#1 Stranded on Earth
In the distant future, The Galactic Alliance of Humankind is locked in war against the Hideauze; a race of squid-like creatures that freely fly through space. Mankind itself inhabits massive space stations, having left behind its home planet so long ago that no records of its location even exist anymore.
Ledo was born and raised on one such station and became a soldier at the age of 16, ready to battle relentlessly against the Hideauze. However, during a pivotal battle, Ledo and his AI combat suit are sucked into a wormhole. When he next awakens, Ledo finds himself in the hull of a ship, having been fished out of an ocean by salvagers. An ocean on Earth.
Poor Ledo soon learns that he is stranded far outside of the Galactic Alliance’s reach, with questionable prospects of ever being able to return. He also struggles with trying to get along with the Earthlings, whose technology and culture are far cruder than what he is used to. He is so estranged from this branch of humanity that he may as well be an alien to them, and attempting to reconcile these differences soon runs into all kinds of problems and misunderstandings.
Also appealing here is the sense of mystery. Did Ledo end up on Earth by way of space travel or time travel? What do either of those options mean for the Hideauze situation and why did the Galactic Alliance ever abandon a seemingly okay planet?
#2 Language Barrier
I love it when anime plays around with language, a fondness that I evidently share with Gargantia writer Gen Urobuchi.
Upon his arrival on Earth, Ledo finds himself unable to communicate with the people there. Generations of separation have caused their languages to become incomparable, which remains an issue all throughout the series and its OVA episodes. Ledo uses his AI suit as a translator and later picks up some of the language himself, but the performance is very nuanced. Ledo speaks in a stilted manner and with simple words, but grows increasingly fluent as the story progresses.
It’s a wonderful consideration that contributes to making the story feel so much richer. Language is turned into a literal barrier; a divide separating Ledo from these other Humans. This turns learning the language into an important, symbolic gesture, which Gen uses to great effect throughout Gargantia.
#3 Two clashing visual styles
Besides the difference in language and culture, another major difference is a visual one. Ledo’s world is one of sleek sci-fi and incredible sciences, whereas the one he finds himself stranded in is comparatively ancient.
Gargantia is already a good-looking anime, which benefits from a combination of great color use and fantastic world-design. I was especially fond of the titular Gargantia, which is a humongous ship with sprawling expansions all engineered together. There are so many fantastic shots that show off its wondrous design, which look fantastic set against the bright sun and endless seas.
But therein lies the fun clash of artstyles. Everything made on Earth is edged, rusted, and tinkered together out of whatever metal was available. It looks haphazard in places, but it has a beauty of its own and helps shape a culture among the people living there. Ledo’s smooth, high-tech suit and other advanced technologies, not to mention his strict uniform and pale-white skin, immediately stand out in this setting. It once again emphasizes his otherness.
#4 Gen Urobuchi writing outside his comfort zone
Getting into a story penned by Gen Urobuchi always feels like a gamble. On the one hand, the man has been at the helm of some fantastic stories and written some of my favorite characters, but he is also prone to over-writing his settings and getting too excited about fairly basic moral philosophy.
While Gargantia does dabble in this at times—at one point even recycling the same “humans vs livestock” argument he’s made in other series—I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Gargantia isn’t very dark at all. It does have its intense moments, but it’s overall a bright series with lovable characters, where nice moments and comedy are no rarity. Sure, things get quite serious for the series finale, but nothing that I would describe as overly miserable or grimdark.
Even Ledo is pretty dang alright. His visual similarities to The Qwaser of Stigmata‘s Sasha shaped some initial assumptions, which were quickly dashed as his character developed. Good stuff.
#5 Battling space squids
Action scenes aren’t exactly plentiful through Gargantia, but when they do happen it’s guaranteed to be a good time. Things are already off to a good start with the initial space battles, where hundreds of cool mechs clash with swarms of the monstrous Hideauze, set to epic sci-fi backgrounds and exciting music.
Once we arrive on Earth, the battles shift in other directions entirely. Ledo and his battlesuit clash with all kinds of mechs, sea monsters, and we even get some naval action as fleets battle one another. This gets pretty wild towards the later episodes where the scale of the battles and the weapons used in them gets completely absurd. That is not a complaint.