Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Anime Review: Gatchaman Crowds

For confused readers, no there isn't a tv series/movie review this week since I just plain ran out of things to review, hopefully this won't be the case next week. And I had hoped with that I'd be able to get back on schedule but yesterday was my fourth day in a row of on and off headaches and I just wasn't able to finish this review in time, when you see the length of it you'll see why.

When the information about this show first started coming out earlier in the year I was uninterested, it was a spin-off of an older franchise (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman or Battle of the Planets) which I was wholly unfamiliar with (considering it's older than me by almost two decades) and that's fine. But then some information began to trickle down, it sounded as if this would be a completely unrelated show that a newcomer could watch and it was a sentai show with a female lead. Now, girl leading characters aren't uncommon in anime, they probably make up about a third to a half of all main characters, but outside of magical girl shows with heavy sentai influences (like Sailor Moon) I couldn't think of any with a female lead and that got me interested, even excited. And then I saw a bit more about what the show was like and went "yeah, this is going to end up being one of my favorite shows of the year isn't it?"

Gatchaman Crowds  

Summary: Hajime is a happy go lucky high school girl who doesn't even bat at eye at the fact that she was just chosen to protect the world from alien threats and given the power to transform into a Gatchaman. And it seems like she was chosen at just the right time, an old foe of the Gatchaman has reappeared, determined to make humanity self-destruct and Hajime has just the right outlook on life to deal with it.

The Good: Man oh man, where do we start. Well, as mentioned above, we have a female lead in a genre that usually doesn't, huzzah! There are a few problems with Hajime, noted below, but that's with Hajime herself, not because she's female* and in fact originally Sugane, a male character a year older but whose been a Gatchaman for five years, was supposed to be the lead which makes me curious what kind of show it originally was since without her it would have never done what it did. And what it did was pretty slick, I'm sure by now many nerds have seen a superhero show or movie where towards the end the main character goes "what's the point, why do we do this, why are we superheroes?" and if done early that because the raison d'etra of the story and if done late usually causes a breakdown (or breakup of a team) but then they rally again behind the motives they started with to save the day. Hajime questions this at the very beginning of the second episode, getting it out of the way earlier to focus on the show's real theme (communication) and the show comes to some interesting conclusions on the topic by the very end. Related to all of this is Hajime's foil, a young man named Rui who created a super intelligent artificial intelligence which he uses to run a social media site where users get points for doing good deeds in the real world (so Klout with real world clout). He was also given alien powers, the ability to make someone's soul manifest in the real world and can give the power to others but only does for a select few since, in contrast to Hajime's optimism and understanding, he fears what people do when left to their own devices. Oddly enough he's even the more idealistic of the two, hoping to "update" the world so that these carrots and rewards are no longer needed, and guess what, these two guys aren't ever enemies! Sure they do debate a bit but again, the main theme of this show is communication and you can't communicate if you're enemies. The show also proves that it understands social media better than any other thing I've seen in the media for years, it both acknowledges trolls and the power they have yet has unwavering faith that the majority of humanity is good that that is where we should place our trust (which is especially interesting given how most American superhero films as of late have focused on shielding people from themselves in a dark world, some have even pointed out that by comparison this makes American movies oddly Confucian and Crowds more idealistic and populist).

The Bad: I mentioned earlier there is a bit of trouble with Hajime the character, the problem is that she's less of a character and more a force of nature. She doesn't really undergo character development, is rarely wrong, without her the plot would have never moved the way it did, and you know what I'm okay with that. Part of it is that the show took a sterotype (the ditzy seeming female character, complete with a verbal tic) and made her both exactly what she seemed to be (a bit off the walls) yet also a deep thinker and it takes a while for both the audience and the characters to catch on not because she hides it but because she can be subtle when needed (plus we were both thinking of that old stereotype). And some people just won't like her because of the stereotype, I won't deny that she's a bit much at times but I have a tolerance for those things after trying out many moe shows over the years (heck at least she doesn't trip over invisible objects all the time). There is a problem with the last few episodes however; to remain spoiler free, the first half of episode 11 is a recap with the side characters all articulating how Hajime has helped them to grow and change, the second half is new material as is all of episode 12 and then the story seems to end without having tied up one major plot point and one more minor one. And after the credits scene seems to partially resolve one of those but yet, especially since the director did a huge public apology recently, the show has been rushed from the start, and there's a special event later in the month a number of fans are wondering if we didn't actually see the entire show. The show oddly enough had only 22 minute long episodes instead of 25 to start with, there were a couple of episodes earlier on where I felt like a scene was missing, and it was such an odd place for a recap I really do wonder if they scrambled to tell the best story they could in the time they had and then use that to delay to finish it up. If anything ever comes of this I'll edit this post, or I'll at least note if nothing else does happen, but the fact remains that one large thing gets tied up off-screen and a Chekov's gun appears to have never been fired, leading me to wonder if they were one and the same.   

The Production Values: As noted it appears this show was a bit rushed and there were parts where the art looked a bit sloppy (heck, I think there was an element missing from the first episode since it seems like the characters were looking at something which wasn't on my screen!), I expect it'll be a bit touched up for the BR/DVDs. I liked how the show used bright colors, like last year's tsuritama, and while I didn't notice it on my own I've seen a number of people blog about the composition and lighting of certain scenes and the inclusion of some modern art in the background as well (which, given that the title of each episode referred to a style of art, must be deliberate). As for the audio, I still adore the opening theme but was rather confused by the lyrics and made more confused after I found a fan translation, thought it worked very well, and then found out the lyrics were actually nonsense**. I also fell in love with the soundtrack, I went through it on youtube one day and loved how upbeat and fun the techno was, it perfectly matched the series and made me even more pumped to watch the next episode. But what I suspect most fans will remember even more is Mamoru Miyano's performance as the series villain Berg-Katze because of how over the top and hammy Katze usually was but also for how many other voices he had to do when Katze impersonates others. It certainly sounds like he had a rollicking time doing it, if Sentai Filmworks chooses to dub this show they'll have their work cut out for them to have someone be able to match the intensity and wildness of Miyano.

And so I quite happily give Crowds a 4 out of 5 for being wonderful fun yet showing that it both understands how the world works in many ways as is cheerfully optimistic that everything will work out if everyone pitches in by the end. It's wild, fun, tackles quite a few issues better than most shows do, and unfortunately for me has raised the bar on what I expect out of superhero shows now. Crowds, along with the original Gatchaman, has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks/Section 23 and is available for streaming on their website and on Crunchyroll.

*fun thing other fans noticed, the show also has a couple of characters who are the "contact characters" with the police, fire department, mayor, self-defense force, and civil servants. A lot of these are traditionally male roles but the SDF and police have female contacts and you could argue either way that the civil servants contact was Joe (a gatchman so he almost doesn't count) or his two female co-workers. While the show does still have more male characters than female in both main and supporting roles I get the impression that they did go out of their way to include female characters and the arguably flattest character in the entire show is male as well, that's all amazingly awesome.
** this is one of the many times I wish I was musical since I'd love to hear an English fan cover of the fan lyrics given how well they seem to fit the show, I can't remember the last time I heard an OP/ED that really was just nonsensical.

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