Gatchaman Crowds has always lived on the bleeding edge of modern debate. The first season featured a showdown between a supremely empathetic high school student and a malevolent alien troll for the soul of the founder of alt-universe, gamified LINE. In the process, it translated the original Gatchaman’s classic struggle of good versus evil to a more nuanced debate that set humanity against itself. Could humans really come to replace superheroes, using the unimaginable power of CROWDS responsibly? Or were they doomed to abuse it for personal gain, destroying civilization in the process? In the end, the answer is somewhere in between: the Gatchaman are needed, but only to inspire humans to achieve the potential they are capable of realizing on their own.
In the years that Gatchaman Crowds has released, the internet has changed irrevocably. Gamergate shattered the online landscape, causing unspeakable harm to the lives of hundreds (if not thousands, or more) of women and minorities. History proved Berg Katze to be real. But most people are Rui, not Hajime. The CROWDS would be run by a thousand Ruis, not a thousand Hajimes. Expecting them to be Hajime at all times would be like expecting somebody to be Superman every moment of the day, which is impossible. So how does Gatchaman Crowds stay relevant after the future it predicted came to pass, but then twisted into something ahead of even the predictions of Kenji Nakamura and co.? The answer was simple: make a sequel. Gatchaman Crowds Insight took the inspiring message of the original and ferociously interrogated it. Can we really govern ourselves? Could human want be even more dangerous than hate, and stronger than love? How do you fight to change an atmosphere that’s overtaken a nation when so many people have bought into it without ever realizing?
There’s a scene late in the series where the grandfather of Tsubaki, Insight’s impulsive heroine, pulls her aside and tells her about his own experiences during World War II. It’s here that the series comes into focus for me: Tsubaki’s grandfather has experienced what happens when an entire country buys into a culture of placation without thinking of the consequences. He warns his granddaughter to recognize the symptoms, to do her best to keep the current generation from making the same mistake. A scene comes to mind from a work from the late, great Shigeru Mizuki, his magisterial history/memoir Showa: Mizuki’s parents realize too late that they’ve sent their children to fight in a war they no longer believe in. They run outside, crying “Come back to us, Shigeru!” Mizuki’s parents were ordinary people, not monsters, but anyone at any time and at any place is capable of buying into the prevalent ideology at the time without thinking about it. Correspondingly, the only solution Gatchaman Crowds Insight gives at its end is “When you make a change, consider your options carefully.”
To be honest, as a citizen of the United States, the first thing that comes to me re: Gatchaman Crowds Insight isn’t so much Japan circa World War II as it is the current political election. It’s easy to forget after the turbulent events of this year, but plenty of people were joking this summer that the rise of Gelsadra in Insight just so happened to coincide with the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican primary. The current state of politics in the United States is a serious issue, and I don’t want to belittle serious worries by drawing comparisons to Japanese anime. But I think that in this case, drawing parallels between Gelsadra and Trump helps illustrate some things that are obscured by folks comparing Trump to Hitler or Darth Vader. The first is that while Gelsadra’s character is rooted in a villain from the original Gatchaman, he’s hardly a traditional villain himself. While his actions lead to much of the conflict in the second season, everything he does is rooted in a desire to understand the wants of others and then give them exactly what they want. Like Hajime, he’s extremely empathetic and wants the best for everybody; unlike Hajime, he doesn’t understand people at all, and gives people what they want without ever considering what they need. Ultimately he’s proved to be a sympathetic figure capable of learning from his mistakes, which is more than I could ever say for Donald Trump. But I digress.
The second (and more important) parallel is that in both Gatchaman Crowds Insight and in real life (IRL), Gelsadra and folks like Donald Trump are not the disease, but the symptom. Taken on his own, Gelsadra is no more dangerous a technology than CROWDS. His actions are only damaging because people themselves are often incapable of knowing what they need, versus what they want at that moment. The aliens that erupt from people’s thoughts and cause havoc across the city are not manifestations of Gelsadra, but instead a dangerous incarnation of human groupthink. While Katze uses humanity’s capacity for hate against it, Gelsadra is subjected to humanity’s id and then, since he doesn’t know any better, gives them exactly what they’re asking for. It’s important to realize that the popularity of politicians like Trump implicate not just the political establishment, but society as a whole. There is an ugly strain of bigotry, xenophobia and fear in the culture of the United States (my culture) that must be acknowledged before any change can be made. Until this occurs, it doesn’t matter who wins the election, or why. As hard as it is, it’s the responsibility of all of us to “think slowly.” To do otherwise would be to be complicit in a future Berg Katze himself would be proud of.