Saturday, July 13, 2013

First Impressions - Gatchaman Crowds

Gatchaman - 01 -12 Gatchaman - 01 -26 Gatchaman - 01 -35

That was every bit as random as I expected.

 OP: "Crowds" by WHITE ASH
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I've long held the suspicion that Nakamura Kenji has experimented with augmented reality in his own way. At the very least, as a director he seems incapable of producing anything with a conventional look - from the Ukiyo-e beauty of Mononoke to the pop-up book fairy tale dreaminess of Tsuritama, he's always looking at the world in a funhouse mirror, and it makes for an endlessly fascinating viewing experience. His narrative successes have not always matched his visual, but in teaming with Oono Toshiya for Tsuritama, Nakamura-sensei delivered his most engaging and emotionally powerful series to date.

For that reason, Oono and Nakamura re-teaming for Gatchman Crowds was certainly an exciting development. To be honest it's the only reason I was really excited for this show - if you'd asked me three months ago about the Gatchaman franchise, the best I'd have been able to muster is "I've heard of it". That it seemed an odd choice for this pair to resurrect a decades-old and mostly forgotten hero story is obvious - that's rather in character. The only question that really mattered wasn't whether or not Gatchaman Crowds was going to be an interesting series - even Nakamura's misfires are interesting. The question was whether or not it would work as a story.  Based on the premiere, I'm withholding judgment.

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman ran from 1972-1974, and was a sort of super sentai version of the Justice League - an all-star team of different hero characters created by the legendary Yoshida Tatsuo for Tatsunoko Productions.  Tatsunoko is also the studio behind Crowds, and while it's certainly fair to say this is a radical re-imagining that doesn't impact my views one way or the other as I don't have any emotional attachment to speak of to the original.  This one is set in 2015, though it seems pretty optimistic about the technological advances we'll be making in the next year and a half.  It's also set in Tachikawa - like Index and Railgun - a place that's become a sort of RL exemplification of futuristic cityscapes for the world of anime.

It's pretty much a given that the show is going to be a visual feast, and it is.  Backgrounds aren't especially detailed but that's never been a Nakamura hallmark.  The colors are spectacular, the technology clever and funny, and as always Nakamura shows us a world made up of many layers of reality, moving past each other in fascinating ways.  Much of the Tsuritama team is reassembled here (including a key cast member) and in look Gatchaman resembles that show more than any other Nakamura series.  If I'm honest, though, the story and characters didn't grab me nearly as much in the premiere.  Also, the soundtrack by Kuricorder Quarter was a vital component of establishing mood in Tsuritama, and the BGM in this series is more forgettable, to the point where I'm hard-pressed to recall a single piece apart from the 70's-style "Gatcha-maaaan!" jingle.  I suppose it's meant to recall the kind of music those 70's super sentai anime used, but it didn't do a whole lot for me.

In terms of character, we first meet Tachibana Sugane (Ohsaka Ryouta, the Tsuritama carryover).  He carries some sort of device that clearly has unusual properties, seeming to predict the movements of an unknown subject.  Next up is Ichinose Hajime (Uchida Maaya) an impossibly genki schoolgirl with a love for notebooks and kawaii (and combining the two).  On the roof of her school Hajime sees the mysterious J.J. Robinson (Mori Katsuji), who in his riddle-speak seems to suggest to Hajime that she's been chosen for something special.  This is pretty routine superhero stuff, though handled stylishly - eventually Hajime pairs up with Sugane, who attends the same school (which has some of the most interesting school uniforms I've seen in anime, BTW) and she witnesses him in the act of doing his Gatchaman job, dealing with a MESS (explanation coming later).  At HQ, he introduces her to the slacker Hibiki Joe (the very busy Namikawa Daisuke), the depressive two-piece wearing Utsu-tsu (Koiwai Kotiri) and the flamboyant O.D. (Hosomi Daisuke, also a Tsuritama veteran), the only one who seems to share Hajime's love of cute and genki nature.  And then there's Paiman (Hirano Aya) - don't call him a Panda! - who seems to act as J.J.'s section chief in charge of the "G Team".  There's also the requisite spiel about aliens threatening Earth, the MESS, and how the NOTE devices the Gatchamen carry work.

If the premiere was a little exposition-heavy, that's understandable given that this is pretty old material being packaged for a new audience.  I found the episode fun and great to look at, but nothing that happened with either the characters or the plot interested me much.  I hope Hajime calms down because damn, she's a lot to take - I find her constant vamping and "-su!" manner of speaking borderline grating.  As for Sugane, my admiration for Ohsaka-san is well-documented but he doesn't have much to work with yet - Sugane is the classic straight-laced tsukkomi to Hajime's boke at this stage.  I have too much respect for Oono after his work on Tsuritama to panic yet, though the trap with Nakamura has always been that his shows don't always come together as a whole.  It's safe to say strictly on its own terms the premiere of Gatchaman Crowds was nowhere near as engaging for me as that of Tsuritama - or of Gin no Saji or Servant x Service for that matter - but a premiere is just one episode, and even one cour is more a distance race than a sprint.  Given the pedigree I wanted to be blown away by the first episode and I wasn't, but that's not a disaster - there's still plenty of time for Oono and Nakamura to connect the dots and give Gatchaman Crowds a story that stands up to the fabulous imagination behind the look.

Gatchaman - 01 -7 Gatchaman - 01 -8 Gatchaman - 01 -9
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Gatchaman - 01 -40 Gatchaman - 01 -41 Gatchaman - 01 -42

ED: "INNOCENT NOTE" by Hajime Ichinose (Maaya Uchida)
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17 comments:

  1. I think ones enjoyment of the first episode, or lack thereof, depends on just how much Hajime the viewer can handle. She's like Shoko, but somehow crazier.

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    1. Yup. Hajime is the determining factor. I cringed my way through, maybe she'll change a bit.

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    2. Agreed. I can stand her genki outlook on the whole situation, but the combination of her mannerisms, seemingly immaturity, and voice acting really rubs me the wrong way.

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    3. I was really engaged by her character and mannerisms, I find interesting female leads with actual depth (or seeming actual depth :) very refreshing and enjoyable. I have watched several of these eps and have to say I have zero complaints in regards to the unfolding characters and their various philosophies and difficulties. great stuff!

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  2. Oddly enough among all of Hajime's mannerisms I was bothered the most by her ':> ' face. Her notes fixation I can sorta get tangentially - the art of print! the feel of paper and paper covers! the rush of customizing your own covers! YAY XD - . And the sequence of her being chosen with that finger penetration made me a bit uneasy. It was a tad too suggestive for my liking :,D.
    The visuals were definitely the strongest aspect I agree. Loved them, although both Mononoke (especially. I've rewatched chosen segments of it for the beauty of the settings - dat mansion! - and because hey mr. Medicine Seller is a fest for the eyes and ears. Plus the kitten is impossibly adorable :,D ) and Tsuritama felt more polished and more up my alley than the style chosen for this series. I like the flat colorful monsters and mr. Alien Boss costumes - the school uniforms are not too shabby either -. For plot and characters we'll see.
    But given my bandwidth situation this is most likely to go in the 'catch up with later' category unless reviews suggest me otherwise.

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  3. I'm not really a visual feast diner, so Gatchaman's visuals don't really matter to me but I am picky about the audio and Hajime or rather Maya Uchida took it several decibels too far. Her mellow characters like Rea were great and even Rikka was within reason but this was beyond the nebula, it was like listening to a 6 year old on all the chocolate in the world. Kyono Madoka from Rinne no Lagrange is the best example of a genki girl for me in the last few years, though Chihaya is pretty close. Hajime is way too annoying like the Haruhi Suzumiya of Genki.

    Thing is I heard Miyanocchi at the end of the episode and he's worth another episode at least.

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    1. omg i didn't realise miyano until you said it! oh well i am continuing this show anyway. i would try any show to hear miyano :D

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  4. So I gather it's at least worth a watch? I'll give it a try later.

    Visuals look good, if a bit all over the place, style wise. This looks like a cross between the moyashimon microbes and that OP from Tatami Galaxy, while from This looks like it came out of Tiger & Bunny. Some of the lighting effects look kind of weird, especially the hair, though that's probably more of a stylistic choice than a scientific one.

    ...and where are my bird suits? Screw the mecha! You can't call this Gatchaman without the corny-looking bird suits!!

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    1. Sorry, the second href link didn't stick, for some stupid reason. I was talking about this having the Tiger & Bunny look.

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    2. Yes! Surely when someone says 'Bird Go!' that means they'll be sporting some avian themed suit!

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  5. Really the only thing holding me back is Hajime. I am totally okay with her quirks and voice... EXCEPT the "-su" abuse! It just grinds me that everyone else speaks perfectly fine, but she has the most annoying pronunciation of almost everything.

    I thought the music was awesome. High intensity electric songs for fight scenes? I'll take it.

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  6. jebnemo loves Hajime! But the CGI stinks.

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  7. *Gasp* you werent impressed by the OST enzo? that was like one of the best things about this ep. Regardless of that, I can feel Ono Toshiya's presence in this series. There's something about the way its crafted that kinda reminds me of Tsuritama

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    1. Yeah, I see all the buzz about the OST, but it just left me flat. Maybe I'm just not enough of a super-sentai fanboy.

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  8. I started out worried that Hajime would get overbearing pretty quick, but somehow found myself warming up to her. It really was her schtick from the time JJ pulled the NOTE out of her through the end of the series that hooked me. It was played with the right amount of 'newbie-ness' and irreverence for the situation. Paiman and Sugane (and the audience for a bit) take her attitude as unserious, but to me it cleared into a more "She's serious, but still irrepressibly outgoing". She made the show fun, a lot more fun than it would have been if she was any other way (like the incompetent new guy, or the straighten up and fly right new guy, or the acts all big until put in a spot then breaks down new guy). And what really sold it was that she didn't break down or have any trouble when she got into a fighting situation. She just kept the same attitude and kicked some butt.

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  9. To be honest, this is a bit disappointing. It didn't have the charm of Tsuritama that captured me. Yes, the visuals are still colourful and creative, but the scripted dialogue and stock characters disappointed me, and nothing seemed witty and tasteful. The female lead is ignoring, and agreed with elianthos that how she became the chosen one was way too suggestive. By the way, when the camera pans over Utsu-tsu's body again, can someone cover her up please? Hmmm...I still want to have faith in Oono-sensei and Nakamura-sensei -- will stay for a couple more episodes before deciding.

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  10. To be completely honest, while I loved Tsuritama to death and back, I don't think I took an immediate shine to that series. It was around the third episode, I think, that I really started getting invested, so there's still hope for this one.

    Personally for me, Hajime's almost hyper-eccentric behavior gave her a more 'off' or 'wrong' feel than just being overly genki. Maybe it's my love of over-analyzing, but when I see a person react to clearly surprising or out of the ordinary situations with such carefree blasse it makes me think 'what in the world happened to make them like that'. Or she could just be that immature and all but I'm hoping for a surprise of sorts.

    While I didn't really like or dislike most of the OST, that opening just stuck like glue. The visuals for it were beautiful

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