This month sees the release of Gatchaman Crowds, brought to the UK by fledgling anime distributor Animatsu (a company established by some former Manga Entertainment bigwigs.) The name Gatchaman may sound familiar to veteran viewers of Japanese animation, as it originates from a classic Tatsunoko Productions cartoon that was rebranded for western audiences under the guise Battle of the Planets. Anyone expecting a faithful remake of vintage Gatchaman should however temper their expectations. Aside from some token similarities (the name of the main antagonist and a story featuring an avian themed superhero team) the seventies Gatchaman and this 2013 successor are radically different beasts.
Gatchaman Crowds commences with high schooler Hajime Ichinose, a hyper active collector of notepads and scissors, getting inducted into the titular superhero team. The Gatchaman crew are a clandestine group of Iron Man wannabes who use their powers to protect Earth from rogue extra terrestrials. Well that’s the idea anyway; Hajime herself would rather resolve disputes with diplomacy rather than dishing out justice with her fists. One scene that illustrates her optimistic nature has the heroine almost getting flattened by an out of control automobile. Rather than lambast the loon behind the wheel she begins to speculate why the driver is breaking the speed limit. Perhaps the car’s occupant is dashing to the hospital as his wife is in labour?
Hajime isn’t the sole oddball in the Gatchaman roster however. Her colleagues include an alien named Paiman (who resembles a diminutive panda) a flamboyant gay chap called OD and Joe Hibiki – an unassuming office worker who transforms into a badass heavy smoker upon the cessation of regular business hours. The Gatchamen also include two students who attend Hajime’s school. Sugane Tachibana fancies himself as a modern day Samurai, although his doggedness for adhering to protocol can hamper his ability to save the day. Utsutsu is a freshman that possesses the ability to heal others in addition to cloning herself. She’s sure to appeal to the demographic that love softly spoken little girls – her aversion for wearing garments will undoubtedly augment her jailbait allure even further.
The show’s plot revolves around the Gatchamen squaring off against a crimson haired villain named Berg Katse. The epicene baddie can mimic the appearance of anyone he locks lips with – a skill he uses to frame innocents and cause civil disorder. Berg is affiliated with a tech savvy cross dresser who answers to the name Rui Ninomiya. Rui is the creator of GALAX – a popular mobile app that encourages users to aid those in need (be it by attending to traffic accident victims or warning school children of expired milk being sold at their academy.) Rui’s software is intended to better society (or upgrade the world as he puts it) but with the malevolent Berg pulling his strings there is a danger that his good intentions may go sour (and no I am not talking about the previously mentioned high school dairy products.)
My rating for Gatchaman Crowds is three and a half stars. I enjoyed the show enough to marathon it in a couple of sittings, but a number of flaws prevent me from awarding it a higher score. Firstly, for a superhero adventure, I was a tad disappointed by the lack of action on offer. Most of the fighting is reserved for the tail end of the story, were the Gatchamen tussle with hordes of easily dispatched enemies. When the heroes do decide to dispense justice I discovered that their power armour is rendered in CG. I got a very Tiger & Bunny vibe from the action sequences, which isn’t a good thing as I personally find 2D characters mixed with three-dimensional avatars to be a little jarring.
I think Gatchaman Crowds would have gotten a more generous score from yours truly had it ended stronger. The finale was a little too cheesy and chaotic for my tastes. I was especially displeased when I learned that a good chunk of episode eleven is nothing more than a clip show. Regardless of how poor my attention span is a recap of past events is unnecessary for a series that only runs for a dozen episodes. That screen-time would have been better utilized in fleshing out the plot, especially as episode twelve ends on a bit of a head scratcher. Thankfully a director’s cut OVA has subsequently been released which ties up the original ending’s loose threads.
Overall, despite a few blemishes, I can recommend Gatchaman Crowds – although I fear that fans of the original series will be unwilling to accept this iteration’s very different style of storytelling. If you approach the series with an open mind you’ll be rewarded with an anime boasting a quirky cast of characters and a script that comments on how social networking could be used to combat the darker aspects of human nature. A second season is apparently in the works, which should prove to be interesting. I’m hoping season two’s antagonist is devious enough to exploit Hajime’s bubbly optimism. However heart warming it is, I doubt that her hippie like naiveté would go unpunished if Hajime were a hero based in the darker Marvel or DC universes.