Monday, April 22, 2013

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Ep. 3: Thanksgiving

One of the other shows this season that has become one of my favorites is Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Japanese: Suisei no Gargantia). It’s well-known for being the newest Gen Urobochi series, though it’s not as grim or depressing as his past works. It’s still definitely got an edge to it, and it still does explore the nature of humanity extremely well.
For some quick background, Ledo is a mecha soldier belonging to a faraway space colony, whom, due to various circumstances, has ended up on Earth, which has been flooded over, so everyone lives on boats. Among a crew that is mostly fearful of the foreigner and his highly advanced artificially-intelligent mecha Chamber (who serves as a translator), Ledo’s interaction with these people is mainly through one girl, Amy.
White-Haired Pretty Boy is Ledo, with Chamber on the left, Amy on the right, and to her right, Bellows.

Ledo had just vanquished a pirate squad in order to protect Amy’s friend, Bellows, and now has to face the consequences of perhaps needlessly taking so many human lives, as a larger pirate crew is out for blood. But amongst all this trouble, Bellows does go ahead and say “thank you” to Ledo for saving her. Ledo’s reaction is one of puzzlement, strangely enough. Towards the end of the episode, after Ledo saves the entire crew from the larger pirate crew, everyone says “thank you” to him, and there, he finally learns that what they’re saying is an expression of gratitude, and he gets a chance to say those words himself, as his first words in the language of his new home.
One thing this show has been great about is taking things that we take for granted in our world and society and showing just how valuable they are. After all, to most people, “thank you” is just something we’ve been taught while young to say after someone does something for us as proper etiquette. In fact, for many people, this has become a largely automatic action, one where one’s feelings might not really be behind the words. This show, though, turns this bit of etiquette on its head: what if someone has grown up never hearing a single “thank you”, such that the entire concept of expressing gratitude is foreign to him?
What we can see from Ledo is that all his human interactions seem to be based on negotiations. All of his actions, including deciding to support the Gargantia crew against the pirates, are based on being able to attain that which is beneficial to him by offering something beneficial to the other side if necessary. There was no need for gratitude, since in his experience it was just every man for himself and gratitude provides no direct benefit for anyone (of course some people will talk about indirect benefits, but Ledo’s people sure didn’t).
In this way, when Ledo first learns how to express gratitude, it seems like such a huge moment. It's as if this is the start of something important for Ledo... say, discovering human relationship for the first time.
After this episode, I realized just how meaningful something as simple as saying "thank you" really is. It really is a selfless action, one with no direct benefit to the one who says it, but simply says, "I really appreciate what you did for me, and I want to let you know that so you know that what you did was worthwhile." It is a simple action of love, yet it is the spark that can start friendships or even lead to marriage, and even when it's between two strangers or people with no plans to develop a deeper relationship, it's a statement that reminds us all that we humans are all by and large looking out for each other, and that we are not alone in this world. Quite a lot for two simple words, eh?
There's even more to this for Christians, though. Thanksgiving is such an important part of the Christian life, that one of the types of sacrifices initially instituted in the Old Testament was a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And, of course, "give thanks to the Lord" is such an integral part of Christianity that it's even slipped out and become part of everyday language to say "thank God", even if the person who says it isn't even a Christian! Why is it so important to express gratitude towards God for all the good things He's done for us? I think the simple answer is: otherwise, we fall into legalism, or thinking that it is by doing good things that we are saved or that we are loved by God.

If our motivation for following God's ways is to try to earn salvation or God's love, we are missing the point of Jesus's sacrifice, in which we loved us so much while we were still sinners that he was willing to die for us so we can be saved. But for those who realize just how big this sacrifice that he made for us was, following God's ways is just the result of naturally wanting to thank God for what He did. Or more specifically, thanking God becomes the platform on which we develop a relationship with Him, and it is under this relationship that we naturally want to help God accomplish His will on Earth.

That said, it's all too easy for us to slip back into the world's ways of "do things to earn God's love", which is why God wants us to give thanks to Him: by thinking of the good things He's done for us, we realize that He already loves us so much already that we can do nothing to earn any more of that love, and from that, our gratitude re-tunes our hearts towards relationship.

Whereas before Ledo went along with the crew of Gargantia simply because he felt that to be most beneficial to him, in the upcoming episodes we can see how finally starting to have relationships with the people of Gargantia changes how Ledo does things. In the meantime, this show has made me realize just how important "Thank you" is. It's not just a couple of polite words; it is quite possibly the words on which society was built on.

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