The protagonist of this show is none other than a born soldier, trained from birth to fight off ‘alien’ invaders for the good of human kind. However, when both he and his AI-controlled humanoid mecha machine are thrown through a sort of wormhole, Ledo finds a new planet covered in water where humans survive only by connecting various old ships into fleets. These floating cities are a haven for symbiotic relationships between all people, where everyone has to work together for the good of them all. Ledo and his ship, aptly named Chamber, are forced to adapt to their new surroundings as escape from the planet is made fairly impossible for its various reasons. This planet holds pirates, free-thinking humans, and an ancient secret; one related to the soldier’s extraterrestrial foes. Things are never as simple as they seem.
From that general outline you might guess a few of the themes which the show touches upon. The tragic loss of humanity through warfare, the need for people to work together, etc; all feel-good thoughts which while nice, have been reiterated time and time again to little effect. Interestingly though, the series doesn’t deal with any sort of sensationalized PTSD, which would fit perfectly given the situation at hand. And from this last of obvious dramatic resonance, we can dig deeper into just what Suisei no Gargantia is truly saying.
You see, on this beautiful blue planet, it is true that life is ‘better’ than the military structure known by Ledo in space. For the soldier, everything should be prim, functional and efficient. Anything less than this is simply unnecessary, and thus discarded. It’s the over-used military ideal. On Gargantia (The floating colony Ledo joins), people are given free will, the old and sick aren’t discarded simply for being enfeebled, and there is a true sense of joy and living. The differences seem simple, with one far greater than the other. Why can’t people just get along in peace, one might say, or how could we ever let the military tear apart our humanity like such as Ledo’s old civilization embodies? Gargantia is the obvious choice of what is better. Even the occasional pirate attack is little more than bullying, with no real life lost. A cheap price to pay for what is otherwise a natural paradise.
Underneath the waves, however, lies the truth behind the peace. Years ago, peace had reigned on the blue planet, to the point that the world was overflowing with individuals. As such, the humans there had to develop a new method of colonizing, and their goal was the stars. Slowly, they adapted themselves into something which could more easily explore the emptiness of space, but not everyone condoned these changes. Some called the evolution a crime against humanity. Some called it making monsters. In the end the division became so extreme that outright war broke out, leading to the planets current state, where only a few live in a relatively rustic culture. This is the true origin of Ledo’s alien opposition, and the military force he was formerly a part of, and this is where Gargantia becomes exceptional.
Now, this shouldn’t be mistaken as a simple ‘Planet of the Apes’ conclusion. There are obvious similarities, but Gargantia delves much more deeply into the complex problem which is humanity. The idea which Gargantia tries to convey is not just that war is bad. It certainly advocates such an idea, but it doesn’t dwell on it too long. Rather, it further complicates the theme by adding in the seeming opposite of it: peace can be terrible as well. It is during peace, not war, that humanity developed into the divided race which led to total annihilation. It is during peace, not war, when cults and religious sects can grasp hold of the masses to perform horrific deeds. It is during peace, not war, when life, though calm, is wrought with limitations in both resources and advancements. The two ideas create a paradox to which there is no easy answer besides to ignore them and just live life, and the question is whether such an answer is acceptable.
So which is worse? A society where every person’s purpose is to fight, where the enemy is right ahead, and where brutal efficiency is the only way to victory? Or a society where people are free to both live or waste their existence, where religion and cultural beliefs create divides deeper than any trench, and where ignorance is bliss? There’s no real answer. Both prospects are horrific, and there is a similarity between the two which almost feels insurmountable. Suisei no Gargantia reveals a harshness which exists, but isn’t limited to simply one man shooting another. Conflict can take on many different forms besides war, and can be just as, if not more, terrible. It is a warning tale to those who live on either side of the fence; those who side with hostile action or idealistic pacifism. The final question then is: can humanity ever avoid a bad end?