Halfway through the summer season, I called Gatchaman Crowds one of the five anime you should be watching. It is an anime that all gamers should watch as it shows amazing insight into the future of video games in addition to having an adventure that’s deeper than you’d expect.
Gatchaman Crowds has perhaps the most realistic portrayal of the future of gaming I have ever seen. This is shown in the form of social networking app GALAX—an app that makes being a good person into a video game.
GALAX, while your typical social networking app on one end, becomes a tool for good on the other. When someone needs help, people in the area are notified on their smart phones and offered a “mission” to help out. Completing this mission adds points to their—for lack of a better term—gamer score. Moreover, GALAX will specifically target those most competent to complete certain missions. If someone is complaining about an abusive relationship, GALAX will give a nearby lawyer a mission to help the person out. If there is a car crash, all the nurses, doctors, and those with first aid training in the area will receive a mission to lend their aid.
We’ve already seen in the real world how far people will go to keep their virtual farms up and running or just how much they care about clicking a cow every day. But imagine if everyone was playing this game where you quite literally had a “good person” score to build up (and show off). Life itself would become a video game.
In Gatchaman Crowds, GALAX was designed as part of a revolution for social change. It’s a counter to a world where people are forced to rely on corrupt or non-caring politicians. It’s also a revolution against something else: the need for superheroes.
Rui, the creator of GALAX, believes that if superheroes exist, people will come to rely on them too much—that they will turn a blind eye to helping each other and just assume that the heroes will help those in need. Real world events like the murder of Kitty Genovese serves to support this fear. So GALAX is a counter to that overdependence—giving people an incentive to help each other and not be apathetic bystanders.
The other characters in the series, the veteran Gatchaman in general, somewhat support this view in that they think superheroes should work only from the shadows—fighting threats in secret, so normal people don’t have to be worried.
Of course, then comes the main character, Hajime, a not-so-normal school girl with her own views on superheroes and how the world works.
Hajime is one of the most interesting characters in recent anime. She believes that heroes are needed for the problems people can’t handle alone and also believes GALAX is great because of how it gets people to work together.
But unlike Rui who believes GALAX will create a social revolution where the world will become better once everyone is playing the game, Hajime thinks that GALAX is just a single step on the way to the true goal: a world where everyone helps each other because it’s the good and right thing to do.
To her, simply relying on GALAX or superheroes is wrong. In one scene, when a tunnel collapses, people in the area check GALAX on their cell phones to see what they should do for their mission. The Gatchamen worry about transforming and being seen. Hajime just runs in and starts helping.
This is because of the way in which Hajime views the world. While she appears as a ditz to many, she is easily the smartest character in the show. As people, we tend to be focused on our own little worlds—our problems, social politeness, rules and regulations. But Hajime is the opposite. She sees nothing but the big picture. She will never follow a rule or order for its own sake and instead heads straight for the greater goal—everyone being safe, happy, and satisfied. If fighting is what’s needed, she will do it; but she is much more likely to just talk, even with the most heinous of villains, in an attempt to find a way that satisfies them and also leaves everyone else safe and happy.
Watching her interactions with the various characters in the series—and the resulting clash between her viewpoint and everyone else’s—is one of the most enjoyable parts of the series.
In Gatchaman Crowds there are several effeminate males. O.D., the Gatchaman who maintains the base, wears lipstick, dons high heels, and exposes his midriff. The villain, Berg Katze dresses much the same. Rui is even more extreme: He goes for full-on crossdressing whenever he’s in public. And best of all, these three are never the butt of any joke. While people are surprised to find that Rui is male—as he most certainly doesn’t look it—that’s about as far as it goes. This show doesn't look down on people simply for the way they dress—which is exactly as it should be.
In most ways, Gatchaman Crowds is Gatchaman in name only. None of the original characters appear and only the most general plot elements remain—i.e. a team of people called Gatchaman protect the world from alien threats. There are callbacks, sure—like the main enemy being named Berg Katze—but if you were expecting anything resembling the original anime, you will be disappointed.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great show, however.
All in all, Gatchaman Crowds was my biggest surprise of the season. I went in expecting a sentai-style, monster-of-the-week show and ended up with a show that dedicated much of its time to exploring the future of video games and the concept of superheroes, including the hero in all of us. Moreover, all this was tied together by Hajime, a character that is simply enjoyable to watch because of her odd way of interacting with the world. And while the ending left a lot of questions, that just provides fodder for the recently announced second season.
If you are a person who likes superheroes or wants to see the future of gaming in action, this is definitely an anime you should check out.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.