For anime fans of a certain age the name Gatchaman brings back fond memories of the 1970s Power Rangers-esque series that ran for 105 episodes in Japan and 85 episodes when it was brought over to the west as Battle of The Planets. Since then, there have been other versions of the show produced, including a live-action adaptation released in Japan in 2013. So far, none of these have managed to attract quite the same level of fandom and excitement as the original series, so with such apparent apathy towards newer incarnations, you may be surprised to hear that a fifth animated version of the series has now emerged.
Titled Gatchaman Crowds, the series is more a re-imagining of the classic series than a straightforward remake. The series is set in an idealised version of 2015 in the Japanese city of Tachikawa, a city protected by the Gatchaman. Yet these are not like the Gatchaman of old: gone are the superhero and ninja suits, replaced by new outfits generated by each individual’s unique spiritual powers. Called NOTE, these even manifest themselves in the form of a physical notebook adorned with the classic logo. Also absent are the planes and other vehicles from the original show: instead, the characters each have individual Gatchaman power suits with a variety of different designs and powers. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this change, one thing remains the same: the team’s mission is to protect not only Tachikawa, but the world, from threats both at home and of alien origin. There are also occasional references to the original series in the form of throwaway comments from characters and visual nods, like the familiar G-based logo design.
The series’ main story arc concerns the Gatchaman’s battle against an alien threat that has destroyed several planets and is an enemy that the Gatchaman may have faced before. We are introduced to the world through the eyes of schoolgirl, Hajime Ichinose, a bubbly young lady who becomes the team’s latest recruit after being chosen by their mysterious leader J.J. As the episodes progress and J.J. sends out cryptic messages via the team’s NOTE books, we are taken on a journey that touches many issues relevant to contemporary audiences, including increasing social media use, the creation of large numbers of apps by younger and younger people and our growing dependency on mobile technology, to name but a few. There are even some references to events in recent Japanese history, such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
On the surface, the story seems multi-layered and interesting, yet some aspects are liable to frustrate viewers. One example of this is the personality of the lead character, Hajime, who views the world with a sense of childlike wonder and simplicity. At times, her enthusiasm is annoyingly excessive, usually leading to high-pitched squealing and screaming, and often making serious situations come across as silly and inconsequential. Aside from this, there is also the usual mix of stereotypical anime characters, resulting in a dynamic that is heavily derivative and un-original.
All that said, the artwork unique and interesting, mixing together a variety of styles in unusual ways. In certain shots, the style recalls the show’s 1970s roots, paying homage to, rather than copying, its source. The character design is strong, and the Gatchaman’s armour is reminiscent of series such as Accel World. Taking these different elements together, the end result is a visual style that, while hardly groundbreaking, mostly looks pretty good.
The voice cast is well-chosen and is a definite step up from the original Casey Kasem-led cast, even if you do end up feeling sorry for Jessica Calvello (Hajime) with all the screaming and squealing she has to do. The score offers a nice blend of orchestral and choral music as well as some J-pop and techno tunes. The reworked Gatchaman theme is particularly catchy and whatever you think of the series, you’ll definitely find yourself humming it. The only negative in this area is that there are times when the background music drowns out the dialogue, making it difficult to follow what is being said (particularly noticeable in Episode Six).
While it’s fair to say that Tatsunoko Studios has done a good job of making the show relevant to modern viewers, it’s a shame it relies so heavily on derivative styles and concepts. All in all, Gatchaman Crowds is an interesting, if at times frustrating, return to a beloved franchise that’s liable to have a Marmite-like effect on its audience.