Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Anime REVIEW: Yatterman Night

Yatterman Night

Over the past few years, legendary anime studio Tatsunoko Production have done quite a lot of reimagining to their classic shows. 2008's Casshern Sins moved the cybernetic superhero into a post-apocalyptic world, while 2013 turned the world of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman on it's head with the social-media influenced world of Gatchaman Crowds. With 2015 heralding the 40th anniversary of Tatsunoko's Time Bokan franchise, it's time for 1970s series (and most popular franchise instalment) Yatterman to receive similar treatment. Yatterman Night brings the timeline long after the original series, featuring a brand new cast as well as a brand new spin. This time it's the Doronbow Gang's time in the spotlight.

The cast of Yatterman Night
A new generation of villains heroes

After the defeat of Dokurobey and the Doronbow Gang in the original Yatterman series, the Doronbow Gang were exiled to a distant land as Yatterman-1 and 2 ushered in a new age of peace and prosperity across the Yatter Kingdom. Generations pass, and nine-year-old Leopard (a descendant of the original Doronjo) has been brought up to recognise the Yattermen as heroes. Though they live in poverty, she lives happily with her mother Dorothy and her servants Voltkatze and Elephantus (descendants of Boyacky and Tonzra respectively). When Dorothy falls seriously ill, Leopard vows to venture to the Yatter Kingdom and seek help from the benevolent heroes. However what she finds when she reaches there doesn't match all the stories she's been told.

With the Yattermen immediately open firing on them, Leopard is forced to return home without the medical care her mother so desperately needs. As Dorothy passes away, Leopard realises that all the stories she's been told are a lie. Not only that, but maybe the Doronbow Gang were actually the real heroes of the story. Taking up the mantle of Doronjo, the three journey to the Yatter Kingdom and bring down Yatterman once and for all. Teaming up along the way with new friends Gatchan and Alina, they discover that the Yatter Kingdom is worse than they though. Corrupt with power, legions of Yatter robots have oppressed their subjects and turned them into slaves. It's up to Doronbow to bring down the Yatter Kingdom, as well as unravelling the mystery of what has happened to the supposedly great heroes. 

The robo Yattermen
Something's definitely not right here

Villain pieces seem to be all the range these days. Starting with the Wicked broadway show and moving all the way up to last year's Maleficent, it seems everyone is eager to give the bad guys their very own story. As a huge fan of villains in general this is something I definitely welcome, but at the same time also usually fills me with dread. The problem is that usually these projects have to force the characters beyond their roles as villains, painting them as a benevolent force rather than the bad guys we've always known them as. Take the similar World Conquest Zvezda Plot for example - the whole series has you routing for Lady Venera despite her "evil" intentions, only for the last few episodes to basically reveal that all things considered she's the greater good. It's a viewpoint I've never really understood - sometimes villains should just be enjoyed for being villains.

The forehead flicker
Mecha design of 2015

However Yatterman Night is a very interesting series in this respect, as while it does aim to paint the Doronbow Gang in a more positive light (well, this new iteration of them anyway) it also cleverly tiptoes around upsetting the status quo of the original Yatterman series. The Doronbow Gang are a perfect choice to do this kind of story with anyway, given how that they're less out-and-out badguys and more loveable thieves that hang with the wrong crowd. Though the idea that maybe the Doronbow weren't the baddies they were always made out to be is prevalent throughout the whole of Yatterman Night, it's something that's never outright said. The mystery of how the supposedly great hero Yatterman became a despotic rule commanding legions of robots in his own image isn't a particularly complex one, but it's enough to keep you guessing until the big secret is finally revealed. And through all their hard work, the Doronbow Gang are ultimately faced with a realisation when they go to turn the Yatter Kingdom on it's head. The story already has it's heroes and it's villains, and isn't not a status quo that's so easily broken.

That sounds like a particularly deep philosophy for a sequel to a show that largely revolved around jumpsuit-clad superheroes and their mechanical dog battling thieves across a world laden with parody, but then Yatterman Night isn't just another colourful comedy. The show pulls absolutely no punches, opening right off the bat with our nine-year-old heroine losing her only parent. Sure she still has Voltkatze and Elephantus by her side, but neither really ever take much of a parental/guardian role - more or less being her lackies just like the ancestry dictates (other than a few solemn moments about how she's growing up etc.). This goes to them travelling around seeing the full horrors of the Yatter Kingdom's subjugation of it's people, which is made all the more perverse by their constant chanting of "Yatter" in an over the top manner. Countering it with 70s style humour and outlandish robot designs (the forehead flicker being a personal favourite) may seem like a complete clash of tones, but the balance surprisingly works. Though the world has had the camp and colourful Yatterman humour sucked out of it, the Doronbow Gang are bringing hope to it just as much by bringing it back.

The return of Yatterman
The hero returns

At only 11 episodes there isn't a whole lot of time to make the characters particularly deep, which is why it was probably a better move to focus on what the characters represent rather than who they actually are. Leopard is the star of the show, with Gatchan (Galina) arguably taking up the secondary amount of focus for reasons that are immediately obvious as soon as you look at him. Voltkatze and Elephantus are mainly relegated to their main stereotypes (one builds things, the other is strong) and comic relief, while finally Alouette's story arc is the most prominent element of tragedy other than Dorothy's death at the very beginning. The setting is more than enough to get you invested in the cast,  and as the credits roll you'll be both happy and sad to see them leave. Sad because the show is over, but happy because they have all well and truly deserved this ending.

Yatterman Night doesn't just celebrate Yatterman and the Time Bokan franchise either, with many of the episodes also featuring references and homages to many other classic Tatsunoko properties. Some of them are particularly obvious, but most pay tribute to some of the more obscure shows they've produced over the years that perhaps wouldn't be able to foot a reboot of their very own. Much like the show itself it's the kind of tributes that can be enjoyed by newcomers and veterans alike. They're anything but intrusive, to the point where a lot of people probably wouldn't even know they're are homages without being told. However longtime Tatsunoko fans will no doubt have a smile on their face as a character each episode turns out to be a tribute of some sort, and hopefully upon learning about each of these homages will be enough to persuade newcomers to dive into their rather extensive anime library. And if that isn't enough, then surely the classic Yatterman footage that appears at the tail end of the show will do the job nicely.

A rather obvious reference
And not a Wachowski in sight

Whether you're a newcomer to Yatterman or a longtime fan, Yatterman Night is an incredible series that isn't gathering nearly as much attention or praise that it deserves. It's unfortunate that the final episode was plagued with production issues and unfinished animation, yet it still wasn't enough to dampen the wonderful characters and compelling story that had been created up until that point. With the wonders of blu-ray releases now able to go back and fix such issues, it's my hope that a visually complete Yatterman Night will help the series truly make its mark as something to be remembered. But ignoring the issues, it's still without a doubt one of the absolute gems of the 2015 winter anime season.

1 comment:

John Barten said...

Great review, man! I'll definitely check this out when I get the chance. :)