Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Long ago, Yatterman and his friends fought against the evil Doronbow, foiling their plots and making sure justice prevailed. Today, Yatterman the Hero of Justice is a fairytale told to children in their beds - the real Yatterman is a tyrant, an oppressive ruler who has turned total victory into a fascist mandate. Leopard and her friends, the distant descendents of Doronbow, have had enough of Yatterman's evil, and vow to cut evil down to size with a forehead-flicking they'll never forget.
Yatterman Night's a strange one. Technically a “sequel” to the 70s cartoon Yatterman, it's akin to 2013's Gatchaman Crowds - an anime that takes a classic children's show and reenvisions it as a heavier piece for a new audience. In Crowds' case, this meant taking a show about simplistic heroes and turning it into a meditation on the meaning of heroism in an age of gamification and social power. For Yatterman Night, the transformation is simpler, and very similar to last year's World Conquest Zvezda Plot - the heroes are now the villains, and the once-villains live as oppressed nobodies in a dystopian world ruled by Yatterman's not-so-heroic fist. Where Yatterman once thwarted the plots of the fiendish Doronbow, the descendants of Doronbow now live in poverty, eking out a small existence on the fringes of an evil empire.
The show's first several episodes demonstrate Yatterman Night as its best, as we're introduced to our heroes and Doronbow descendants Leopard, Voltkatze, and Elephantus, as well as their two eventual friends Gatchan and Allouette. Though Voltkatze and Elephantus are generally used for (repetitive, grating) comic relief, there's a great warmth to the relationship between them and their sort-of-daughter Leopard, and the scenes of the characters simply spending time looking out for each other in a harsh world give the show a strange kind of dignity. There's a clear childishness to the characters, and to their choice to pick up the mantle of their predecessors and fight Yatterman for justice, but the earnest writing gets away with this, particularly when it's transposed against Night's darker twists on the formula.
At its best, the show uses children's show tropes to highlight the underlying horror of its dystopian setting in a way that's very effective. The first few episodes demonstrate this consistently, with classic Yatterman trademarks like the goofy high-kick salute being repurposed as symbols of a fascist regime as our heroes roam around attempting to put out world-spanning fires with a garden hose. The contrast in tone and imagery can at times be legitimately chilling - hearing a pregnant wife maniacally chant “Yatter!” in tribute as her husband is dragged away, or seeing a flower garden hidden in a city marked by public crucifixions, create a strange and effective sense of emotional disconnect. And the idea that Doronbow cling to their simplistic ideas of justice and symbols of old villains because that's all they have makes a lot of sense. The writing doesn't have a lot of depth, but the show's best moments possess a strong control of imagery and understanding of human frailty.
Unfortunately, Yatterman Night has real trouble managing its own tone, and the second half is essentially wasted, with the show mainly wallowing in its own least interesting elements. There's a whole stretch of episodes that might as well be an actual children's show - Doronbow save a fisherman who wants to have sex with fish, Doronbow reunite a Nessy-esque monster with its mother, Doronbow find a racing car and a monkey, etc. Episodes like this make it difficult to tell who's supposed to enjoy this show, since it doesn't lean consistently enough into episodic entertainment to please children, but also isn't focused enough on the ideas that might engage older audiences. And the character writing also becomes more and more of a problem as the show continues. Though Leopard's childish belief in justice is a fine and appropriate starting point for a show like this, her and her minions never really grow. Their friend Gatchan ends up carrying basically all of the show's character development weight, and though his journey from reluctant accomplice to self-motivated hero is solidly articulated, it's tough to invest a show where four-fifths of the cast is mainly used for comic relief.
The ending attempts to bring the focus back to the heroes-versus-reality sadness and dystopian regime-toppling, but the final episodes rush through a few too many plot twists, and the last episode in particular is a bit of a mess. The show overall just lacks focus, with its fundamentally evocative premise being squandered in episodes and homages too beholden to their kids' cartoon roots to become anything greater. Very few shows can afford to have one episode that involves death by firing squad and another filled with jokes about sticking vegetables in butts. The contrast between children's television tropes and bleak realism is a theoretically powerful one, but it feels like the writers really needed to sit down together and just firmly decide exactly what kind of story they wanted to tell.
Yatterman's aesthetics are unique and well-suited to the weird contrast of the premise. The show has an incredibly muted color palette, and the backgrounds largely consist of dirt-brown wastelands and ramshackle sheds. In spite of this, the show's excellent shot composition leads to regularly beautiful shots, with the creators making great use of the moon, shadows, and framing foreground objects to evoke the beauty, loneliness, and occasional warmth of Yatter Kingdom's magnificent desolation. Yatterman's visual storytelling is often its greatest asset - the oppression its characters feel is best evoked in the decay of their homes and lines on their faces, their camaraderie most clear in the way they huddle around a fire.
The animation starts off strong with some vivid character animation and explosion work, but it unfortunately can't keep up - most episodes have at best a couple scattered highlights, and the last episode is an absolute disaster. That episode's animation makes for a decent metaphor for the show itself - the episode is ambitious and full of scenes that would have been great on paper, but something must have gone horribly wrong behind the scenes. Full sequences of animation are repeated in order to cover gaps, and the finale is so full of repeated cuts that it's basically impossible to tell how the show's climactic battle actually ends. In its current form, you can't even really call it a finished episode.
The music is fortunately much more consistent. Usually subdued, it rises in triumphant swells for the show's climactic moments, selling small victories for the characters that would come off as pure silliness on story alone. Like the show's visual compositions, the music often captures just the right emotion even when the actual writing comes up short. But in the end, I can't recommend a show that's composed of interesting but ultimately unsatisfying parts. The show's lack of tonal consistency sabotages investment, and by the time the finale rolls around, the weakest episodes have essentially taken the show down with them. There's a great idea for a more focused show here, but Yatterman Night is not that show.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ The base concept is evocative and the show sometimes realizes its promise; music and art design are excellent.
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