Spring 2013 Anime First Impressions – Suisei no Gargantia

winter201331080

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.

The Story

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”.

winter201331150Moving 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.

suisei_no_gargantia06867The 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 111.5/12  Near Perfect
Animation: 4.5/5 – Sublime
Anticipation Level: 4.5/5 – High

suisei_no_gargantia09527

suisei_no_gargantia07468

suisei_no_gargantia18050

suisei_no_gargantia25705

suisei_no_gargantia30559

suisei_no_gargantia30663

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Spring 2013 Anime First Impressions – Suisei no Gargantia”

  1. As I mentioned on Twitter as well, this show gives me the best feeling and expectations out of all the new shows thus far of the season. Totally done right, the wow factor was so strong. The only show I cannot wait for to air already right now. And this is only the start, Gen might yet take us down some more roads of surprise.

    Like

  2. Now that I’m done with Episode 1, I can definitely say that this strongly reminds me of my experience with the last 2 of the ML trilogy. The phrasing of the Japanese, like “shokun”, and the various background radio chatter, reminds me of the various gritty real battles with overwhelming alien forces.

    The Japanese distinctly separate utopia and dystopia, and have often found scientific and other methods to Judging by the graphics, I would suspect this is a real utopia. A place the warrior caste must be separated from in order to protect, a place that exists but also does not exist. A dystopia, if selectively portrayed, would have felt different in my view. There would have been human vices, greed, flaws, and political infighting that would have severely impacted the military effectiveness of the defenders.

    I also think the military briefing would have been better done as an info dump, since that’s the natural and realistic portrayal. There’s a reason for it as well, since people don’t absorb information in combat very well without preparation and context. In other ways the internal perspective was done rather well, such as the cockpit view of the combat and not the “external view”, brings out a visceral fear of the unknown. Humans will often sense fear if they are not 100% aware of their surroundings. If we see the outside of the ship and what is going on, whereas the pilot is surprised, we thus become detached from the pilot and thus the action. This has allowed games like Alan Wake to play around with human perspectives, shadows, and fear. The cockpit also looks like the one from Voice from a Distant Star, which is good.

    The military caste of the GAH seems pretty hardcore and must have been fighting for some time. Things such as freedom of the press, freedom of individual desires, and freedom to do whatever you want for your own selfish goals, is deprioritized in the campaign to be united against an alien threat and perhaps such viceful traits are even weeded/conditioned out. A paradise created from utopia, however, would have all the things that would lack in a warrior caste. A dystopia might then be a selfish, pamphered elite within the population using the majority of people as tools and pawns. No sighs of such exist, however.

    The REM education period seems interesting to me, as it would increase the training readiness of troops even while they are in transit amongst the stars. A not inconsiderable advantage, especially if those 150,000 hours are actual combat/training, rather than mere duration of service. Humans spend 8/24 hours sleeping. And even more of that time, waiting to do something else, plus recreational entertainment. If one can train a warrior so that they can obtain the most realistic simulations every day, people can easily surpass the 10,000 hour estimate for mastery.

    In terms of the virtues of the warriors, they seem rather reminiscent of a people dedicated to one and only one purpose. It is not so much their job or their will, as their only allowed passion, for without it, nothing else would exist. I understand this view, a very Japanese sort of thing, very well.

    The Japanese have converted Von Neumann mining autonomous probes into an alien threat, judging by the historical context of their fictional trends. Instead of machines which reproduce, it is a biological entity, much like the swarm in Starcraft: controlled by no understandable intelligence, truly alien. Certainly not a “human” in different biological guise.

    I can tell you this though. Their Avalon utopia will certainly be an interesting place to visit. How would a society that relies 100% for its existence, on a dedicated warrior caste be like? Compared to our own society that forcefully takes money from the politically non-influential to give to the politically powerful and their servants?

    I can say this though. It would certainly be interesting to visit a society that relies 100% for its survival on a dedicated warrior caste. How different would it be from our own society that has benefited from prosperity and security, only to take from the powerless to give to the politically powerful. Certainly superior technology could restrain human nature and harness it for great good. How would such a utopia be governed and utilized, compared to our own Golden Age? A time of wealth and security has only diluted the virtues of courage and dedication in our days. What would a time of depleted resources, an ever approaching final death, and a split of society between those who live in freedom and utopia vs those who live in regimented order and obedience, do to humans.

    Like

  3. @Panther: What’s this “twitter” you speak of? 🙂

    I haven’t gotten to all of the spring series yet but the only new anime series that I’ve watched a second time is Suisei no Gargantia because, yes, I can’t wait for the next episode. I’ve actually rewatched it twice.

    @ymarsakar: Very interesting observation about utopia and dystopia. It will be interesting to see if the series makes it’s way back to Avalon and we can for ourselves if it’s actually a utopia or a dystopia. I personally think utopias are pretty much impossible to achieve, especially with the type of government that the GAH has.

    Like

  4. That is the very nature of a utopia, though, that it is a contradiction in itself. A place that exists, yet does not exist. An ideal of perfection, that cannot be created for when creating it, it is necessarily imperfect. Yet humans still seek this ideal of paradise through work. It wouldn’t be interesting to us if it was easily obtained or created.

    What the setting provides us is an excuse though in the logic. What if it wasn’t the society that was imperfect, what if instead it was achieved to 99.99% of the limit, as close to the goal as humanly possible in All Possible Universes, yet its one flaw is that it cannot resist the power of another force in existence? It would become a human tragedy, where the flaws are in its mortality rather than its virtues or lack of them. Thus this escapes the issue of perfection or unobtainable ideals, while on the other hand, obtaining most of those ideals.

    Also, I have not seen any info dumps on the government itself. Given the setting, I don’t think it would help the “castaway on an island” setting to be going back too much to the home land. Of course, if they are attempting to connect the two together at the end, showing humanity’s last stands might set a tense atmosphere. It might take away from immersing the viewer in the protagonist’s viewpoint, however.

    Going over my second post, that was quite a lot of unintentional errors I missed in the first pass. That last error was due to me erasing the entire post via a wrong highlight and having to reuse a copy/paste database save instead.

    “The Japanese distinctly separate utopia and dystopia, and have often found scientific and other methods to”

    That should have continued with using such methods to control human impulses for the great good. It wouldn’t be the greater good, as it presumes someone must be sacrificed for someone else’s benefit in a zero sum universe, but for the benefit of everyone’s happiness. Recently some novels and literature work have been attempting this kind of setting. Finding out how they can sustain the setting and premise, while ensuring the characters are still “human” is what is fun to see. Because the old idea was to use technology to make humans inhuman, stripping away free will or emotions, making them obedient as slaves and machines, yet that is not the “utopia” we seek as humans.

    Like

  5. The second episode is pretty interesting as well. It seems this will be the primary setting from now on. The world construction is also nice, a sort of mixture between post apocalyptic, utopian science, and science fiction + mecha + Muv Luv.

    Genre hybrids are great when done well. Something for everyone.

    Many Mecha fights are displays of skill or contest, of people who are even in a war strategically yet obtain a (temporary) tactical advantage with the new mechas. Because the old mecha storyline has protagonists and antagonists on both sides, sometimes reversing them, it’s hard to merely annihilate the enemy without effort as a plot device. The hero usually lacks the will/power to do it anyways.

    However…. in stories like Code Geass or Muv Luv, the mechas are merely personifications of the pilots and actors in the war themselves. The machines by themselves are merely tools and not representations of God or… something like Godzilla: a monster with a primal drive. As merely tools, the outcome is decided by grand strategy instead.

    I much more appreciate the plot being driven by a character’s tactical and strategic abilities, or lack of them, than by the mere power of a tool/machine. I think the fine dividing line is that pilots with 0 combat hours in the classic mecha series seem to be able to defeat enemies merely by upgrading to a new and better mecha. Like rock beats scissors. Code Geass has a lot of those elements too though it was saved from the consequences because the plot was always driven by the people’s actions. Muv Luv’s realistic depiction meant that even good mechas will be wasted by poor, inexperienced, frozen, incompetent pilots. And they don’t get saved to try again either. The Mecha doesn’t resurrect either.

    So Gargantia is great for me in the ways it adapts hybrid genre elements to mecha combat.

    It has a strange alternate history vibe, a sort of military time travel atmosphere too. Someone with advanced technology goes back to the past, like Terminator.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s