Fair warning: Gatchaman Crowds Insight might boast a new story-arc, but it carries over too many characters and plotlines to be accessible to newbies. Viewers new to Gatchaman Crowds, which was released in the UK two years ago, should watch that previous series before buying this sequel.
Even more than the first Crowds, Insight is only a part-time action show. This is a witty, whimsical fantasy about politics, no less, and populist politics at that. It’s a story of a most unusual presidential candidate and the unforeseen consequences of national referendums (and before you ask, the anime was made in 2015).
The presidential wannabe is a childlike alien, newly arrived in Japan. Rather than a freaky-looking hairdo and too much fake tan, he has a cute red face and a knack for giving the right messages. Though he’s not a Twitter freak, social media amplifies his appeal. So does his belief in letting the country vote together on momentous issues – by smartphone, no less!
The established Crowds characters are present, but in reduced roles – even Hajime, the manically merry Mary Sue heroine, is sidelined. Apart from the scarlet starman, the focus is on Tsubasa, a country girl recruited to the Gatchaman team. She finds her sympathies torn between her comrades and the charismatic alien, with whom she finds a special rapport. Insight continues the round of arguments from the first Crowds, as characters declare their views of humanity, from the idealist (everyone can be active in democracy) to the misanthropic (people are apes led by apes).
Like its alien visitor, there’s a wonderfully childlike quality to Insight’s charming-scary vision. The show follows its ‘logic’ through crazed corkscrews into a macabre cartoon Wonderland. By the second half of the series, Tokyo is filling up with cute-sinister smiling creatures, who are a bit like the Blue Meanie villains in the old Yellow Submarine cartoon. They claim to be friendly but you don’t buy that for a minute. The story becomes like some especially silly episodes of 21st century Doctor Who, but with smarter writing and a Day-Glo drawing style, which makes the batty political fable easier to take.
There are issues, particularly with some patches of very static storytelling that are visually dull for all their bright colours (in particular, Insight overuses the device of cheesy TV presenters commenting on the action). As for the political fable, there’ll be the inevitable complaints that this is a dumb person’s idea of a smart show… but take a look at the scene of the gender-fluid founder of a social network, fretting about whether or not to delete politically-skewed news stories, and tell us it’s not on the money. And it’s fascinating to see such issues linked, not to funny foreigner politics in Britain or America, but to Japan’s own dark history in the 1940s.
As for the action, the Gatchaman team get a couple of really good big battles (one early, one at the climax), which score extra points for being set around very real Tokyo locations. Even if those locations are swarming with Blue Meanies. Reviewed by Tom Arden
RELEASE: 15 May 2017
FORMAT: DVD/Blu-ray Combi
PRICE (RRP): £39.99
AGE RATING: 15