In the distant future, mankind has taken to the stars, looking for a new Eden. This Galactic Alliance of Humankind faces it's greatest threat from a race known as Hideauze, squid-like space creatures with whom these space fleets are constantly engaged.
The series opens with a desperate gambit by a human squadron to take out an alien super-weapon, which ends in complete failure. A single mech pilot, 16 year old Ensign Ledo, is caught in the backwash of a subspace portal and finds himself awakened on a mysterious new planet. Earth.
Gargantia is a strikingly beautiful series. The opening space battle looks like a cross between Nadesico and Macross, with some excellent choreography and a genuine feeling of urgency. The dystopian nature of human existance is also played upon, with Ledo being awakened to fight, and being told that he has clocked enough battle hours to spend time awake on the fleet's pleasure colony. Ledo is more interested in fighting, and the subsequent battle is fierce, messy and spectacular. It's a very strong opening to the series, but, as it turns out, not particularly indicative of what lies ahead.
Once Ledo completes his "reverse Buck Rogers" and lands on landless Earth, it's a fish out of water comedy-drama that shows a very intriguing way of life for humans forced to live on fleets of boats (a subtle parallel to the space-faring fleet Ledo left behind). Whereas the hi-tech and barren life of a pilot is bereft of much humanity, the Gargantia fleet is positively teeming with it. The comparitively low-tech but ultimately warm and welcoming way of life is a pleasure to watch, and Ledo's gradual acceptance that he can be more than just a weapon is a journey worth following.
There's plenty of decent characters to latch onto too - Amy makes a cute and fun-loving protagonist, and certainly seems like the sort of person Ledo would latch on to. Someone as cold as Ledo needs a warm presence, and Amy is both believable (so far as anime tropes go) and endearing. The pet mascot may be a bit too far for some though!
The show has a great mix of other characters too - the alien (to Ledo) concept of money shows how both greed and generosity have their places, with sexy salvager Bellows espousing the latter and the cynical Pinion the former. Eventual fleet commander Ridget has her own journey into adulthood, made no easier by the arrival of a stranger piloting a seemingly self-aware weapon of mass destruction.
Speaking of which, Chamber, Ledo's "Machine Caliber" is a great device. Initially used as a translator for Ledo, as well as his protector, the giant mech is a fantastic character in his own right. Some of the best moments of the show involve trying to used a metophirical sledgehammer to crack an equally metaphorical nut. Using Chamber on a fishing expedition for instance results in an unintentional fish-gumbo and a lot of irate fishermen.
Once the series reaches the final third, with Ledo discovering a form of Hideauze on Earth, the show becomes somewhat more dramatic. There's a great surprise reveal here which I won't spoil, but the fact that it pulls off two dramatic reveals with one character is a testament to the quality of the writing (from Madoka scribe Gen Urobuchi no less!)
The show does hit a few speedbumps. The fanservice is, in places, a bit too much. Used as much to show Ledo's awkwardness at exposure to the opposite sex as it is to titillate the viewer, it is nevertheless a bit uncomfortable at times considering the age of the girls involved.
The conclusion also feels a little unsatisfying. True, you get the OVA episodes on here to flesh out the background a touch, but it could have been a lot stronger with only some minor tweaks.
This, however, is not enough to stop a strong, vibrant and utterly beautiful looking series from being worth your time and money. It has a sense of fun, danger and excitement that are very much to its credit, and I'd have a hard time not recommending this to fans of mech, sci-fi or a simple coming of age tale.