Gatchaman Crowds – 02

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Gatchaman Crowds is still a mixed bag for this viewer, but trending up.

If there was one show that was hard to peg coming into the season, it was probably this one.  Partly that’s due to the fact that there were no previews of the show itself whatsoever (which was reflected in the haphazard look of the premiere) and relatively little info at all.  You had an undeniably great pedigree with the writer and director (like Rozen Maiden) but a left-field premise that was baffling to say the least – a 40 year-old franchise that seems as dated as bell-bottoms and leaded gas at full-serve stations.  The premiere didn’t help much in clarifying things for me.  It was very interesting but I felt nothing for the characters (nothing positive, anyway) and it generally felt thrown-together.  Happily, the second episode was definitely better – as I’ve said over and over the pedigree of the staff usually wins out, and there were definitely signs of that this week with Gatchaman Crowds.  But there are still some lingering issues that prevent me from embracing the series unreservedly.

I’ll address the biggest issue first, as that’s Hajime – I suspect for a lot of people the show as a whole will rise or fall based on their views of her, and I further suspect she’ll prove quite popular.  In the first episode I found her way too much to take, dangerously close to a deal-breaker.  She – like the ep itself – benefited this week from a little context.  Given a premise behind her actions and a sense of who she is beyond a relentlessly throbbing ball of hyper, Hajime was a lot more tolerable for me – but more than anything I still find her an irritant.  Genki-girl characters are always a delicate balance – if everything from the character design to the dialogue to the performance isn’t just right they can easily spill over into a grating presence that undercuts everything around them.

Right now, I just want Hajime (and Uchida Maaya) turned down a couple of notches.  The “-su”, the V-grin, the pushiness – roll it back a little and things would be fine.  A lot of people have compared her to Haru (Tsuritama) but I don’t see any similarity beyond the superficial.  Beyond what I see as a huge difference in the performance of the seiyuu, there’s the fact that Haru had a good excuse for his behavior – he really was from another planet, Hajime just acts like she is.  Even more importantly Haru was a supporting player, one of the McGuffins that drove the plot and his actions were integral to the arc of the main character from the beginning.  Placing this much random overbearing pushiness on the MC’s shoulders doesn’t work for me, at least so far.  This episode provided her raison d’etre in the story – she’s the Gatchaman randomizer, the element that shakes up their (and specifically Sugane’s) stale and limited world-view and forces them to reconsider all they take as a given.  That really helps – now they just need to dial back the way she goes about it some.  Not all the way – I’m not expecting Hitoha from Mitsudomoe here – just enough.

I’m a bit conflicted on the visuals too.  Generally speaking I love the look of the show – as usual Nakamura Kenji is incapable of anything remotely conventional, and Gatchaman has a lot of the pastel, storybook look that made Tsuritama so fun to watch.  But more so than Tsuritama – or any Nakamura series this early in the run – Gatchaman looks noticeably cheap.  He’s not known for detailed backgrounds and they wouldn’t fit the pop-up book motif anyway, but these are really rudimentary.  Character faces dissolve, movements are jerky, and the CGI in the action scenes is pretty crude. That’s certainly not a deal-breaker for me but it is a bit worrisome to see the show looking so rough this early.  I couldn’t say whether the main issue is budget or time – the premiere definitely showed all the signs (including the lack of promo material) of being finished at the very last moment, and the massive number of Animation Directors credited is another tipoff of that.  So far it looks as if Gatchaman Crowds is going to be a test of the ability of supremely talented staff (this week’s Episode Director/Animation Director/Storyboarder Takaki Wada is another industry veteran with a great resume) to overcome the challenges of too little time and too little money.

Despite all that, I think there are hopeful signs in this episode that Crowds can develop into something really good.  The ep flashed a real sense of humor, the story gained a lot more traction, and the world-building aspect was pretty stellar.  We got a lot of new elements added to the mix this week: subtle indications of the underlying problems in the Tokyo of 2015 (terrorist attacks, Prime Minister under pressure to resign, suicide of the head of idol group “Goo Goo Pamore”), mostly if you were paying attention to the TVs in the background.  Then there’s GALAX, the social networking system that Hajime adores that seems to be increasingly taking hold in this world.  She references how it was vital after “the disaster”, and we see evidence of how useful it can be in the moment when it gets medical attention to injured civilians in seconds, while there’s no sign of an ambulance.  And of course there’s the “collage train” that Hajime takes Sugane aboard – basically a GALAX meetup that includes the likes of the Mayor and Fire Chief joining her in the ultimate goody-goody grandma hobby of collage.

I’m a bit leery of the notion of Hajime being a kind of Mary Sue who fixes everything with her smiles and positivity – the city bigwigs falling all themselves to praise her was a bit much – but we know Oono Toshiya is at heart an innocent who loves to trumpet the power of friendship and goodness, based on Tsuritama, so maybe he can pull it off.  And GALAX is undeniably clever and cute, reminiscent of Summer Wars in its presentation.  I’m also enjoying Paiman immensely – he made me laugh in every scene – and intrigued by the possibilities for Jou.  Namikawa Daisuke is playing him with a kind of warm honey poured over a rusty saw voice, and with his Todai golden-boy background and world-weary cynicism he might present an interesting counterpoint to Hajime.  I’m not really bought into the chemistry between Hajime and Sugane yet – her genki excess and his helpless stuffiness is pretty cliche – though it was better than in the premiere.

Adding an interesting wildcard to the mix is Ninomiya Rui (Murase Ayumu), the cross-dressing trap who seems to be the brains behind GALAX.  In a show full of larger-than-life personalities Rui offers intriguing possibilities, and right now we’re looking at a scenario where the Gatchaman practice of killing any MESS they see may be fundamentally wrong, and the seeming source for comity and brotherhood in GALAX might be some kind of evil master plot.  That would be a really fascinating turn of events, especially given Oono’s seeming reluctance to turn any of his characters into abject villains.  More than anything that’s what gives me hope for Gatchaman Crowds – Oono and Nakamura are relentlessly creative artists, and even with the flaws in the first two episodes that creativity is shining through in a big way.  It’s hard not to believe they’ll come up with something really interesting in the end – again, when all else is in doubt look at the pedigree and you’ll usually have some idea of what you’re going to get out of an anime.  In this case that’s a source of considerable optimism.

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  1. i

    Dropped for the obvious reason. Love Lab is a better pick for me.

  2. R

    I'm surprised by Love Lab as well. It's not polished or sophisticated, but it's funny…silly but funny.

  3. R

    I like hajime so i like crowds. Nothing more to say.

  4. s

    Nice analysis of the ep as usual; I agree with you mostly in that it is apparent, at least to me, that gatchaman crowds has layers to it that will end up making it quite the series. I do believe however that uchida maaya is doing a great job as Hajime; She is suppose to be this loose cannon that you have no idea what she is saying or if she is sane. She is too much to handle and everything she does seemingly has no purpose or plan, but like Heath Ledger's joker, everything is all….part of the plan. Uchida Maaya performance captures the insanity that is Hajime perfectly and i believe that is greatly attributed to her pedigree as a voice actor.

  5. H

    Hajime really makes the show for me, at least so far. I haven't found her to be anything but brilliant. I love that they don't play her into any trope of being the newbie, and while it does make her a bit of a Mary Sue, it's a rare-ish type of character.

    I also love the snits that she sends Sugane and Paiman into, by flouting Paiman's arbitrary rules and mocking Sugane's obvious rigidity. Marching right over to JJ was great, and I love that it just blows the others' minds. Paiman, if you believe JJ is so close to omnipotent, then you have to believe he knew what he was getting with Hajime, and that's what he wanted.

  6. Rare-ish? really? I see the cute teenage girl who acts like an annoying psycho but you have to love her anyway because she's a cute teenage girl as anything but rare in anime. And if the audience didn't eat them up, we wouldn't keep seeing them.

    If there's anything whatever that makes Hajime unusual, it's the sheer excess to which she takes the type. But then, that's not really a plus for me.

  7. k

    " I see the cute teenage girl who acts like an annoying psycho but you have to love her anyway because she's a cute teenage girl as anything but rare in anime"

    It's rare to see such character as main protagonist. It changes the series completly.

  8. k

    The "manic pixie dream girl" moniker doesn't apply in this case because Hajime is the main protagonist of the series, and her main purpose isn't to change others. That's just a side-effect of her personality. Her actual role in this story is to be the hero who will confront the main antagonists, Rui and Berg Katse.

  9. M

    Well being the main protagonist is her defining feature which isn't saying much. Her personality matches that description, which is the point.

  10. k

    The description says a "manic pixie dream girl" is character who "only exists to provide the protagonist some important life lessons"

    But in this series Hajime's the protagonist. That's why it doesn't apply.

  11. M

    It also says "have eccentric personality quirks and are unabashedly girlish…that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."

    She did that this very episode and the trope describes her personality closely even if she's an off-shot of it; because wow, a character like that is the protagonist!

  12. k

    It either fits the definition or it doesn't. You can't just choose only the part of the definition that suits your argument and ignore the rest.

  13. M

    Did it ever occur to you that they based her on such a character type and thought to subvert roles? It changes the series completely!

  14. k

    Yeah, but after subverting the trope, it doesn't apply anymore. That's kinda the point of subverting a trope/character type. They do it in order to create something new.

  15. M

    What, making her the main character automatically gives her a clean slate? That's pretty thin logic.

  16. k

    It just makes her something new and refreshing.

  17. Z

    Although here nothing new is actually created. It's just a MPDG in the lead role with the associated traits on display even more than usual. That's a pretty low standard for new and refreshing concepts if you ask me.

  18. k

    Just think about it. An MPDG is such because her only purpose as a character is to help the main character to change and grow. But Hajime's purpose isn't to help others to change (let alone the protagonist, since she herself is the lead). That's just a side-effect of her personality. Her actual role in this story is to be the hero who will fight the main antagonists.

    She's not an MPDG in the lead role. She's more a eccentric and unconventional hero, like… say, Onizuka from GTO.

    How many "female Onizuka" have you seen in anime? Not many, especially not in a super hero series like this one. It is new and refreshing to some extent.

  19. M

    You're basically retreading the same argument and disregarding the other traits that comprise a MPG character, for the sake of argument. To subvert a trope you need comparable features to make a subversion viable. How do you think Madoka exists? Gen repackaged familiar magical girl tropes into something fresh for the moe market, but it is no less a magical girl anime at its core.

    Once you conceded to such a subversion your staunch assertion that tropes are unmalleable your argument fell apart.

  20. I think it's time to take it to IM or email.

  21. M

    @Maxulous: I agree with kyon-kun, MPDG does not apply here. Lets look at wikipedia again:

    "The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) is a stock character in films. Film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005), describes the MPDG as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."[1] MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up, thus their men never grow up.[2]"

    So, for one, the raison d'etre of a manic pixie dream girl is to support some male character. Who is that character in Hajime's case? And if such a character exists, does Hajime have no other reason for existing in the story than to aid him? Also, claiming her character is shallow at this point is unfair considering every character in the anime is shallow at the moment. We have had literally no time for growth yet, and unless she remains static, hajime cannot fit the trope.

    Without those pieces you do not have the magic pixie dream girl trope, and quite frankly I think it's way to early (and actually a little messed up) to claim she fits this trope to a T. First, she is not clearly a support character yet, which virtually all MPDGs are relegated to being. Second, she is a catalyst for plot points that are not related to the growth of a male character, which is very close to aversion of the trope itself.

  22. M

    I never claimed she fitted the MPDG to a T. But I think her characteristics are clearly inherited from that trope.

    Also I think this episode demonstrated an element of this in her role of "shaking up Sugane's broody/stale world view" – telling him to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures, to that effect.

    The argument lays on whether tropes germinate. I think it's a misfire to say they can't.

  23. R

    I agree that this episode is better — like you said, it's trying to give more context and seed hidden clues hinting at future plot twists. I can't say that the story is gripping at this point but definitely showing good signs. What I still can't get past is the characters — they are more like plot devices, which is so not the case in Tsuritama. I still can't take Hajime. It's not about her over-the-top — and sometimes rude and inconsiderate — behaviour. It's about how unconvincing this character is and how improbable and forced the events around her seem to be. It looks like that she is assigned to the game-changer role of the story, so I hope that all her unlikable and unbelievable traits are really part of the plan. I still want to believe in the writer and director and will stick around for a bit more.

    Also, I still don't like the character design of Utsu-tsu. I am sorry to say this, but her motionless and emotionless reactions to everything makes her look like a blow up doll putting on the minimal undergarments that you can imagine. Why?

  24. A

    I have to admit, I LIKE Hajime.
    Admittedly at first she came across as vacuous and scatty, but she clearly thinks about thigns.
    She's a kind of atypical protagonist because she questions the status quo.
    Why do we have to fight the aliens? Why can't we communicate with them?
    After the MESS adopts a scissors form in the first battle, in the second she tries to communicate with it and somehow tames it into putting back what it had absorbed.

    I described her somewhere as an unstoppable force, and I suspect at some point she will meet an immovable object, and that's where I think all her character traits will shine.

  25. A

    Gah! Typo! "…thinks about things…"
    Serves me right for writing comments before my second cup of tea of the day.

  26. s

    I absolutely agree; it's only a matter of time before she meets that force and I think it has something to do with that guy/girl (damn these traps, Fred from scooby doo would have a field day with this). As we can see in the opening, hajime does have her serious, down to business side and im sure we'll be seeing it soon enough

  27. H

    This is what I mean above by 'rare'. She's not just a cute but annoying girl you have to love. She's hyper-competent and thinks outside the box, changing the way Gatchaman works as soon as she gets there, and not because "Oh, she's so cute in her naivety, but maybe she's right." It's not "That's so crazy it just might work!" but "I'm positive I'm right, and I'll show you why."

  28. Making here the cute but annoying girl you have to love and also a Mary Sue is not sweetening the pot for me, I'm afraid.

  29. k

    A competent character isn't necessarily a Mary Sue.

    Also, I don't think Nakamura meant for her to be a character that "you have to love". In fact, I think he was trying to make the audience feel uncomfortable about her to some extent. And it seems he succeeded too. Too bad some people take her antics way too seriously.

  30. m

    i don't mind hajime at all, but i do agree i feel disconnected by her. it's all boom and flash and love for notebooks, then she's suddenly mary sue, and suddenly she seems to understand everything and saves a MESS. and she's a newbie. it feels a little too hectic, but well that would also fit her character

    sorry, but haru makes me cringe more on first impression, but that changed when i got used to it

  31. Z

    And I'm out. I can't take the combination of Hajime, the dog-eared bored loli, and the Hirano Aya panda. Not to mention the lol random colours and smartphones are sugoi approach. I just don't care enough about any of this to stick around.

  32. d

    Haru was more grating than Hajime, but I got used to him. His buoyancy prepped me for Free! and for Gatchaman Crowds. Genki is always overly sweet, particularly when you generally have a yen for salt.

    I unreservedly enjoyed Paiman's cranky taste for what must have been a crisp light beer and poisonous, processed snack food. Something clearly Madao about that.

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