Gatchaman Crowds

Rating: 4

The name Gatchaman has been around for quite a while: it was 1972 when, for the first time, the five bird-inspired heroes of the Science Ninja Team appeared on Japan's televisions to fight the evil Galactor and their leader, Berg Katze. The set-up was quite standard: an international organisation backing them, a lone scientist leading them and providing their machines and weapons, the common 5-people formation (leader boy, good-looking boy, fat boy, little kid, girl), evil antagonist with faceless minions. It was a very successful series, running for 105 weekly episodes, followed by a movie and a two more series of 52 and 48 episodes. (By the way, if you only know the Gatchaman via one of the American rewrites, either "Battle of the Planets" or "G-Force", you haven't seen Gatchaman).

I was, therefore, not really surprised when I saw it was getting the reboot / remake treatment: we've had Yattaman, Casshern, Yamato, Harlock, Cyborg 009; it was obviously just a matter of time.

What did surprise me, however, is that Crowds has essentially no relation to the original Gatchaman: there's some bird imagery, they transform by saying "Bird, Go!", the main antagonist is called Berg Katze… and that's it. It's a new story, and it's the best thing that could happen to the Gatchaman.

Let's face it: the team-of-five felt forced and dated in the '90s, and there's only so many times you can see the God Phoenix rammed into some giant mecha before you can't stand it anymore. And even if I still like the old Gatchaman (in small doses), I loved Crowds.

The story is told from the point of view of ICHINOSE Hajime, teen girl who seems stubborn, distracted, and generally useless. The other members of the team wonder multiple times why she was chosen as a Gatchaman. Turns out, she's extremely attentive to what goes on around her, she's way smarter that what everyone could guess, she's incurably optimistic and always searching for better explanations of others' bad behaviours than "they're jerks" or "they're evil". And that's how she saves the world, twice. First lesson: appearances can be deceiving.

The entity that chooses the Gatchaman is J.J., an alien with the appearance of an old man who speaks in prophetic riddles and throws around little paper birds.

Hajime's first contact with the team is via TACHIBANA Sugane, earnest boy with a sword who has a very black&white view of morality and duty.

When they get to the team's headquarters, we meet the other members. HIBIKI Jou, cynic young man with an office job. Utsu-tsu, alien looking like an under-dressed little girl, painfully shy, with the ability to cure by consuming her own (or others') life force. Paiman, tiny panda-like alien, nominally their leader, who can barely handle the pressure of command. And O.D., half-alien half-human flamboyant genderqueer whose home world has been destroyed, the soul of the group, always projecting good humour, the only one who seems to see beyond Hajime's appearance.

The first enemy they fight is the MESS, weird things that capture people and objects. Hajime (SPOILERS!) talks to them instead of trying to kill them, thus saving the day. Second lesson: the enemy is not necessarily evil, they may just be ignorant and misguided.

In this world there's no Galactor, but there's Galax, a social network (think always-on chat room with Mii-like avatars in isometric perspective). The most interesting feature of Galax is X, an AI who, among other things, nudges people into helping each other, from hugs to full-scale search & rescue operations. Behind Galax and X is NINOMIYA Rui, who may have a boy's body but is only comfortable when presenting as a very girly girl. Rui's goal is to create a better world through Galax, showing everybody the value of co-operation and peace.

I kept trying to figure out why this completely benevolent social network had a name that was irrefutably a call-back to the evil organisation of the old Gatchaman: I'm not going to spoil the whole story by telling you, but rest assured that there's a reason, and it shows that the writers know exactly what they're doing.

And finally we have Berg Katze, a fabulous superpowered genderqueer alien with a taste for destruction. Katze's style and single-mindedness are a thing of beauty, and although we don't see much of their motives, their eventual defeat is everything I could have wanted (watch the post-closing-theme scene of the last episode!).

Remember how I said the team-of-five was a thing of the past? Well, welcome to the future: 2 women, 3 men, 3 queer / non-binary people. And the men are the least interesting of the bunch. And the queers are not evil (maybe Katze is, but I'm sure Hajime can change that). Can we have a cheer for diversity, even if just on some aspects?

The other very encouraging change from the classical formulas: a small team of heroes is not enough to protect a planet. You need everyone to take responsibility to help and protect their fellow people. The Galax system is an interesting approach: create mini-games in which you get points for making the world a better place; connect people in need with the ones who can provide; facilitate civil discussion. It's a technocratic ideal, sure, and I'm not sure I could trust a super-human AI without a lot more evidence than just "runs a social network pretty well", but in this story, it works.

So: everyone's identity, presentation, and way of living is valid and worthy of respect; nobody is really evil, even when their actions hurt others; everybody is needed to build a better world; superpowers help but are not enough. What's not to love?

Oh, and if all that weren't enough, there's a second season: I so want to see the wacky adventures of Hajime and Katze!

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DatesCreated: 2015-12-11 12:38:47 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24