Learning Atmosphere with Tsubasa Misudachi

“One of the more tragic figures in all of this is Gel Sadra.” – AJtheFourth, “Sowing the Seeds: Gatchaman Crowds insight Episode 10”

One of the first things Gel Sadra learns when he arrives at Earth is the game of rock-paper-scissors from Hajime. There’s nothing special to the game, but Gel’s mannerisms, reminiscent of a newborn’s, quickly endear him to the locals. Tsubasa’s blue-haired friend chips in that the “Atmosphere’s gotten a lot better”, and when Gel asks for the definition of ‘atmosphere’, she defers the answer to Tsubasa, who replies: “Well, you see, Gel, the ‘atmosphere’ is something like… On Earth, we… Ah! Anyways! It was really fun when everyone came together, right? That’s what we call a good ‘atmosphere’.”

Hajime’s unintentional passing off of the young red alien’s instruction to Tsubasa begins the fall of Gel Sadra, kicking off the alien’s dependence on Tsubasa as his personal voice of wisdom. Gel doesn’t know what to say in most situations, and Tsubasa is all-too-willing to accommodate him and become his voice. However, as others have mentioned, Tsubasa is the daughter to a family of firework makers. Suitably, her emotions range from explosive to fizzling, with hardly anything to indicate that there’s a range in-between. Ironically, she’s hardly the best voice to voice emotion. Necessarily, she’s a horrible teacher of emotions.

What Tsubasa never supplies Gel Sadra with, in the end, is a definition of the word ‘atmosphere’. And this is understandable—‘atmosphere’ is a concept that relies heavily, as the Kuu demonstrate, on the human impulse to go with the flow. Sometimes we’ll lie about our politics to keep the atmosphere straight, and other times we’ll pretend to enjoy a movie. It’s an emotionally—almost irrationally—driven concept, and the difficulty in expressing something as abstract as emotion is a part of the reason that Tsubasa’s attempts to explain ‘atmosphere’ inevitably address the result rather than the process“: It was really fun when everyone came together, right?”

Gel adopts this vague, feel-good sentence as the slogan for his campaign.

We don’t think about atmosphere in terms of how it works, just as we don’t think about how a fork works. A fork picks up food, the atmosphere does… something.  Tsubasa never explains. Unfortunately, as an alien, all Gel has to work off of is the intangible response of his audience—the result of his jokes—and that’s a trap he never manages to escape until it’s too late.

When Tsubasa decides to leave her home and join the Gatchamen, she tells Hajime that she’s going to “Try her best.” She makes her declaration in a crowded train, the passengers applaud her resolve, the music swells, and Tsubasa wipes tears from her eyes. The atmosphere is good. It’s a moment that affirms how emotional and human Tsubasa is. And Gel Sadra sits right behind her, absorbing the atmosphere, learning “Yes, this feel-good stuff is good. Doing my best is good.” 

Gel echoes back similarly effective, feel-good lines to Tsubasa later, after he’s absorbed an audience’s worth of Insight bubbles. And he sees that it works. Of course it does: he’s talking to Tsubasa. The lines are proof that Gel has learned well.

Gel has spent his entire time on Earth watching Tsubasa navigate the atmosphere, without ever questioning how she does it. If anyone tries to question Tsubasa, she responds that she’s “too stupid” to understand or otherwise evades the question. So,on top of the idea that trying his best is good regardless of the consequences, Gel Sadra learns that Atmosphere Just Works. And this brings us to the comedy duo routine.

The funny man-straight man routine is a simple one: there’s a tension set up by the funny man’s insipid/goofy observation, and the same tension is resolved by a straight man who points out how silly the observation is. The routine generally concludes quickly, elicits a quick laugh and a good atmosphere, and then fades. In the form of it that Tsubasa teaches Gel, it never functions as the basis for an extended punchline. It’s a undemanding system, but it’s one that Gel and Tsubasa have practiced and one that ultimately teaches Gel how to address, via his polls, the problems he comes to face.

The removal of every bureaucratic structure except himself, the smartphone Yes-No ballot that he employs, and the third ‘Leave it to Sadra’ option that he later adds to it are extensions of what Gel knows best: the rapid-fire joke format. He’s repeatedly watched Tsubasa berate Hajime for the latter not having an answer, or for being too slow and considerate; his eventual combining of those ‘lessons’ with the response-heavy comedy routine that he knows resolves the atmosphere allows him to employ a system that’s efficient, without the hurdles of bureaucracy, but that he doesn’t quite understand. He has the data, but all he sees is numbers. Regrettably, politics isn’t a game of rock-paper-scissors—and neither is it as simple as a comedy routine.

Before Gel puts the question out—Should CROWDS become illegal to use—he stands atop a building and ‘polls’ the people by absorbing their thoughts. But, like his funny man role in the comedy duo, he only stands to propose a tension, or a question in this case. He doesn’t answer the question himself. The decision, as it should in any diplomatic system, lies with the people. But Gel doesn’t realize that all the emotion he absorbs through his Insight bubbles are simply that: emotion. He puts raw emotion—the atmosphere—on the ballot without processing the how or the why. Emotions are fickle to the extreme, and any solutions based off of them are focused on the immediate result—like the routine he participates in with Tsubasa.

And, as episode 12 shows, all it takes is one bad joke to turn the atmosphere on its head.

It’s hard not feel sorry for Gel. When he came to Earth, he played off the laughs. Soon thereafter, he was tangled up in them, guided and taught by a girl who trusted herself to the prevailing atmosphere. And then, finally, he was tossed about as the emotional object in Hajime’s ploy to calm the people. Falling right into Rui’s fears about allowing people to leave their decisions up to Sadra, Gel hasn’t made a single decision for himself. But thanks to Tsubasa’s babying, he doesn’t know how to. 

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