I want to love gatchaman unreservedly. I really want to do so, but it’s episodes like this that just get in the way of all that.
It was interesting at first, the way the show seemed to brim with ideas at every turn. But Gatchaman’s scattershot storytelling is starting to get grating, especially when the story that needs to be told is as straight as it gets here. The Neo Crowds’ rise to power. The gatchamans fighting back with PR. And yet, as hard as it is to describe, there’s that definite patchwork quality to the way the episode strings the scenes together here; one moment we’re watching the attack of the Crowds and the gatchamans deliberating their next move; next, without any lead-in, we’re seeing Rui in self-loathing for escalating the Crowds situation. I liked it when the show largely pulled its focus together in the last two episodes on the titular gatchamans, but that focus seems largely absent in this episode. There are too many odd juxtapositions in transitions, stretching all over in an attempt to convey the full ramifications of the Neo Crowds, and the Gatchamans, going public.
But I liked seeing Rui’s changing perspective, and his mingling with team gatcha. Having been rescued by the kind of heroes he has so denied, it interesting to see his naïve world-view open up in such a manner. At one point in the episode, Katze notes how unlike it was of Rui to come out with a public apology during the Gatcha-channel webcast; more than an apology for Crowds, it was also an admittance of the failure of his ideal, where mankind would have been able to work together it perfect harmony.
To its credit, Gatchaman is sticking very, very well to its core philosophies of new-age communication and connection in the age-old superhero genre, and it keeps adding more to it than I had expected; Neo Crowds has essentially become some odd terrorist counterpart of Anonymous and Wikileaks, incorporating major elements of both groups (The anonymity and the people’s power) then dialing up the dangers of their unchecked power and elusive nature. Hajime’s proposed solution to this? A continuation of the PR campaign with their very own Nico-Nico-esque channel, by answering public questions and bringing in Rui as a guest to deconstruct the Crowds situation. The Gatchamans have gone viral, with over two million views on their channel, and it’s a really unique way (in an anime, at least) to strongly get the word out on Crowds, and the dangers of the power to those that are using it. Word of mouth is key through the “ups”, GALAX’s equivalent of the Facebook’s likes, and it’s one heck of a way to direct public opinion. It ends up with the Neo Crowds getting significant public disapproval, and the civil administrations promoting the Gatchaman channels. Really, it’s not typical for a superhero versus supervillian fight to be this much of a public spectacle.
There’s a good deal of consideration put into this depiction, such as backlash from cynics and trolls are shown in the episode. True to internet form, the words online don’t hold back any bite; Remarks include “Cross-dressing freak”, “Psycho” and “Who even talks like that” in response to Rui and Hajime. The remarks are so familiar I swear the creators are watching the discussions on the show closely. Fact is, I scarcely remember any other show that has been this considerate about modern media and communications as a plot device like this.
The other problem of the scattershot storytelling remains though; the show is great at wielding social media and the internet as narrative tools (not that there’s anything wrong with it) but stops a shy short from delving into the truly provocative questions about it, even when they want to emphasis strongly on the topic. We’re back to the lack of focus; when a show skims from every idea of the social media pie, you don’t exactly get a boatload of depth into any one aspect. Take the deal with the trolls: Hajime’s “just turn it off” answer was appropriate but awfully simple, as if it was another tick off the checklist of social media thingamies that needed to be shown.
And least of all, we’ve arrived at some disconnect of the characters’ actions; it was interesting, but also somewhat confusing that the gatchamans have decided on taking matters into their own hands, and there would be no more taking orders from JJ-sama. Instead, as they asserted to Rui, they would be taking their own actions and acting on what they believed they could do, such as with Hajime romping about on GALAX in a bid to draw out Katze. I get the faintest of hints that it’s some bid on the tangibility of connections, and JJ, who’s been this mystical and divine being giving prophesies at random, isn’t quite as warming as the chumminess between members of team gatcha. But it is woefully faint, and that speaks plenty on the character dynamics in the show.