By Sean Aitchison
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and Full Metal Panic! are similar in a lot of ways—both are about a mech pilot who finds a sense of normality through a fish-out-of-water change of environment, unlocking their humanity which had previously been snuffed out.
I wrote about the themes of love and humanity that Full Metal Panic! explores in its story, and Gargantia explores similar themes, doing so through the lens of propagandized protagonist Ledo, who finds a normal life upon breaking free from the lies he was raised on.
And that is the strongest theme in Gargantia: escaping propaganda—or more specifically, learning the truth, being horrified by it, and doing all you can to fight against the source of lies and horror.
NOTE: Spoilers are ahead!
Fish out of water (on a planet of water)
Gargantia begins with Ledo, a soldier in the Galactic Alliance of Humankind, in the middle of a battle against the dreaded Hideauze, giant squid-like aliens that the Galactic Alliance has been at war with for centuries.
During the chaos, Ledo is shot through a wormhole that lands him on Earth, the thought-to-be-uninhabitable home world of humankind. After an ice age flooded the Earth, the last remnants of humanity moved aboard floating cities like Gargantia, a collection of ships connected together for survival.
Ledo is found by members of Gargantia, light-years away from the Galactic Alliance, and with no discernible way to get back, he starts to settle into life aboard the ship colony.
Aboard, Ledo learns to stop being a cog in a machine and start being a part of the community. The colony may feel similar to the Galactic Alliance, but Ledo learns the difference when his actions are met with genuine appreciation and camaraderie, rather than empty promises. After all, the Galactic Alliance claimed he would get to live as a civilian for a brief time in exchange for acting as their military dog, a poor reward for a lifelong soldier programmed to act like a robot.
Additionally, Ledo gets an overall new perspective aboard Gargantia, learning how not to use lethal force as a default, how his skills are useful beyond slaying Hideauze, and the intricacies of living in a real society.
This is the first part of Ledo’s change as a character. He learns what a community is, rather than existing in and not questioning a hierarchy—a transition somewhat mirrored by him learning the language of Earth—and it’s what sets him on the path to learn the truth about his origins, the Galactic Alliance and the Hideauze.
Lies sold as reality
In the middle of the series, Ledo encounters something shocking: Hideauze on Earth—a “threat” that he promptly destroys…which is not met with celebration by the people of Gargantia.
See, on Earth, Hideauze are called whalesquid, and are seen as sacred creatures. The harming or killing of them is believed to bring bad luck and misfortune.
This is completely opposite to what Ledo had been taught, or rather programmed to believe, and this flipped perspective combines with the new experiences he’s had on Gargantia—unlocking memories, developing feelings for Amy, Gargantia courier and de facto liaison to Ledo—to plant the seeds of his major character shift.
The linchpin moment for this change comes in Episode 9 when, through an excavation mission, Ledo learns that the Hideauze are not in fact alien threats, but were once humans who chose to evolve themselves to survive in space, an act that sparked a war between them and the humans who would go on to colonize space and form the Galactic Alliance.
Regardless of whether or not the Hideauze are still human or deserving of being dehumanized targets, Ledo learns he was lied to, prevented from learning the truth so he could be propagandized into serving his predetermined role as an unquestioning soldier.
His mecha artificial intelligence, Chamber, attempts to convince Ledo that his mission still remains and that the Hideauze are still the enemy, and that his new personality must be snuffed out when he returns to the Galactic Alliance—but Ledo has already had his eyes opened.
He knows that people should not be raised as soldiers like him, and he knows that the enemies that the Galactic Alliance have made out of the Hideauze is a twisted narrative, regardless of if they are truly hostile or not.
Ledo almost falls back into his role when he learns his commanding officer, Kugel, is also alive on Earth. But upon seeing him—or rather, his Mecha AI, Striker, pretending to be him—subjugate and dehumanize humans as though they are nothing, is the final straw. Ledo is human, and he will not accept any other narrative.
Achieve great things
The climax of Gargantia comes when Chamber ejects Ledo from his cockpit on the grounds that he is no longer psychologically fit to be a soldier. Chamber then tells Ledo that his job is to assist the soldier in reaching his potential, and relieving him of duty to pursue a life on Earth is his way of doing that.
It’s a moment that clearly and plainly states that Ledo’s potential is not being a soldier, it’s being human. Chamber’s mission comes full circle when he sacrifices himself to protect Ledo.
With the connection to the organization that denied Ledo his humanity and propagandized him into being a killing machine completely severed, he is now free to be an actual human, which is how the 13th and final episode ends, skipping forward in time to Ledo as a full-time crew member of Gargantia and in a relationship with Amy. He’s happy, he’s human, and he’s free.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is a complex series with a lot of different themes about humanity and freedom, and just as much to say about climate change and the environment, but its focal point, its thematic beacon, is the idea of escaping propaganda, and the justice and true freedom that results from it.