A reliable constant in Japanese school children or young adults fighting off the forces of evil is the necessity to transform into something else. Something that is not quite one’s self, but also an extension of one’s self, escaping the certainty that one won’t be able to do something and entering the powerful realm of possibility that one can.
Gatchaman Crowds deliberately removes the act of transformation and the act of fighting monsters, called MESS, from real time and places them in an otherworldly pocket of space, eschewing the prior tradition of having a super sentai team fighting their opponents in current space and time. The 1972 Science Ninja Team Gatchaman spends a meager amount of seconds on transforming, focusing instead on the fighting following the transformation into a hero. Furthermore, the original Gatchaman frequently relies on equipment such as fighter planes, which keeps the series firmly grounded in reality. Even when the series is doing something ridiculous – somehow transforming an entire fighter plane into a phoenix presumably using ninja powers, for example – very little focus is placed on the act of transformation. Instead, it’s about the fighting itself, which takes place entirely in the real world.
An easy line can be drawn from Gatchaman Crowds‘ use of the transformation sequence and a magical girl transformation. The world that both Hajime Ichinose and Sugune Tachibana see when they transform, and presumably continue to see through their battles with MESS, is abundantly colorful and more akin to Himari Takakura’s transformation into the Princess of the Crystal than it is to morphing into a Power Ranger. Hajime may look like this, but what she’s seeing is actually this, the visual effect being that it completely removes her from reality. Additionally, there’s another comparison to be made in the lack of responsibility placed on this new G-Crew to clean up after MESS. Thanks to “amnesia effect,” this super sentai team doesn’t have to clean up after themselves, as all of the fighting is distinctly separated from the real world. The MESS themselves, as an entity, are also remarked by their ability to separate from the world. The terror that they cause is one that in and of itself is isolating in nature, leaving the G-Crew to salvage those who have been affected.
While watching Gatchaman Crowds, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Cardcaptor Sakura – a magical girl series that stands out for many reasons – and its insistence on the fact that impending doom and destruction is a very personal thing. The cards cause havoc in real time, which Sakura has to constantly clean up after; however, the series also makes what Sakura is fighting for personal. Should she fail in collecting the cards and becoming their master, the consequences would be most dire for her and those she cares about, while the rest of the world would remain generally unaffected. Sakura fights with magic in real time, and her “transformation sequences” involve her best friend forcing her into cute outfits, but the use of her magic is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than it is a fight for the world at large.
Unlike Sakura, the G-Crew of Gatchaman Crowds doesn’t have to worry when MESS disrupts a leisurely afternoon in the mall. MESS is not only visually separated from reality, but the series has yet to show an actual effect that MESS has on every day life. We, along with Hajime, are told that it absorbs people, destroying them or causing them to disappear. This description runs opposite of how MESS appears as a normal object like a bus, or a nondescript man, and is not shown to have any effect on the current world around it. It’s not until amnesia effect is activated that MESS begins to take action. This leaves the G-Crew to be as nebulous of an entity as MESS itself. Formed by the alien J.J. Robinson, they operate in secret along with MESS, both separated from the world. This isolation makes the act of fighting a personal one, and additionally circular, much like Sakura’s card collecting. The G-Crew are given their powers by J.J., an alien who oversees earth and has seen a prophecy. He reacts to this by choosing specific individuals to have powers, and they undergo a transformation, gaining the ability to fight. However, what would happen if they suddenly stopped fighting? Although the duty of a Gatchaman is presented as something with galactic consequences, the separation of the fights from the real world makes their struggle oddly personal. Were they to stop fighting, none would know but them.
This deliberate separation may additionally hold the key to the common question – heard both in-universe and in commentary on the series itself – of why Hajime specifically was chosen to be a team member, rather than another dutiful person like Sugune. As J.J. says before bestowing the power of transformation onto Hajime, “Everyone has a power that is concealed deep within.” Obviously a person like Sugune, serious, respectful, and a bit of an altruist, as seen by his actions on the subway, cares for the world at large and would want to take on the task of protecting it. In comparison, a person like Hajime looks whimsical, childish, and disrespectful at times. However, I love the idea of her joining the team specifically because of her personality, especially when considering how Gatchaman Crowds isolates its fighting sequences through the act of transforming. Through transformation, Hajime can become something else, still herself, but escaping the certainty that we, and the every day life within the series, would assign her to.