OP: 「Crowds」 by White Ash
Going into this new season, there were two shows I was especially excited for: Uchouten Kazoku and Gatchaman Crowds. It wasn’t just in the fact that both shows had incredible pedigrees to their names, with certifiable A-listers involved in the production of these shows. No, it was that everything we knew about the shows suggested that both would surprise with incredibly imaginative and fresh experiences, especially given the dearth of variety in this season. (Nothing on respective quality, rest assured.) And true enough, both shows surprised in that exact manner; but where Uchouten Kazoku served up a nuanced tale reaching for those transcendent-like Ghibli qualities, Gatchaman Crowds was a literal explosion of kaleidoscopic colors and ideas.
Nonetheless, that “I didn’t expect this”……is probably not that surprising a thing to say about Gatchaman Crowds. It’s the story of pre-Tsuritama repeated yet again; this is a Nakamura (Tsuritama, Mononoke, [C]) anime after all, and expecting something unique has practically become a tradition of his shows by this point.
Let’s make it clear; I have little to no knowledge about the 1970s classic sentai series back when it was known in Western parts of the world as G-Force. I’m the last person you’d want making the judgment on whether this is foremost a Gatchaman anime, or a Nakamura anime with Gatchaman slapped onto it. (But really, the show seems to give no inclination to either.) That said I love seeing the reimaginings of these classic franchises. I might never have been there when their originals were around, but I was always captivated by that incredible burst of creative energy in the reinvention of these works; nevermind what the end results were. (The recent Re;Cyborg 009 being a prime example of how these good ideas can just as easily fall apart.) So it’s awfully fitting that Nakamura of all people was chosen to helm Gatchaman’s modernization; for better (Tsuritama) or for worse ([C]) the man has never been involved with an uninteresting watch.
So far at least, Gatchaman Crowds lives up to that notion. If I’m to get more specific, this first episode was in many ways a very, very crowded episode. Almost as if every element of the show, from its presentation to characters, was fighting for your attention. Nakamura’s visual signature in Crowds feels louder than ever, and brings to all-new levels his mix of vibrant surrealism, an eye-popping palette of colors, and an incredible art variety in the stylized cityscape. The score by Iwasaki (TTGL, Katanagatari) riffs on classic sentai cheese and throws in his own obnoxiously catchy sense of rhythm and beats, resulting in what just might be the single most catchy track I’ve heard this whole season, that campy as hell “GATCHA-MAAAAN!” tune.
The narrative itself is equally loaded, so much so that the whole episode felt like it passed in a blur. We start with Ichinose Hajime’s (Uchida Maaya) induction to the Gatchamans by the Zordon-esque JJ. Robinson (Mori Katsuji), and quickly move onward to the first fight with the MESS. No sooner was it over than Crowds bring us through an orientation of the Gatchamans. Here are what I imagine to be the classic sentai callouts; the unassuming entrance leading to the secret underground base, and the meeting chamber where the Gatchamans convene and receive orders. The G-team themselves are about as far-placed a bunch as you’d expect to see in any kind of action team-up show, much less a reimagining of a classic sentai. First off the bat is the innocuous enough Tachibana Sugane (Ohsaka Royata) who’s the most straight-laced of them all. Then there’s the unmotivated veteran in Hibiki Joe (Namikawa Daisuke), the fabulously metrosexual O.D (Hosomi Daisuke), swimwear-donning introvert Utsu-tsu (Koiwai Kotori) and the alien Not-Panda that leads the G-Team, the middle aged-acting Paiman (Hirano Aya – in what must be the first role I’ve heard from her in eons. No, Fairy Tail doesn’t count.).
The entire cast is headlined by the show-stealing, insanely genki-eccentric Hajime. She’s an oddball in her own little world like you’ve never seen, with an unhealthy obsession for planners. (even her VA describes this quirk as “hentai-moe”) She bounces all over with her “Cute!” catchphrase and “-ssu” suffix. It’s not unreasonable to say that the show basically moves at her pace, and it’s a fairly random one. Her scatter-minded personality has the show’s attention jumping around fairly often in an attempt to follow her, something I was less than thrilled about. So in all fairness, I’m surprised by how amazingly fun a character she is to watch, bobbling about the screen; nothing fazes the girl, whether it’s the first time she sees the MESS (Cute!) gets her welcome deflected by Joe (shakes her own hand) or gets into the fight for the first time (BIIIIIIRD……go?). But already opinions are highly divided on the character; some like me took to her personality immediately, others found her impossibly obnoxious. I have to wonder if it is writer Oono Toshiya’s influence at work here; there’s an incredible resemblance to Tsuritama’s Haru, whose overly energetic personality divided opinions as greatly as Hajime is currently doing. Granted, I don’t think Haru in all his bubbly naivety was ever quite this excitable, but then again, Crowds is by and large a more outrageous show than Tsuritama ever was.
Bring all this, the presentation, the music, the premise and the characters together, and Gatchaman Crowds becomes, ahem, overcrowded: At once wacky, vibrant, obnoxious, loud, campy, surreal, and more. You’d think that too many cooks is a recipe for disaster, but this smorgasbord has to it an incredibly energetic tone across every moment, and makes Gatchaman Crowds crazy fun to watch. As I’ve first said, this is a literal, unadulterated explosion of ideas. Wrapped up in a very consistent visual identity, the seeming lack of creative and artistic restrain in the show is captivating.
Of course, there’s no way this makes for a good story; somewhere down the line, everything’s got to come together in a cohesive direction, which as twitchy and overstuffed as this first episode was, is the worrying part. Already, the overemphasis on the eccentricity and energy of this first episode might not appeal to everyone. Add that to the fact that beyond introducing to us to the characters and premise, there’s little to no clue on what kind of story is being developed. But ever the visual storyteller, Nakamura’s already planted some very intriguing seeds into the show with the variety of technological details. There’s always been more to his shows than what we take at face value, and likewise for Crowds, there’s a strong undercurrent of the social networking theme that he plans to address. It’s a topic that interest me greatly (Marketing major, so sue me) and not something I get to see acknowledged all that often. And knowing Toshiya’s work on Tsuritama, I’m hopeful that the characters have more depth to them than the eccentricity that so characterizes them at this point.
Needless to say, I liked this first episode a lot. It was crazy fun, it was outrageously wild, and I got exactly what I wanted to see; that crazy burst of creative energy from a classic reboot. My question now lies in where Gatchaman Crowds intends to channel this energy towards, and if it can build something meaningful out of it.
ED: 「INNOCENT NOTE」 by 内田真礼 (Uchida Maaya)