Gatchaman Crowds is my favorite anime to date, and I’m not sure that opinion will change anytime soon. As of writing, its second season, Insight, is airing and it’s just as impressive as the first season. It does best what it always does best; gets people thinking and talking. There’s so much to dissect from the show, and it’s all layered and presented so well that it’s easy to understand what it’s saying, but not so obnoxious in giving the message that it becomes off-putting. Insight is going a step further by supplying a mess of different viewpoints in its central issue of how the internet should be integrated into modern life, but it’s also bringing up something completely different for western audiences.
Please note that I am not saying this is how I view the series, but it is a view that’s worth exploring.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but the series is currently in a debate among its main cast about how Crowds should be used. Crowds is a special power distributed by major character Rui via app that allows the user to make their will physical and affect the world, no matter how far off they may be from where they send their Crowds avatar. This allows equal good and evil use, along with neutral, but the world is currently debating on how this new power should be used and if people should even be allowed it. During all of this, an organization called VAPE (we’re going to be using that word a lot during this article, so let’s just get our giggles out now, okay? VAPE, VAPE, VAPE, VAPE, VAPE, VAPE, VAPE, VAPE) has risen that uses red Crowds, a power supplied by another person with similar powers to Rui that doesn’t believe people should have access to this ability, seeing fellow human beings as lacking in intelligence and unworthy of such potentially destructive power. Rui wants to believe that anyone can do good with the power, but VAPE isn’t without merit in their viewpoints.
The use of the internet is the main subject of the series, with the actions of VAPE and the blue Crowds reflecting harassment campaigns and mass imposed internet justice, not to mention the Gatchaman becoming the leaders in this new technology without fully understanding the full realistic impact. It’s a big old mess, and the “real” world doesn’t know how to make heads or tails of it all. That’s the intended text, and what appears most of the time to the audience.
Except for how the characters argue about Crowds, which has completely different context for western audiences.
See, the key thing about Crowds that makes it different from the internet is that it is physical, so characters in the show’s universe argue about it slightly differently than we do in reality. For us, it’s about how to regulate the internet, even among the most extreme stances. For the Gatchaman and their world, the question is if Crowds should even be allowed for use at all. It’s a power that has proven itself very dangerous and direct, unlike the indirect methods of information manipulation and DDoS attacks that actual occur. Crowds fighting isn’t simply just comment wars and idiotic arguments, it’s physical and has immediate repercussions for everyone around them.
So, now we see characters arguing if Crowds should be allowed to be used. I’m not making this part up; At one point, two characters argue about this, with one saying the technology is too dangerous, another pointing out you could make the same argument about cars because a few people misuse those, and then the first person responds that “Crowds is more dangerous than cars.”
I live in Texas, so those lines instantly sparked one line of thought in my brain, even though I know it was never the original intent of the director or writers; gun control.
The way Insight is making its arguments partly brings up the issue of gun control. It’s not even an issue in Japan, but it’s one of the most decisive issues in the USA, and the train of thought keeps coming up with a lot of western viewers because of how the show tackles its actual subject matter. The Crowds are a dangerous, easily gotten form of power that can be used for violence, and the major conflict of the series so far is if people are even able to responsibly use this power. Arguments against view people as unable to control violent impulses enough to make the ability widely distributed, while those for see it as something already there and capable of good the same as bad. It’s all very similar to arguments relating to if guns should be controlled in distribution, and if they are, how much.
The main difference is that Crowds is not a power that solely functions for violence in design and function, but what it is capable of has similar outcomes, as we’ve already seen terrorist activity done with the power back in the first season. What stopped it was not the Gatchaman, but people gaining the power in mass and being directed in a way that led to them using the power for good and stopping the disruptive Crowds.
Or in another context, guns stopped other people with guns.
I very much believe in the idea of the death of the author, that the message and meaning of a work is more informed by those who see it. Cultural context is central in how we see something, and that’s no exception here. It’s interesting how living in a different culture so completely changes the context and thematic merit of a given work, though it’s only one small part of the series. Insight is proving itself even stronger than the first season with just how dense yet easy to follow it is, and it’s setting up all sorts of interesting ideas and debates. It’s a series that’s going to reveal and challenge a lot of viewpoints, even the ones held by the director himself, and that alone makes it oddly mature and worthy of respect. Expect more articles as I get further in the series.