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.
For this viewing, I took in the English dub. Both language tracks are available in 2.0 stereo. I always campaign for 5.1 mixes for titles, and it definitely could have been useful here. The 2.0 mix is nice, with some good directionality in sound effects and background noises. But there is a lot of action in this title, and a 5.1 mix could have helped build atmosphere and draw us in more.
This release has a nice transfer. Colors are bright with no washout or muting anywhere, which is good because it has such an interesting color style to it, with multiple shading and quirky designs prevalent throughout. I noticed some minor artifacting in some of the darker scenes, but it isn’t particularly noticeable if you aren’t looking for it. It’s a very pretty piece, overall.
The three discs for this release come in a single amaray case with center insert to hold two of them. The front cover is a somewhat psychedelic image of the Gatchaman team in various monochrome states. Only Hajime is shown in full color. The back has another shot of Hajime holding Sugane’s sword and flashing the peace sign. There’s also the summary, some screen shots, and the technical details. It’s a basic case, but well designed.
The menus are also relatively basic but well designed. Most of the screen is taken up with some shots of a few characters, with the selections available in bubbles to the right. The text and bubbles contrast the image behind them well, with the cursor being the Gatchaman symbol and a highlight. It’s easy to follow, and has the same psychedelic sort of look the front cover does, which mimics the design of the show fairly well too.
All that’s available on this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Growing up, I was a fan of Battle of the Planets, an edit of the Japanese series Gatchaman for young American audiences (similar to how they made Voltron out of Beast King Go Lion and Robotech out of Macross). I finally had an opportunity to see the original Gatchaman a couple years ago and enjoyed it, so when they announced this series a few years ago, I was intrigued. The hype that came with it upon release just increased my intrigue. Now that I have had a chance to check it out, I can say that the reality matches the hype.
Hajime Ichinose is a perky, bubbly headed high-school student who lives in Tachikawa and has an unhealthy affection for cute notebooks (she is a minor celebrity at her local stationary shop). One day at school, while celebrating her most recent purchase, she is confronted by a strange man who tells her she has a larger destiny, having what it takes to be a Gatchaman. He then reaches inside her chest and pulls out a notebook, which he presents to her telling her that the notebook is the key to her power and will lead her in the right direction. This all sounds fascinating to Hajime, but nonemoreso than the fact that she now has another cute new notebook.
As a Gatchaman, Hajime gains access to the team’s secret lair, is allowed to live in apartments specifically set aside for them, and is allowed to join in their missions. There’s just one problem: the Gatchaman team are tasked with hunting down aliens and killing or imprisoning them, using the Bird Mode powers specifically tailored for each person and granted by the notebooks, before they can cause problems to humanity. But Hajime detests fighting and refuses to kill, preferring to be friends with everybody instead. And her nature is such that, of course, her methods of befriending the aliens essentially puts the Gatchaman out of work, as they realize they’ve been going about their duties all wrong. Add in that a new social network known as GALAX is bringing people together in a way that problems are solved long before the Gatchaman can help, they begin to feel as if they might be obsolete. But when it becomes clear that somebody is manipulating GALAX for more nefarious purposes, they realize they need to get to the bottom of it.
Gatchaman Crowds is a title that, for me, is essentially built upon two characters: series protagonist Hajime Ichinose and series antagonist Berg Katze (making his dramatic return from death at the end of the original series…). When it was over, the plot was decent, but I wasn’t entirely sure if it made complete sense. It seemed like it made a lot of assumptions on the viewer, as well as took a few leaps in logic. If they were going for a cohesive story, I don’t think they fully achieved it. They could have done with another twelve episodes to bring it together, I think. That’s not to say the plot is bad, but I don’t think it really comes together the way they might like. But frankly, Hajime and Berg Katze are so awesome that I don’t really care that the story has a few holes in it.
To say that Hajime is a breath of fresh air in the Gatchaman team is something of an understatement. Prior to her arrival, the Gatchaman hunt aliens and take their duties very seriously. They are stoic and intractable. Hajime is just about the complete opposite of that. It would be similar to taking something like Psycho Pass and dropping Excel from Excel Saga right in the middle of it. Gatchaman Crowds certainly isn’t Quack Experimental Anime, but Hajime is much on the same wavelength, and they are completely unprepared for her boisterous personality. And of course, as these things happen, her shaking the foundation of the system as much as she does dramatically changes things for the better. Had Berg Katze come along without Hajime, the Gatchaman likely wouldn’t have been able to handle his brand of chaos. But with Hajime’s seeming inanity guiding and driving them, they are much better prepared to handle Katze’s threat.
But as much as I love Hajime, she only works because of her direct opposite—Berg Katze. In the original Gatchaman, Katze was the second in command of the alien terrorist organization GALACTOR, and his plans all basically revolved around killing as many people as possible in a short amount of time with the goal of world domination. He was the very definition of evil. In this series, Katze is the very definition of psychotic and sociopathic, and his plans revolve around creating chaos purely for his own amusement. And boy is he amused. In this case, Katze is himself a Gatchaman. He was also chosen for the better good, but his inconsistent nature combined with his observation that people will always skew towards destruction causes him to favor chaos and has abandoned his post. His Bird Mode powers allow him to take on the appearance of anybody he kisses on the lips, and he uses that to kill, hurt, and create confusion anywhere and everywhere while pinning the blame on other people. And again, he essentially does it for his own amusement—ulterior motives need not apply.
Hajime and Katze are two sides of the same coin. Where Katze uses chaos to create destruction and discord, Hajime uses that same chaos to create harmony and build trust among people all over the world. When the two of them finally meet and begin to counter each other’s actions, it’s pure beauty because there is really no rhyme or reason to what they do, and often they try the same tactic to very different results. And watching the two of them play off each other is so much fun that, again, it really didn’t end up mattering to me whether or not the story made that much sense.
The only issue I have that is plot related is that the dénouement introduces a specific result to the conflict without explaining how they got there. It’s not so much a logic gap as it is a logic canyon. I’d happily accept that it might be something that will be explained in the upcoming sequel series, but Tatsunoko released an OVA that remixes the last episode, cutting some content and apparently adding in the material needed to bridge this canyon, and that OVA is not part of this set. I remember a lot of people complaining about that when this set was released, and now I can understand why. Giving us that OVA would provide us the conclusion we really need. I don’t know why it wasn’t included here, and I’m assuming it will be included in a later release (though I don’t know that either), but its exclusion here is odd.
Gatchaman Crowds is a title I went into expecting one thing, got something completely different, and loved it anyway. The story maybe could have used another twelve episodes to properly germinate, but the awesomeness of Hajime and Katze far outweigh any shortcomings the plot might have. The only drawback here is the odd lack of the series ending OVA which ties up some otherwise loose strings. Otherwise, this series is a complete joy. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System