Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia) 2013

Once again, I’m going to fight my urge to ramble here – so, that means just a few paragraphs now, focusing on Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet this time.

If you’ve never come across this series I think I’ll mention that it stands out in the mecha genre a bit, in no small part due to the amazing setting. For me, I could have watched ten extra episodes more in line with the first half of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, which had a fun slice-of-life feel at times, as the characters go about their business upon a verdant and vibrant, connected fleet of ships. Likewise, I could have enjoyed the scenery just as long – it’s bright and textured, yet didn’t feel repetitive; I left off sure that we could have explored a lot more.

The show delves into the requisite fan-service at times, but the main focus in Gargantia… (aside from the eventual re-emergence of the science-fiction) is probably pilot Ledo’s faltering attempts to understand a new culture. I really enjoyed seeing his trials there, both with language and ideology, but for action fans you’ll be given more battles and violence in the last few episodes. There, a lot of the warmth is jettisoned, along with lead character Amy’s role but I suppose in exchange for that you do get some development from a different character – the somewhat dubious Pinion.

In some ways this is like two halves of a longer series condensed into one short series, where the ‘science-fiction space war’ part is mostly placed aside as the hero adapts to his new circumstances. Seen that way, I think Gargantia… has a fair bit in common with the First Contact sub-genre, only it’s one kind of human meeting others.

The anime looks great of course, with Production IG at the helm, but if you were hunting down the works of Gen Urobuchi don’t expect something like Pyscho-Pass… though there is a sub-plot featuring a cult here that would have fit into that dystopia. If you like mech design for salvaging as much as for fighting, and if you want some comedy and a fresh setting to go with your science-fiction, then I reckon you’d enjoy this despite some uneven aspects for me.

3 Stars

Ah, yes – the time-honoured tradition in anime of having animals resting on the heads of characters.

Expelled from Paradise (Rakuen Tsuihō)

Expelled from Paradise (Rakuen Tsuihō) 2014

More science-fiction!

So, if you haven’t seen Expelled from Paradise I’d say this film strikes a balance between overpowered robots, cyber investigation, fan-service and good old fashioned post-apocalyptic stuff – yet it’s not precisely part of the mecha-sub genre. It also spends a bit of time exploring personhood, which is always welcome in my books.

There are some pretty fun battles throughout – I’d watch it again for those sequences and the sleek designs of the ships and robots too, but I reckon studio pressure shoe-horned fan-service into the film.

Now, I don’t have a handle on the production context or reception it got at the time of release, but it’s probable that main character Angela’s g-string costume (and the action) was meant to sell the audience on the film so the writers could later sneak in some philosophical aspects as the movie progressed? I mean, she’s not a one-dimension character but she is clearly typical in that she’s been costumed to be eye-candy for the male gaze.

In other aspects, Expelled from Paradise treats her as an actual character. She realistically struggles with having to use a body once again (after essentially living as a virtual presence for part of the story) and she does become less conceited, so there’s some character development. And look, it’s not all bad and I’d say the film is probably still worth watching for the animation alone.

Actually, maybe for the mysterious (and cute) Frontier Setter too, along with the other lead character who remains my fav, Dingo. He’s probably my favourite because he has the whole ‘Spike’ bounty-hunter thing going on, though Dingo is more open – and interestingly enough, in the English dub he’s actually voiced by Steve Blum (and Wendee Lee voices Angela :D).

This movie had a big budget and some big names behind it – Seiji Mizushima (FMA) Gen Urobuchi (Pyscho Pass) as director and writer, but Expelled from Paradise didn’t end up being brilliant or un-missable for me and I don’t see it listed as a classic on anyone’s list… but once more, having said that, it was still pretty good in spite of the things I felt were shortcomings.

3 Stars

I felt like there was also a little nod to Ergo Proxy here when we meet Angela’s masters, though of course, not everything is a reference to something else – but I like to seek out the possibilities anyway 😀

Psycho-Pass (Saiko Pasu)

Psycho-Pass (Saiko Pasu) 2012

I thought I’d try to avoid a long, rambling preamble for a change and instead take a shot at summing up my response to the show in a few words – disturbing, fascinating and mostly compelling.

While it actually took me months to finish Psycho-Pass (usually watching one or a few episodes at a time only) that’s not an indictment on my enjoyment of the series and I think it’s easily one of the best cyberpunk/futuristic dystopian shows around.

Obviously on several levels it’s a procedural/mystery/thriller with all the conventions that go with them but the setting really elevates Psycho-Pass beyond and it was probably the most engrossing aspect to me as a viewer. The characters ranged from utterly engaging to tedious and even criminally under-used I feel – but I want to stay with the setting a touch longer before I get back to the characters 🙂

To understand the Japan featured in the series, which falls into the ‘dystopia masquerading as utopia category’, I want to quote from the wiki entry:

Psycho-Pass is set in a futuristic era in Japan where the Sibyl System (シビュラシステム Shibyura Shisutemu), a powerful network of psychometric scanners, actively measures the minds and mentalities of civilised populations using a “cymatic scan” of the brain. When the calculated likelihood of an individual committing a crime exceeds an accepted threshold, he or she is pursued, apprehended, and killed if necessary by police forces.

A consequence of this system that I didn’t quote above is that while people generally tend to lead safe and calm lives, it is at the cost of much autonomy in terms of deciding the path of those lives. The tension there tends to be the cause of most crimes the characters must solve in the series, and it’s probably the main theme for both the heroes and the villain – so, classic stuff, which I was really happy about.

Psycho-Pass also definitely kept me guessing at times and while it is equal parts thrilling and interesting, I’d like to warn folks that some episodes can be seriously disturbing. And it’s not just the violence, but the way society reacts to violence – and without spoilers, I’ll just say that part of what makes it chilling is the seemingly very real possibility of a similar society rising in the future.

Now, finally to the characters – for me, a few pawns used by the key antagonist were a bit dull but leads Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami more than made up for it, with the tension between idealistic and cynical playing out in an interesting way by the end. The supporting cast were great too, but now I want to circle back to my ‘mostly-compelling’ comment and pair it with my ‘criminally under-used’ comment.

Yayoi Kunizuka.

For whatever reason, she was hardly used despite being one of the more interesting supporting members of the team – and yet, the series took time to devote an entire flashback episode to her punk rock past… but then just never came back to it. Even by the end of the first season there’s no sense that she’ll be given a chance to get the closure other characters were afforded. It thus became a kind of odd detour that interrupted the pacing and dissolved perhaps too much of the building tension.

Of course, there’s two more seasons of the show but here’s where I finally get around to ‘mostly-compelling’. I kinda have no desire to keep watching – which sounds odd, because I enjoyed Psycho-Pass. BUT enough of the main plot threads were resolved so that for me, there’s not enough to keep going. Well, that and the fact I want more from another certain other character not featured in the next seasons!

Still, season one had a really satisfying finish on many levels – but I want to quickly mention how much I appreciated the colour and light in the wheat fields; it really stood out compared to the night and neon that dominates the rest of Psycho-Pass, so I thought that was a great contrast.

Brilliant science fiction but probably not for everyone, I reckon.

5 Stars

As a tiny postscript, at times I felt like a few action sequences were a little less fluid than I was expecting and I’m not sure if that was due to the temporary studio switch or a desire for more realism in combat.