That was every bit as random as I expected.
OP: “Crowds” by WHITE ASH
I’ve long held the suspicion that Nakamura Kenji has experimented with augmented reality in his own way. At the very least, as a director he seems incapable of producing anything with a conventional look – from the Ukiyo-e beauty of Mononoke to the pop-up book fairy tale dreaminess of Tsuritama, he’s always looking at the world in a funhouse mirror, and it makes for an endlessly fascinating viewing experience. His narrative successes have not always matched his visual, but in teaming with Oono Toshiya for Tsuritama, Nakamura-sensei delivered his most engaging and emotionally powerful series to date.
For that reason, Oono and Nakamura re-teaming for Gatchman Crowds was certainly an exciting development. To be honest it’s the only reason I was really excited for this show – if you’d asked me three months ago about the Gatchaman franchise, the best I’d have been able to muster is “I’ve heard of it”. That it seemed an odd choice for this pair to resurrect a decades-old and mostly forgotten hero story is obvious – that’s rather in character. The only question that really mattered wasn’t whether or not Gatchaman Crowds was going to be an interesting series – even Nakamura’s misfires are interesting. The question was whether or not it would work as a story. Based on the premiere, I’m withholding judgment.
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman ran from 1972-1974, and was a sort of super sentai version of the Justice League – an all-star team of different hero characters created by the legendary Yoshida Tatsuo for Tatsunoko Productions. Tatsunoko is also the studio behind Crowds, and while it’s certainly fair to say this is a radical re-imagining that doesn’t impact my views one way or the other as I don’t have any emotional attachment to speak of to the original. This one is set in 2015, though it seems pretty optimistic about the technological advances we’ll be making in the next year and a half. It’s also set in Tachikawa – like Index and Railgun – a place that’s become a sort of RL exemplification of futuristic cityscapes for the world of anime.
It’s pretty much a given that the show is going to be a visual feast, and it is. Backgrounds aren’t especially detailed but that’s never been a Nakamura hallmark. The colors are spectacular, the technology clever and funny, and as always Nakamura shows us a world made up of many layers of reality, moving past each other in fascinating ways. Much of the Tsuritama team is reassembled here (including a key cast member) and in look Gatchaman resembles that show more than any other Nakamura series. If I’m honest, though, the story and characters didn’t grab me nearly as much in the premiere. Also, the soundtrack by Kuricorder Quarter was a vital component of establishing mood in Tsuritama, and the BGM in this series is more forgettable, to the point where I’m hard-pressed to recall a single piece apart from the 70’s-style “Gatcha-maaaan!” jingle. I suppose it’s meant to recall the kind of music those 70’s super sentai anime used, but it didn’t do a whole lot for me.
In terms of character, we first meet Tachibana Sugane (Ohsaka Ryouta, the Tsuritama carryover). He carries some sort of device that clearly has unusual properties, seeming to predict the movements of an unknown subject. Next up is Ichinose Hajime (Uchida Maaya) an impossibly genki schoolgirl with a love for notebooks and kawaii (and combining the two). On the roof of her school Hajime sees the mysterious J.J. Robinson (Mori Katsuji), who in his riddle-speak seems to suggest to Hajime that she’s been chosen for something special. This is pretty routine superhero stuff, though handled stylishly – eventually Hajime pairs up with Sugane, who attends the same school (which has some of the most interesting school uniforms I’ve seen in anime, BTW) and she witnesses him in the act of doing his Gatchaman job, dealing with a MESS (explanation coming later). At HQ, he introduces her to the slacker Hibiki Joe (the very busy Namikawa Daisuke), the depressive two-piece wearing Utsu-tsu (Koiwai Kotiri) and the flamboyant O.D. (Hosomi Daisuke, also a Tsuritama veteran), the only one who seems to share Hajime’s love of cute and genki nature. And then there’s Paiman (Hirano Aya) – don’t call him a Panda! – who seems to act as J.J.’s section chief in charge of the “G Team”. There’s also the requisite spiel about aliens threatening Earth, the MESS, and how the NOTE devices the Gatchamen carry work.
If the premiere was a little exposition-heavy, that’s understandable given that this is pretty old material being packaged for a new audience. I found the episode fun and great to look at, but nothing that happened with either the characters or the plot interested me much. I hope Hajime calms down because damn, she’s a lot to take – I find her constant vamping and “-su!” manner of speaking borderline grating. As for Sugane, my admiration for Ohsaka-san is well-documented but he doesn’t have much to work with yet – Sugane is the classic straight-laced tsukkomi to Hajime’s boke at this stage. I have too much respect for Oono after his work on Tsuritama to panic yet, though the trap with Nakamura has always been that his shows don’t always come together as a whole. It’s safe to say strictly on its own terms the premiere of Gatchaman Crowds was nowhere near as engaging for me as that of Tsuritama – or of Gin no Saji or Servant x Service for that matter – but a premiere is just one episode, and even one cour is more a distance race than a sprint. Given the pedigree I wanted to be blown away by the first episode and I wasn’t, but that’s not a disaster – there’s still plenty of time for Oono and Nakamura to connect the dots and give Gatchaman Crowds a story that stands up to the fabulous imagination behind the look.
ED: “INNOCENT NOTE” by Hajime Ichinose (Maaya Uchida)