Sunday, November 8, 2015

Anime Review: Gatchman Crowds Insight

I, like everyone else, was surprised when I heard that were was going to be a sequel to the 2013 incarnation of Gatchaman since it seemed like the series had tied itself up quite nicely. However, after having seen this sequel it's a must see, that story wasn't complete before which I suppose makes this the best sequel ever in a sense.

But first things first, if you have seen Crowds but not the director's cut of episode 12 you need to see that. Given the half recap episode in the tv run they had to re-edit episode 12 on the DVDs (Japan only, Sentai could not get the license in the US) which includes how Hajime finally defeated Berg Katze and a few other key details. Next, make sure to watch episode 0 on Crunchyroll before going onto episode 1 since it has new stuff as well. And then you're all set for what may be the most decisive anime of 2015!

Gatchaman Crowds Insight

For a long time, Japan was protected by the Gatchaman who worked in the shadows to keep alien threats at bay and society happily unaware of some of their closer calls. But that's in the past now, now all of Japan eagerly follows the Gatchaman exploits on their phones and more, meaning that no matter what the characters do they have an entire crowd following them as well.

To begin, while I love the characters in the show I tend to view them, as well as the story itself, more as symbols/metaphors than a literal "this is a superhero show." What's the difference? Well when other people complain about characters, namely Hajime, not feeling like a real character or that she isn't fleshed out enough my thought is "well, but she's more of an idea than a character so isn't that the point?" It's impossible to know if the creators share my interpretation as well but given how Hajime is rather different from the other characters, plus the first season's heavy naming/visual references to modern art and this season's heavy naming/action references to marketing it really does feel like the story is operating on multiple levels. So that's one common complaint about the show that I don't have, to me it feels like going into an Ikuhara show where sure you can (and should) enjoy the surface plot but to really understand parts of it you need to look behind the curtain and see how the themes reaches back out into the new world.

I also didn't share another widespread complaint about the first season that it ended a bit too optimistically, by saying "we can give humans great power and not expect them to abuse it" since I actually thought the show was rather cynical! The first season has Rui worrying about how to figure out if people can be trusted with the power of Crowds, watching it backfire, and then deciding that if they apply the same gamification strategy then they can force people to use it mostly for good, saying "we can only expect people to consistently do good if they always expect rewards" is not very optimistic if you ask me! This new season seems to agree with everyone else however and presents the opposite conflict saying "well what if you just get trolls in your system and they can't be reasoned with, can't be outlasted, and do harm beyond just your network, what then?" Then the story goes beyond that and says that while people can be very smart, people can also be very dumb; not just in the "individuals are smart and groups are dumb" way but in the "small ignorances create large, unaware groups" which some people are saying is too jaded now which I once again think is a bit of an extreme view since once again I rather agree with the show!

But it takes a little while for the show to get there so to back-up, some time has passed and the Gatchman are doing very superhero-like things including getting a new member in the form of teenaged girl Tsubasa. Tsubasa is the viewpoint character we never had in the first season, less genki than Hajime but still upbeat and already has her own clear idea of justice, she's like a non-cynical Jou or a more active version of Sugane. The problem is though, she really does know less about the world than she realizes and when she comes face to face with it she bristles. She laments how the world is more complicated now [since the Gatchman "arrived"] while we as viewers know that no, it was always complicated. The Gatchman were fighting in secret and while Crowds didn't exist, that "simpler", less connected existence some people lived made their lives more complicated, not less. I'll admit I am very pro-technological integration in people's lives ("just because we've always had problems doesn't mean we have to always live with them") which plays a role here but Tusbasa seems like a very clear representation of the (often young) person who thinks that they are interacting with their world and doing their part when they honestly don't actually understand it, especially when it comes to politics.

Since you see, Insight is actually a show about politics.

Tsubasa isn't our only new character, we are simultaneously introduced to the very alien Gelsadara who has the unique power of being able to manifest people's states of mood visually and then absorb them all to learn what the mean emotion of a situation is. As Pai-pai explains, Gelsadara is a savior, here to help the world and, one thing leading to another, ends up turning Japan from a representative democracy into a direct democracy  with smartphone voting on every topic (also may have abolished the voting age given the number of teens we see voting). This is one of those elements which works really well you look at it as more representation of our own society, since of course voting an alien into office is ridiculous. Equally ridiculous is that the three current front-runners in for the 2016 (American) Republican primaries are three folks without any political experience and the polls saying that this actually makes them more attractive to some voters.

You see, Insight may be a little mean-spirited by arguing that people make dumb choices but the kinds of dumb choices we see people making in the show are ones you wouldn't have any trouble finding a real world example for. Less biting is how the show also demonstrates how people become more apathetic about civil involvement (in voting) once they realize just how much there is to vote on. I've long had a theory that the reason why "mid-term" elections in the US are less widely attended is because of this feeling of being overwhelmed, something that Tsubasa voices accidentally. While Crowds was about making the world better (updating it), Insight reminds us that not necessarily everything needs to be changed, and the dangers of being caught up by the group-held allure of change vs deciding on your own to change something.

"Well okay, but in real life not everyone would go along with this and let it get as bad as it does in Insight!" While I honestly can't debate how things would play out exactly in real life (especially given various social experiments about people being given power over others etc over the years), the show does address this idea as well! After Gelsadra accidentally introduces the "tangible atmosphere" of the Kuu-samas we see more dissent about how things have changed and then it's quickly swallowed up, literally. I can say, confidently, that under the most brutal of regimes that you do see opposition eliminated quickly and how that makes people who are wavering much more cautious, which is exactly the situation here. The people who don't see any problems become even more smug in their thinking, like a group of doxxers and harassers, or like Tsubasa, take this as a sign that it is truly working. Tsubasa wouldn't say "[if everyone isn't united] I'll try harder until everyone is!" unless she honestly believed that this was an effective method and she has the results in front of her.

To talk about the actual characters in the show, like the first season there were a few characters (the same ones even, Pai-pai, OD, and Utsutsu) who never had quite enough screen time and I also felt like Sugane was missing just one more scene to really flesh out how he's changed between seasons (his mini-speech on "but following the flow is nice because hanging out with friends is nice" was good and, in my opinion, the show's way of signaling that you don't always have to go against the flow to be smart which is important). I do think the show stumbled a bit by trying to focus on so many characters this time around, in some ways Jou's storyline may have faired the best out of everyone's since it was both simple and continued without pause from the first season. He's a very jaded, cynical hero but where many people would push his character into outright villainy he always toes the line. He has morales and while he will bend them he won't break them, although I was also cracking up at realizing the voice actor also did Leon in Garo who is another very cynical, heroic figure with morales.

I think part of the reason why the show stumbled a little bit was because it simply had a bigger cast this time around. It's not immediately obvious but there are three new major characters (Tsubasa, Gelsadara, and Rizumi), daytime talk show host Millione gets a lot of focus as well, and when you add Hajime and Rui back in it's a tight fit for 12 episodes! The show pulls a lot of things off by showing off how many of the characters are parallels or mirrors for each other, Rizumi feels a lot like both Berg Katze and Rui from the first season (with debates on how power should be used and a troll-like tendency to prove a point about the worst of humanity) and Tsubasa and Hajime both have similar struggles to Rui (Tsubasa's "if people don't work together I'll just try harder until they do!" feels like a less guided version of Rui's "if I try harder I can figure out a way to make people work together" and Hajime copies both herself and Rui's past struggles in the finale*).  It did seem like Rizumi's storyline lacked a resolution (although I'd also argue that his motivations, to basically be a troll, would be hard to wrap up in any fashion) and parts of Rui's story seemed to be missing as well, the show just didn't have the time to focus on them when there were more active plots moving in the middle part of the show. 

In essence, for every complaint I've see about the show I feel as if the show did address it at some point, either directly or indirectly. I've see a few people sum up the two seasons as "Crowds shows us the great things we get from working together and Insight reminds us to take care of yourself too" I'm already planning on revisiting this show for the 12 Days of Anime since there's so much else to say (like how the show is really positive on gender-fluid characters, it seems like a no brainer but I don't see anyone talking about it in the ways that I've noticed). Honestly this would have been an interesting show to blog about week to week but I feel like most of my best "thoughts" on the show were in the comments reacting to other people's interpretations, I've tried to bring all of them back into this post but the show simply says too much that it's impossible to include them all and still sound coherent. And I also recommend that folks check out Nick's reviews on the show at ANN and Emily's posts on how Insight has a lot to do with marketing and other, high-minded ideas that I don't feel that I really conveyed here. It was a fantastic ride and I'm glad that we have it.

*I do understand the complaints surrounding Hajime in the last two episodes and, while I'll agree that this finale and the finale to the first season (director's cut) were a bit too similar, I'm not as annoyed as I would be since I had been expecting an outcome like this since the second season was announced (so you could say it was very in character for Hajime!)

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