Spoilers for Gatchaman Crowds Insight and Yurikuma Arashi.
It’s no accident that in this world, some harmless behaviors, modes of presentation, and ways of being aren’t considered normal, and that being allowed to exist as one’s authentic self is a luxury. The societal pressures that reinforce these norms are political tools, instilled for the purpose of sowing division and concentrating power. In 2015, two new anime, Gatchaman Crowds Insight and Yurikuma Arashi, each offered their own unique takes on the institutions that attempt to stamp out individuality in the name of unity.
Both series, at the surface level, encourage their audiences to be mindful and critical of the ideas they’re asked to buy into as the price of inclusion. However, there is a stark contrast between how these series portray the underlying power dynamics, prejudices, and active malice behind these policies, as well as the particulars of their respective calls to action. This reveals a difference in priorities; where Insight offers vague hope and comfort with no clear call to action, Yurikuma actively aims to elevate marginalized voices.
The conflict of Insight, the second season of Gatchaman Crowds, is driven by the alien Gel Sadra, who sees how divided Japan and the world are and manages to become prime minister with the mission of uniting everyone. Gel gradually becomes more authoritarian, and eventually his power to manifest people’s feelings goes out of control and starts conjuring monsters called Kuu, literally “air”, who devour people for not fitting in. The story of Yurikuma, meanwhile, is set in a world where a great Wall of Severance divides the worlds of women and bears. The Wall is presided over by the patriarchal Severance Court, who enforce these divisions and play the two sides against each other to maintain their power; each side has its own power structure with a vested interest in the status quo.
Each series features an antagonistic centralized power with restrictive views on how the people living under them should behave, through prime minister Gel Sadra in Insight and the Severance Court in Yurikuma. Each central power extends their influence over the people through a representation of internal societal pressure–Kuu in Insight and the Invisible Storm in Yurikuma. Each power structure is propped up and legitimized by a nominally democratic process that disempowers those outside the majority, with Gel deciding policy via national referendum and disparaging minority opinions, while the student body in Yurikuma regularly vote on who to exclude for going against their society.
Both anime lay the foundation for a potentially incisive commentary on how these ideas and structures invade every facet of our lives, but Insight flinches when it comes to identifying the source of the problem. It portrays the emerging institution as a well-meaning experiment gone wrong. Gel builds his entire platform on a misguided but sincere belief that if everyone agrees and conforms to the same common culture, everyone will be happy, and the zeal with which he pursues a 100% approval rating is motivated by a stubborn commitment to that goal. Kuu going on a rampage and devouring dissenters is a bug.
In Yurikuma, by contrast, the wall and the court that oversees it are an established institution that doesn’t care in the least about the people they’ve divided. The Wall of Severance was built with the specific goal of stoking hate, fear, and othering between women and “bears,” which symbolize a variety of supposed deviances but particularly unashamed queerness, to keep the Severance Court in power. Women force each other into boxes and exclude one another for being perceived as too bear-like in any way, reinforcing the patriarchal court’s ideal for them. Bears devouring women and women shooting bears are a feature.
There’s a striking difference here in how the two series understand systemic power and its influence on the people living under it. Yurkuma is a highly allegorical fantasy with some leeway to simplify the politics of its setting, but the conflicts feel recognizable and grounded. By contrast, Insight is a science-fiction story set in a mostly recognizable world, and this makes the omission of any kind of real-world marginalized voices especially glaring.
One major point of contrast is in how each series handles the pageantry of democracy. In Yurikuma, the process of voting for whom to exclude is basically a formality for a decision that’s already been made and that no one dares to oppose. The show makes it clear that this is by design, and so the series ends with its heroes fleeing the unreformable system in its entirety.
In Insight, the power imbalance inherent to Gel deciding what gets put to a vote and what choices are on the ballot is touched on, with Hajime pointing out that Gel can make everyone’s feelings visible except his own. But ultimately the issue is reduced to the masses shallowly absorbing opinions from the internet without any critique of who controls the information that informs those opinions. In the final episode, the people of Japan are asked to vote on Gel’s fate and given six months to unplug and think about it. This is framed as a triumph, but it’s a dubious solution even if we accept that the problem is actually what the series says it is.
Prime Minister Gel and his proxy Tsubasa believe conformist policy and culture will make Japan happy and peaceful. They are wrong, but they genuinely believe it, with no hidden agenda or self-serving motives, and by the finale they see the error in their ways. The general public, meanwhile, don’t have much voice in the narrative, and are overall framed as more of a representative mass than a diverse group of complex individuals with biases and motives, further abstracted by Kuu muddying the people’s culpability for supporting this system.
Nobody is specifically targeted for anything deeper than showing visible dissatisfaction, and nobody actively directs Kuu to target people or groups they don’t like, the way real institutions are often abused. The only marginalized minority the show recognizes is the minority who don’t approve of Gel.
Gel’s regime in Insight would inherently exclude a lot of people, especially those already underrepresented by mainstream society, like ethnic minorities, the disabled, and LGBTQ+ people. But the show isn’t interested in elevating those voices, instead electing to represent Gel’s opposition through inerrant protagonist Hajime and Tsubasa’s “wise” WWII veteran great-grandfather. Neither character is especially vulnerable, and making privileged “allies” the face of the resistance centers a very reductive perspective on the whole conflict, culminating in a savior narrative that leaves a bad taste.
In Yurikuma, the deliberate and malicious exclusion of an intersectionally marginalized group, queer women, is front and center. The differences emphasized by the wall are blurry and artificial, and there are people on either side of the wall who don’t fit neatly into a box. But every rule and restriction is deliberately and consistently connected to real world homophobia and misogyny. All of it is in service to maintaining the existing patriarchal power and internally recreating their hierarchy within the marginalized communities they preside over.
The Severance Court values only what they find sexy, cool, and beautiful. They don’t care at all whether that makes women and bears happy, and are notably the only living male characters in the series. They maintain power through narrow standards that keep women and bears fighting for scraps in a zero sum game. Meanwhile, the women in leadership positions who help preserve the status quo are generally framed as opportunists who use the system for their own agendas. Some of them are still sympathetic and tragic figures, like corrupt teacher Hakonaka Yuriika. After all, the patriarchy hangs over them as well. But ultimately, they’re still framed as culpable for their acts of cruelty. The Invisible Storm doesn’t manifest as some alien monster, it’s a euphemism for literal mob lynching.
The people who find themselves at odds with the wall in Yurikuma are flawed, complex, and ordinary. Protagonists Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu aren’t superheroes, they’re small and powerless people with deeply personal stakes in defying laws that deny them the freedom to live and love. Their insight comes from lived experience as marginalized individuals rather than authorial ordinance–even Lulu, who might nominally be a princess, is tossed aside when a male heir is born and rejects the role entirely after her pursuit of it ends in her brother’s death.
The world they live in is filled with hate; both women and bears are taught and incentivized to go against their interests and stay in their boxes. The divisions they’re taught may be artificial, but the fear and hatred are genuinely felt and acted upon, and people on either side of the wall who blur the lines are killed because of it.
Gatchaman Crowds Insight ends when paragon protagonist Hajime allows herself to be beaten into a coma to show the people of Japan where their hatred leads, bringing everyone to their senses, but why does her sacrifice matter more than everyone devoured by Kuu up to that point? The Gatchamen tell the people of Japan to take more time to think about their views and opinions, but there’s no concrete systemic change, the old prime minister is reinstated, and the status quo is restored.
It would be nice for people to learn not to have knee-jerk reactions to the news, but as a model for praxis and political action, this ending misses the mark. Marginalized people are passionately outspoken about issues that urgently need reform because they’re killing people right now. These people have had plenty of time to think and can’t wait for those unaffected to make up their minds just because it’s new to them.
By contrast, the victory at the end of Yurikuma Arashi is much smaller, but more cutting and salient. Kureha and Ginko recognize that the system they’re a part of can’t be reformed. Kureha even recognizes how the prejudice the system espoused worked its way into her, despite her best efforts to fight it, so she and Ginko flee to build something new for themselves on the outside.
The world they leave behind keeps turning, but the ending shows a new bear and girl couple finding love, offering hope that being born into a cruel system doesn’t doom you to stay trapped by it. The institution is pervasive and powerful and nobody has been able to abolish it yet, but the seed is planted for revolution through intersectionality.
Both Gatchaman Crowds Insight and Yurikuma Arashi set out to tell stories about building a compassionate world where diverse people come together to solve their problems. But Insight broadly blames humans and human nature for its central conflict in a way that’s unchallenging and unthreatening. If someone is going along with a bad institution, they’re just being “apes”. It’s too easy to think of yourself as an exception and say to yourself, “Well then, I just won’t be an ape,” and be on your merry way.
By contrast, Yurikuma acknowledges that hate doesn’t come out of nowhere, and that the powerful actively influence what norms people are expected to conform to, often for the purpose of deliberate, targeted exclusion. Everyone living under that power has their own lived experience, their own reason to accept or defy the status quo.
Despite its limited understanding of social oppression, Gatchaman Crowds Insight does have some valuable lessons. Taking some time to unplug and reflect is generally good life advice, and we all need to accept that a functioning society is going to have some healthy disagreements. But those disagreements won’t get us anywhere unless we center the marginalized voices for whom the most is at stake, and Insight’s failure to do so is a disappointing oversight, especially for a show with a trans woman in its main cast.
Yurikuma isn’t perfect either, as its scope is limited to two axes of oppression out of many to keep its story manageable. But it takes the time to remind us how these institutions hurt women and LGBTQ+ people and drive them to hurt one another, and it never loses sight of how much they, and we, stand to gain from truly coming together.