Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 25th 2013
Episodes 8-12 Streaming
Berg Katze's plans get fully underway as he/she/it supplants Rui as controller of GALAX and President X. With control over Japan's premier method of organizing the public and over Rui's “Crowds” system, which imbues chosen users with dangerous real-world avatars, Katze is poised to unleash humanity on itself. The Gatchamen, pulled along by the indefatigable and unpredictable Hajime, launch a PR campaign to warn the people. But it's to little avail when Katze's corps of violent Crowds users starts tearing down the Japanese government. With the Prime Minister in hiding and chaos spreading fast, Rui, Hajime, and the Gatchamen scramble to put the brakes on Japan's slide into Crowds-fueled anarchy. But are they really helping, or are they playing right into Katze's hands?
Hajime dominates Crowds the way a particularly beautiful person or, depending on what you think of her, a particularly accurate projectile vomiter might dominate a specific party: there are other people there, many of them quite interesting, but afterwards you only remember the one. Maybe it's because the show realizes that that Crowds' finale makes a concerted effort to embrace its supporting cast. The series doesn't bench Hajime—she's too powerful a force to be benched—but it works hard to make its final battle a team affair.
And it works pretty well that way. The collaborative flavor is nice, and it ensures that whoever your favorite character is, they come into their own at some point. Paiman works through his failures as Gatch>aman leader, culminating in a hilariously cool comeback (no comeback could be entirely cool; he is a tiny panda-alien after all). Jo struggles with the aftermath of his humiliating defeat at Katze's hands, dodging responsibility until the pressure is just too much to take. Utsutsu finally reveals her Gatch>aman form (pretty awesome), Hajime starts rubbing off on Sugune, and OD steals the final episode with his jaw-dropping match against a transformed Katze.
The real breakout performer, though, is on the other side of the hero/villain equation. Katze was always freaky, what with his evil exuberance and petty outbreaks of proxy violence, but he only shows his true villainous mettle here. He's a very patient, very tricky kind of antagonist. His modus operandi is to lay in wait, stewing in gleeful anticipation until someone else stacks up the proper fuel for an uncontrollable blaze of destruction. And then he tosses a match on. He is not a doer. He's a brilliant opportunist; an agent provocateur whose end game is to get humanity to destroy itself.
The genius of Katze—as a narrative device—is that you can never be sure when he has the upper hand. He has an evil aptitude for finding just the right pivot, the exact moment when the least amount of effort can turn even the heroes' own plans against them. Indeed he takes particular pleasure in turning the forces of good against themselves. The Gatchamen can be doing everything right and still be working for Katze. Which makes for propulsive viewing: twisty and frequently clever and surprisingly tense.
Driven by the seemingly unstoppable spread of Katze's chaos, Crowds finally becomes the superhero action series that its opening sequence has long promised. The destruction is massive and widespread, the CG Gatch>aman designs intricate and impressive, and the supply of creepy, faceless frog-people (which is what the Crowds look like) endless. Director Kenji Nakamura lays the CGI-fueled battling on thick as Hajime and her comrades try to stem one wave of irresponsible Crowds users after another.
It's thrilling, impressive stuff. Nakamura has a knack for eye-catching action flourishes and good instincts for how to turn his distinctively colorful style to action ends, as well as a canny sense for the deployment of composer Taku Iwasaki's cruelly catchy electronic stylings. But his real skill is for narrative punctuation. The little Hollywood parody used for Paiman's comeback is the perfect capstone for his personal growth. Jo's return to form is beautifully assembled, and spectacularly animated. And OD's fight with Katze… It's action showboating of a very high order; a fight that is simultaneously visceral and so strange and extreme that it's borderline abstract.
Throughout, Nakamura keeps the pressure on and the pace pegged at a rocking good clip (with one notable exception that we'll discuss later), all of which can make Crowds' big finish sound like slick, essentially conventional anime actioneering.
Perish the thought.
Crowds has always been sneakily ambitious. Hajime breaks every rule about anime heroines, and very consciously so. The integration of social media into Toshiya Ono's plot is probably the most thorough and incisive in any anime to date. But neither of those holds a candle to the battle between Katze and Hajime's cohort. In Nakamura and Ono's hands their four-episode clash is nothing less than a forum on the nature of humanity.
To get at how they do that, we must return to the team-focused turn that the show takes. In truth it's far more than an excuse to flesh out the supporting cast. It's the tip of a philosophical iceberg. It isn't just Hajime's friends who come into their own, doing their part in the resistance against Katze. It's also the Self-Defense Forces, the local bureaucrats, the police, the mayor, preschool teachers, average citizens, and even the lazy, self-serving Prime Minister. The circle of participants widens until it isn't the Gatchamen defying Katze; it's humankind.
What Nakamura and Ono seek is to supplant the singular hero, and even the Avengers-ish team of heroes, with a collective hero. Something akin to what Socialist filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein tried in Battleship Potemkin, except more dramatically sound. (The collective is comprised of individuals we genuinely care for.) It's a staggeringly ambitious ploy for a superhero anime that has only 12 episodes to work with.
And a ploy with a point to make. Katze, like many an anime that will go unnamed, believes that humanity is avaricious, myopic, selfish, and destructive. And he means for those traits to spell the species' doom. But Crowds' collective hero refuses to be reduced to that. It has its share of selfishness and ugliness, sure, but when things turn sour, charity, cooperation, and playfulness—three other essential human characteristics—rise ascendant. As they most always do when real-life tragedy strikes. Katze isn't defeated by force of arms. He is defeated because he misunderstands human nature.
After that little trick, it's easier than ever to believe that Nakamura has a masterpiece in him somewhere.
That said, this is not it. Eventually Nakamura crumbles under the weight of his ambitions. He starts pushing his message too overtly, and wastes half of the series' penultimate episode on a clip show designed to strengthen the core cast (and pound home Hajime's uniqueness—an unnecessary expenditure if ever there was one). Which leaves him precious little time to tie up the show's many loose ends. We are never told why Hajime can't see Katze (or why it matters). We never learn OD's fate. And most unforgivably, we never see Hajime face Katze. (We see the result, but not how the f*** it came about). Which kind of makes you want to strangle someone. But we won't. As humans, we're better than that.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Stylish superhero action with an enormously ambitious humanist message; clever use of social media technology in the plotting; refuses to weaken Hajime.
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