The hero we don’t deserve.

GATCHAMAN Crowds Insight may be the smartest stupid anime this season. For the first half of the season I thought it was bonkers, though I didn’t hate it—until I realized that the themes it was playing with are vital to our modern world. Watching it may make you a more moral human being.

The first season of GATCHAMAN Crowds was a mess. I still don’t think I rightly understand what the point of it all was. Rui’s constant talk of updating the world always came across as overly idealistic, and hey—I’m not against idealism. I much prefer idealists to “realists,” i.e. the cynics who don’t want to admit it. But the first season was too much, and it was muddled, and its themes were unclear, and I ended up bewildered by the end.

I went into this season expecting more of the same. I only went into it at all because of Berg-Katze. I wanted to see how Hajime would cope with Berg-Katze being inside her, and how … how that whole thing would work. But even that wasn’t a huge draw. Until earlier this week, I hadn’t watched a single episode past the ones I introduced at the beginning of the season. I only ended up watching more because no one else was planning to do a finale post, and because I heard some rumblings from a few commenters that GATCHAMAN Crowds was great this season.

How right they were. That’s why I love y’all. Sometimes you know better’n I do.

Now, I’ll be honest. The first half of the season was—well, I hesitate to call it bad. But it was very much like the first season in tone. It had that same overly talky, hyper-optimistic bent that felt so forced the first time aroun. Tsubasa never thought things through, all the random citizens were aggravating, and I found myself watching an anime about politics, even though I find politics in real life to be tiresome. At their best, those episodes had me saying things like this:

#GATCHAMANCrowds is so stupid, but in an endearing way. Imagine me smiling slightly, then whispering, “…baka.” –@StiltsOutLoud

Because, no matter how stupid GATCHAMAN Crowds felt, I couldn’t exactly hate it. It was too optimistic for that. But the problem was never that it was bad—it’s that it wasn’t subtle. It was too overt, and when you’re too overt, it feels like you’re beating people over the head with your aesop, and nobody likes that.

It dawned on me slowly. I had been calling GATCHAMAN Crowds a stupid show, but all the things I didn’t enjoy about it actually had a purpose. And that, my friends, is why I’m writing this post—because no matter its other faults, GATCHAMAN Crowds had a point.

I don’t fault stories that are primarily written for entertainment. That’s why I write myself. I believe that if I can make a few people’s lives just a little happier for having read my stories, that’s a life well spent. But I’ll always remember a quote about my favorite author, Terry Pratchett:

“Terry Pratchett is more than a magician. He is the kindest, most fascinating teacher you ever had.” –Harlan Ellison

The kinds of stories that go beyond mere entertainment, that actually teach us something and make us better people, are irreplaceable. They’re what make us human. And here’s where you think I’m overstating things, but understand that I’m not. Stories—especially in their guises as culture and education—are how we teach one another. It’s how to train new humans, without making them invent everything all over again. We’re wired to absorb stories much better than we do lists of facts. That’s why scripted entertainment—whether they be movies, books, plays, or even music and anime—can be so powerful. It can do more than entertain. It can teach us how to be better, more moral human beings.

Which is what GATCHAMAN Crowds Insight ended up doing.

The theme this season was conformity versus individuality. You can pitch it as an East versus West thing—of Japan’s knee jerk desire for conformity (even at the smothering of personal expression) versus the West’s encouragement of individuality. Though that would be an oversimplification. Tell me, can you imagine a Western TV show having at least three male characters who wear high heels? (Katze, Rui, and Gelsadra in male form—and O.D., though his/her gender is unconfirmed.) How about a crossdresser who no one seems to care (or even comment upon) when he swaps between male and female clothing? (Rui.) Or another okama in DD, or someone as flashy as Millio, or all of these characters in the same story where these ‘unconventional” attributes are all so incidental to the plot, so as to largely go uncommented upon?

So no, I wouldn’t coach it in those terms,at least not absolutely (though there is some truth to it). But I would coach it as conformity (as typified by Gelsadra and Tsubasa) versus individuality (as typified by Hajime and Yuru-jii). Or going with the flow versus thinking for yourself. And the way this season went about presenting its message was not subtle. It was clear that Gel-chan was being ruled entirely by the mob, and it was obvious that things were going to go a bad way when (s)he took over.

But not for a while. When the Kuu-samas first appeared, I expected it to be bad instantly—but it wasn’t. It was only when the will of the people become manifest (through the Kuu-samas) that things began to go sour. Until then, I was transfixed by how the society was taken over, slowly and willingly, by the benign (but misguided) Gelsadra. It reminded me of the only quote I’ll ever repeat from the Star Wars prequels:

“So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”

But it went further. The people defended the Kuu-samas as they swallowed up “unwanted” people, and defended Gelsadra for being okay with it. Which is the lesson, far and beyond the conformity versus individuality theme, which GATCHAMAN Crowds Insight has to teach: The enemy is us. Which is something extremely important to keep in mind.

This is a lesson I wish my country had paid more attention to. I was still in school when 9/11 happened, and watched in confusion as we went to war with another country (Iraq) that had little to do with what had just happened. Normally thoughtful and prudent individuals were swept up in the mood, and did something unwise as a result. This is a lesson the Japanese people should remember as well, as Yuru-jii aplty demonstrated—he got swept up in the mood during WWII, until he was killing people he didn’t hate.

I’ve always found it amusing (and a bit troubling) when people talk about government as if it’s this foreign other. “of the people, by the people, for the people”—if the government has problems, it’s our fault. Maybe some of those problems aren’t specifically of our making, but if the government is accountable to us—either through voting, as in GATCHAMAN Crowds, or by the threat of riots and overthrow of less developed nations—then it’s ultimately our fault if out governments are always badly run. We’re the enemy.

We humans are social animals. It’s who we are. It’s hardwired into our brains, because that’s what allowed us to survive in the savannas we evolved from. Conformity kept us safe—but that isn’t what aids us in the modern world. In the modern world, conformity can be dangerous. It can lead to the tyranny of the masses, as GATCHAMAN Crowds Insight so aptly demonstrated.

Then there was Hajime. Tatsunoko Productions finally figured out what to do with a Mary Sue. If you have a character that’s about as fallible as Jesus, use her like she’s Jesus. Hajime became not a hero, but a martyr. She gave the people a way forward, and after Tsubasa and Gelsadra crocked everything up, that was met with cheers, both in-universe and without.

Tsubasa, too, was a well done character. I disliked her for a long time—but I also didn’t always like how Yura acted in Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C3-bu, and it’s those actions which made it a better story. I didn’t like it when Aoi was whining in the second season of Yama no Susume, but that drove home the point the storytellers were trying to make. Characters don’t always need to be likable, but they do need to be interesting, and Tsubasa’s arc was interesting.

There’s so much I could talk about. There are parallels between Gelsadra and conquerors like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hitler, and Genghis Khan (yes, I’ve been listening to Hardcore History again). Gelsadra brought peace and unity, but at what cost? Genghis Khan did the same thing, but he did it by murdering millions. We just forget that because we didn’t know those people. But we had come to know some of the people Gelsadra was allowing the Kuu-samas to eat, so it seemed appalling. And rightly so. We should remember that.

There’s more. Good intentions and hard work don’t matter if you end up doing harm to others. Happiness is overrated when it turns you into a stupid, mindless ape. Think for yourself, or someone else will think for you. There’s danger in a life of constant inputs, quick decisions, information overload, and never taking the time to sit down and think about what you’re doing, and why.

GATCHAMAN Crowds Insight had a lot to say, and they’re lessons I wish were impressed upon us more often. Maybe, if people watched less of The Real Housewives of _______, and more stories that challenged them and made them think, maybe we could actually update the world. We can’t stop humans from being social animals who are vulnerable to the mood, because that’s who we are. But maybe we can build a culture of deliberate, thoughtful consideration. One that prizes the individual, and letting each and everyone make their own decisions, even if we don’t stand united at the end. If that’s the mood, we would be better off.

Being one is overrated. I’d rather be me. GATCHAMAN Crowds Insight is a surprisingly deep, thoughtful, and intelligent anime, once you get past how ridiculous it seems. It may just be worth your time.

My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at, the last four posts: My morning routine, True Ends, Rejection, the secret place, & fundamentals, and What are your two skills?


  1. this show is ridiculing democracy.
    it is saying people are stupid and they vote without thinking.

    i don’t know if that’s how people vote in japan,
    but voters in western countries would never be like that.

    i remember one of the gatchaman saying,
    “this (gerusadora’s power of unifying everyone by force) is a disaster because it happened in japan.”

    exactly. it would have been just fine in any of the western countries.

    1. sorry to burst your bubble, but the current political atmosphere in the U.S….and the circus around trump and how SERIOUS a good portion of the population are in voting him in as president just because they want to get rid of everyone with connections to the current government, no matter his policies or platform…says otherwise

      1. Things are similar in South America too. There is a growing support for ousting the current leftist rulers in several countries here, but little consideration about who we should put in their place, instiling worries that once said leaders make their leave, we will regret it.

    2. “but voters in western countries would never be like that.”

      Dude, have you not been paying attention in the UK or US for let’s say, the past few decades? Yea sure there’s more politically minded young people today but you still have the majority of the “vote that party cos it’s your party, who cares about what they stand for” from the still current trend of ignorance in western culture.

      Kurisu Vi Britannia
    3. Hmm, stones and glass houses. Berlusconi, GW Bush and a their smaller lookalikes (eg Jorg Haider) were getting elected quite handily, and that’s happened all in the west.

      Democracy often brings out the lowest common denominator from the masses. It works quite well on average though – which is why we prefer it over non-elective governments, where you can just as easily wind up with geniuses and idiots.

    4. i agree with the others. Maybe you’re not that interested in politics? If you ask people on the street, many of them have no clue what’s going on in their country or in the world. In my country as well, it’s unbelievable.

      1. @danes256 @kaiba_CEO

        Both of your comments that were formerly located around here have been deleted. If you both can’t think of anything to say other than personal attacks, I suggest you say nothing at all instead. Stop going with the (negative) flow, ne? lol

    5. Democracy would have worked a lot better if people hated less and are less open to bribery.

      After all, what is the root difference, to the normal day-to-day person, between giving you $10 if you vote for me and giving you tax cuts that you don’t really need despite our huge national deficit and flagging public services if you vote for me?

      How we laugh at the former but often embrace the latter.

      1. Democracy would have worked better if it were mandatory for all citizens to keep up with what’s going on in their country and burying one’s head into the sand is considered a cardinal sin.

  2. speaking of hero we don’t deserve,

    i think people would have blown up the ferry boats in Dark Knight
    if they were able to hide their faces from witnesses.

    they don’t care about other people getting killed,
    what stopped them is the risk of being held accountable for murder after the incident.

      1. “I much prefer idealists to “realists,” i.e. the cynics who don’t want to admit it.”

        I’m offended 😉 I’m a realist, idealists are those who start wars and it always turns into faschism if the realists don’t pay attetion. Every -ism sooner or latters shatters in the face of reality, and that’s when idealists turn aggressive because they don’t want to admit that.

        “The hero we don’t deserve”. Does this have a double meaning? XD I hated Hajime, it was like she was empty inside, had no character or anything like that. Well, I might check it out now that you say the show “had a point”;)

        “Stories—especially in their guises as culture and education—are how we teach one another. It’s how to train new humans, without making them invent everything all over again.”
        Yes, that is so true! There’s also a big difference to teach something through a story, which leaves it up to you to accept the message or not and on the other hand to say: “Do this! Do that! This is bad! This is good!”

      2. @ kaiba_CEO


        @ Libélula

        Sorry for the insult, haha, though let me clarify. To me, whether someone is a “realist” is largely a function of hindsight. I’ll give you an example: Elon Musk. There was about a year when both Tesla and SpaceX were about to go belly-up at the same time, and it looked like he had been a starry-eyed idealist who bit off more than he could chew. And if they had folded, he would have remained that. But since they didn’t, he ends up looking more prudent and far-thinking—and they people who said he couldn’t do it were exposed as cynics.

        But we have far more people in this world who don’t do much of anything than we do those who attempt outrageous things that are too far. I find that claiming to be a “realist” is far more often an excuse to not do anything than prudent caution. Which is not to say that even idealists or optimists shouldn’t be prudent—they should be. But it’s often the people who call themselves realists that are using it as an excuse for inaction.

      3. @Stilts
        I really like your ideas. Sure, if you call yourself a realist, and reality has just proven you wrong, this leaves you as nothing more than the cynic person you described. It certainly correlates with pessimism and optimism, so I guess inaction is less because of laziness but the lack of belief.
        I do believe idealists are important. It’s just that lately, I found them to be far too ready to risk even the lifes of uninvolved people to reach their goals, and to be too naive and not think about the consequences of their actions. But yeah, I guess, realism can works as an excuse for inaction. I can’t find an argument against that 😉

  3. Honestly, I only watched the new season for Hajime and was disappointed she was practically sidelined for most of the season. She’s become one of my favorite MCs in recent years since she was already such a well rounded character who didn’t really need much development, schooling everyone else around her. It’s refreshing to see a main lead already be not only strong, but mentally and emotionally stable (sorta – she handles Katze too well and she just handled a lot of pain with a smile better than he did after all); knows who they are and what they want to do; and goes at their own pace. Lately, these kind of characters aren’t usually leads but secondary or tertiary characters who occasionally appear to give often cryptic advice to the MC, which I think she was this season, with Tsubasa being the typical MC character.
    In my opinion, her only fault is probably that she goes a little too at her own pace despite being the MC. I mean, it seemed like she already knew what was going to happen and she was one of the first to notice the atmosphere and its consequences. In the end, she got tired of everyone’s stupidity and decided on a way to just fix everything for them.

    1. The reasons you like Hajime are exactly why characters like her usually aren’t the main character. The conflict has to be entirely outside of Hajime, because she’s too well-rounded (emotionally) for any of it to penetrate. It took her being on death’s door to finally show emotion other than happy-go-lucky cheer.

      Not that I didn’t like her. It’s just hard to foment conflict when your character lets nothing get to them. It is a nice change, but I wouldn’t expect to see too much of it.

      1. I would argue that Hajime’s biggest failing is her inability to communicate in a way that most of the characters around her can understand, most of the time. There have been numerous times when she has understood something, and she’s tried to explain it to people who could really use that information, but has had to resort to gestures, odd similes, and Buffy Speak, because she can’t articulate her knowledge into language.

        Hajime is a very distinct character, and I adore her. You can make statements about “Mary Sue” if you like, but I don’t think it fits. Yes, she ends up being right pretty much all the time, and people around her end up loving her, but for a Mary Sue character those traits are natural conditions of the universe that just happen because the universe realigns itself to make everything work out their way. Hajime is right so often because, despite her genki exterior, she is not actually impulsive. Every action she takes, every decision she makes, is something she has carefully thought through. There are several cases throughout both seasons where she has waited rather than charge in like a standard hero would, letting things apparently grow worse, but making sure that she has considered everything she needs to consider before she acts.

        As for the other Mary Sue condition, the people around her come to love her not because “Oh, she’s the author’s favorite, we must all fall at her feet and adore her!” but for genuine reasons, shown through real interactions in the show. By being herself she has helped all of them understand themselves better, and become more the sort of people they can be proud of being. The minor civilian characters in season 1 came to love her because she set up the collage group to do disaster relief and help children, and she brought all of them together to do something both worthwhile and fun. They recognized that she was a good person from directly seeing her actions. The civilians in Insight idolize her because she’s the face of the Gatchaman, and her outgoing personality makes her feel more relatable, despite being a superhero.

        She is not a “Jesus figure” trying to duplicate a messianic archetype with her self-sacrifice. That idea never occurred to me, nor do I think it occurred to anyone except for those people who belittle her by trying to shove her into a box labeled “Mary Sue” and saying “well, obviously the show has decided she’s perfect (it hasn’t, as I’ve just said), so she’s basically a god in it. So obviously they’re setting her up to be like Jesus because she’s their perfect goddess Hajime-sama who they worship and can do no wrong, etc.” That is not what she show is saying, and if you weren’t stuck on the idea that the show thinks she’s perfect (it doesn’t), you wouldn’t have even considered it. Jesus may be the most famous example of self-sacrifice of one for the sake of many, but He is hardly the only one over the millennia, both in fiction and non-fiction. Just because a work of fiction has some very good person sacrifice themselves to save many others, that doesn’t mean that work of fiction is saying “THIS PERSON IS JESUS! WORSHIP HIM/HER YOU PUNY MORTALS!” The idea is ridiculous and insulting, assuming that a character can’t be themselves and still be a good enough person to be willing to do that.

        Congratulations, Stilts, you’ve managed to push one of my buttons. My apologies.

      2. @Wanderer

        Some of your points are good, though you misunderstood my reasoning in others. I don’t think a bunch of Japanese people thought, “Oh, let’s make a Jesus character!”, ’cause they’re probably not Christian, lol. Hell, I’m not Christian, Jesus is just cultural shorthand in the English-speaking world for “too perfect” or “messiah”. And in the way that she sacrifices herself (her pain, luckily, not her life) for others, she certain had a helluva martyr-like turn.

        Also, I’d note that most people only think Jesus is infallible in retrospect, and when they ignore things he said that they don’t like (don’t idolize money? Let’s just set that aside…). The dude was strung up on a cross in his life, after all. The people at the time didn’t always like him.

        You do make a good point that the charge of Mary Sue is problematic. I was basically using it as shorthand for “This character is too perfect,” and “This character is flat [lacking character development,” which are both broadly true of Hajime. She’s a static character who always seems to have the answer. Buuuuuuut, an actual Mary Sue is different than that. So my apologies, that wasn’t accurate.

        She certainly doesn’t work so that the universe rearranges itself so that she’s right. The writers of GATCHAMAN Crowds aren’t that bad. They just set it up initially so that Hajime would be right/the answer to our problems. Which is how heroes usually work! It’s just that, lacking any character arc of her own, she ends up feeling less like a character, and more like a too-perfect idol.

        Which all sounds like criticism, but it’s not. I like Hajime as a character, especially this season, where I thought she was used better than the first. As a linchpin of a character-driven conflict, I don’t think she’d be very good, ’cause her character isn’t dramatic. But as the solution to a theme-driven conflict, she worked quite nicely, and drove the point home.

        Either way, no worries. Just calm down and think it through a little more, haha. You’re assuming things I hadn’t intended, sometimes correctly, sometimes not. Remember the MST3K Mantra: It’s just a show; I should really just relax. Though I enjoy your comments, so don’t relax too much ^^

      3. Sorry. I’ve been reading a lot of comments on the two seasons over the past few days, and while there are a lot of people who like Hajime as much as I do, there are also a great many who have pigeonholed her into a “Mary Sue” box and decided that they hate her pretty much since the beginning, and have let that influence everything they’ve seen of her since. I think your comments just kind of poked a sore spot that had developed from me wanting to argue with some of them.

  4. I thought the first season was much better than the second.
    The first season had a tighter plot, ludicrous as it may have been, and a proper antagonist while getting across the themes it wanted to.

    The second season was far too busy trying to get its themes across, neglecting the plot in the process. There was no interesting antagonist, the conflict wasn’t engaging, the people written into stupidity to make the plot happen and most characters from the first season were shoved to the sidelines or reduced to punching bag cameos like poor Katze.

  5. This is a lesson the Japanese people should remember as well, as Yuru-jii aplty demonstrated—he got swept up in the mood during WWII, until he was killing people he didn’t hate.

    I find the way you’ve framed this somewhat ironic, in that–and correct me if I’m wrong–it seems to imply that the Japanese people are being swept along by the people who are intent on changing the constitution/Japanese security laws? From my perspective as someone studying and teaching Japanese politics–particularly Japan’s foreign relations and security policy–the protestors on the streets of Tokyo now are also being swept along. They’re largely iterating one side of the debate, completely ignoring the other side.

    I personally think that there are some things about the Japanese constitution that need to be amended. I understand the fears that about the changes that the Abe administration may want to bring in–I can’t say that I trust them not to ‘follow the US into war’, myself–but I’d argue that the debate should be about what and how instead of whether the constitution should be changed. Whilst indications about what Abe et al might want to change are worrying, the uncompromising stance of the protesters isn’t helping either.

    1. Er—you’re wrong? Though only ’cause you were reading into it past the limits of my personal knowledge. I had no idea that the Japanese were seriously considering changing their constitution. All I had heard was that some people wanted to due to fiction like GATE, which doesn’t surprise me ’cause big country. But I didn’t know the government was seriously considering it.

      I was more thinking about how Japan has a serious war apologist tendency, where a bunch of people still don’t want admit how horrible a lot of WWII was (the rape of nanjing, etc)—and that they weren’t the good guys in that way. Germany performed a giant, nation-wide mea culpa, but Japan still hasn’t done that. Which is justifiably worrisome to its neighbors.

      I don’t pay attention to what the Japanese are doing most of the time. I’ve no control over it, so there are better things for me to give my attention to. Though I do wish more countries would exercise more restraint with their militaries, my own country included, lol

      1. My apologies. I assumed you knew at least of the constitutional change stuff because that’s what’s dominating news about Japan at the moment. It’s complicated, so I won’t go into it, but I really don’t think most people protesting have really thought about all sides of the issue.

        That said, I think the apology question demonstrates with even greater clarity just how easy it is for people to be ‘swept along’. It’s very complicated, and involves domestic political issues that most foreigners aren’t aware of. The comparison with Germany can only be taken so far – there are similarities, but there are just as many differences – e.g. France was willing to forgive and move on. Japan has apologised numerous times, the main problem there is that certain other countries have constructed a narrative that blames Japan for things that aren’t warranted – the backlash in Japan is about that, but the historical narratives that China and South Korea have constructed aren’t helping. The three countries actually set up a commission, involving scholars from all three sides, to try and figure out what the actual ‘truth’ was, but I’ve heard that the results couldn’t be released, and not because of the Japanese side. So it’s rather unfortunate that everyone is resting the blame for this solely on Japan.

      2. @karice67

        This is getting off-topic, but I’ll note that my own reading supports that last thing you said. It’s actually rather fascinating (in a train-wreck sort of way) just how much, on actual research, facts differ from the ‘war apologist’ narrative that seems to be common belief.

  6. Well of course Hajime isn’t the hero we deserve, she’s freaking Jesus. She almost literally died for their sins this season. How do you actually deserve a near perfect person as your hero?

    The show is good at making points and poking at modern society. While the points may seem to be common sense, it is still good to actually make them now and then.

  7. I actually did like this season… at least, much better than I did the first one. The first one suffered a lot from a messy narrative – this one had a very clear, very obvious, and very pointed narrative that it was following from episode 2, and while it did in fact sacrifice any pretense of the characters being any more than philosophical vehicles, it was amusing to see the show thus also avoiding expected tropes while beating people over the head with its message… because, after all, the message itself implies that if you don’t beat people over the head with it, they’ll never think about the message at all.

    It’s no Shin Sekai Yori – that managed both a very pointed message while having convincing and deep characters – but the fact I’m even thinking of comparing it to that is a fair compliment.

  8. I love how they handle Tsubasa.

    She is a good kid, simple and kind and just want the best for everyone but she didn’t think things through and she walk away from difficult question, she is perfect sample of the 6 in the 2-6-2 rule Jou mentioned.

    Tsubasa is us, not as viewers but as human in modern society and thats why she is the hero in Insight. Tsubasa only become a hero after she was slapped in the face by the consequences of her action. Her good side only come up after she became aware of her actions. Just like how we only try to be better after we messed up.

    Nonetheless trying to fix something after it was broken is not easy so Insight remind us to always think before act. Its not easy and will probably made us sacrifice more than we gain but we have to do it. To think and to act on those thinking is the privilege of being human afterall, we should make use of it.

    Insight have soo many things to say about society and its all so on point that it feels like a slap on the face and I love every single second of it.


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