In this new instalment of the popular Yatterman franchise, our setting seems to be a rather simplistic world after what appears to be some form of apocalypse. Dorothy, a widow, gives birth to an energetic young girl named Leopard. She is raised with the help of her companions – the large and strong Elephantus and the charming Voltkatze. (I’m not even going to bother questioning these names anymore.) As we watch the young Leopard grow, we also see her learn about the Yatterman kingdom – an amazing, beautiful place created by generations of Yatterman – those who have defended the world from Bad Guys and thieves, namely, the fearsome and villainous Dorombo gang. However, she also eventually learns a few shocking truths. Firstly, she and the two companions are descendants of the Dorombo gang who have been banished from Yatterman kingdom due to their bloodline. When her mother succumbs to her poor health, Leopard, Elephantus and Voltkatze decide to make the journey across the river to the kingdom to seek medical attention – but are immediantly attacked by Yatterman. Learning that they aren’t as benevolent as she admired and believed them to be was an almost harsher thing for Leopard to acknowledge than her mother’s subsequent death. And so, celebrating – rather than shunning- their Dorombo heritage – the trio seek revenge.
Although this is technically a new Yatterman series, it can also stand on its own and doesn’t require you to have seen any of the original series. However, having at least some background knowledge definitely helps in appreciating it. Yatterman – which has seen numerous remakes and versions since Time Bokan in the 70s, is primarily a popular kids show featuring a male and female hero – Gan-chan and Ai-chan respectively, who fight against the cartoonish ‘bad guys’, the Dorombo gang. I’ve never seen a single episode of it but I have at least gotten the gist of it from the commercials and Happy Meal toys I’ve seen in Japan. Yoru no Yatterman is less a remake than a transformation of the original work, and it’s in the kind of direction I never would have expected. In fact, since I’m not really that interested in Yatterman’s brand of silliness I wasn’t actually going to bother with this show, but I’m glad I did.
Obviously the most striking thing here is that it has turned a relatively black-and-white, good guys vs bad guys children’s show into a morally complex, vaguely dystopian character drama with interesting, already well-rounded leads that are descended from the 1-dimensional villains of the original. It asks the question directly, what if the good guys were the bad guys all along? I don’t know about you, but I think that’s awesome. I really like transformations of works, especially particularly creative ones, and I really want to know what else is going to happen. It’s not just the underdog story that I like – there’s a real warmth and energy in the animation – particularly in the frankly heart-warming scenes depicting Leopard growing up. I can already tell that this trio (tragic it may be that Dorothy’s death means it can’t be a quartet) is going to be a really great team and I really look forward to seeing more of their dynamics together. I also quite like the character designs – while they’re quite different from their cartoonish ancestors, they do have some traits in common with them, as well as having a talking pig for…some reason. The writing is also quite strong – much stronger than I would have predicted for a series like this – to the extent that it’s probably the second best first episode of anything I watched this season. It’s hard to not feel the joy of watching Leopard grow, or the despair at seeing Dorothy die, or the betrayal at the Yatterman’s actions.
Plus Voltkatze is voiced by Hiroaki Hirata, yes please. It’s almost a shame that I’m probably not blogging this due to already having made my decision and not having enough time – but I’m definitely following it. I really have no idea exactly what kind of show I’m in for, but I’m ready to find out.