Hajime, Sugane, and Berg Katze – The Nature of the Masks in Gatchaman Crowds

This post is the first Gatchaman Crowds editorial post I’ve written in three years. As such, it also contains the preamble, where I explain why I focus over characters as “masks”, because there are too many things to discuss, and it’s interesting to discuss the many, many ideas of the show through its characters. This post in particular will focus on Hajime and Sugane and how they reflect one another, and showcases Hajime’s role in the show; the second write-up focuses on Joe, Sugane, and how Gatchaman Crowds is part of a discussion and response to its super-sentai origin, dealing with the nature of heroism. Finally, the third archetype discusses Berg Katze not just as a villain, but as a Villain, someone who’s putting on a mask within the show, and who is taking up the villain role for the sake of the heroes.

This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that rose in my mind as a result of watching the show. There will be spoilers for the entire first season of the show.

Return to the Gatchaman Crowds Project page.

Preamble – People as Archetypes, as Masks:

Gatchaman Crowds anime episode 6 - Ichinose Hajime telling Nonmiya Rui he's prettier without make-up.

I keep returning to this line. It’s so important within the show.

Gatchaman Crowds is not a character-driven show. Though characters are all-important in it, it’s not they who are the vehicle of a story, but its themes are. This is one of those rare theme-driven show, where the main focus is to espouse, sometimes elaborate, and discuss themes. Which it does via its characters. There are many themes and ideas in this show in particular, not for it the narrow focus of other works, not just justice, but gamification, the nature of revolution, internet trolls, bystander effects, and more. You can read my notes on the show from when I first watched it for an exploration of those themes as they’ve come up in the show, and you can also check out my more disorganized notes from the rewatch, which are complementary and break down more things going on.

Gatchaman Crowds has many themes, but what of its main theme? It’s easier to circle back to it when you uncover the show’s main message, or messages, which are there – Gatchaman Crowds is definitely a show interested in telling us things. It believes people are inherently good, for the most part, it tells us to push them by encouraging fun activities which are beneficial to everyone, and it tells us to reach out to others, to form immediate connections, to reach beyond the masks we all form. Gatchaman Crowds’s main theme is that of communication, not merely in its media manifestation, but between people.

There are far too many things of interest to cover in Gatchaman Crowds, so I’ll be tackling this by a series of shorter segments which focus on the masks the characters don, of who they are, and how it relates to the show’s themes, or the characters’ role in the story, or just the characters.

Hajime is the sun, Sugane is the moon:

Gatchaman Crowds anime episode 7 - Ichinose Hajime commenting to Tachibana Sugane on how bright it is.

The show, through OD, clearly calls Hajime the Gatchaman team’s sun a couple of times. She wears yellow overalls, and her room is exceedingly bright. We also find her interacting with the sun or looking on the bright day a couple of times. The metaphor is firmly established within the show. But more than that, in episode 11’s first half, where the infamous recap half-episode happened, we see how she had revived the Gatchaman branch, given people hope, and revitalized them. Utsutsu in particular has said how she had done things in the hope that Hajime would notice her, which brings to mind Melanie C’s line from “I Turn to You,” where she sings, “I turn to you, like a flower leaning toward the sun,” and Utsutsu’s green design already reminds one of a vegetation.

But what of Sugane? Sugane and Hajime are the main characters of the show in its first act, with her as the new member, intent on bringing forth change, and he the existing paradigm, the one who does things because they are proper, because that’s how things are done. He resists her suggestions, he doesn’t believe in her methods, and even suspects her intellect. Through their interactions, we get to see the old order versus the new playing out, with justifications. Not through Jou who ignores Hajime, or Pai-Pai who Hajime ignores. Sugane and Hajime actually have a relationship where they talk things through, ask one another what they are doing (mostly Sugane shouting at Hajime “What?!” and “Why?!”), and explain to one another.

The gradual change, the winning over to Hajime’s side is important, that she’s not merely acting out and things work, as we see them interact. And Sugane is the moon to Hajime’s sun. He orbits her. He shines her reflected light as the show goes on and he renounces JJ, he shines with his own light when he later rekindles Joe’s flame.

But there’s more to this than that. Hajime is an origin, she begins things. She creates. She reaches out. She shines bright. Sugane is reactive and shy. He’s ashamed of his creative side, of engaging in a child-like and meaningless activity. He has to wait for orders to come, and he rejects MESS, the epitome of an outsider, even if he has a personal reason for that. He exists to please others, to do them proud. His is traditionalism, for the sake of traditionalism. Until he is won over, and through him, and his interactions with Hajime, so are we. This is where and how we learn of Hajime’s character and ideals, and if any mask is “ours”, as the watchers, then it is Sugane, who looks on at Hajime in disbelief, but can’t help but be drawn in and wish to be more like her.

Sugane, Joe, and the nature of manly superheroes:

Gatchaman Crowds anime episode 7 - Hibike Joe tells young Tachibana Sugane not to cry

Sugane and Joe’s relationship is not new. There are countless examples in other media, from Tanis and Flint in Dragonlance, to Van and Balgus in Vision of Escaflowne, and even Alfred and Bruce Wayne in Batman. There are some variations, but it is a story of a child growing up to adore an older hero, who is often gruff and remote in his returning adoration, and on the child the hopes of the past generations are pinned. The hope, and the pride.

Joe is mostly present in his absence for the majority of the show. His fire had been snuffed out, which is visually shown by his hair’s red underside, hiding under the cold black exterior. He’s a dormant volcano, puffing smoke from his cigarettes, which also serve to show once more how cool he is, how much older. “Older” is a theme for Joe, it is a mask that he holds onto. He used to be an idealist, but was crushed down after many years of doing the same thing, without saving the world as he wished to. He had met the wall of what one can achieve on his own, and so he stopped trying. It did help he has raised a fledgling hero, the bright-eyed and justice-bent Sugane.

Joe and Sugane epitomize the aggressive superhero trope. There’s a sequence early-on where after Sugane and Hajime discuss the matter of suicide, Sugane tells Hajime:

You don’t value people’s lives either, that’s why you can’t kill people!

Moving beyond the simple and terrible irony of that statement, which is a good example of how much of our political discussion regarding violence and war is held in the real world, to Sugane violence and its employment are the realm of being a superhero. This is what it means to defend the weak, this is what it means to be a man. Joe is the stand-in for “manliness” in the show, he drinks, he smokes, he doesn’t show he cares. He’s the father. Every other male main cast member (inhuman Pai-Pai aside) has decidedly “unmanly” aspects, in terms of pose, speech, or manner of dress.

And Joe is who Sugane aspires to be. He was saved by him. He exists to please him, to receive some recognition or praise from him. It’s not Hajime that Sugane is smitten with, but Joe, even if not romantically. But Joe doesn’t give Sugane time for most of the show. He hates himself. He hates that he didn’t live up to his own dream, and can’t see someone else living the dream he’s given up as impossible already.

But here is the other part of the story, which still plays in other stories, though usually requiring the literal death of a character, which Gatchaman Crowds replaces with the figurative one, as Berg Katze tears out Joe’s Note, his soul. The hope. Joe had invested Sugane with his zeal and motivation, with his hope for a better future and surety that it can be had. After Joe loses all these things, the letter from the past he had sent to himself matures and blooms in the form of young Sugane, who reminds him who he was, and that even if he did not save the world, he saved a person, a glorious person, who’s now finally beginning to shine his own light.

It’s important that this Sugane, this blade, had been reforged in Hajime’s fire. In what Sugane does, having learned from Hajime, there is the refutation and complementary method to Joe’s old goal and belief – that you might not be able to save the world on your own, but you can reach out, and create a cascading effect that will end up changing the world. And even if it doesn’t, or won’t in your own lifetime, you still get to meet, and create, hopeful and shining new people. And they, in turn, will recreate hope within you.

And that is an old, old story of superheroes. Of changing the world. Of fathers and sons.

Berg Katze – The Consummate Villain Actor:

Gatchaman Crowds anime episode 7 - Berg Katze taunting Hibiki Joe

Berg Katze mocks people.

Did you know that the word “mockery” carries the connotation of “mimicry”, specifically derogatory. Berg Katze mimics, and thus mocks, the way in which OD and Hajime speak, the way Rui dresses. Berg Katze mocks humanity when he adopts their forms and goes on sprees of mayhem and chaos. Berg Katze mocks Joe, and through him, superheroes and justice, when he fights him.

Berg Katze is the Anti-Spirals from the last few episodes of Gurren Lagann. His goal is to stifle creativity and joy, to keep everyone down. And in order to utterly crush the hopes and dreams of those he opposes, he doesn’t just pile anguish on them, but he subverts their own dreams, weaponizes them, or simply targets those dreams directly rather than presenting lateral obstacles.

Joe believes in the use of power, of overpowering his enemy in combat. So for him, Berg Katze goes to war, he will be his villain. Berg Katze is performing a necessary role for any story, that of the villain. Berg Katze is such a “Perfect Villain” that it too must be an act – finding what each person cares for most, and targeting them there? Giving someone power only to later turn that power against that person’s dream?

Gatchaman Crowds anime episode 8 - Berg-Katze asking Ninomiya Rui whether he had fun playing the hero

The contrast to the prior screenshot is stark, and the “fake” use of ‘play’.

Berg Katze cares about everyone, in his own special way. This is why he takes the time to learn what they wish, and target that. This is why he takes the time to learn what are their methods, and use them for evil. But not always. We can all relate to what Berg Katze is doing, because we’ve seen it in grade school, and junior high. We see it in YouTube comment sections. People mocking one another for the lilt or lisp of their speech. For their names. For their appearance. And it hurts.

Berg Katze puts on a mask. He’s not just a villain, but he’s acting the villain. Far grander than is a character trait. He puts on a mask, which is our faces, and shows us the death of our dreams. He shows us ourselves, but made less. He shows us the us we try to hide in the past, and the us we try to never grow up to be.

Berg Katze isn’t just the villain, he’s The Villain, with capital letters and all. And we’re scared of him because we’re scared of ourselves, and of unthinking cruelty, and intentional cruelty. Because we’re him. As he reminds us.

Reader question: How do you feel about “Characters as archetypes”, and of discussing the show’s ideas not in the abstract, but via specific characters or interactions?

Return to the Gatchaman Crowds Project page.

3 comments on “Hajime, Sugane, and Berg Katze – The Nature of the Masks in Gatchaman Crowds

  1. Nice essays!

    Jou’s character and his relationship with Sugane are relatively small-ish sideplots in the greater scheme of Gatchaman Crowds’ commentaries on society, individuals, communities, the internet, connections, trolls & heroes, etc., but it’s one of my favorite aspects of the show. It’s just so good, so well thought-out, so well executed.

    By the way, I think with Jou the keyword is not quite “older” but more like “adult”. Jou is an adult, opposed to Sugane, which keeps being emphasized by him trying to invite Sugane to drink and Sugane refusing since he’s still a minor (and in the end they finally get to drink together, of course). He’s the disillusioned, cynical adult, ashamed of the ideals of his youth, having lost his self-worth, the meaning of his existence. Whiling away his days in a dead-end job that he’s ridiculously overqualified for, just wishing to get through the day and the next day and his whole life, and be done with it. And we have Sugane’s frustration and feelings of helplessness, of being stuck trying to be what Jou can’t be anymore, but seeing Jou being a mere shadow of himself even before Katze KO’s him. Throughout the show I was worried that Jou would die, but being saved like that, and Sugane being the one to save him and rekindle his fire, was so good and satisfying.

    The whole storyline is nothing original (especially compared to the rest of the show) but it’s just so well-done.

    • Guy says:

      Thank you for taking the time to reply, thanks for the kind words, and sorry it’s taken me a bit to reply. I’m just drowning in real life stuff.

      Sugane and Joe (and yes, that’s actually the official spelling in the Japanese character-art books, caught me by surprise too) are very classic archetypes. The self-recriminating gruff mentor and the mentee who outshines him and rekindles his faith. Except here, it’s Hajime who needs to show Sugane the way, not his mentor.

      It is a small substory of the main series, but considering how it’s the biggest nod to the original series’s sentai nature, and what sort of story is being told, it actually is quite meaningful to the overall scheme of things.

      I do think I like the word “older” exactly because of the reasons you mentioned. Joe is actually acting quite childishly, and I wouldn’t call him “mature” which is the connotation of “adult”. Instead, he is simply older. Until he stops wallowing in self-pity and regains his self-confidence and willingness to act, which inspired Sugane to wish to be like him.

  2. […] deeply. One of the reasons I like it so much is how many different angles you can approach it from. My first write-up on the first season approached it from the perspective of masks. Masks are like identities. Masks […]

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