When we last looked at the world of Yatterman Night, so much had already happened in such a short space of time. Nine year-old Leopard’s mother had died after being refused medical help by the supposedly benevolent Yatter Kingdom, leading her and servants Voltkatze and Elephantus to take up the mantles of Lady Doronjo, Boyacky and Elephantus - the Doronbow Gang. Teaming up with childhood friends Galina and Alouette, they aim to bring down Yatter Kingdom once and for all.
One of the biggest mysteries of those early episodes was just how Tatsunoko were going to play this “villains are actually the heroes” twist that they had so cleverly set up. It’s painting of Yatterman as a corrupt villain is extremely effective, the sheer perversion of the character illustrated through legions of colourful Yatterman robots attempting to gun down our heroes with comical mecha designs that came straight out of 1979. What’s even more disturbing is the subjugation of the Yatter Kingdom, as families are forced apart and into slavery all while having to chant the hero’s iconic “Yatter!” catchphrase. While it isn’t Madoka Magica levels of genre twisting, it’s still dark as hell.
Compared to this, the Doronbow Gang truly are a light in the darkness - the campy trio bringing hope to the Yatter Kingdom one place at a time. If you took the series at face value it would seem that Yatterman Night truly was turning the Yatterman/Doronbow dynamic completely on it’s head, but as the mystery of Yatterman’s apparent corruption begins to unravel it’s clear that things aren’t that simple. Yatterman Night is very protective of it’s history, and though it could have been so easy to just do whatever it wants with its legacy it’s still eager to maintain the status quo, even with all these changes. Every story has it’s heroes and villains, and these aren’t roles that are so easily reversed - even if the Doronbow Gang are the kind of villains that just happened to fall in with the wrong crowd. Just how the show works its way around this would be giving things away, but it’s safe to say everyone gets their moment in the spotlight.
At only twelve episodes long there isn’t a whole lot of room for character development, so it’s probably a good thing that Yatterman Night only truly focuses on a handful of the lead cast - collectively choosing to develop what they represent instead. While Yatterman Night will always be Leopard’s story, Galina's (or Gatchan as he’s quickly nicknamed) development is equally crucial to how the story plays out for reasons that should be immediately obvious once you look at his face. Meanwhile, Alouette is a particularly interesting case - not so much developing herself but having a lot that develops around her. It’s with her that some of the Yatter Kingdom’s atrocities hit the closest to home, and blissful ignorance towards them is what makes it even more horrifying.
Of course, as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Tatsunoko’s “Time Bokan” series of shows (of which the original Yatterman was the second installment), it also has plenty of references and homages to the classic series for fans to pick up on. But on top of that, many of the one-shot characters that appear each episode are themselves homages to the wider Tatsunoko back catalogue. Some of these are particularly obvious (I don’t think many people will see a monkey and a white car and not think Speed Racer), but others are particularly obscure - which makes spotting them all the more satisfying. By not being too obtrusive (if you were none the wiser you wouldn’t even know the characters were references) it allows Yatterman Night to once again be enjoyed on multiple levels, and hopefully those who are coming into the show fresh might be encouraged to check out some of the other classics this legendary studio has produced over the years.
After proving so strong in every other area, it’s a huge shame that Yatterman Night doesn’t quite deliver the same impact when it comes to animation. Make no mistake, Tatsunoko is no slouch when it comes to providing top quality visuals, but unfortunately this is yet another series that’s fallen victim to the tight deadlines shows are expected to keep up with these days. As the episodes go by you can see the budget get tighter and tighter, with the visuals taking a notable drop in quality until the final episode is plagued with looped footage and unfinished animation. While this isn’t quite enough to detract from the finale, it does leave you wondering what could have been had the makers had a little more time just to perfect things. With the likes of Bakemonogatari getting a visual overhaul for their Blu-ray releases, this is thankfully a definite possibility for the future. Maybe, just maybe, Yatterman Night will then be able to attain its full potential - or even perfection.
Whether you’re a veteran Tatsunoko or Yatterman fan, someone who’s familiar with the original character through playing Tatsunoko vs Capcom on the Nintendo Wii or someone who doesn’t know what on Earth a Time Bokan is, Yatterman Night is a series that is more than worth your time. It’s one of those rare anniversary treats that’s equally welcoming to oldies and newcomers alike, putting a brand new spin on its source material while at the same time not forgetting what made it so memorable in the first place.
Three episodes in, I tipped the show as being one of the unsung gems of the winter season, and now that it’s come to a close I can confidently say that I still stand by that sentiment.
You can currently watch Yatterman Night in streaming form on Viewster.