In the human world, truth and reality aren’t always one and the same. Humans just call their desires and ambitions as “truth”. Humans will even kill other humans if they have “truth” as an excuse.
– Sanetoshi, Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 24
I didn’t enjoy the first season of Gatchaman Crowds as much as I thought I would. I’m prone to enjoying shows that are character focused, and while Hajime – darling, positive, and eccentric Hajime Ichinose – was the sweetheart of the show, her lack of development frustrated me. I understood that there was a point to it, that there were several large themes at the center of Crowds – gamification, politics, social stratification, and modern heroism – but for all of my efforts and intents, I could not comprehend them. They flew over my head, and while my entire Twitter list buzzed about each episode, I felt slightly distant with the topics at hand. I tried to reason with myself by picking over my own faults and Gatchaman Crowds‘s faults until I just came to the simple conclusion that I just didn’t want to care. I didn’t want to participate, there was no point, let the rest handle it, what could I possibly add to a conversation anyways?
Was it pride? Part of it was, part of it was my own self loathing and incompetence at exposing myself to a discussion that I had no knowledge about whatsoever. I pretended that there would be no way for me to understand. It was too complicated. I was a simple person. It’s perhaps then, that by miracle (or maybe Kenji Nakamura understanding me better than I had understood myself at the time) that the second season of Gatchaman Crowds took me by utter surprise. The prioritization was still the same, as were the topics, but enter Tsubasa Misudachi: a bold, bright individual, bent on changing the world and helping others for the better of society.
I’ve been a Joe. I’ve been a Pai Pai, I’ve been an Utsutsu. But more than anyone, I’ve always been a Tsubasa. It’s because of this that Gatchaman Crowds insight fascinates and terrifies me so much.
In season one, it was Hajime’s presence that stirred a radical change within the Gatchamans. At first, many of our characters were first bent on disregarding her unconventional ways with dealing with situations and her rare insight into arguments and conflict, but soon, everyone begins to warm up to her. JJ is no longer the spokesman, Sugane slowly lets go of his conventional thinking about heroism, Joe stops giving into his disillusionment and cynicism of society, and Pai Pai even begins to relax a little on the position and definition of what it means to be a leader. By the beginning of season two, everyone – including the society of Gatchaman Crowds – has accepted and welcomed Hajime’s existence.
Well, everyone except one. It is only Tsubasa that remains unchanged by Hajime’s influence in Insight. Eight episodes in, and while Hajime does all she can to convey her doubts about Tsubasa’s line of thought regarding the role of a hero in society, Tsubasa bluntly shuts her down every time. “It’s too complicated,” she argues. “It has to be simple.”
These two phrases are ones I’ve used all too often in my teen life, often when arguing with my parents or teachers. “You’ll understand when you grow older,” they’ve told me. “Why then? Why not now?” I would retort back. Back then, I was impatient, innocent, and close minded. I wanted answers that I found convenient and that applied to my mindset. Similarly, Tsubasa is rash and innocent in all of her decisions – she, under the influence of others, wants things done now, solved easily, with no messes left behind. We both forget that a personal experience can be complex; that complex can be beautiful, enriching, and incredibly unique. Make things simple, and you destroy that.
It is then ironic that Tsubasa’s two mentors are both characters with grey bubbles – symbolized by having their own, informed thoughts, but at the cost of conveying them in an inaccessible fashion. Much of Gatchaman Crowds revolves around communication as an essential tool for empathy and context before solving a problem. Hajime and Tsubasa’s grandfather understand context and empathy, but they cannot communicate it well. The result is absolute confusion. Tsubasa, in opposition, speaks loudly, without empathy and context, but is the face of the crowd – she can please others easily. When it boils down to which is the greater evil, the picture could not be clearer – the world, in the hands of Tsubasa, is a false utopia that creates a very easy “Us vs Them” mentality, which leads to disastrous consequences. We, as the audience, can clearly see this. Tsubasa is the wrong. We want to shut her down. Surely, CROWDS was the best method for balancing communication, empathy, and context all for a common goal of doing good, right?
Perhaps. The answer to that question has yet to unfold. What terrifies me though, is what this says about me and the world around me. The truth that I’m in many ways, still a Tsubasa. I get defensive, I hold grudges, I take things as personal attacks sometimes, and it’s hard to always keep an open mind. We are in some ways, all Tsubasas, wanting to help others, but unwilling to get out of our own boxes of context and understand others. It’s not an easy thing to do. As human beings, we like easy. We like simple. We care about ourselves most of all. If there’s a shortcut, let’s take it! If we can halve the work by sharing the load so we can both head home early, let’s do it! If there’s someone we all dislike, let’s hate them together!
I realized one morning… That I hate this world. This world is made of countless boxes. People bend and stuff their bodies into their own boxes. And stay there for the rest of their lives. And eventually, inside the box, they forget: what they looked like; what they loved; who they loved. That’s why I’m getting out of my box.
– Sanetoshi, Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 23
In Mawaru Penguindrum, a character named Sanetoshi shares Rizumu’s vision of the world – that people are inherently selfish, caring only about their beliefs and sustaining themselves at the cost of others’ suffering. In these boxes, people are apes; they only wish to see what they want to see instead of what they need to see. Dialogue can only be exchanged if there is a shared interest in mind. This vision is very similar to the current reality of Insight‘s world, one which Tsubasa believes in and happily leads with Gelsadra. Whereas Sanetoshi wants to break this system by destroying it, Tsubasa thinks she is countering it by the idea that everyone can be one, failing to notice that the system is still the same, now sugarcoated with hugs, smiles, and happiness.
Penguindrum offers a different answer than Sanetoshi’s though. Kunihiko Ikuhara instead provides the answer that while human beings are selfish to the point of self destruction at times, they are also capable of love and empathy. We may not be able to fully understand ourselves, but by learning more about each other, we can also learn about who we are and what we’re capable of. Transformation’s true catalyst is the power of selfless, sacrificial love. If we remember these things, then perhaps there is hope for this nihilistic world.
This is precisely why Tsubasa is the key to Insight‘s answer as much as she is key to its problem. To care is a hard thing. Tsubasa cares deeply for the society around her, but is so blindsided by her own ideas of justice that she becomes the antithesis of what she wanted to defend in the first place. But it is because of this that I believe in Tsubasa Misudachi. Being emotional at least means that you care and are capable of changing. And unlike Hajime, who is unchanging, always right, and always thinking before acting, it is Tsubasa, flawed, human being Tsubasa, that has the most potential to change. Provided that she is given the insight as to why context and personal experiences are so important as well as why they should be shared and communicated effectively to help others, I believe that Tsubasa has the capacity to fight for what she wanted to fight for in the very beginning. It’s why she is so important and why she is what the Gatchaman (and Gatchaman Crowds by extension) need right now, even if she is impulsive, daring, and highly opinionated.
I spend most of my time in the lab as a researcher these days. It’s my job to ask questions, and get answers. Sometimes those answers aren’t the ones I’m looking for. Sometimes I have to redo my work from absolute scratch. But these days, I don’t mind staying late or taking the long way out. Every day, I have the opportunity to learn something new for myself. Apes after all, may be less intelligent than human beings, but they too, have the emotional vulnerability to fall, get up, and learn from mistakes.