Kenji Nakamura’s Gatchaman Crowds and Seiji Kishi’s Hamatora are two of my favorite anime series. The two shows, which aired around the same time-frame of 2013 to 2015, have always paired themselves together in my mind. Both are heavily inspired by superhero media and go in wildly different directions for the genre, each in their own specific way. They even share some similar elements within their political and social commentaries.
Gatchaman Crowds, much like Casshern Sins and Yatterman Nights, is one of Tatsunoko’s many re-imaginings of their classic characters. As the name implies, the series takes the science ninjas of the original Gatchaman and ties the show’s environmental themes to a sci-fi concept. The title focuses on extraterrestrial beings, the main cast using alien suits that are either high-tech or magical in origin.
Moreover, Gatchaman Crowds’ subject matter swerves from a traditional action show to a long stretch of conversations about social dynamics and social progress. It also has a heavily queer and feminist bent, with a cast of queer-coded characters and a female lead in Hajime Ichinose: a quirky girl who solves conflicts through conversation and an understanding of human nature, rather than with raw power.
Hamatora, on the other hand, is informed more by the likes of X-Men, following a lower class of superhuman people trying to survive in a harsh world. Unlike Stan Lee’s classic, though, the title favors a Japanese class-centric view, as opposed to the race-focused lens found in X-Men. In particular, Hamatora is a critique of the Japanese schooling system and the country’s broad cultural desire to raise people to be valuable tools for bettering the country, usually at the cost of their personal development or even mental wellness. There’s a more traditional action and thriller bent to the story, but there’s also a focus on debates over the stress of living in an oppressive society that tries to mold you into something else, with themes of control and spite running through both seasons.
Both Hamatora and Gatchaman Crowds are divided into two seasons, with the second of each breaking down many of the ideas from the first and actively criticizing previous ideas. Problems thought solved in season one prove to be much more complicated in the second, and we see the impact that has on the wider society.
Gatchaman Crowds‘ first season revolves around an alien agent of chaos named Berg Katze, who gives a power called “Crowds” to Rui, the head of the social media site GALAX. Crowds is a unique ability that Rui can share with other people through GALAX, which lets those who wield it control physical avatars in real-world space remotely. Rui initially attempts to use the power in quiet with a select few people, in order to do good and avoid the power being put into the wrong hands. Their efforts are derailed, though, when Katze manipulates things further to use the power of the internet and people frustrated at the social norms to abuse Crowds’ power. One thing leads to another, and Rui seems to save the day through gamification strategies, while Hajime seals Katze away inside her.
In the following season, Gatchaman Crowds Insight, political terrorist Rizumu Suzuki expresses his issues with the Crowds system, now made a public utility, to cause mass disruption using said system along with those who agree with him. Suzuki sees the system as dangerous and tries to express why through public displays of vandalism and disruption, which causes disagreement between Gatchaman team members on the validity of his argument.
This is but a small hindrance, though, in comparison to the real issue at hand. Gelsadra, a childish alien who can absorb human emotion, arrived on Earth not too long into Suzuki’s volatile protests. Since his entrance onto the planet, he’s learned all the wrong lessons by new Gatchaman member Tsubasa Misudachi, who holds a short-sighted approach to right and wrong. Gelsadra ends up recreating all that pent up emotion in physical form as the Kuu, creatures that start to police humanity based around popular opinion, or as the show puts it, the social atmosphere. Hajime is one of the few who can see the problem as it begins to grow, and must figure out a way to break the cycle before it’s too late.
Hamatora, meanwhile, features a mad scientist named Moral collecting the brains of Minimum Holders, the super-powered class of this world. He’s obsessed with Nice, the head of the Hamatora Detective Agency, and centers him in his own mad ambitions. Moral uses the resentment people have over their low places in society as a means to control them, and get the masses to work in his interests. Ultimately, he aims to push Nice as some sort of savior for his own twisted reasons, and he does so by creating a problem only Nice is able to solve.
In particular, the doctor starts a sudden uprising of the hidden super-powered class that forces them in the open, using the boiling resentment they have for how they’ve been treated by the society around them. At the same time, Moral is working as an active agent of chaos, granting Minimum powers to average humans who hold a deep-seated loathing for the world at large (or just those who are more successful than they are).
In the fallout of RE:_Hamatora, Moral’s actions have created a political storm, which leads to several self-interested parties lining up to take advantage of it. This includes Ishigami Shunichi: a supposed revolutionary who’s really a would-be dictator. Shunichi cloaks his real intentions in progressive language and uses people like pieces on a chessboard. Meanwhile, the Hamatora agency is threatened by an old friend and another mysterious party simultaneously. And if all this wasn’t enough, the Japanese government has elevated authoritarian voices within itself, who are trying to militarize the police and enact authoritarian policies that draw from eugenics.
Nice ends up at the center of this maelstrom, due to Moral’s manipulations prior to his death in season one. His situation is made worse by a string of reveals of human atrocities committed upon Minimum Holders, which include several of Nice’s childhood friends.
Both Hamatora and Gatchaman Crowds explore ways in which mass social resentment can cause violence and chaos, albeit through different lenses, then return to their core conflicts to create a stronger thesis on what the problems and solutions are.
Gatchaman Crowds focuses heavily on how the internet impacts society. These concepts are contextualized through Berg Katze, who acts and speaks like a garden-variety internet troll. Berg Katze’s actions even go as far as to reference movements like Anonymous, the parallels to which can be seen in the masked group that sparks up when Katze starts spreading Crowds to the masses. The series explores the damage these movements cause but also argues they’re a relatively minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Or, to put it more bluntly, they’re a smaller part of far larger issues.
Gatchaman Crowds Insight points out how Rui’s supposed answer wasn’t really the answer. Instead, it shows how the Crowds phenomenon is just one form of a larger issue that has been a part of human society since its inception. It then expands upon this idea to demonstrate how the internet and large media institutions work to exacerbate the problem. On a basic level: we all affect each other’s views and decisions, leaving little time for introspection.
This core concept is expressed beautifully in the show’s later half, as Tsubasa’s grandfather tells her about World War II. He explains how he and his friends enlisted, and about the pointless tragedy that followed. It was a war that none of them could justify in retrospect, despite all of them being so excited to fight for their country. Their actions were little different from the madness caused by the Kuus, who policed the city based on the whims of mass opinion, stirred up by showmanship and social pressure. In a world where we’re always connected to other people through social media, finding an escape from that social pressure becomes near impossible. Worse, going along with it, even when you know it’s wrong eventually becomes dangerous.
Hamatora, meanwhile, shines a spotlight on class dynamics. The series places a harsher and more cynical emphasis on the nature of Japan’s cultural focus on unified accomplishments. It casts a skeptical light on the ideals of conformity for the betterment of society and highlights the inherent hypocrisy of that view. In particular, Hamatora posits that those who do not excel as others end up resenting the other class.
It’s an almost Randian view on the subject, but Hamatora reaches a different conclusion that places value on humanity as a whole, rather than its divided parts. The series shreds the ideals of classical Objectivism, which argues for freedom for the privileged for the betterment of society. Rather, it arguably shows an example of this ideal gone very wrong, and uses Objectivism’s core concepts of social friction to reach a far different conclusion. Where Crowds is a show more focused on systems, Hamatora is more interested in exploring its topics on a personal level, telling the tales of the victims of dehumanizing systems and those who find no fulfillment as a part of a society which has no want for them.
RE:_Hamatora further explores social cycles and how they can be hijacked by bad actors to cause harm. False revolutionary Shunichi and militant scientist Doktor are two sides of the same coin. Both are controlling personalities, who want the world to bend to their whims. Each takes advantage of the chaos caused by Moral in the show’s first season, preying on the goodwill of scared Minimum Holders or applying heavy political pressure, respectively. While there is a palpable Objectivist slant to this narrative, the core thesis of the series veers in a more Nihilist direction by the time the final credits roll.
Nice is built up as a classical style Übermensch: a Nihilist concept of a supposed “superman” who will change the values of society by replacing the common beliefs of the time. Through their actions, the Übermensch will supposedly show a new way for society to grow.
The problem with the idea behind the Übermensch theory is raised through the series by Art: a police officer who becomes an antagonist in RE:Hamatora. Through a series of events, Art remembers a repressed memory of when his brother died at the government’s secret Minimum Holder program. That, in addition to the chaos caused by Moral, leads him to desire the creation of an egalitarian utopia. To achieve his goal, Art, posits that he would remove the source of Minimum powers: the human ego.
Art sees the core problem of society in the ego, our will and desire that causes us to act. To counteract this, he tries to make a stationary world where no one grows or causes pain to themselves or others. Nice is the counterpoint, someone who’s seen the best and worst of humanity his entire life, and came to the exact opposite conclusion. For him, the chaos people can cause isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s what gives life meaning. He also doesn’t want anybody to impose their will on anyone else, making him different from every other faction in the series, and that’s what allows him to claim victory in the end.
Both series explore very similar ideas, albeit through different foci and approaches. Gatchaman Crowds takes a larger, systemic view, looking at the mechanics of modern political systems and public discourse. The series features a lot of subtle details through which it further expresses what it sees as possible answers, like queer women being the lead problem solvers of the series, or the heavy theming around art movements and crafts. The latter extends beyond the show’s narrative, as it factors not only into Hajime’s role as an artist but also into the series’ episode titles.
It greatly values expression, particularly thoughtful expression that exists outside common knowledge or understanding, to better understand how we function as people. The answer the narrative reaches is to inspire people to observe and think more about what they see and experience, in order to create a more informed populace. People need free will and the ability to express their views to create the best world for everyone. Moreover, they would be best served to avoid trends and popular stances that exist simply because of the fever that surrounds them.
Hamatora doesn’t share the same angles as Crowds, but it does share the same core principles. Society only grows if it is allowed to question and explore ideas, not cut itself off or retreat for the comfort that comes from structure. The series also explores the flaws within this ideal, and how bad actors can poison discourse more thoroughly. This is made particularly salient with the knowledge that all of Hamatora’s villains are representations of all manner of social ills, from corrupt double-talkers hijacking real social movements, to old conservative men wanting to control what they fear or don’t understand.
Most importantly, both series are obsessed with the importance of community.
What sets Hamatora apart from most other works that show Objectivist leanings is that it greatly values the idea of human connections and conflicts that can occur within society. Gatchaman Crowds does as well, though instead of going in a personal direction, it argues these squabbles can help society find new answers if people allow these conversations to be constructive and challenging without forcing ideas upon others.
While these two titles have different views on the details, they both reach the same strong thesis: we have to work together to save ourselves, even if that means butting heads here and there. I think it’s worth taking this ideal into account because they both strike at heated, familiar problems that we, as a society, need to figure out sooner rather than later.