Silver-haired space pilot Ledo (voiced by Kaito Ishikawa) and his powerful combat robot Chamber (Tomokazu Sugita) fight as part of the Galactic Alliance against a giant starfish-like alien menace called the Hideauze. An epic space battle ends tragically with Ledo's comrades wiped out before he crash-lands on a distant planet. It turns out to be his long-lost homeworld Earth, now one-hundred percent covered with water. Ledo awakens on Gargantia, a vast sea-surfing shanty-town where his inability to speak the local language results in a misunderstanding as he flees with a teenage hostage named Amy (Hisako Kanemoto). After a tense stand-off Ledo eventually proves himself to Amy's friends: female commander Ridget (Sayaka Ohara), voluptuous operations expert Bellows (Shizuka Ito), bequiffed hot-head Pinion (Katsuyuki Konishi), nymphets Melty (Kana Asumi) and Saya (Ai Kayano), ailing kid brother Bebel (Yuka Terasaki) and pet squirrel Grace although Chamber's over-enthusiastic use of firepower to repel some pirates provokes a revenge attack from scantily-clad Empress Lukkage (Eizo Tsuda) who has her own robot armada.
Although 2013 was supposedly the year in which the anime industry almost imploded, for a variety of reasons, it also produced a number of outstanding, groundbreaking productions. Among them the television serial Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, a slick science fiction opus from Production I.G., one of the more prestigious anime studios, that easily outdoes Waterworld (1995) (a big hit in Japan, incidentally) with a more compelling, colourful vision of an aquatic post-apocalyptic society. The epic opener in outer space establishes trippy imagery and heady ideas light years removed from prosaic mainstream SF but the earthbound, or more precisely sea-bound action that dominates the series is no less intriguing.
In Japan Gargantia was eagerly awaited as the follow-up for screenwriter Gen Urobuchi after his genre-redefining Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011). Drawing on themes Go Nagai established with his super-robot classic UFO Robot Grandizer (1975), where an alien hero learns to love Earth and the human way of life, the plot centres around Ledo (the product of a computer-controlled space colony where genetic engineering is the norm and efficiency rates higher than compassion) as he struggles to comprehend the caring-sharing environment aboard Gargantia. He gradually learns the importance of contributing to society, caring for those weaker than himself and defending his new-found friends without killing. Urobuchi weaves a pleasant message about overcoming social differences and forging friendships beyond barriers but also injects an interesting moral ambiguity that elevates this above your average giant robot romp. Ledo initially proves a rather calculating sort. He saves Gargantia from the pirate attack because he believes it will be a "good bargaining chip." Meanwhile, far from grateful, the inhabitants of Gargantia are horrified at the firepower at Ledo's disposal. Though full of action the series is more interested in tactics, negotiation, politics and breaking cultural barriers. Urobuchi wisely avoids suggesting Gargantia's values are superior to Ledo's and simply allows viewers to weigh the positive and negative aspects of both cultures.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet does serve up some of the stifling stoic clichés over-used in militaristic SF from Star Trek to Space Battleship Yamato while the slightly sappy, scantily-clad heroines might vex some female viewers. On the other hand the serial plays fair when it comes to titillating the target teen audience delivering not only the expected bikini babes but shirtless shots of pouty pin-up boy Ledo. The only episode that falls flat involves a bizarre comedy chase where Ledo is almost gang-raped by muscular transvestites ("Your butt has such a lovely shape!") while on a quest for what turns out to be barbecue sauce! For the most part however the series poses bold, challenging questions about what defines us as human.