When anime franchises get rebooted, it’s fairly typical for the new staff to take it in a new direction and make something extra-special to celebrate the anniversary of a classic product. For examples of this done incredibly well, look no further than the 2012 Lupin III series or the 2009 Mazinger reboot. For the example of this done perfectly, take a gander at Kenji Nakamura’s take on the decades-old Gatchaman franchise and watch him take an already stellar skill set to a whole other level.
Meet the show with the year’s best villain, the year’s best protagonist, the year’s best two-person dialogue chain, the year’s most relevant-to-society themes, the year’s second-best opening (got Jaeger’d by the number one), the year’s best panda, and the best one-word BGM track in anime.
Meet Gatchaman Crowds.
At its core, Gatchaman Crowds follows a story similar to the core premise of the original Gatchaman franchise; a powerful, capable calamity from beyond the stars is bringing his A-game trying to bring humanity to its knees, while the titular team of chosen heroes tries to stop him. GC takes that core and builds off it. While keeping in mind the old precepts of Gatchaman, the show presents an alternative type of villainy (the not entirely unprecedented playfully aggressive manipulations of Berg Katze) and an alternative type of counter-scientific ninja (the very unpredictable Hajime Ichinose) that calls for a new approach to heroism.
Have you ever watched a show where the hero-villain dialogue seemed like it came from a can about 2 days after its expiration date? There are only so many ways to package conversations between heroes and villains when their personalities are ones that have been matched up hundreds of time before. Scriptwriter Toshiya Ono doesn’t so much sidestep that problem as judo slam it smack onto the pavement. From open to the very end, every single conversation between Hajime and Katze is two separate games of verbal speed chess: the in-show one where Katze tries to knock Hajime off balance whilst she dodges every barb he throws with confounding but assured finesse, and the out-of-show one required to sluice the floodgates and let the dialogue flow as natural as water from a steam geyser. It helps that, as the show begins to hit its climax, these conversations happen while buildings are getting blown up.
The show’s approach to using CG models is also a bit different from the norm. The first episode reveals a bunch of snazzy 3D effects: armor suits, transformation sequences, big freaky monsters, the works. The show then proceeds to use them very sparingly. The show isn’t about the Gatchaman team fighting villains with violence, but winning a war for the soul of humanity. Katze wants to destroy the earth, but he delights in having the planets he crushes self-destruct. So the majority of the villains the team fights are humans. And the majority of trials the team faces are not explicitly villainous, but rather natural disasters or broader social problems stirred up by Katze’s influence. Especially when facing these broader social issues, the team plays up to the challenge, swapping methods to suit their needs like some sort of politically-motivated Black Jack. They use social media, make PR visits to kindergarten, and enlist the help of a Prime Minister who starts out as a stock whiny bureaucrat and ends up acting like a character straight from the mind of Kaiji Kawaguchi. These outreach efforts connect them to the rest of the cast, a lineup of professionals who don’t get a ton of screentime but come across as believable cogs in the world where the story takes place.
All of the above is a list of the biggest reasons why Gatchaman Crowds should be at the top of your to-watch list (and looks a respectable commercial success, to boot), but there’re plenty more plusses in this math equation. There’s a gay guy and a crossdresser as part of the cast, and the aforementioned traits are not their most distinctive feature. It knows how to be really, really slick cool with the camera angles and the bgm. It pulls a trick with a lighter and a cigarette that’s straight out of one of Futakoi Alternative’s golden moments; a whole Gatchaman bgm sequence in episode 10 where they play the full song for the first time to give a certain debate heavier dramatic weight. It does the little things as well as it does the big things, and the result is a fantastic superhero story that is as engaging to watch as it is to consider afterwards.
Character Designs: [Kinoko]
1/1 (Each member of the gatchaman team has a coordinated look that matches their personality, to say nothing of Berg Katze.)
Soundtrack: [Taku Iwasaki, SD – Yukio Nagasaki]
2/2 (In addition to the one awesome track up above, the ost features a smorgasbord of stuff, ranging from heavy dramatic to floaty futuristic.)
Writing: [Toshiya Ono]
3/3 (Phenomenal take on a superhero premise, mixing a host of disparate elements in a combination that works more or less perfectly.)
Direction: [Kenji Nakamura]
4/4 (Delivers action, inspiration, and machine-gun brinksmanship dialogue with polished expertise, setting up a roller coaster that just keeps speeding up for the latter two-thirds of the show.)
10/10 (It’s the best anime of the year bar none. Probably one of my top 20 all-time series, for whatever that’s worth.)