We Can Be Heroes
Holy shit. I have no clue how to start or conclude this post going in, because finding words to describe what I think of a series as a whole have not been this hard in a good while. But I’ll try my best to explain to you why Gatchaman CROWDS is my show of the season and I’ll do it completely spoiler free. Trust me, that’s a tricky thing to do as well.
I don’t have much prior exposure to the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, or Battle of the Planets as it was first localized as. Mostly because of the fact that the show never really got that large in Sweden, we stuck to shows like Starzinger and Cobra for our anime-entertainment back in those days. Even if it had ended up popular here, chances are it would have passed me by either way as I’m a bit too young to have been watching it as a kid on the TV. Because of this I ended up reading up a bit on the original as my interest with CROWDS grew larger.
Not that that’s something you have to do, not only is CROWDS far more stand-alone than initial expectations might suggest, it’s also in many ways a separate entity from any other sentai show ever made.
The premise of the Gatchaman series is pretty simple. They’re a team of super-heroes that fight threats from space, the original series very much help define the genre together with Casshern, both being Tatsunoko properties. While CROWDS doesn’t abandon this premise, it does play around with it. To begin with, CROWDS is not a action show by any stretch of the word. If you’re going into CROWDS expecting action and a lot of people dressed like superheroes doing superhero activities, you’ll be disappointed. That’s not what CROWDS is about, CROWDS is all about people.
Specifically, it’s about two characters in the show. The first character is Hajime Ichinose, a upbeat high-school girl who enjoys all things that can be found creative. She’s unlike most main characters of the genre, or medium as a whole, partially because she’s a fully fleshed out and personality driven character from the start. She doesn’t fall into any of the normal holes that female main-characters tend to fall into, which means a lot of cliches and normally forced subplots are left out. Don’t get me wrong, Hajime does grow as a character throughout the show, but the show is not about her growth, it’s about what her status quo does to the rest of the world around her. Anything else is just a added bonus.
Just mentioning the second character of importance is technically running into spoilers. There’s nothing I can say about him or her that should be known when going into this series. But if you’re someone who has seen the show and is reading this not for recommendation but comparison, I think we both know who I’m talking about. The character is a phenomenal portrayal of a often laughed at and ridiculed group of individuals, and I certainly intend on expanding that though into a more personal and spoiler-filled article at some point in the near future.
During the first episode, we get the set-up that Hajime will become a Gatchaman and join the G-Team to fight a alien threat called MESS. We’re informed that each G-Team member have a notebook, simply called a NOTE, that is their soul in a physical shape. Everyone’s NOTE is different, but allows them to transform into their suits and take on the menace at hand. The other members of the team include Sugane and Jou who are human, like Hajime, as well as three alien beings of different species, OD, Utsutsu and Paipai. All guided by the mysterious JJ.
There are three apparent themes throughout the show. Coexistence, independence and femininity. CROWDS deals with the concept of different viewpoints and solutions. Without going into detail, two opposing views on how something should be resolved will constantly be brought up, and rarely is one the simple answer, it’s almost always a question of balance and coexistence. Specifically when it comes to the topic of social-media of which I think CROWDS makes great commentary on. But saying anything more than that would be spoiling it.
On the topic of independence, CROWDS makes a constant effort to enforce the idea that a person should be able to do as they please without having to please a higher power. Be it through criticism of social norms or the power of the government. Hajime is presented as a person who acts on her own will in any situation and her influence is strong and important. It also links up well with the themes of femininity.
In a interview with NewType, director Kenji Nakamura stated that when writing CROWDS he argued that “From now on, won’t the ones improving society be women?”, and that was why the role of the main character was rewritten from Sugane who is a more typical male sentai protagonist in his first appearance to Hajime. She’s meant to be a personification of the heroes the world needs today. A feminist statement for certain, and a pleasing one in my humble opinion. But the theme doesn’t end with the creation of Hajime, its impact on the characters, story and even the tone of the show is visible throughout the series run.
Most things in the show are based on ideas considered “girly” by some. From Hajime’s weapon being a giant pair of scissors because of her love of scrapbooking to the slow-paced and action-less style of the show. But it’s never done in the sense of poking fun at it or to show it inferior to anything else. Instead, it’s empowering a feminine side for everyone in the show, male or female, and comes off as really charming because of it. The fact that there’s a lack of any sexual titillation helps as well, in fact, the only time you see a girl unnecessarily showing skin is when Utsutsu is around, and that’s because she’s an alien who isn’t meant to share the same values of modesty as us and is in fact rather shy as a person.
Moving on to the more technical aspects of the show, CROWDS is a gorgeous show in terms of art-direction. The style is vibrant and fun to look at and never manages to feel stale as a result. With that said, all the armored suits that the G-Team wears are done in CG, which does look off in many cases. Especially in the earlier episodes where it actually looks pretty bad at times. But since the suits are essentially only used in action scenes (did I mention this is not a action show yet?) they’re few and far between as a result.
I could go on and discuss how the show deals with the value of friendship, offering a helping hand or even the topic of a person’s own sexuality, but I think I’ve gone on for a good enough while on themes at this point. Just know that few shows of this genre dares to go as deep with its writing as CROWDS does, and that’s something I’m ever thankful for. I mentioned it early on, this is not a action show, it’s a show about characters and what they can do for the world and themselves.
The voice acting is superb. Everybody’s voices stand out and fit the character being portrayed perfectly. Maaya Ushida who plays Hajime is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses after hearing her in CROWDS as well as plenty other shows this year. But the true vocal master here is Mamoru Miyano who portrays a character that was revealed prior to the show’s airing, yet I don’t want to mention who he plays because if there’s any chance you walk in not knowing who he portrays, you’re better off that way.
The soundtrack by Iwasaki Taku is my favorite soundtrack of the season. It’s exciting, unique and original. There’s plenty of great tracks, “Firebird” and “Gotchaman~In the name of love” being my two favorites. The opening theme “Crowds” by WHITE ASH is also my favorite opening theme of the season, it’s really cool sounding and the english-japanese-gibberish lyrics are interesting to try and understand. The ending theme, “INNOCENT NOTE” performed by Maaya Ushida, is not as good as “Crowds” but it’s still really good.
The pacing of CROWDS remains strong for the most part, but does make a decision in the last two episodes that will sour some people’s opinion of the show. It’s best you know, going in, that the first half of episode eleven is a recap of the events so far. Many people argue that the show should have skipped the recap and focused those ten minutes on the events that went on in those two episodes. I honestly disagree with this, but going into why would be directly detailing ending spoilers, but let it be known that I really did love the ending and its execution.
I love Gatchaman CROWDS, I really really do. But if you’re even remotely interested, do not go in expecting a action-packed sentai show and do not go in just because of the Gatchaman name. Go in because you want to watch, in my opinion, the smartest and most clever story put together in anime this year so far. The themes are meaningful and the execution is solid. I could not recommend it more.
Series Rating: 5/5 – Soaring High.
Sentai Filmworks have licensed the Full Series for US distribution in 2014
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