Remember when I said that Gatchaman Crowds was an annoying mess of a show? You probably acted like Hajime and turned me off during the many times I did, but now that I’m at a point in my life when I can watch and blog shows I don’t enjoy properly as long as they’re bad in an interesting way – along with the second season looming on the horizon – I decided to marathon the first season in preparation for when it comes…this summer? I hope it’s summer. Have you seen the upcoming Spring season? There’s too much stuff I want to check out as is.
But let’s stay on topic and talk about the actual show. Gatchaman Crowds is a reinterpretation of the 70s sentai show that I’m admittedly not familiar with, but that doesn’t really matter because Crowds has about as much connection with the old series as Duke Nukem Forever has to do with Duke Nukem 3D. In fact, this show is pretty much what Duke Nukem Forever should have been. Because just like 3D, the original Gatchaman is as much a product of its time as most 70s anime, and trying to air the same shit in this day and age is like slapping a sign on your product that says “you will forget my existence within two seconds of airing”. So for all of Kenji Nakamura’s fault, his decision to have the Gatchaman franchise exist in an “ironic” sense shouldn’t be one of the complaints directed towards him.
The story is centered on Hajime Ichinose, a cheerful girl who is always upbeat to the point that you could set her on fire and she’ll probably laugh it off whilst torturing you with optimism so painful that Boko Haram cowers in fear at the mere sight of it. Lovers of main characters who are humanly flawed will not take kindly to her, but for what it’s worth, the story does a nice job of making said optimism essential to the plot, although they could have picked less annoying voices in both languages to carry that out. After a run-in with a mysterious being who gives her a special notebook, she is inducted into a team of fashion rejects who are actually superheroes that protect the innocent from mysterious beings called MESS. But rather than follow their ways, she forces everyone to go along with her way of thinking, which draws the attention of two mysterious drag-queens: a social network developer named Rui and a shadowy being named Berg Katze. The parties meet, conflicts occur, and so on and so forth.
What keeps Crowds from turning into full-on Mary Sue fanfiction like a fair amount of this show’s detractors have claimed is that Hajime’s actions are ultimately a small part of what the show is actually about: the evolution of networking. She’s the driving force behind most of the actions true, but you’re not really supposed to agree with her actions so much as you’re supposed to consider the ideas behind the results, even if it can come off as pretty one-sided. Said method of storytelling only works if the actual ideas are worthy of consideration, but considering that you need to actually use the Internet to watch Crowds pre-Bluray release, I don’t see how you wouldn’t have an interest.
Not that said interest is enough to really make a product good. You need to actually do something with said interest other than dangle it front of your audience like they’re a dog tied to a tree with the leash superglued around their neck. And that’s where the whole superhero thing comes into play. Without really saying it, Hajime pretty much agrees with me in that the Gatchaman formula is outdated in today’s technological-ridden world and that sticking to said formula is basically dooming yourself to repetition until people get tired of you. They need to depend on more current trends that are constantly being updated, and if they do that, they might even end up finding a peaceful solution regarding their enemies. I’m not going to list examples because this isn’t the article for that, but let’s just say that I respect alternative methods to fighting as long as it leads to somewhere interesting.
Having said all that praise, I have to turn face here and admit that I don’t actually like Gatchaman Crowds, and considering its colorful aesthetics, dynamic direction, and thought-pondering issues, that’s a pretty harsh judgment for me to give. See, the thing with Crowds is that whilst it produced a unique combination of two seemingly unrelated elements, it fails to really elevate them much beyond their basic core principles.
In addition to not really bringing up the downside regarding technological evolution and all that, it doesn’t really say anything about technological evolution other than the fact that it exists, which is about as helpful to me as a bird feather jammed into my asshole. Nothing it says about online socialization is something anyone with basic knowledge of the field wouldn’t know, and whilst it’s kind of cute to see a fictional person deal with trolls by flat-out ignoring them, it’s little more than a mirror of what you should know how to do rather than a shocking discovery worthy of a $50,000 grant. And for all I said about how the technology side of things breathes life into the superhero genre, in the end, the story basically comes down to the good guys fighting the bad guys except with a huge crowd participating, which not only has been done before (Digimon: War Games and Summer Wars anyone?), but if you change “networking” to “wishes”, you’d get the ending to the Paper Mario games.
There’s a subplot in the anime regarding how superheroes deal with the public after their identities are exposed, but like the technology side of things, it’s too one-sided to be really effective and isn’t grounded into reality enough to make up for that. Nobody really suffers any negative repercussions aside from Paiman getting treated like a teddy bear at the center of a tug-of-war between kids, and at the end of the day, Hajime is always right and the public will support them no matter what. Everything else is too minor to really matter, and whilst Berg Katze is a flamboyantly cool guy, I have no idea what the fuck he contributes to the story apart from being the anime successor to Oogie Boogie.
But it’s not just shallowly explored themes that are this show’s problem. It’s a mess in terms of production as well. I dunno what happened behind-the-scenes, but dedicating half of your penultimate episodes to recap how awesome Hajime is is a bad move, no matter how you look at it. The animation can drop in quality at the most awkward of times and the final episode was rushed to the point that an entire conflict had to be cut and can only be seen in the Director’s Cut, which isn’t even available on Sentai’s release. Or at least I assume so, because I downloaded the dubbed files and Episode 13 was sub-only. I could check to make sure, but I’m just too much of a lazy bastard to do so. Whatever the case, hopefully the sequel is treated with more care, although considering the studio is Tatsunoko, I wouldn’t hold my breath too much.
In the end, Gatchaman Crowds’ main failing is that for all its supposed ambitions, it focuses too much on the present and not enough on the possible future and what we get is pretty much the same old thing wrapped in new packing paper. Even when you compare it to something like Kaiba, which also had great ideas mixed in with a typical overall story that kind of ended badly, it just falls short. It had the right idea, especially in regards to taking an old franchise in a new direction. But I don’t praise ideas. I praise results; especially when they result in me getting paid in money and blow.