Review: Yatterman Night – episodes 1-3

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The latter-day sequel to an immensely popular super-hero anime of the 1970s, Yatterman Night supposes that, generations after the original Yatterman heroes vanquished the nefarious Doronbow gang, their descendants have become decadent and lazy, ruling over a lavish walled kingdom while the masses huddle in squalor outside.  After her mother fails to receive vital aid from the indifferent authorities, a young girl living in the wastelands decides to don the mask of her supervillain ancestor Doronjo, and sets out to get revenge against the corrupt Yattermen.  The only catch?  She’s nine years old.

In reviving Yatterman, studio Tatsunoko are presumably looking to repeat the success of their recent modernised take on the much loved Gatchaman (aka Battle of the Planets or Eagle Riders), but while Gatchaman is at least a little familiar to the English-speaking world, I think Yatterman faces a more uphill struggle.  I fear only players of Wii fighter, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom are likely to recognise the characters.

Not that it’s too much of an issue.  Beyond a few nods to past catchphrases, the show stands perfectly well on its own, although even without having seen the original, I already found myself questioning the decision to replace the dominatrix-esque Doronjo with a child protagonist.  My main concern, prior to watching the show, was that the oddly-monickered Leopard would be nothing more than a blatant appeal to the moe fanbase looking for that ‘awww’ factor.  Trying to appoint a nine-year old as supervillain gang-leader is just daft when the series is playing it with a relatively straight face, and Leopard’s continual, squeaky-voiced declaration that she wants to “give Yatterman a forehead flicking” quickly begins to grate.

In practice, however, it seems more that one of the shows’ recurring themes is the experience of the innocent in horrific circumstances; Leopard’s naïve bonhomie being constantly juxtaposed with the overwhelming might of the fascistic Yatterman army lined up against her.  I still find Leopard a slightly irritating main character, but her presence makes more sense than you might expect.

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Nevertheless, the thing I kept asking myself during these three episodes was who exactly the series is aimed at.  While it shies away from explicit violence, the story certainly seems weightier than the average children’s fare, tackling themes of social injustice and ancestor guilt, in a container that suggests the heroes are villains and the villains are heroes.  Equally though, with its cartoonish sight gags and reliance on wacky vehicles, it lacks the harder edge that might please cynical adults.

Visually, the series is pleasing, if not spectacular, using a similar superflat-style look to the films of Mamoru Hosoda.  While its animation can be variable in quality, it does, however, seem to have an intriguing knack for memorable imagery, from the hinted-at apocalyptic event at the start, to recurring motifs like Leopard’s storybook relating the exploits of the original Yatterman and Doronbow.  In particular, I thought there was something endearing about seeing Leopard and her allies setting off in the second episode, having fashioned their new villain costumes quite literally from rags.

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Based on what I’ve seen of it, Yatterman Night is a strange confection that I feel seems to shun any easy nostalgia-grab tactics, in favour of a shot at that same mixed-age, pre-watershed type audience for whom live-action adventure shows like Doctor Who are produced.  Its tendency to play things broad and sentimental without really exploring its darker themes leaves me disinclined to continue with it for now, but I suspect it may prove its mettle more definitively towards the end and it would not surprise me in the least if it goes on to become a real cult hit.

Yatterman Night is available to stream legally, for free, in the UK from Viewster.

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