Saturday 3 October 2015

Anime REVIEW: Gatchaman Crowds insight

Gatchaman Crowds insight

When Tatsunoko Production announced back in 2013 that legendary anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman would be receiving a revitalisation, I don't think anyone quite expected the end result. Instead of a nostalgia-fueled series about bird-motifed heroes, Gatchaman Crowds was a very different kind of superhero story - vivid, insightful and with a very clear message. It wasn't without its faults (the main one being a terrible final episode only rectified by a "director's cut" version), but it quickly gained a firm fan following and arguably broke out of it's namesake's shadow. 2015 saw the series make it's grand return under the title of Gatchaman Crowds insight, bringing with it once again it's unique blend of aliens, superheroes and incredibly relevant political and social commentary.

The Gatchaman team
The gang's all back together

One year after the events of the previous series and the defeat of Berg Katze, the Gatchaman are continuing life as normal as the CROWDS system continues to further prosperity and bridge the gap between the the government and the populace. However a terrorist organisation known as VAPE has actively opposed the system, using red versions of the CROWDS avatars as part of their attacks. Following the quick arrest of their leader, the Gatchaman have a new mission as an alien being lands on Earth.

As the team head to the site of the landing, the meet a new team member in the form of the impulsive Tsusbasa Misudachi. Meanwhile the alien who has landed on Earth identifies himself as Gelsadra, and sets about bringing peace to Japan by uniting it's citizens as one. While Tsubasa is eager to help him on his quest, the rest of the Gatchaman seem a lot more divided on the situation. And what about it has Berg Katze so scared?

The Gatchaman suits
And still no toys of these. What is wrong with the world?

Just as the first season of Crowds opened with something of a red herring (the invasion of the MESS), insight follows a similar path as the threat of VAPE and Rizumu Suzuki is quickly quashed within the first few episodes to give way to the main story. Following a similar pattern for the second season might initially sound a bit lazy, but the repetition of the format actually works to the show's advantage as it's much easier to work out what the show is getting at this time around. While the situation with the MESS would have largely felt like a dropped plot point to new viewers, this time around it's easier to see that the early episodes are actually about planting an idea more than developing a sort of mini-arc. Suzuki is a character present throughout the show (although VAPE are quite easily to forget about), but what he does ultimately isn't all that important - it's what he stands for that's the focus. After Gatchaman Crowds almost ideally promoted the power of social media and all the good CROWDS could do, insight comes swooping in to tear things all down. These early episodes are about planting the idea that these might actually not be the best things for the populace to have, before the rest of the series goes on to outright show it.

Gelsadra & Tsubasa
The newbies

Similarly while the first season prompted many interesting ideas and points of view, when boiled down to its simplest aspects it was still about a group of heroes fighting against a central villain. This on the other hand is nowhere near as simple, with the villain being a concept rather than anything tangible. Tsubasa's incessant idealism is incredibly frustrating to watch and there may be times you wonder if there's anything more to Gelsadra's naivety to the whole situation, but ultimately both their hearts are in the right place for the entire thing (even if Gelsadra isn't quite thinking on a level suitable for planet Earth). Everyone that appears in insight is could technically be labelled as a villain at some stage of the story, and that includes the Gatchaman themselves. It's a series promoting the dangers of simply going with the flow and how severely the mass media can influence the populace, and while the themes themselves aren't exactly subtle there's still a lot of discussion to be had around them. It's story-telling like this that doesn't just make Gatchaman Crowds notable for being among the handful of "traditional" superhero anime around at the moment, it's also what sets it apart as some of the cleverest.

Managing to strike the perfect balance is also key to the success of Gatchaman Crowds insight. One of the biggest flaws with the first season was that the focus was squarely on two members of the cast (Hajime and Rui), with the largely filling the void in-between. It didn't feel like a team show, it felt like a show that just happened to include a team. While insight does plant a lot of focus on newcomers Tsubasa and Gelsadra, the rest of the team feel much more included this time around. A lot of what goes on is ultimately out of their hands (which is technically the whole point of the story anyway), but they all give decent input on the discussion and don't all necessarily agree on things either. Hajime plays a much more reserved role here too, retaining her boundless energy and enthusiasm but at the same time acting more as a mediator between the extremities of Rui and Tsubasa. She really is actually a pretty great character, it's just much better to realise that yourself and not having every character on the show try to tell you every episode for once.  Berg Katze has also found the perfect place as the snarky pessimist to Hajime's cheerful optimist, with Mamoru Miyano seemingly revelling in the role as he provides a bitter brand of comedy to the show.

Berg Katze's new home
How many shows can you think of where this counts as a legitimate character?

However the balance doesn't just come from characterisation and development, it also comes from how well implemented the superhero aspect of the show is. Once again anyone who is specifically looking for a conventional superhero show is going to be bitterly disappointed here, but insight carefully places its action sequences at key points to ensure that they're never truly forgotten about.

By ironing out the kinks of its predecessor as well as boosting the aspects that made it a fan favourite in the first place, Gatchaman Crowds insight has really gone and defied expectations. Exhilarating, compelling and most of all insightful, the series covers some really impressive ground in such a sport space of time without needing to later rely on a "directors' cut" OVA to piece it all together. With thing having got as good as this, season three feels like it should only be a matter of time.

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