Gatchaman Crowds (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 301 minutes approx.
If the name Gatchaman brings with a warm sense of nostalgia and possible excitement then I apologise for bursting your bubble so early on, but any similarities between the 1970’s classic – which was renamed Battle Of The Planets for international markets – and this 2013 iteration are fleeting at best.
Gone is the iconic spaceship Phoenix, the bird inspired superhero costumes and the intergalactic, sci-fi adventures, replaced with a reality based setting, relevant to modern times with a futuristic twist to it. The Gatchaman team are most certainly not as you remember them; the franchise has not so much been given an update but a complete overhaul.
The story is set in the “second metropolis” of Tokyo called Tachikawa, which is protected by the eponymous Gatchaman, a group with unique powers named NOTES, bestowed upon them by a large god like figure named J.J. Communicating via bespoke notebooks, the words “Bird, Go” triggers a transformation into a power suit controlled by their NOTE which reflects their personality and skills.
One surviving facet is the androgynous villain Berg Katze, sans cape and cowl. He/she/it is an alien with a plan of destruction and eyes a social networking system called GALAX to achieve this. Created by an idealistic schoolboy named Rui Ninomiya aka LOAD, GALAX is a system where select people known as the Hundred with specific skills could be summoned to a nearby situation and offer assistance with a virtual reality helper called a CROWD.
Rui – who dresses as a girl in public – is giving a NOTE of his own by Katze, which Rui refuses to use. Meanwhile Katze, using the ability to change bodies with people by kissing them, creates havoc to push Rui’s GALAX volunteers to the limit, then corrupts the GALAX system Katze to causes the CROWDS to run riot.
In the role of central protagonist is the infuriatingly upbeat and energetic Hajime Ichinose, a 16 year-old schoolgirl obsessed with notebooks, scissors and origami. She is chosen by J.J to be the newest Gatchaman and pairs her off with the serious Sugane Tachibana who believes he is a samurai. Naturally their personalities clash while Hajime fares little better with the rest of the G-Crew: Chain-smoking veteran Joe Hibiki, token homosexual OD, the quiet and scantily clad Utsu-tsu and their leader, a panda-like alien named Paiman.
How one takes to the permanently cheerful Hajime will be commensurate to one’s enjoyment of the show as she is excessively annoying with her high-pitched shouted dialogue and ceaseless disregard for all protocol and convention. Having been told not to speak directly to J.J, Hajime does just that; having told not to reveal herself as a Gatchaman, she does just that – you get the picture. A figure of childish wonder and blind ignorance, Hajime does however seem able to get results through her maverick approach, displaying a nascent perspicacity with her non-violent methods.
One her first mission with Sugane, Hajime refuses to kill the alien creature known as a MESS, instead she makes friends with it! This policy may not be adopted as G-Crew policy for all missions, but a level of understanding is reached among the others and the “shoot first, ask questions later” method is subject to a rethink as a result, proving to pay dividends in the long run when the MESS attacks stop. Equally serendipitous in its fortune is Hajime’s idea of no secrets and exposing herself to the world which initially earns her a scolding but when the big crisis arrives, it again has its merits.
Twelve episodes are barely sufficient to cover all of the central ideas and supply crucial background information, which sadly turns out to be the case. The first few chapters are all about Hajime’s initiation within the G-Crew organisation which is supposed to be a secret but she ignores this vital instruction. The penultimate episode is half a recap in which the rest of the crew reflect on the changes the newcomer brought to the team and the positive influence she had on each one personally.
A snifter of character development slowly reveals itself but we aren’t given much in the way of background for the other G-Crew members for us to fully appreciate these changes, a very remiss oversight for a team based concept. The main story with GALAX, Rui and Katze doesn’t begin in earnest until a few episodes later and there is something of a rush to bring it to a climax. This leaves with a hasty and unexplained ending that was expanded upon in a Director’s Cut of the final chapter, unfortunately not included in this set.
A heady concoction of madcap comedy, vibrant action scenes and cod-philosophy on the meaning of heroes and the importance of trust makes for a series which almost defies categorisation, dipping its toe into many waters. It’s bold, psychedelic veneer and cutesy character designs don’t lend themselves to a show with serious themes but they are present.
The animation and artwork are reminiscent of Tsuritama and Soul Eater, sharing the simplistic designs and garish colour palette while the power suits the G-Crew transform into are a cross between the virtual avatars of Accel World with a distinct Tiger & Bunny influence. The bird theme for the suits have been retained as has the famous “G” insignia but every else is a brand new design.
For their very first release, new distributor Animatsu are showing some moxie by going with Gatchaman Crowds, presumably hoping to appeal to older fans through the name, although it will mostly succeed with the younger, modern audience. Even with its quirks and esoteric presentation this is a fairly commercial title and should do well.
Overall this is a solid and fun series, but the story and ideas contained within deserves more than twelve episodes. The absence of the extended OVA however is an oversight leaving us with a somewhat dissatisfying ending.
English Language without Song & Sign Captions
Japanese Language with English Subtitles
Japanese Language with English Subtitles without Song & Sign Captions
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Ending Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black