Region: 2 - UK
Length: 300 minutes
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
DO YOU REMEMBER BATTLE OF THE PLANETS? Beneath the tranquil surface of daily life in Tachikawa, a secret war is waged against alien invaders by heroes who are considered an urban legend: the Gatchaman! With the powers of their alien G-suits, these super-powered superheroes are the unknowing citizens' only line of defense - or so they think until the mysterious LOAD and his online network appear. But when a sinister enemy emerges, it will be up to the Gatchaman's oddball recruit, Hajime, to help them join forces and save the day...!
I won't pretend to know anything about the original Gatchaman show from the 1970's, OK? My brother watched it as Battle of the Planets in reruns but I never saw it. What I do know of the show comes from Youtube clips (where else?) but it looks like fun albeit a bit too serious for its own good. Gatchaman has been remixed so many times, it's not even funny how many versions there are out there. So we come to this, Gatchaman Crowds, a spiritual successor to the original show that keeps the essence of the show but not the trappings of it.
Hajime is a normal, if quirky, high schooler who has been granted powers by the omnipotent being JJ Robinson. She arrives in the secret lair of the Gatchmana team, called CAGE. These powers allow her to be a Gatchaman, protector of the world and hidden from the world's knowledge. Armed with her NOTE (her device to change into her Gatchaman armour), she decides to help people and to make them happier. Along the way, she meets her fellow Gatchamen, Sugane (a golden eyed young man who serves as the unit's sargent), Utsu-tsu (a quiet long haired girl who barely says anything beyond "I'm gloomy"), Pai Pai (a small panda-ish creature who leads the team), Jou (a hard as nails chain smoking Steve McQueen-type) and O.D. (an overly effeminate man who serves as the lynchpin of the group). They are battling aliens who would try to destroy the peace and harmony of the world. But now, they have to discover the secret at the heart of an all encompassing social network called GALAX, its creator Rui Ninomiya and a mysterious alien named Berg Katse. The fact that the first few episodes don't make that clear shouldn't put you off, in fact that's where the fun of the show is felt most.
The show's heart really is the character of Hajime. She approaches the world and its people like a five year old who's just been brought to the park for the first time. She has untold amounts of energy which she frequently uses to the betterment and bewilderment of her Gatchaman teammates. When she starts out, Pai and Sugane try to show her the ropes which are quite restrictive and somewhat counterproductive. They fight the MESS (an 8-bit style lifeform that has been absorbing humans in the city) but don't know why they are doing it. So for Hajime, the question to be asked: has anybody tried to talk to them? Pretty soon, Hajime has saved the remaining missing people and MESSY-chan is a floating friend who hangs around the CAGE HQ. The team is stunned she a) disobeyed orders and spared MESS and b) she saved everyone in one move. From there on, she applies her view of the world to everything the team tackles with the same gusto. I especially like that she talks with everyone, hero, villain or innocent, with the same level of respect and energy. She really doesn't see any reason to be mean, cruel or capricious. Never falling, she makes the others in the Gatchaman crowd work harder, think better and finally allow themselves to feel something other than just existing.
Berg Katse wins the show's award for reason to keep watching. With rapid fire lines, a near completely unhinged performance from the voice actors portraying the character and a willingness to not fall into the trap of being evil without explanation make Katse better than the script calls for. I can't explain without spoiling certain points but there is a reason for Katse to be the way they are. As Katse moves from plot to plot, using Rui and his need to save the world from chaos, using up Rui and then tossing him aside and then moving on to other people, it's never enough for him. Each plot is a means to an end, a lever to use against the world. When he encounters Hajime, it gums up his plans. Not stops them, just alters them. He is gleeful at having someone to talk with who sees the world from the angle than she does. The other Gatchaman would simply attack and be done with it but Hajime is content to talk while the team works on defeating Katse's plans. Not Katse himself, just the plans. When it all comes down around the team's ears, Katse doesn't hit them when they're down, he waits to see what they do.
The show also has something to say about the power of the community in general with the use of GALAX (which is like a social network with a community of active volunteers to help if someone needs them) in the crisis that happen around the series and when the team's home city of Tachikawa is attacked by rogue elements within the GALAX members (who are being supported by Katse) using the NOTE power that Rui used to have and that Katse then uses to play havoc with the citizens of Tachikawa. On one hand, we see that GALAX can be used to help people with the sorts of problems that governments used to handle (advice, services and physical contact) and on the other, the GALAX users spend a lot of their time tearing down politicians while doing nothing to help or contribute. Interesting to see the show's makers comment on the generation of commenters in Japan who do nothing but comment. I like how Rui is a cross dressing guy who dresses like a girl in public to avoid being recognised as the creator of GALAX. There's no other reason (stated) for him doing this and the others don't even bat an eyelid when they find out he's a guy (except for Sugane but he freaks out about everything). As the show goes along, we see openings into who the G-Team are with Hajime driving them to be themselves even getting the notice of JJ and of Pai (JJ never replies but it's implied he's listening to her and Pai comes out of his shell to finally lead the team). I keep hoping to see a final all out showdown between Katse and the team but that honour is left to O.D. and the makers don't disappoint us by misusing the rest of the cast in the meantime. The one problem I have with the show is that it ends abruptly with the final fight taking five minutes of the last episode and then we're done. After all that, it feels like a bit of a letdown to just stop the show (more on that further down).
Lastly, the show's action is top notch with plenty of biff-bam-boff to send bad guys and aliens flying. The transformations are interesting as we get to see what each of the teams inner self looks like. While I wasn't surprised how Hajime or Sugane's armour looked, the most surprising was Pai's (he turns into a giant tank on wheels with two massive arms next to his wheels) and O.D. (which we don't get to see him change into until the final episode) as their personalities don't fit their armours. Whatever about the ridiculous dialogue they spout, once they cry out "Go Bird!", the music swells, the choir cries out "Gatchaman!!!!" and we know we're in for some fun and games. The animation works best when the team are in action, otherwise the animation is fairly standard. When they're in a fight, there's a mix of CG and animation which gels well together, never working against the other. The voice cast in both languages on the disc give it their all and I had a great time listening to them. Music was a good mix of vocal songs and standard anime-type music.
Now, I know it's not Animatsu's fault nor is it Sentai Filmworks (who originally licensed it) but the exclusion of the director's cut for episode 12 is a capital crime of the highest order. The directors cut changes the entire ending of the series and give closure to a lot of threads that were left loose by the first ending. Most importantly, it gives Berg Katse the ending he was denied and tells us what became of him after the fight was over. While the directors cut is freely available in Japan, we've never gotten it and chances are we never will. Which is a shame because the directors cut for 12 would have elevated Crowds into a stellar show with a guaranteed audience for the proposed season 2 that the creators are prepping. As it is, it's a great show and a fantastic choice to start Animatsu' anime offerings off in 2015. Go carefully, and you'll be amazed as to where the show takes you.