Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ANIME REVIEW: Gatchaman Crowds

The Summer of Anime has just ended a couple of weeks ago. With that, it is time to take a look back at four shows that have piqued my interest. This is the first of a four-part, post-season review series, in which I share with you fellow geeks the ones you might might to consider watching while Fall set of shows is just starting.

Superheroes. This is a concept anime has toyed around for decades. From robots to special beings, to just oridinary humans with ridiculous costumes and fancy gadgets, they have always represented the ideas of justice, courage, and hope for humanity. We have looked up to them, and during our childhood we dreamed of becoming just like them, fighting monsters and world-threatening evil.

Nowadays, a different kind of heroism is popular, one that is more mundane and realistic. With the advent of social media, collaborations of humans from around the world are more apparent. While it's true that revolutions by the masses isn't a new concept, Facebook, Twitter, and various other sites have given us a much more powerful avenue to help others. Bypassing traditional media due to its more personal nature, we can initiate our small revolutions and help the world one small step at a time. Because of that, who need superheroes when we ourselves can become one, at the touch of our fingertips?

Well, Gatchaman Crowds takes these two ideas, puts them in a room, and see if they can actually get along or tear each other apart.

Title Screen

Gatchaman Crowds, by Tatsunoko Production, is a successor of sorts to their 1970s classic, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. I emphasize on "of sorts" because apart from the title, logo, some character names and the catchphrase (Go, Bird!), Crowds has nothing else that's similar to its predecessor. Running for 12 episodes, it deconstructs the superhero genre and combines it with the current issues in society.

Hajime Ichinose, hyperactive highschool student and lover of all things cute, is recruited by a mysterious being named J.J. to become a member of Gatchaman, a secret group of superheroes with members all across the galaxy. a little too idealistic for its cynical members, she immediately contests and questions the nature of the group, from its hiding from the public eye to it methods of simply taking down aliens without any attempt of understanding their purpose.

Besides the main protagonist, the other aspect Crowds revolves in is GALAX, which I could describe as a "Super Facebook." A powerful social media app, it allows its users, called Galaxters, to ask and find help from others near the vicinity, matching a person's skills that would suit the task. Whether it is helping a lady in labor on a train, to asking for legal advice, they all come in a form of a game, whereupon succeding give its user points that are displayed in the app, showcasing how much the world is "updated" from their actions. Its owner is a genius named Rui Ninomiya, a cross-dressing kid who got his powers from a mysterious source, allowing him to "weaponize" GALAX and make some of its chosen users temporary superheroes, called Crowds.

The main villain of this show is an alien named Berg-Katze, a being that revels in chaos and wants nothing more but to see a world go up in flames. He doesn't do it himself, though. He prefers influencing the hearts and minds of its citizens, turning them against each other until their planet implodes from its own destruction.

The two main characters in the anime are more like blown-up versions of an ideal, rather than actual people. Hajime and Berg-Katze represent two absolute sides of the same coin: humanity's light and darkness. It's not a bad thing however, as I think it helps drive the point of what the show is trying to say. Some may get annoyed at Hajime's overeagerness, and that's understandable. While I don't think there's a real person that could be as faithful to humanity as her even when everything is falling apart, that's fine with me. In fact, I believe she serves as a reminder that believing in the hearts of people isn't childish, no matter how this imperfect world implies.

The supporting characters help balance the cast, giving the show a middle ground from it viewers could actually see themselves as. Rui, as described earlier, is a more realistic version of humanity's innate good. She doesn't believe in superheroes, relying more on the heroism of the commonfolk (ironic in that her powers are definitely not normal).

The rest of the Gatchman squad, long-time veterans, serve the same role, albeit in varying degrees. Sugane, another high-schooler, believes in justice and order, following the rules set to a fault. As such, he butts heads with Hajime most of the time, finding her actions as delinquent. Joe, boring pencil pusher at day, chain-smoking badass at night, is an adult who continues his duty as Gatchaman, but finds it fruitless most of the time, having experienced "the real world." The rest of the group are aliens with personalities not that different from ours. Utsutsu is a gloomy little girl who an introvert and is afraid of her powers, O.D. is a mysterious, flamboyant gay man who finds Hajime endearing, and Paiman is (not, he insists,) a small panda, acting as a leader of Gatchaman, yet relies too much on the godlike J.J. for guidance.

The Main Cast (from lower cast going clockwise: Hajime, Paiman, Sugane, Joe, Rui, Berg-Katze, J.J., OD, and Utsutsu

Now that we got the characters' personalities out of the way, let's talk about their design. I think Tatsunoko did a great job in making each character look unique and interesting, a difficult task considering the medium used. While at first I was concerned about Hajime's design, particularly herum, "eagerness", as well Utsutsu's choice of clothing (or lack thereof), the anime didn't use them as blatant fanservice. Sure, they're there for everyone to see, but Tatsunoko made sure that there are more important things to look at, like their superhero forms. Contrary to the uniform style of the old Gatchaman, Crowds costumes reflects the characters themselves, making each look awesome and well, they are pretty damn cool. However, these powered-up forms are made in CG, which might put off some people who prefer traditional methods. To me however, this just made them much more appealing, with dazzling neon lights making them colorful and truly stand out, as superheroes should.

The songs are LSS-guaranteed. I could've just ended my thoughts on its soundtrack on that previous sentence, but I'll try to emphasize a bit more. The moment the protagonists get badass and you hear the words, "Gatchamaaaaan!", your head start bobbing right away, guaranteed. I can't remember the last time an insert song has been this catchy.

Other than that earworm, the opening and ending songs are pretty good as well. The OP, "Crowds," might just be a mishmash of random English words, but it's a mishmash of random English words with a good melody. The ED, "Innocent Note," is sung by Hajime's voice actress, Maaya Uchida, and here she displays her voice talents beyond being peppy and happy-go-lucky.

Speaking of voice talents, I have to give special mention of the man to voiced Berg-Katze: Miyano Mamoru. If I told you that he also voiced Light from Death Note and Hayato from Uta no Prince, you probably wouldn't believe me. His vocal range is spectacular, and his performance as the show's villain reinforces that. He truly made it sound that Berg-Katze was relishing every moment of destruction he creates, and his high-pitched, sometimes even musical-like, manner to talking is what made the character memorable.

Those who expected a lot of fights and explosions would be disappointed. Crowds focused more on the characters and the conflicts are most of the time tackled through dialogue. Personally, I actually found it better than just smashing things around. Their discussions about what's good and bad, humanity, and the power of social media are interesting to listen to and can provoke a few thoughts for the viewers. Even then, the pacing is snappy enough to grab someone's attention, making sure they glue their eyes and ears to every second of the show. Around the latter part, the action kicks in, rewarding those who stayed with the story some really cool scenes of badassery. One of the fight poses even resembled The Avengers movies, with the camera moving around our heroes as they get ready to kick even more butt.

However, there was one thing that unfortunately ruined my experience: the ending. In the anime industry, time constraints are commonplace, alongside budget. Sadly for Crowds, Tatsunoko didn't have enough time to give the show a satisfactory ending, cutting a whole half of an episode and replacing it with a recap. This resulted in a lot of plot threads hanging. To make it worse, the epilogue simply jumped ahead and showed the end product, without explanation. Though Tatsunoko promised that they we give the ending Crowds deserves on its Blu-ray release, it still left a bad taste in my mouth as I expected so much more after all the buildup.

Go, Bird!

Overall, I would still say that Gatchaman Crowds is one of the biggest suprises Summer Anime 2013 had to offer. What looked like just another superhero show turned out to be much more. It became a thorough look into heroism, technology, humanity and its nature, and modern society. Barring the ending, I highly recommended this show to anyone who is interested in watching something about people who not only fight monsters they see, but also those within.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10, for now. I will wait for the Blu-ray release to see if this holds up or gets a better rating.


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