Well, that was an extreme departure.
I recently took in the first episode of the inconsistent Kenji Nakamura’s Gatchaman Crowds, the (roughly) forty year anniversary project for the hit 70s anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, or as many children of the 80s growing up in America knew it, Battle of the Planets. Japan loves both its IP anniversaries and homages, so I suppose GC was destined to happen.
Now, knowing that Gatchaman is such a beloved franchise, I also watched the first episode of the 1972 original series before watching GC. This is the only Gatchaman I have watched. Since I’m not a longtime or hardcore fan of the series, what I say will likely (and rightly) be corrected in the comments. Still, I want to put my impressions out there, and I think they are somewhat valuable, coming from a fan new to the IP.
Though I do believe that one should judge the current series on its own merits, I just can’t help but compare it to the 70s Gatchaman. The differences between the two first episodes are so drastic as to make me wonder why they decided to attach the Gatchaman name in the first place. Below, I highlight some of the disparity and ask some questions about remakes in general.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Phoenix “Trying to be Cool”
As differences between the Gatchamen (?) go, it’s difficult to know what to zero in on because there are just so many. I’ll set aside the obvious and inevitable disparity in production quality and try to keep the analysis at a sort of big picture level so as to keep things interesting. If I had to describe in a sentence how the two shows are different, I’d say that Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is a traditional, Japanese superhero show that got animated, whereas Gatchaman Crowds is a modern day anime through and through, with all that entails. We’ve got two different shows for two distinct markets. The former, with its costumes, kaiju and overall sentai sensibilities, is clearly for kids and young males. The latter reveals its target demographic with its emphasis on a naive, cutesy moe girl in the person of Hajime.
These different marketing approaches result in GC having a tone and pace that is distinct from the original. Crowds‘ first episode is a hectic affair (nominative determinism?), packing a lot of unexplained–or, at best, ill explained–events into its run time. The original series is much more methodical and straightforward with its problem > conflict > resolution > cliffhanger progression. I felt like I had more of a grasp on the Science Ninja Team than the cast of the new show, bar Hajime, after one episode. The 2013 show feels like a sleek Apple commercial but also kinda playful, while the 1972 series is quite serious, with all the melodrama I’ve come to expect from anime of that decade.
Speaking of commercials, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is not afraid to push products on its target audience. Similar to the mecha series of its day, Gatchaman has plenty in the way of vehicles, fighters and ships on display in order to entice young boys into asking mommy and daddy to open their pocketbooks. This presence of “big tech” in the original show brings to mind an interesting contrast. GC, at least in this episode, lacks all such accoutrements (unless you count powersuits), opting instead to give its heroes small, mobile tech. Both the shift away from the mecha genre and the explosion of mobile technologies IRL have converged to allow anime creators to introduce more technologies, and thus more sci-fi elements, into their stories without appealing to the big tech of yesteryear. An interesting sociological study could be done on the emergence and current-ubiquity of mobile technologies in anime.
So, Gatchaman and Gatchaman Crowds are different. There is a forty year gap between the two products, so such divergence should be expected, right? Well, not exactly. In 2004, Toei launched an anime adaptation of a 1977 boxing manga Ring ni Kakero, that retained everything about the original, from character designs to ridiculous plot points. More recently, Yasuhiro Imagawa directed a remake of the iconic Mazinger Z. Shin Mazinger Z is extremely faithful to the tone and style of its ancestors. I’m not claiming that it is bad for a remake to diverge from the original IP. I’m only asserting here that one shouldn’t assume that several decades between projects automatically entails drastic differences between them.
This begs the question: how faithful should a remake (or follow-up or whatever) be? It’s a difficult one to answer, and I certainly haven’t drawn any definitive conclusions. Certainly, sticking the name of a well-known IP on a show garners certain expectations, not just in terms of quality but in terms of style. It’d be hard to swallow a shojo romance Gundam show, for example (…unless Osamu Dezaki directed it…). GC doesn’t fall that far from the tree, but it is kind of difficult to justify it being a Gatchaman product. Yet, I can perfectly well see the other side of the argument. Anime creators are hamstrung enough as it is, and they don’t need another barrier to creativity. Perhaps quality works like Beautiful Dreamer wouldn’t exist if creators didn’t have the freedom to experiment within the bounds of well-established franchises. I hope readers provide their own thoughts below.
For longtime Gatchaman fans, it may be hard not to feel a bit burned by Tatsunoko, but, if you stick with it, maybe what Crowds has to offer will be entertaining in its own right.