ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 28th June 2015, by David West

Gatchaman Crowds

Hajime Ichinose is a ditzy teenager who loves making collages and collecting personal organisers, but when the mysterious Lord JJ gives her a very special personal organiser called a NOTE, she gains the power to transform into a Gatchaman. These armoured superheroes fight a secret battle against aliens called MESS who have been abducting citizens from the city of Tachikawa. But can a blabbermouth like Hajime keep her new secret identity hidden?

The first point to accept about Gatchaman Crowds is that it bears little relation to the original 1970s Gatchaman series (re-edited as Battle Of The Planets in the west). Tatsuo Yoshida’s classic anime put a very Japanese spin on the American superhero genre, concerning five teenagers in bird-themed costumes fighting against the evil Galactor organisation and its leader, the androgynous Lord Berg Katse. What remains from that is the Gatchaman emblem, the use of the phrase ‘Bird, go!’ when the characters transform into their superhero guises, and the villain’s name. Other than that, this is a whole new concept, albeit not a fully developed one. There are so many unanswered questions and apparently random changes in direction, that Gatchaman Crowds can feel like it was thrown together. The opening plotline introduces the MESS aliens as the antagonists of the show, but then (mild spoiler alert), it turns out they’re more benign than they appear – although the abductions are never explained – and then they are never mentioned again. Instead the plot shifts to focus on another alien, a grinning lunatic called Berg Katse who looks a bit like The Joker and who enjoys carrying out random murders, framing innocent humans in the process, whilst plotting to bring the world into total chaos. Alongside that, a parallel story strand deals with Rui Ninomiya, a teenage computer whiz who has developed a social media platform called GALAX that can give users the power of CROWDS, allowing them to use powerful avatars in the real world. And, for reasons unknown, Rui is a gothic lolita transvestite.

So there’s a lot going on here, but what there is not an awful lot of is actual superheroics. Hajime and the rest of the Gatchaman team spend very little time in their armoured hero forms, and are much too passive by the standard of American superheroes. In one ridiculous moment, the Gatchaman Sugane watches Berg Katse commit a particularly brutal assault without stepping in because he’s waiting for orders from headquarters. In those situations, Sugane, always remember WWBD – What Would Batman Do? Answer – he’d kick all kinds of bad guy butt and save the victim, not stand around wringing his hands and hiding behind a lamppost.

The Gatchaman team are a mixed bunch. The aforementioned Sugane is an uptight teen who does everything by the book and never questions authority. Jou has perhaps the most interesting personality – by day, he’s a buttoned-down civil servant, but after work, he adopts a chain-smoking tough guy persona. He seems to savour being a hero more than the rest of the team and loves a good fight – as long as he’s winning. The melancholy Utsutsu provides the show’s resident lolicon fanservice idol, prone to wandering around in her skimpiest underwear. OD is a camp, flamboyant gay man (why is it the only anime and manga to portray gay men as anything other than these camp stereotypes are the shonen-ai series?) and lastly, Paiman is an alien who looks like a tiny panda. His role is to provide the comic relief.

While the Gatchaman team still say ‘Bird, go!’ when they transform, their armoured forms don’t have the strong avian motifs of the heroes of the original show. Paiman’s armoured form even has wheels, which isn’t very birdlike. That criticism aside, Gatchaman Crowds is an eye-catching show – the armoured heroes are colourful and dynamic in design, while their HQ is a trippy, psychedelic playground and a veritable triumph of form over function. The music is good, particularly the cheesy, retro Gatchaman refrain that sounds whenever the team jumps into action. The animation is decent, although fully half of episode 11 is composed of clips from the previous instalments, suggesting that either the budget was running out, or that the script was too short for the full 12 episode running time.

On the writing front, the whole conceit cries out for more details in both characters and world building. Where do Lord JJ, Paiman and Berg Katse all come from? Why are they on Earth? How does the CROWDS technology work? Too many plot points are explained away using the excuse that it’s alien tech. Luckily, the plotline concerning Rui and the GALAX network allows the series to look at the impact of social media and its potential for both benefit and harm – an interesting and timely topic. At the mundane end of the spectrum, one early episode sees GALAX users team up to deal with a crisis involving curdled milk. Fortunately, as events unfold the stakes do become higher and more interesting than dairy products that are past their best.

Action scenes can be surprisingly violent, especially when the psychotic Berg Katse is involved, and the intensity and bloodiness of some of these sequences contrasts with the otherwise silly, light hearted tone. If anything, the series is wanting on the action front, and in the grand finale, the Gatchaman squad is left sitting on the sidelines while the world is being saved. Remember, team Gatchaman – when it comes to being heroes: What Would Batman Do?

Gatchaman Crowds has so little in common with the ‘70s classic that the best way to enjoy the show is to push all such comparisons to one side. The lurching changes in plot direction are clumsy and the world-building needs more rigour, but it’s easily enjoyed as a brightly coloured sci-fi adventure. Shame there’s no God Phoenix though.
SCORE: 3/5
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