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 stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: My morning routine, True Ends, Rejection, the secret place, & fundamentals, and What are your two skills?