I will try to make this review spoiler free if you are on the fence about watching Gargantia, and for some reason or other, decided to use my review as a reference for whether or not to watch it. In case I do include spoilers, I will give fair warning beforehand. If you have seen it and are just casually browsing or looking for second opinions, everything is open to discussion :)
The story unfolds with a space setting in which humanity has left earth in search of another hospitable planet to colonize. This new planet is called Avalon. The story focuses on the perspective of one soldier, Ensign Ledo, of the galactic army, fighting against the bane of humanity, the Hideauze alien race, which is hellbent on destroying humans. In a rapid turn of events, Ledo, who is retreating from the front lines of a critical battle, is stranded in a wormhole and transported to a verderous ocean planet and discovered at the bottom of the ocean 6 months later (Cryo-sleep) and rescued by what seems to be fellow humans in a large ocean fleet. Surprise, the planet is Earth post-ice age where there is no land, so people have to travel in giant fleets which double as mobile cities.
This is the premise and essentially the first episode. I started watching this show because I love scifi and mechas are pretty cool. Ledo befriends these people with the help of his AI mecha, Chamber. The story focuses initally on Ledo's assimilation into this civilization which is very different from his. I thought this was an interesting route for the beginning of the story but hardly surprising, because the way that Ledo was raised in his space-age civilization is much different from those who had made their homes on earth. The earth humans are very easy-going and more carefree, a stark contrast to how Ledo initially presents himself. Early on, there are several aspects of Ledo's society which are explored indirectly as Ledo learns more of these earth humans.
The story was very interesting mainly because a lot of philosophy is hidden within its meanings. Unfortunately, these philosophical topics are cleverly disguised by the stagnance of the first few episodes. The plot goes on hiatus while the characters and Gargantia (the fleet) are explored. However, an interesting turn of events later on in the story makes things pick up quickly in the last 5 or so episodes. So although the story began quite plainly, it picks up in the end and makes it worth the watch.
One thing I realy appreciated about the animation is that I thought the CG on the mechas was very well done. I felt as though for the most part, it fused very well with the rest of the animation. The color palette was very bright, which made the characters and the ships/mechas fit very well with the beautifully done ocean. However, in the misty episodes, I thought the bright color palette didn't fit very well with the darker themes, which took away from the animation a little bit. Character designs seemed vaguely familiar, Amy was a very cute female lead, and I think Ledo looked the part for a young soldier fighting for a cause he did not really understand. The rest of the characters had very nice designs as well. I would say there was a fair amount of fanservice in terms of huge breasts, and also a *dance* scene and a beach/swimsuit scene. Fanservice in these types of shows I feel detracts from their overall value because of the serious underlying tones, so it was kind of annoying that it was there but not overly so. Opening animations were pretty. So was the ending animations. I particularly liked the lightbugs and the aurora borealis shown in one of the scenes. They brought the ocean to life, which was very crucial because it is SO easy to forget that the ocean is little more than a filler background. I think the animators did a very good job. So in terms of animation, the only thing I really did not like was that the color palette was super bright, which could give you the wrong ideas about the tone of the show.
I think a faster paced opening theme would have made the show a lot more exciting to watch. However, I did like both the opening and ending themes as standalone songs, they were beautiful. The one thing I did not like was how Ledo learned the human language. It did not seem to me like he had any trouble with it, but if you put yourself in his shoes and are forced to communicate in a language of which you have never heard of, how are you going to be able to pick it up that fast? By the last few episdoes he was extremely fluent, which kind of bothered me. Also the pauses in his words as he was learning the language did not seem sincere. However, I don't speak Japanese so I don't really know about that. The voice actors of the support characters were pretty appropriate. Pinion reminded me of Kamina (TTGL), his voice and tone, and by extension his attitude, which made me happy because Kamina is one of my favorite characters.
The first few arcs in which the plot remained stagnant were probably designed to allow for character development. In this department I would say character development was not as good as it could have been. Ledo does not budge much from his teachings as a soldier *******until later********, which gets annoying, however, he is not overly arrogant or condescending at all towards the earth humans (much less advanced than the space humans) so he remains as a likeable character, but not very relatable. His decision making at crucial moments was too quick, which made him very unlifelike. Amy is also likeable and cheery and thankfully does not have any annoying characteristics of female leads. However, she has little to no development, and neither does much of the rest of the cast; most are very one dimensional characters, or play a very small role, and make their exit soon after (I'm looking at YOU Fairlock). Overall, I felt that not many characters were fleshed out or memorable at all (Except Pinion, because he actually has a back story and some development). Of course, I can't forget one of the most well liked characters, the mecha CHAMBER, who was Ledo's Pilot, and friend. Chamber has an interesting development but he was limited because of the fact that he could not behave in the same parameters as humans. However, the ending is very consistent with his role as a robot; he doesn't overstep his logical programming to become humanized. I really appreciated that aspect of how he behaved until the very end. Anyone who sees this show will understand just how awesome Chamber is.
The best part about this show is definitely the ending. I don't think it needs a season 2 because Gargantia was very well wrapped up, and there were no questions left unanswered. Some plot twists were very intriguing albeit predictable to a certain extent. However, they contributed to making the show as good as it was. I would recommend to this show simply because it turns out to be pretty good, considering the vast amount of world-building that had to be done in such a small amount of time.
SPOILER ALERT>>>>>>>>The only thing that kind of disappointed me was that we never got to see Avalon, it remained as simply a concept in the first episode and was quietly forgotten. Perhaps this was done intentionally, but I think the show would have benefitted from at least a glimpse of the planet<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
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