Whenever I hear “top-down” or “vertical” society, I recall Gatchaman Crowds. In that series, Rui Ninomiya references Japanese anthropologist Chie Nakane and her 1970 book Japanese Society, stating that one of their goals is to destroy vertical social structure still prevalent in modern Japan.
The basics of vertical society are just as it sounds: a top-down hierarchy with a “senior” and a “junior,” but Nakane reinforces that these titles and ideas are all tied into the group with which the person identifies. A Japanese person will first compare or establish themselves in a group, then branch out into their given profession or role.
For example, she states that asking a Japanese engineer about their job would result in that person saying, “I’m from A company” rather than the more western response, “I’m an engineer.”
Made in Abyss is a vertical society in both in social construction and physical existence.
There’s an obvious, “It works on two levels!” joke here, and both societal and physical structures are reinforced visually. This only adds to the post-apocalyptic feel of the series, dropping clues as to what may have happened in the past to create such a vibrant society that is seemingly on a dangerous precipice.
When Gatchaman Crowds first aired, I was undecided on what direction the series would take. The premiere episode hinted at anything from poking fun at superheroes to an odd “buddy cop” duo starring Hajime Ichinose and Sugune Tachibana with Hajime inevitably spoiling Sugune’s stodgy plans, dragging his character forward. While the latter does happen throughout the series, it’s a byproduct of Crowds‘ main focus — examining existing societal structures and social mores.
“Chaos and threat may not be the same. The judgment is yours to make.”
-JJ Robinson, Gatchaman Crowds, Episode 1
With these words to his G-Crew, JJ Robinson lays out exactly what Gatchaman Crowds intends to explore within the scope of its first season. They are written in each Gatchaman NOTE regarding the “nameless chaos,” which the G-Crew have dubbed “MESS” — the default antagonist of the series’ premiere.
GatchamanCrowds‘ debut is titled “Avant-garde” — the first in a season’s worth of episode titles dedicated to art history or specific art terms. Avant-garde translated literally means “at the vanguard,” and within an art context identifies something that pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, or calls out pre-existing societal norms and mores. Often the purpose of an avant-garde work is to promote radical social or political change to the current status quo.
For this reason, Gatchaman Crowds doesn’t open with its eccentric newbie, Hajime Ichinose. Instead, it begins with Sugune Tachibana’s morning routine, effectively establishing the status quo, giving it a character of its own within the series.
“When you see someone in trouble in front of you, you act before you think. That’s how you’ve always been since you were a child, and I’ve always been proud of you because of that. But right now, you need to think hard. What is it that you can do?”
-Yuru-jii to his great-granddaughter Tsubasa, Gatchaman Crowds insight, Episode 10
In the first season of Gatchaman Crowds, Hajime Ichinose had her collages.
Not only were they a cute hobby that tied Hajime to some influential Tachikawa locals, but they acted as a metaphor – albeit a heavy-handed one – for the way Hajime herself acts. Repeatedly in the first season, she would express how wonderful it was when everyone “came together,” combining their respective talents into something different, exciting, or meaningful, much like a collage. Hajime was always slow and dawdling, sometimes to a fault, but her personality also brought other large personalities together, creating something entirely new.
It’s only fitting that Gatchaman Crowds insight‘s finale allowed its new heroine, Tsubasa Misudachi, to show off her own creative talents in the form of a fireworks show. Fireworks are an easy shortcut to Tsubasa’s personality – emotionally-charged, quick to anger, and fiercely passionate – as she’s naturally intense but also acts before she thinks. Unlike a collage, fireworks immediately impress and often inspire an emotional response; however, they’re also fleeting. For Tsubasa, fireworks are also the tradition of her family that she carries with pride.