Saturday 28 September 2013

Anime REVIEW: Gatchaman Crowds

Gatchaman Crowds

Although it hasn't been in a public eye for a good while, Ninja Science Team Gatchaman is an anime icon. 70s/80s cartoon fans might know it better by the names Battle of the Planets or G-Force, but the sci-fi Sentai style show reached worldwide fame under whatever name it was using. 2013 proved to be the year of a Gatchaman review, with a live-action film remake of the original series and a brand new anime series that went by the name of Gatchaman Crowds. With the film not doing quite as well as people hoped at the Japanese box office (I still can't wait to see it though!), does this 13-episode series deliver to bring the world of Gatchaman back into the public eye?

Gatchaman Crowds Hajime Ichinose
You're gonna love her or hate her.

Our story is set in the city of Tachikawa, Japan in the year 2015. The world has become enthralled with a new social media app named GALAX, which rewards its users with points for various "missions" they complete. Eternally cheery high-school girl Hajime Ichniose is one day inducted into a group of superheroes known as the Gatchaman, who defend the city from attacks from alien entities known as MESS. Completing the team is schoolboy swordsman Sugane, the gloomy Utsutsu, effeminate OD, gruff and silent Jou and their panda-like alien leader Paiman.

When Hajime wraps up the issue of the MESS by going against the team's wishes and simply befriending them, the Gatchaman are faced with a new threat. The destructive alien Berg Katze has arrived on Earth to turn humanity against each other, and uses GALAX creator Rui Ninomiya as a means of doing so. Rui plans to use GALAX to make the world a better place, given a chosen hundred the power of CROWDS - an ability that manifests their will into a physical form. But not everyone shares the same ideals for the world as Rui, and as it stands CROWDS could prove integral to the world's downfall.

Gatchaman Crowds Rui Ninomiya
I assure you Rui is a guy, even if he does make a pretty girl

Before even beginning to discuss the positives and negatives of this series on its own merits, anyone planning to watch this show hoping it to be a real successor to the original Ninja Science Team Gatchaman is going to be sorely disappointed. The only real similarities going on here is the presence of superheroes, aliens and the names "Gatchaman" and "Berg Katze" - all things point to this being a completely separate universe aiming to tell its own story. With that in mind, Gatchaman Crowds isn't really much of a superhero series either. Sure there are some flashy costumes and some action sequences sprinkled here and there, but the heart of this show is a sci-fi style tale about the power social media can hold. While the series promoted itself on the battle against the MESS, this is resolved and never brought up again in about three episodes so that the story can move into its REAL direction. The use of such a red herring is certainly clever, but there are so many questions left unanswered about the MESS and nobody ever brings it up again aside from a very random 5 second cameo in the final episode.

Gatchaman Crowds Berg Katze
Meanwhile Katze is just fabulous

The viewer's enjoyment of the show is also going to highly depend on how you react toward the lead character. Hajime may be clever, optimistic and played up to be the greatest of the Gatchaman (in terms of seeing the best in everyone and thinking outside the box anyway) but make no mistake, the writers have purposely intended to make her as annoying as possible. You may not feel that way, but when almost every character in the show sees her the same way it's hard to not feel its intentional. If you're favourite character is any of the other Gatchaman, you might as well give up on the hope of them having any sort of real development (other than coming to like Hajime) because they're all background characters. Arguably the best character in the show is Rui, who is central to the story making it just as much about him as the Gatchaman. Though his backstory is a lot lighter than perhaps it should be, he's the one character that constantly develops throughout and if anything, the show's best asset. And while he may not be the same as his classic series namesake, Berg Katze proves to be a fantastic villain. Though campy and childlike, Berg Katze's twisted outlook on things, chaotic nature and insistence on making humans destroy themselves make him all the more twisted. He rarely gets his own hands dirty, but when he does it shows that he's more than capable if he wanted to.

Gatchaman Crowds GALAX
GALAX: Like Habbo Hotel is it were actually good

It may get off to a slow and rather tangential start, but when Gatchaman Crowds gets going to proves to be a pretty enjoyable series. Unless your name is Hajime and Rui you're doomed to poor characterisation, but it presents some interesting questions about the good and bad things complex social media can do and what makes someone a hero. Which makes it all the sadder that the series ends on such a dour note. It spends so much time building things up, that when it comes to the big climax everything feels rather rushed. The team don't get together to fight until the end of episode 10, which is also the first time we see Utsutsu's Gatchaman form. OD doesn't reveal his until the final episode, and despite dropping huge hints that it's going to be something special it's onscreen for all of about five minutes probably. The final episode skips over quite a lot of details and leaves things wide open, so unless the writers have another season in mind it's a very unsatisfying conclusion.

Gatchaman Crowds CROWDS
Internets gone crazy

To conclude, Gatchaman Crowds is a very mixed series in terms of content. What it does well it does very well and what it does bad it does pretty damn badly at. It almost feels like watching two different series at once sometimes. The whole social media message is well played out but the superhero side of things is stale, limited and dull (which could be part of the point, but doesn't make it any less boring to watch). With such fantastic costume designs its strange they don't spend much time around because they were almost born to become a toy line (S.H. Figuarts comes to mind). It might not be the Gatchaman sequel many hoped for, but Crowds has enough going for it to spark interest among the more curious of anime fans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Arguably, you can say that the show is about the Gatchaman, or to be specific the core character caught between the Hajime-Berg Katze struggle is a certain Gatchaman.

Gatchaman Crowds. There is certain Gatchaman with Crowds as power even if he never quite spread his wings, he's got a Gatcha Note and he's part of the team. No other than Rui.