound like a grumpy old-timer I’d start with the first series I watched Photokano. If I wanted to sound controversial then I’d talk about Aku no Hana. If I wanted to sound dazed and brain-addled from having my mind blown then I’d cover Shingeki no Kyojin (or however you want to translate it into English). If I wanted to sound resigned about what an anime fan has to put up with then I’d go into the second season of Ore no Imouto.
I didn’t choose any of those; I chose Suisei no Gargantia and if you want to find out why read on.
Set far in the future, where Earth is but a barely remembered forgotten name, Ledo fights an insidious alien threat that would destroy humanity’s home of Avalon, an artificial habitat that holds 490 million people. After 16 years of service in the armed forces, 16-year-old Ledo needs to finish one more sortie before earning limited citizenship rights with Avalon – namely a 4 week vacation to Avalon and the rights of sleep, food, and reproduction. This sortie goes sideways very quickly, obviously, and Ledo wakes up 6 months later in a strange place full of strange people. While apparently human, the language these people use isn’t found in the computer’s database and the tools they use are beyond primitive when compared to Ledo’s Galactic Alliance of Humankind. And strangely enough, no one is wearing a pressure suit or seems worried about the possibility of a hull breach to the vacuum of outer space. What this means is a mystery Ledo needs to answer before he can begin worrying about finding his way back to Avalon and the Galactic Alliance of Humankind.
The Fine Print
Sweet Galloping Gertie! This is how you do a first episode right and what an unexpected surprise at that.
One of the most important jobs a first episode has is to convince the viewer to tune back to catch the second episode. There are many ways to help ensure that but the biggest three are the animation, the writing and the directing. In all three Suisei no Gargantia overachieved brilliantly.
Let’s take the writing first since Gen Urobuchi’s name was the reason many people were interested in this, myself included. As the ending credits rolled I found myself marveling at how much information was given to the viewer about the settings, the governments, the “normal” life of the different human groups shown, and the general feel of the characters set to become the show’s main and supporting cast all without resorting to talking heads info-dumping in very stilted ways.
Take the Galactic Alliance of Humankind (GAH), the people who Ledo fights for. With a total of 11 minutes of screen time, I already formed a pretty strong opinion that I’d hate to be a part of them. Instead of filling the little time we had between Ledo waking up from coordinated sleep to the start of his sortie with fluff, Mr. Urobuchi uses a few lines of conversation to paint GAH as what the government in Psycho-pass dreamed about achieving.
That’s just one example. There was nary a wasted line in this episode and it’s this focused attention to detail coupled with the ambition shown which screams “high quality” and “this anime will not be wasting my time”.
Moving on, there’s the animation, which really covers several areas. Suisei no Gargantia succeeded in each of them. From the publicity shots I knew going into this episode that the character designs were quite lovely and seeing them in motion didn’t dissuade me from my initial conclusion. Having attractive character designs isn’t a requirement for good anime but it’s pretty close. Not every anime needs to have pretty looking people but even “ugly” character designs can be done in an appealing manner. Working to create good character designs also shows the level of attention to detail typically displayed by the better anime series. Closely tied to the character designs is the design of the machines, architecture, and world. To which I mentally go check, check, and check. I liked the variation shown between the aliens, the Galactic Alliance of Humankind, and the strange human community Ledo finds himself in at the end.
Then there’s the raw animation level shown in Suisei no Gargantia. (Which is different from the style of the show.) I’m talking about things like do the people in the background move, how many of the scenes are filled with characters merely moving their lips, what level of shading and filtering were used, etc.. The first episode, at least, displayed a very high level quality. The current best animated TV series is Kyoto Animation’s Hyouka and the first episode of Suisei no Gargantia approaches this level but only approaches it, which is to say it’s still very well done.
The third way a first episode convinces the viewer to return for the second episode is the level of skill displayed by the director. Sometimes this factor gets lost when a person focuses on the other facets like the animation, writing, vocal talent, and so on. How these various facets are used is as important as the quality of person behind these facets. Take Gen Urobuchi’s writing; it hasn’t been this sharp or just plain good since Madoka. This is probably a reflection of the director’s input. Take the animation. As strongly animated as the sortie that Ledo was a part of, no level of animation can cover for poorly constructed shots and not knowing where to focus the show’s attention. This first episode tells me that the director of Suisei no Gargantia knows his or her stuff and will get optimum or near-optimum work from the various staff members.
In conclusion, I was expecting an average-to-slightly-above-average anime from Suisei no Gargantia but it surprised me and all the signs point to this turning into one of the big hits of the season. To prospective viewers, I definitely recommend giving this series a chance; I don’t think it’s going to waste your time and the nice animation means it’s at least easy on the eyes.
Rating for episode 1 – 11.5/12 Near Perfect
Animation: 4.5/5 – Sublime
Anticipation Level: 4.5/5 – High