“Why wasn’t I told?”
“I’m the Prime Minister, you know??”
Here lies Gatchaman wallowing in its eccentricity. With its usual blasé self trying to riddle the audience with political and public affairs, one of its most problematic aspects is its inability to foment conflict without making the occasional impaired step in logic. While Gatchaman lends itself as a simple product, this unfortunately does not account for its specious foundation.
Where’s Big Brother, Aniki?
Here’s one of the most natural questions any viewer should have asked him or herself. Despite the global scale of Gatchaman‘s thickening plot, at what point do we see any semblance of government or congress take action? These newfound “terrorists”—which are basically Nakamura’s hilariously hidden insult towards 2ch—are destroying central political offices and buildings because of their poorly misguided belief that that’s “saving” the world. However, what has the government (or any subset therein) done in Gatchaman? Without knowing their importance in the story, this makes the lowlifes’ targets simply “names”—useless entities readily made on the spot and destroyed just the same, all careless freedom within the creator’s whim.
We don’t even need to see international arbitration. At least throw up some talking figureheads on television screens, or pass long-standing political debates within the backgrounds of Gatchaman‘s dialogue. It’s trivial. Otherwise, applying these forms of “terrorism” as a dramatic effect simply produces more skepticism. More purposely, what’s the point in trying to relate the power of the community—one of the most outstanding motifs in Gatchaman—when it ignores the most influential communal aspect in life?
No complications are put forth, so it isn’t really a surprise then to see elementary notions of organization and individualism. Groups plainly take one side or the other, and there’s a heavy amount of hivemind groupthink involved. Panning over to random faces voicing one-liner comments, or soundbiting the anonymous community, makes for a very forced and rudimentary method of understanding popular opinion.
Let’s “Update” The World!
Tying hand in hand with the existing-but-not-really-existing governments, the biggest conflicts seems to arise as a result of GALAX, an alien technology (no pun intended) whose foundation is never quite transparent. Berg-Katze apparently has the ability to bestow such power to Rui, but instead of using his true strength to watch the world burn, he decides to use whatever limited ones his crossdressing minion has instead. Let’s just say that of all the exciting manipulative powers in Berg-Katze’s arsenal, seeing digital Goombas play wack-a-mole on nameless buildings isn’t the most exciting way to build suspense.
Perhaps what’s more noticeable is how purely heavy-handed the GALAX integration has been. A trending botnet which not only syncs your Facebook with your Twitter, but can get you out of police tickets and inconspicuously monitor your location? Of course everyone should use that! I kid, but Gatchaman really does indicate just how ignorant it is of real-life complications—always conveniently leaning itself back onto buzzwords like “update”. (Using the English term makes it doubly important.) Just this episode, X, the AI head honcho of Crowds, is tricked by Berg-Katze into believing that he’s “Rui”. You really have to wonder why the writers made the AI system one with literal, artifical intelligence in the first place, if it’s so inept at detecting its master.
The Questions… So Many Questions
Nakamura must be plainly mocking his viewers with all of these unsung personalities. He sets forth so many strange premises without ever explaining them that you can’t help but feel this is done purposefully to raise eyebrows. Rui has a penchant for crossdressing and is surely the most attractive of the bunch (I care not for dairy-swelling Hajime or notSaya). But… why? How on earth does one introduce something like that without at least taking five minutes of his time to explain it? You don’t have to go at Fujoshiken lengths, but at least offer the minimal context.
More importantly, what about the Gatchaman powers themselves, or the often referenced cosmic entities outside Earth? There has been too little exploration of this portion of the story despite it taking half the title’s name (and arguably what most were looking forward to when starting this series; I know I was). This makes it difficult to put the conflicts in perspective without knowing the scope of their powers. Only casually mentioning devices such as signature weapons makes Gatchaman’s uniqueness strike a meager dent into the story. It’s comical to see Hajime hold such a maniacal obsession for stationery, but such small additions into Gatchaman come so infrequently that you often forget they exist. Hajime’s parents? Their school life? Other Gatchaman? Utsutsu’s healing powers? The list goes on and on.
It’s Hip to Be Square
While at first intriguing ideas, it’s a bit unfortunate how incomplete the cast is altogether; they’re all simple caricatures of key personality traits. It may not be as monotonous as the colors of the rainbow (their visual designs sort of are), but they get all too easily typecasted as a result of Gatchaman‘s very simplistic storytelling. What more do we learn of them aside from pitiful catchphrases and the same dynamics, played ad nauseam? You can see hints of development with Utsutsu opening up to Hajime for example, but it’s an insignificant occurrence when she simply relapses to her mentally challenged self, only meeking out the next “I’m gloomy” when she has the chance. Hajime displays the occasionally intelligent quip and lets out that she knows more than she seems, but this is too often reprised throughout the story. What else do we know about her?
This lies true for the cast as a whole, and Gatchaman‘s eccentricities even start to repeat themselves. Hajime, Berg-Katze, and O.D. all share too much of the same gay, highly inflective dialogue that distinguishes no one. This is despite a large attempt made by Nakamura to indicate the opposite—that this eccentricity offers individuality. Tachibana also holds a larger presence in the first episodes but has fallen more recently as just the dull, rule-obeying go getter. While characterization doesn’t need to be a primary focus in every good story, it does require attention in moments where our understanding of the characters offer more meaning to their actions. Why O.D. is unable to use his Gatchaman, for example, is certainly one thing which would help us know more about him.
Let’s be honest here. In many of the latest episodes, Gatchaman is simply boring. The story has been taking such a painstakingly slow pace with little action, and has achieved at carving out precisely little. While Gatchaman doesn’t need to have edgy power battles like a certain other social misfit (hi Shingeki), it also doesn’t need to take the other side of the spectrum by producing drolling conflicts all schemed out by the interwebs and “PR” campaigns. These would be inherently more interesting if they offered stronger insights into their worldbuilding, or answered the innumerable questions and plot holes set forth. But they don’t, so there really isn’t much to look forward to every episode.
When Gatchaman does decide to add some “action”, it delivers this in the cheesiest ways. Preventing spoiled milk can’t possibly be this exciting! The main villain is simply too juvenile in his antics and causes very little destruction and mischief, despite him taking on such a pivotal anti-role in the story. Impersonations, “raping” people’s first kisses (I use “rape” here because Japan makes it such a big deal), driving randomly on an empty highway, or curtsying around Rui’s apartment simply isn’t exciting. What’s even more peculiar is that you’re watching all these lunatics fight on a global scale, while with motivations the equivalent to why preschoolers play makeshift wars in a sandbox.
My Impression: “Underwhelming”
This isn’t to say I hate everything about Gatchaman. The bursting visuals, retro and electric pop tracks, and strange character designs start the show off with a very imaginative touch. I do feel its visuals and chilling soundtrack partially make up for these flaws.
However, it’s simply a shame that Gatchaman‘s script is only skin deep, and doesn’t take advantage of these greater strengths as much as it could. When your greatest assets are your audiovisuals, you shouldn’t head for a superficial media battle which relies so heavily on the quality of its content. The Gatchaman fight scenes have excellent rhythm to them, and I only wish they had explored this option more so than the way they’re currently inducing (and solving) their meddlesome problems.