What’s it about ?
History lesson time !
40 years ago, studio Tatsunoko started producing what would become known as “the Time Bokkan series” (named after the first installment) : sentai-ish comedy shows with highly referenced humour. Most of them were released in the 70s and 80s, with a few revivals into the 90s and 00s. Most famous of them was Yatterman, the second Time Bokkan series, which got to last for a very respectable 108 episodes.
Now the one other big thing the Time Bokkan have in common, despite being mostly unrelated plot-wise, were a trio of ineffectual villains with highly distinctive character designs (the blonde vixen “leader”, the tall gadgeteer with a big nose, and the big dumb muscle) who were recycled from series to series, to the point that by 2000’s Kaitou Kiramekiman they got more screentime than the titular leads of the show. It wouldn’t be wholly inaccurate to think of them as the Team Rocket Trio of their time.
Now, the last time Tatsunoko made a modern revamp of a beloved property of their back catalogue, we got Gatchaman CROWDS.
This series is completely unlike Gatchaman CROWDS in nearly every respect.
This is set long after the sentai heroes, Yatterman, won. We’re generations away from the original Dorombo trio, and there was a conclusive end to the war several decades ago. (It looks like the moon got destroyed in the process or something.) As a result, the Dorombo (and their eventual family) got exiled to a hellhole, away from the idyllic new Yatter Kingdom.
Leopard, our protagonist, is the grand-(…)-daughter of Doronjo, the original leader of Dorombo. Now, she initially didn’t know this ; she was brought up to romanced tales of Yatterman being paragons of Justice, and only learned of her legacy by happenstance about when she turned 9. Obviously, she rejected it ; Dorombo where thieves, and stealing is bad. And it’s not like her loving mother has been anything but laudative of the heroes.
Voltkaze, genius gadgeteer and heir of Boyacky, & Elephantus, big strong guy and heir of Tonzura, are basically part of this happy family ; their ancestors have always served this family, and it’s clear they’re enjoying taking care of the young Leopard. (They also have a pet pig called Sir Oda.)
Unfortunately, Leopard’s mom gets a dire case of the cough of death, and requires medicine that can’t be found here. So Leopard decides to take a small boat to try and reach Yatter Kingdom, with Voltkaze & Elephantus helping her. Unfortunately, even at sea there’s this big giant wall encircling the exile zone and preventing them from leaving. But hey, the Yatterman are showing up ! Maybe they’ll help ?
The Yatterman are jerks. (And it’s interesting that they don’t even look human here.) They start shooting before Leopard can explain, with radically more firepower than strictly necessary. Our trio (+ pig) barely escape with their lives, and can only bury Leopard’s mother. The girl is herself completely shaken up : does this mean Yatterman were always the bad guys ? And Dorombo the real heroes trying to bring them down.
Well, fudge this : Leopard, Voltkaze, Elephantus & Sir Oda are going to put on makeshift costumes homaging their predecessors, and bring the fight to Yatterman. They may be hopelessly outmatched, but they’ve got Justice on their side.
Very lovely. Tons of fun little slapstick background events, and the character designs contribute a lot to make Leopard look like an adorable little girl, selling very well the loving family atmosphere.
The complete change of tone when things get more serious is well-handled, too, with some interesting deformation of the Yatterman’s traditional sentai designs to make them look more menacing.
Well, this is the classic deconstruction of a superhero show : what if the villains were right all along ? But this series starts off more cleverly than that ; there’s a very real possibility that Leopard is mistaken and the real problem is merely whoever’s in charge of Yatter Kingdom right now. It’s not like her mom looks like she’s got any bitterness or wishes of revenge, even with the strong indication her own sister was collateral damage to the final battle when they were just kids.
What this show does right, though, is selling out trio (+ pig) as genuinely good people who all love each other and have an actually good point against the “heroes”. The sins of their ancestors really shouldn’t be still weigh on them, and yet they do. As such, they’re the underdogs we really want to see win. It’s not subtle, but it’s got enough heart to work.
This looks like the fun (and accessible) romp I wanted this show to be ; I’m glad my hopes were fulfilled.