Sometimes a revisionist approach to an older property can surpass it in fascinating ways. This certainly isn’t your father’s Gatchaman.
What They Say:
For most of the residents of Tachikawa city, life seems to be perfectly normal. That’s how it seems, but the truth, known only by a tiny select handful, is that this is a city at war. Every day, as the citizens go about their business, they are under attack by alien criminals and mysterious organizations seeking to conquer, enslave and destroy. But to combat these threats, a covert council has secretly selected certain individuals to serve as protectors.
Wearing special suits that amplify latent powers hitherto unsuspected, they blend into the crowds and shadows, waiting until the call is given to fight again. They could be anyone: your neighbor, your best friend’s mom, even high school students like Sugune Tachibana and recent college grad Joe Hibiki. And needless to say, schoolgirl artist Hajime Ichinose is probably the last person anyone would ever suspect of being a soldier entrusted with defending mankind. But she is, even if as the latest recruit she still has an awful lot of learning to do. Hiding like ninjas, powered by super-science, they are humanity’s first and greatest line of defense.
The audio presentation for this show brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. While just a stereo show, we get a pretty solid mix here that does some very fun stuff as it progresses because of the mix of action, the dialogue placement and the general design of it all. The use of the net capable aspects is nicely handled, especially with X in how it sounds a little displaced and all around at times, while the flitting nature of some of the characters like Berg Katze definitely comes across well. The action side of it has a good flow to it as it moves about the screen and with the transformation sides as well. The dialogue side is what dominates though and that uses the forward soundstage well to tell its story while keeping the movement flowing as characters walk about and interact in a number of settings that make for some good set design. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs in a standard layout of nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Tatsunoko Production, the series is filled with some really beautiful colors and designs, a lot of fantastic detail and a great shift between CG animation of the transformed suits, the more traditional character and world designs and the virtual aspects that come into play. When watching the show, you can see just how much detail is involved in the world building here and it comes across really well and in a striking way where you’re reminded why visual design is so important. There are familiar things of course, but this isn’t a cookie cutter show where you’ve seen these familiar buildings before or settings. What we get here involves some real creativity and architectural design that really does leap off of the screen because of the solid encoding that captures all of what was put into it, especially the vibrancy and pop of the colors.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against their interior walls. The front cover artwork does, in a way, feel pretty trippy with its green background mixed in with some blood as the characters are laid out across it while not quite interacting with each other or feeling like they’re even in the same frame sometimes. Only Hajime feels like she has any real depth of color to her as the others are mostly done to one color each, but there’s a really interesting feeling to this that makes it feel right, even if it is a bit unusual. The back cover rolls the green throughout it as the background while providing a full color image of Hajime along the left as she holds onto Sugane’s sword. The premise is what dominates the middle of the cover with its large amount of small text on a white blob that is trying to convey way too much. The episode and disc count is laid out clearly and I do like that the symbol at least makes an appearance here. The discs features are a little harder to see but the production credits are laid out well and the technical grid covers everything in a very clean and straightforward way. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release may be simple overall, but it’s slick and definitely gives us something that we don’t normally see. They could have gone for some fanservice-ish image of the girls, a cast shot with most of the characters or just a logo piece. But what we get instead is basically a look at the whole field of characters inside the virtual GALAX world walking around the various buildings and engaging in their activities, sans any text though. There’s a really great color design to it and it feels kind of surreal overall in a way, but it fits so perfectly for the show. tHe navigation along the right just has the episodes listed by number as they aren’t named and you get a tab for languages on both and extras on the second disc. Everything load quickly and looks great both during the main menu and as a pop-up menu during regular playback.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences on the second volume.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it was announced that Gatchaman was getting a new project and that it was titled Gatchaman CROWDS, it certainly felt like it was open to doing some neat things. Revivals are all the rage these days in just about every quarter out there, so seeing Gatchaman resurface isn’t a surprise. In fact, this is the fifth incarnation of it in some form since the 1972 series launched, so we were probably do. But while the previous incarnations kept a lot of things similar, this one basically looks to reinvent itself for the modern day, take a bigger view of things and draw on a lot of areas that can let the viewer interpret so much of it to their own experiences and views. It provides for a lot of fun little nods to what has come before, but the first thing any fan of the past has to do is basically make that mental break from those incarnations and just accept this as its own series. Once you do that and just invest in this project on its own, it’ll leave you wanting to revisit it often to see what new interpretations you can make.
Taking place in the summer of 2015, the series is admittedly a bit standard in its structure, but it attempts to try and do things that only a few shows every couple of years do in presenting a change to the world at large. It revolves primarily around Hajime, a sixteen year old girl in Tachikawa, a city of just under 200,000 people. She’s not exactly a normal girl but one that’s a little off kilter, the marches to the beat of her own drum type, who ends up being approached by a mysterious old man floating out of nowhere that we learn is named J.J.. What he does is reach into her body, into her heart, and pulls out a device that becomes her NOTES. It’s with this that she can transform into a Gatchaman, a secret group of defenders of the world that fights against alien invaders. J.J. himself is one, though he barely speaks and only does so in riddles for the most part, and the boss of the group is a tiny panda-like creature named Pai-man. Hajime’s introduction to this new world has her going into it eyes wide and hugely interested in what it all can mean.
Hajime’s introduction also has her meeting some of the other members, notably the similarly aged Sugane, a serious young man who excels at being a Gatchaman with a sword in hand to deal with the threats to the city of Tachikawa. They’re pretty much focused just on this city, which is a bit odd, but it ends up making sense along the way. She also gets to meet Joe, the older serious type who spends his day working in government, O.D., another slightly older man who has abilities but can’t use them as they’d end the world, and Utsu-tsu, a shy and quiet introverted girl who is dependent on O.D. and doesn’t get involved all that much. Most of the focus when it comes to dealing with the enemy is on Joe and Sugane, though Hajime takes very quickly to the process and provides a different but interesting approach to dealing with it all. It’s an odd group that all end up living together in an expansive dorm setting that connects them to the bigger picture alien side of existence as well. The main room they operate out of has a kind of child like feel to it, but it works rather well in showing the quirky nature of everything.
Initially, we’re introduced to the creatures that they deal with, beings known as MESS that take on various forms and cause problems. What the Gatchaman do is eliminate them or convert them down to a small cube form that’s then taken to the aliens that J.J. overseas and they process and, well, fix them I guess. It’s explained but it’s all kind of off to the side because once Hajime gets involved, she realizes that there’s better ways to deal with them rather than killing them and then the whole MESS aspect is kind of forgotten over a couple of episodes. The focus here is more on the characters and understanding them, but also setting up the other big parts of the show, which admittedly is far more interesting than the standard eliminate the faceless enemy until the big bad is revealed.
The big bad we do get is Berg Katze, one of the few real nods to the original series, but it’s twisted nicely as he’s a former Gatchaman member himself who has gone rogue, crazy and not altogether there. His intention is to destroy everything and utilize his skill in being able to take on the appearance and life of others to do so. He just hasn’t found the right way to do it yet. What he comes into contact with late in the series is what’s set at the beginning of the show, a social media form of communication called GALAX, which was created by Rui, a young man who engages in crossdressing that built this creation and its artificial intelligence known as X by utilizing the power of Berg Katze to do it.
GALAX is fascinating, even if it’s kept to a very simple and very Japanese-monocultural view of things. With it being limited to Tachikawa residents and only the 170,000 or so that are considered capable of utilizing it well, it’s designed to crowdsource doing the right thing, largely in terms of helping other people in various situations. In the more extreme instances we see towards the end, it’s setting housewives to teams to cook things needed to help those in need, to set others to help injured folks and direct assistance towards fires to be dealt with. It’s a huge crowdsourcing of skills and abilities in a way that can transform how things are done beyond just mere words and thoughts. Some of it is simple early on in terms of games, social interactions and just putting people on a positive path. But for Rui, what he wants to do is to change the world. Part of that comes from the terminology that I do find appealing in that he wants to give it an upgrade. It’s time to change how we think of things, to reduce our need to individual heroes and to become collective heroes that do the right thing and help raise all boats. There’s a lot of issues with it and obviously it’s very centric to this kind of cultural mentality, but the ideas are in the right place, coming at a time when you can feel the need of social trends pushing towards changing the direction of first world nations in new, better ways.
In terms of social and political discourse, you could probably spend a few hours easy working off of tangents for this and getting into some neat territory. Gatchaman CROWDS doesn’t delve deep into it, but it shows us a way that it wants to believe it can be used, though we also get the dark side of it when Berg Katze takes over and uses the Hundred, mechanical collective use devices that help people, to instead cause chaos and destruction. But that doesn’t detract from the larger themes here of changing the world and really trying to do something new. That’s also what Hajime’s story is about, running in parallel. While Gatchaman operate in secret and deal with things by creating amnesia zones, she instead pushes the situations to have them reveal themselves, not to become celebrities, but to inspire alongside GALAX a way to achieve that upgrade of the world. While Rui wants to make everyone heroes, Hajime understands that you still need to inspire them in a physical form rather than just by mysteriously leading through the app itself.
Building towards that confrontation that dominates the final three episodes, Gatchaman CROWDS offers a lot of fun things to work with. While I’m not exactly a fan of the transformed designs, it is a growing trend for several years that hasn’t quite gone big but is still utilized. I would have preferred something a little more classical, but they really want to reinvent here and I’m glad that they did go all in when it comes to this. The buildup to the events at the end works us through the cast fairly well to understand them, but for most it’s just scratching the surface as to who they are. There are a lot of concepts that the series is attempting to pull off here and a whole lot to introduce in terms of the setting, ejecting the nostalgia aspect so it can be its own thing and dealing with the entire GALAX aspect. But when you watch it in full, pulling it all together and seeing what it’s trying to build, you can’t help but to be impressed, even if it falls a bit short at the end by going for a more standard approach.
I had missed out on this series when it was simulcast but I was definitely intrigued by what I had heard in opinions during its run and my own very positive experiences with the original series. Gatchaman CROWDS is very much its own being. It’s not trying to duplicate what came before in a new way. It’s going all in on something new with a few trappings of the past. And ejecting the nostalgia and what you think it should be is the hardest thing. When you do get past it, and take in the show for what it is, it really does try to go big and reach for some lofty concepts and offer a view of how it could unfold in this kind of setting. The idea of putting the world through an upgrade is an interesting term to use, one that fits first world culture in a lot of ways, and you can see that taking hold in a neat fashion if it could gain traction in the real world. I really liked what the show wanted to do once I got into its rhythm and cast and I found myself really thinking about the application of GALAX and its concept and how it would really work, something that you usually don’t think about with most anime because it’s so bland and doesn’t try to get you to think. This one does and the payoff for it is pretty good overall depending on how open to it you want to be.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 2nd, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.