It's inspired by the 1970s anime Gatchaman, aka. Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Battle of the Planets, G-Force: Guardians of Space, Eagle Riders, etc. It used to be huge. If you're like me, you probably remember watching it as a child, albeit dubbed into English and with the scenes of heroes machine-gunning people replaced by 7-Zark-7. A few years ago, I even watched some of the 1972 Japanese original. The artwork is beautiful and the production quality is top-notch, but it's still an action-adventure show for children. I didn't continue with it and so I wasn't particularly interested in this 2013 reboot/reimagining, which was basically riding on the coat-tails of the 2013 live-action film.
I was an idiot and it's awesome.
It's unrecognisable as Gatchaman, though. Completely different cast and setting. Our heroes don't have a spaceship, they don't machine-gun anyone and they're living on Earth in the present day. Instead they're superheroes with gorgeously whacked-out neon armour costumes. The plot mostly revolves around mobile phone networks.
However at the same time it's also gloriously, fist-punchingly Gatchaman. The hero music is irresistibly cool every time I hear it, even though it's just a rhythm soundtrack and people singing the word "Gatchaman". (Who's it by? Taku Iwasaki... ah, Read or Die. I must remember him.) The show's proud of its heritage. It's just that they're reinventing it as their own new thing. They borrow the logo and some of the bird iconography. It's still based around a five-man group of heroes, albeit with a better gender balance. The villain, Berg-Katze, is named after the old-Gatchaman villain I knew in the English dub as Zoltar. There's also a glimpse of a burning phoenix in ep.11, which was cool.
The main character is Hajime Ichinose, who might be the most upbeat anime character ever. She's unstoppable. She seems like an airhead. She reacts instantly to everything, she's perpetually happy and she seems incapable of seeing a downside. That's not a front. She really is like that. However nothing gets past her, while her instantaneous bouncy reactions to everything will be distracting you from the fact that those reactions are always thoughtful, clever and necessary. She must have a blinding processing speed. Either that or she's thinking aloud. She also doesn't give a damn about the genre-accepted way of doing things, which will give her Gatchaman colleagues-to-be multiple heart attacks until they realise she's right.
She really is genre-busting, by the way. She chats up villains, does mass-media publicity campaigns when everyone else assumes that We Must Never Reveal Our Secret, etc.
The other Gatchamen are:
- 1. Sugane = straightlaced samurai boy with no sense of humour
- 2. Joe Hibiki = tough guy and pessimist
- 3. O.D = an effeminate gay stereotype, but also the team's voice of sanity and a simply lovely person
- 4. Utsutsu Miya = gloomy girl in a tiny bikini with superpowers are fuelled by life-force
Oh, and there's also Paiman. He's a tiny alien panda whose comical appearance belies the fact that he's short-tempered, insecure and a stick-in-the-mud who's a bad leader. What's more, he knows it. Paiman (and his parallel, the Prime Minister of Japan) provide some of the show's most interesting character work. Technically there's also J.J., who appears to be an alien vampire, but I don't think he counts. As for the villain, Berg-Katze, (s)he's basically an evil Hajime who destroys planets for fun. The conversation between them in ep.6 is delicious.
The story's about a mobile phone network called GALAX and an online app called CROWDS. (There are a few other monsters roaming around, but really it's all about online networks.) Berg-Katze has given superpowers to GALAX's founder, who wants to use the power of online communities to upgrade the world. She disapproves of heroes. People rely on them, instead of becoming heroes themselves. (That's one of several fundamental questions getting raised in this show.) As for CROWDS, that's a program that lets you create invisible real-world entities and thus beat up monsters, rescue children from burning buildings or commit terrorist acts. Your choice. Berg-Katze brought CROWDS to Earth, because (s)he knows how we'll end up using it.
Obviously these online communities are a huge part of the storyline. Hajime uses them. The baddies manipulate them. You can make friends there, or perhaps embittered misanthropes who want to tear everything down. Identity is an important theme, appropriately for a show that's examining what we're like online. Gender identity is fluid, sometimes to the point of genuine ambiguity. (What is Berg-Katze? That's true to the 1972 show, by the way.) Berg-Katze is basically an internet troll, except that his/her hacking rewrites reality. (S)he loves identity theft... in order to commit massacres and get innocent people arrested for them. (S)he's childish and takes nothing seriously. (S)he's doing it for the lulz.
As for the art, it's looser than most anime. Hajime's V-mouth took a little getting used to, but the upside is a psychedelic Gatchaman Secret Base and some awesome costumes. Hajime's is the greatest. Her school uniform's almost as extreme, though, but without a fantasy justification. A skirt that starts right under your boobs and sticks out at 45 degrees creates a very peculiar silhouette, although apparently there's a word for that anti-waistline ("empire line"). The yellow ribbon just finishes it off.
Apparently there's a director's cut of ep.12, but unfortunately it might not be on the English-language DVDs. Drat. I might be wrong, though, and I'm thinking of buying the DVDs anyway. They're quite cheap on Amazon right now.
It's great. It's like an anti-superhero show, where the heroine's greatest power is making friends on social networks and in the end it's all about ordinary people. Will our heroes save us!? Well, actually, they'd you to help. There's commentary on mass media and the Japanese political system, with the question being "can Hajime make a human being out of the prime minister?" It's Gatchaman in name only, but who cares? It's great and so is Hajime.