When I first heard about Gatchaman Crowds, I had no idea what to expect. Certainly, the word “Gatchaman” evokes thoughts of the classic 1972 Tatsunoko series Space Ninja Team Gatchaman, brought to the U.S. variously as Battle of the Planets and G-Force, but from the earliest reports I heard, it had nothing to do with that. It was only 12 episodes so I figured I’d give it a shot and I must say, the earliest reports were wrong.
Sort of. While it is true that the plot behind Gatchaman Crowds has nothing whatsoever to do with the story of Space Ninja Team Gatchaman, the writers and artists did borrow liberally from the series. Both, of course, were produced by Tatsunoko and therefore, it isn’t like they were stealing, but the G logo is the same as used in the original show, the name of the villain, Berg Katse, is the same as the villain in the original, they use a similar catchphrase when they transform, but that’s about as far as it goes. If there’s a deeper connection intended, it’s certainly not made clear.
The story behind Gatchaman Crowds takes place in and around the town of Tachikawa, Japan, where live a group of super-powered individuals using alien technology that allow them to transform into Gatchaman, essentially neon-colored superheroes that protect the people, initially from an invasion by aliens called MESS. Into this world, a 16-year old high school student named Hajime Ichinose, a spunky girl who has an obsession with collecting day planners and seeing the best in absolutely everything, is recruited to fill an empty spot on the team. Initially, it seems that she is everything that the team does not want or need, she’s not good at following the rules, she asks a lot of questions and she acts without thinking more often than not, but as time goes on, it seems that she’s exactly what they do need to lead them out of the doldrums that mindless respect for authority has caused them to stagnate, especially when their worst nightmare, an alien called Berg Katse, arrives, an alien that has a long history of destroying planets from within. Apparently, Katse had destroyed other planets in the past, including the planet of JJ, the human-looking alien that set up Gatchaman, and his coming is the worst imaginable thing for the team, especially for Paiman, the tiny panda-shaped alien and O.D., the blatantly gay mother hen of the group. Katse doesn’t want to just blow up the planet though, that’s too easy, he has the ability to copy other people’s physical forms and he wants the planet to rip itself apart. Why? It’s never explained, maybe it’s fun.
Figuring into the story is a hot new social networking system called GALAX, patterned a bit on Twitter and led by LOAD, Rui’s online pseudonym. The people who use GALAX are called GALAXters, a play on the name of the alien organization in the original Gatchaman called Galactor. Essentially, LOAD and the GALAXters think that they can run the world as a group, responding to disasters and problems via GALAX and as time goes on, GALAX takes on a life of it’s own. Rui operates GALAX via the autonomous AI called X, that he can access via the wall screen in his penthouse or via his tablet that he carries everywhere. The Gatchamen also have a bit of technology, a NOTE, a special combination tablet and cell phone that allows them to communicate with each other and transform into their colorful digital counterparts. The NOTE also allows them to engage the Amnesia Effect, which renders them functionally invisible from the general public, allowing them to fight against the MESS and other monsters in the middle of a crowd.
There’s one other thing that comes into effect, Rui has a special program in GALAX called Crowds, which lets people with access turn into invisible, digital dog-like critters. This power apparently was given to Rui by Berg Katse and he uses it initially to give 100 brave and wise people special abilities to help in times of crisis, but when Katse takes over Rui’s life, he gives the ability to all of the current GALAXters and sends them to wreak havoc on the city. It’s only after Rui and the Gatchamen convince even more people to join the service that they all get the power and save the day.
Unfortunately, the series is just bizarre and that’s a problem because it could have been a really cool sci-fi show that was ultimately done in by freaky characters and oddball actions. Hajime, called “Newbie” by most of them to start, has something seriously wrong with her, she convinces you that she’s using some really weird drug and isn’t sharing. Ultimately, all of the characters are just two-dimensional stereotypes. You have the unflappable, enthusiastic schoolgirl. You have the goth girl, Utsutsu, who thinks the world sucks and hates her life. You have the hero, Joe, who loses his confidence and his cheerleader, Sugane, who worships the ground he walks on. There’s the absurd gay stereotype, O.D., and the cross-dresser, Rui, who gender-bends for no definable reason. These characters don’t really add anything to the story. You wouldn’t lose anything by, say, having O.D. not being a falsetto lisping cliche. Why does Rui spend the first half of the series running around in a dress? What’s the point, except to do it? What does this accomplish? Nothing. I can see where Hajime’s painfully sunny disposition may be helpful to the story, but the rest? Not really.
The other issue I have is with the MESS. It’s supposedly a horrible alien entity that kills people or something of that nature, they never really explain. Every time a MESS appears, the Gatchaman kill it. Hajime decides she’s going to try to understand the MESS and the second she does, one becomes her pet and they just stop attacking. Why? We don’t know. Is it linked to Katse? We don’t know. They’re never used again in the series, we shift from MESS being the big bad to Crowds. Why? We don’t know.
The series has gotten some good reviews but honestly, I don’t get it. Sure, there are some nifty fight scenes and some interesting character moments, but nothing really ties it all together. We get no explanations or what’s going on. Why does Katse destroy planets? What has brought him to Earth? If JJ didn’t know Katse was coming, why did he set up the Gatchamen? If JJ did know, why didn’t he warn anyone? What are the MESS? What is Rui’s aim? Why does Rui accept help from an alien and not tell anyone? The list goes on and on and on.
I tried to like this show, I really did, there are some good moments in it, there is some good action in it, but there just isn’t a very good story and that’s the most important part for me. If you want to just shut off your brain for 12 episodes and watch the pretty colors, that’s fine I guess, but I want something deeper and more cohesive.
Gatchaman Crowds unfortunately isn’t it.