As we’re nearing the end of the Gatchaman Crowds write-ups (there’s only one essay left after this one!), I once more return to the sort of article that I opened this project with, one that revolves around one of the more general issues the series tackles: Leadership. Leadership is one of the things Gatchaman Crowds explores from the most angles, even if it doesn’t give it the most direct scrutiny. Its approach to leadership is at the same time both irreverent and sympathetic, and the characters and scene referenced in this post’s title reflect both of these facets. Irreverent to leadership, and sympathetic to leaders and their burden.
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.
Hajime is Athena, sort of. She is born again when J.J. envelopes her in the first episode, and from his embrace she emerges as a Gatchaman. Later, she’s Jesus. J.J. sits across a chasm, and Hajime walks across the chasm to him, a leap of faith. The imagery seems as if she’s walking on water. But she breaches the distance, and sits right next to the seemingly impossibly far entity, who only touches them once, when giving birth to them and giving them their shape, their “wings”.
Some other sections already touch on the impossibility of leadership, of how you strive to lead because you think you could do better, but this is because what you know, what you can perceive, when not actually in the position of leadership yourself is limited. And then you attain leadership and find out the truth – that no matter how far you go, or where you sit, you’re still you. This is Pai-Pai’s story, where no matter how far away he runs from Berg Katze, and no matter how fast he runs, he can never outrun his own cowardice, and his own feelings of inadequacy.
Rui is where this character-thematic arc begins, with the belief one can bring forth change, that one can do better than others. Sugayama is the the place where it ends, where you’re still constrained by the expectations of others, by the expectations you have of others to help you rather than motivating yourself (to help them help you). But Sugayama isn’t the final arbiter, for him there is still the other politicians, and the public that he needs to keep electing him. For Rui, he still has to ask the Galaxters to help him. And for both, as the show goes on, we see there’s another source of power that stands above and beyond them. The Crowds and the Gatchaman (the “aliens”) for Sugayama, and the imposing Berg Katze for Rui.
There’s always someone above us, someone whom we can turn to when we need hope, or who can stop us from doing what we wish to do. And more often than not, we’ll stop ourselves at the mere thought of their involvement, even if they do not care.
And then comes the iconoclastic moment of atheism, of the age of enlightenment, where Sugane tells J.J. that they no longer need his prophecies, that Earth will be protected by them, the humans. And of course, the not entirely human O.D., the maybe human Utsutsu, and definitely not human Pai-Pai. But remember, Sugane is the voice of the shounen hero, his is the role to make grand declarations. He’s talking about the spirit of man, may it be a man, a woman, or an alien, but it be a mortal.
Is J.J. forbidden from giving clear information, incapable, or just not interested? We don’t know. Does J.J. perhaps have another entity above himself, whom he wishes he could be, and/or fears? It’s quite possible. Thematically speaking, it might very well be that J.J. is just another step on the same thematic chain as the other leaders, where he only seems so powerful and remote because we’re so different from his own position, and that he’s actually far more similar to the other characters in this segment – J.J. has learned how little he can do, so does what he can, while withdrawing otherwise, whether from cynicism, or a realistic acceptance of his role.
But it’s also important to note that J.J. is almost quite literally an idol, a good-luck charm brandished by Pai-Pai. He could’ve been replaced by a mystical rock that grants powers and every so often speaks up in prophecy, but he’s a person. And so, power and leadership is ascribed to him, not by himself, but by Pai-Pai, who wishes to reduce the load off of his own shoulders. Does J.J. feel responsibility for others, that he wishes he didn’t? Or is he just serving some cosmic goal? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.
Masks aren’t really about what’s underneath, unless you’re Hajime. Masks are not even necessarily about what you’re trying to hide. As far as the world is concerned, masks are about the image projected (we don’t care if you’re actually an asshole, or someone wearing the mask of one, from outside, as the people you’re being an asshole to, it’s all the same thing). Likewise, it doesn’t matter if J.J. has power, and what his goals are. He’s there as a symbol for Sugane. A symbol for taking control of his own fate, and of doing what he believes is right, whether he’s told to or not. The power of the Gatchaman, the power of his soul, is merely the vehicle to his self-determined goals, to actualizing himself.
The point is not whether God exists, and whether he exerts power on us. The point is breaking free, the point is declaring yourself the master of your own destiny. Not the trolls. Not your mentor, and not the people you must choose. You, by your own hands.
But is J.J. the only one in the show who gives those with powers and unique capabilities cryptic calls to action, while seemingly removed from them but not really? No, Rui is the same, he and General X (Galax, for all intents and purposes). Who gave people calls to action for ephemeral points, and even more ephemeral “updating the world.” But those were just training wheels born out of not giving people enough credit. As the show came to a close, Rui suggested a game to pacify the remaining Neo-Hundred, only for X to tell him that his users had come up with several such games.
We’re all players of games. We all gamify our activities. And there were the self-motivating, self-made heroes that Rui had looked for, right under his thumb, kept from manifesting their desires and actions through his micro-management. And J.J.? If he truly is so smart, then he not only knew of his own powerlessness, but also that trying to exert power through weakness, as Pai-Pai had done, was the surest way to keep those you wish to grow from being able to do so.
Do what you need. Do what you must. Do what you want. Do it whenever you can, and invite others to do the same.
Reader Question: What do you think of the image of leadership presented in Gatchaman Crowds? What is the role of leaders in an ideal world, and would there even be leaders in such a world?