Everyone has things that they believe in or value. Whether it is a belief that compassion is important, that natural habitats need to be protected, or that everyone should play video games at least once, everyone has something that they value. Often, these values lead us to join groups that align with these values and beliefs, or reject groups that do not. Pop culture is rich with stories exploring an individual’s quest to join a group that they believe in, or to escape from a group that turns out to be far removed from the values they had perceived. But what happens when a character finds themselves stranded far away from the groups and causes that they are part of?
Note: you will encounter light spoilers for the anime series Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet in this post. If you intend to watch the series and prefer to be entirely surprised by new developments, I would recommend coming back to this post after you’ve watched the show.
Welcome to May’s OWLS Blog Tour
Every month, I join the voices of the Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-respect (OWLS) blogging project. The OWLS bloggers and vloggers use anime and other media to explore a central theme promoting diversity, self-acceptance, and equality. I feel proud to work with the OWLS team, so keep an eye out for future posts exploring important social issues. If you’re interested in these topics, be sure to check out the other OWLS blogs for each tour, or consider becoming an OWLS blogger or vlogger yourself!
This month, we’re talking about “movement” in pop culture. Throughout this month, we are talking about the movements, organizations, and systems that individuals join that align with their personal values and beliefs. Often, individuals join these groups because they believe that they are doing good and are making positive changes in society. Often, these groups help to shape individual identities, with individuals either aligning with the values of the group, or rejecting them and rebelling against them. We are examining the positive and negative outcomes of joining groups, organizations, and movements, what happens when leadership falls into the wrong hands, and what happens when an individual is unsure or too sure about the group’s values. Join us as we explore this theme in pop culture.
Before we look at “movement” in Gargantia, I wanted to take a moment to take a surface-level look at a relevant theory from mass communication studies: social identity theory. I promise it will be short, but having this blip of theory in your pocket as you read the rest of this post will highlight some interesting elements of the group dynamics being discussed.
Social identity theory looks at individuals as having two identities that make up their identity. There is the individual identity, which is made up of their personal quirks and interests, and the social identity, which is more complex. The social identity is made up of an individual’s association with a group or multiple groups (to give a few examples, a group might be broad such as “women,” and “marching band member,” or more specific such as “clarinet player” or “OWLS blogger”).
An individual typically becomes part of a group that they share values, ideals, or goals with. When identifying with a group, an individual also often changes their own behaviors, beliefs, and values to align with those of the group. (If this theory has captured your interest, you can read a slightly more in-depth explanation here)
Keep these features of identity in mind as we delve into Gargantia. Every connection to a group, every variation in personal identity and value found in this anime reflect social identity theory’s definitions of identity.
Identity Aligned with the Group
Gargantia starts out with a trope-filled intro common to many mech anime out there: throwing viewers directly into an epic space battle. During the battle, we meet the central protagonist, Ledo, and his AI mech partner Chamber. Through some exposition, we learn that Ledo is a soldier fighting against a monstrous squid-like alien race that is the enemy of humanity. Right away, we begin to learn about the group that he is part of, with whom he shares goals and ideals, and who he might have joined by choice or out of necessity: the Galactic Alliance.
Ledo and his comrades share a common goal and value in their battles: the survival of the human race. They also share a common hatred for the enemy that has plagued humanity for thousands of years. As is often the case with social identity, the connection that Ledo shares with the Galactic Alliance is a powerful part of his identity.
Unfortunately for Ledo, this particular anime isn’t interested so much in how well aligned his identity is with his current group. It’s more interested in finding out what happens when he’s suddenly set adrift.
As the epic battle comes to a close, something goes wildly awry and Ledo finds himself flung out of the warp that his companions use to return to the main fleet.
Set Adrift from the Group
When Ledo awakens, he finds himself on an unfamiliar and entirely unfathomable planet. A salvage crew aboard a massive fleet of ocean-bound ships had discovered Chamber at the bottom of the sea and brought it and its stasis-bound pilot onto their ship, the Gargantia. Right away, Ledo’s identity as a soldier who has only ever known war does not mesh well with this new group, which causes conflicts with the residents of the Gargantia and its fleet.
Having no idea how long it will take to reconnect with the Galactic Alliance, Ledo and Chamber settle in and try to find a place among the ocean-dwellers. It’s a tough transition for Ledo as he struggles to understand this new way of life. He feels lost. These people haven’t heard of the alien enemy that consumes Ledo’s reality, and they also have no knowledge of space travel or the Galactic Alliance. How can he possibly find a way to live among them while he searches for a way home?
Slowly, he learns about the values and beliefs of his new companions. The people of the fleet collectively rely on one another for survival in their ocean-covered planet. Everyone’s contributions are important, every life aboard the ship makes a difference, and everyone must “pull their weight” to whatever extent they are able to do so. Functionality aside, Ledo finds that they also value experiences that lead to their enjoyment of life. As is often the case when becoming part of a new group, Ledo’s own beliefs, behaviors, and values begin to shift slowly during his time aboard.
Throughout his time in the fleet, Ledo’s connection with the war and the Galactic Alliance, along with his identity as a soldier, continue to cause conflicts with the beliefs and values of his new group. Perhaps the biggest conflict he experiences with his new group occurs when he has a confrontation with an ocean-dwelling creature who he mistakes for a member of the alien race he’s spent his life fighting.
He kills the creature, and learns later that it is considered a sacred animal by the people of the fleet. Chamber, however, confirms to Ledo that the animal is related to the aliens. This incident proves to be a major hurdle for Ledo, who finds that his need to fight this enemy is stronger than his need to remain a part of this new group. As often happens when such a powerful conflict of interest occurs, Ledo reevaluates his association with the Gargantia in relation to his own values.
Drastic Social Shifts
Other than Ledo’s struggles with what to do when suddenly separated from one’s alliance groups, I had a few other reasons for choosing this anime for June’s blog tour. Throughout 12-episode series, viewers witness a number of interesting shifts in group alignment and personal beliefs.
The Gargantia and its fleet experiences trouble when some of its ships split off as their values diverge from those of the main fleet. The split-off group also experiences shifts in allegiance and values as they, in turn, encounter unexpected complications on their solo voyage. Even Ledo experiences dramatic shifts in his allegiances as he learns startling information that conflicts with his personal values and those of groups that he has become part of or previously belonged to.
Now, it’s your turn! If this theme or this glimpse of social identity theory intrigues you, I challenge you to check out Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and see how these dynamics unfold.
Thanks for joining me in this exploration of “movement” and social identity formation. Up next, be sure to check out Marth’s post on Marth’s Anime Blog.
Do you have any favorite examples of movement, social norms, group identity, and individual identity in pop culture? Share them in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact” page.
And as always, if you have a literary device or grammar rule you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!