Gatchaman (Japan 1972)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/20/06

Divided into 105 episodes.

Seeing the original "Gatchaman" is a sobering experience and a solemn reminder of the wretched injustices it suffered in the U.S. as "Battle Of The Planets," "G-Force," and "Eagle Riders." Only now do I realize how much was robbed from my childhood. As a kid, even in its neutered form "Battle Of The Planets" was the coolest cartoon on TV, and it was my first experience with Japanese anime. Sure, the episodes didn't make any sense because the plots were re-written and all traces of drama, character development, politics, and continuity were conveniently erased, but you could still tell that there was something special under the new packaging. Watching the original Japanese episodes is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, you have continuity, deep character development, serious angst and melodrama, and a strong political and environmental undercurrent. This is pretty serious sci-fi stuff aimed at a young adult audience. But on the other hand, the plots are really goofy, the action is devoid of any logic, and the entire Science Ninja Team premise is absurd to the point that only a child could appreciate. The animation is also rather poor, betraying its low budget roots by using lots of recycled footage and still images. Perhaps I'm just too old and jaded to see and feel the magic now, but I can still find a cultural and nostalgic thrill out of watching the episodes.

The story of "Gatchaman" uses the classic sentai superhero team formula: A group of five young people (four boys and one girl) possess special powers that allow them to transform into superheroes. They are known as the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and they are led and funded by Dr. Nambu of the International Science Organization. In addition to their personal magical powers, they have a super-powered battleship called the God Phoenix which appears to exceed the limits of human science. An evil group of space aliens (?) known as the Galactor Group attacks Earth with intentions of depleting its natural resources, keenly reflecting the 1970's energy crisis and conservation movements. Galactor is much more scientifically advanced than Earth is, but they're stupid and always end up retreating from Gatchaman's moral and intellectual superiority (not to mention their youth and good looks). Each episode features a new Galactor plot to take over Earth via some inventive robotic monstrosity, and the Gatchaman team must assemble to defeat it. Every episode also features Joe The Condor desperately trying to fire Bird Missiles at the enemy while team leader Ken The Eagle tries to stop him. It becomes really funny after about the third episode. It's also nice to see Jinpei The Swallow as what he really is: a young kid who is the 18th generation of some famous ninja clan. In "Battle Of The Planets," he was tastelessly depicted as a retard with a speech impediment. While the series isn't nearly as cool as I thought it would be, seeing the original episodes is definitely a reward for any old school animation fan, nostalgia buff, or anyone who likes super tight bell bottom pants.