We pretty much only get one Nakamura Kenji series a year, and Gatchaman Crowds is only the second anime Oono Toshiya has ever written. So things would have to be pretty grisly for me to walk away, and they’re not – GC still offers up some interesting meat to chew on every week. I want so very badly to bond with the show but it just isn’t clicking as a cohesive entity for me – the whole is still less than the sum of the parts. It feels, somehow, as if Oono and Nakamura are trying to substitute sheer volume of quirkiness and ironic cool for actual substance, and for me the result is a wildly uneven show that exhausts more than it captivates. But there are times when it does captivate, and the last five minutes of this ep might have been the strongest so far.
You would be hard-pressed to find a show that wouldn’t be improved by the work Miyano Mamoru and Namikawa Daisuke are doing here. Uchida Maaya and Ohsaka Ryouta are fine actors (Ohsaka possibly the best young male lead in the business) but their characters are still doing nothing for me. Crowds is much better when it focuses on the ones played by Miyano and Namikawa, as well as young Murase Ayumu. Their plot is far more interesting than anything that’s going on with the main Gatchamen themselves, and there’s something to be said for the ability of a really superb seiyuu to elevate the material above itself.
This was really the first episode where we’ve gotten to hear Miyano sink his teeth into Berg-Katze. I can see this performance dividing viewers just as Miyu Irino’s work in Tsuritama did, but he’s delivering exactly what the series calls for, and what it needs. Like Miyu’s Haru Miyano is delivering a fearless, exuberantly silly masterpiece of camp (his “Alien-kun”, “Primitive-chan” exchange with Rui was the funniest in the series so far) – flamboyant intonation peppered with Engrish – except in his case he’s doing it in the service of a character who provides the menace and danger in the series. As for Namikawa, his performance as Jou-san is more of a slow burn than Miyano’s flaming muggery – a sardonic, weary resignation that contains a subtle anger and resolve. He’s the most interesting among the Gatchamen for sure, and he doesn’t try to force how interesting he is down the audience’s throat – he just goes about his business and makes you want to see more of him.
With Berg, the question at this point it just what the heck he is. A rogue Gatchaman seems to be a real possibility, since he has a NOTE, and since Pai-Pai and OD (who’s seemingly more in the know than the other “regular” Gatchamen) seem to know quite a bit about him. Pai-Pai is all atwitter about the demon “destroyer of worlds” he says is going to wipe out the human race, but I don’t think it’s Berg-Katze himself – rather, B-K seems to be the agent of whatever entity that is. In contrast to Miyano Hosomi Daisuke’s hamming as O.D. has been more annoying that anything else, and I was pleased to see him turn it down a bit when it was just O.D. and Paiman, and there was no need for the performance O.D. seems compelled to put on in front of the others.
The growing sense for me is that Berg-Katze’s – or whoever is pulling his strings – larger plan for GALAX was to undercut human faith in their existing institutions. Rui is obviously a tool for his larger plan, that’s not in question, but Berg’s long game may just be to seemingly help humanity in the short term (“update the world”) in order to show people how useless their governments and their public safety and welfare operations are. By getting the human race to rely on GALAX instead of the police and fire and SDF, when GALAX is pulled out from under them – or turned against them outright – those traditional institutions will be so weakened that the human race will effectively be left in anarchy, easy pickings. We don’t know why of course – why B-K would give Rui this power in order to sow the seeds of humanity’s destruction, or why he chose Rui in the first place, or why Rui will only go in public in drag. But it’s definitely the most interesting element in the plot so far.
So Jou and Berg are excellent, and Rui has an interesting role to play in all this as the tragic figure being used for a purpose he finds horrific – the subversion of idealism for nefarious goals is a thread that’s rife with possibility. But it seems likely that Gatchaman Crowds can only go as far as Hajime and Sugane can take it, because they’re the ones Oono-sensei has established as the main characters. If Hajime ends up solving everything with her so far annoyingly faultless combination of wisdom and genki positivism it would be understatement to say that I’ll likely find that highly irritating and unsatisfying. As for Sugane he’s just a cipher so far, though his adulation of the troubled Jou-san offers a possible glimmer of a character arc. Apart from that I think the generally scattershot storytelling and lack of focus remain the biggest hurdle to Crowds really taking off, even more so than the brazenly cheap look of the series. The latter is least likely to change, but it’s also the least important – if things round into form on the story and character front I’ll happily live with the 100¥ shop visuals.