Monday, April 24, 2017

your bird ninja update

If you're like me, you grew up watching Battle of The Planets. Well, actually, I preferred Star Blazers. It took a while for me to really understand what was going on with those 5 bird ninjas and their struggle against Galactor. Actually, what it took was finally catching the original 1972 Tatsunoko Japanese version, the tremendously popular Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Created by manga pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida, Gatchaman was a wild, colorful SF reimagining of his early 60s adventure series "Phantom Agents," remixed with space aliens, supercars, giant mechanical monsters, and all the bell bottom jeans the 1970s could provide. Gatchaman would return in the 1978 sequel Gatchaman II and its followup, 1979's Gatchaman Fighter

The success of Star Wars brought science fiction to the attention of every media executive in America, and Tatsunoko's earlier export Speed Racer had given the studio a beachhead in America. However, since the 1960s, new standards for children's television had prevailed in the US, so TV producer Sandy Frank's Gatchaman iteration Battle Of The Planets was chopped, channeled, rewritten, repainted, lowered, and had a new, vastly inferior transmission installed. And that's as far as I'm going with that car metaphor.

industry ad pitching BOTP to US TV markets

At any rate it's a terrific titan of 70s anime, featuring super monsters, colorful heroes, lots of kid-friendly action, anime melodrama, muscular, fairly realistic character designs, and a great Hoyt Curtin musical score. As dated and clumsy as the BOTP dub can be at times, the greatness of the original show still shines through. The series inspired a wide range of American merchandise, including model kits, lunchboxes, Gold Key comics that are not worth $20 each, sorry, and various magic slate and frame tray puzzle toys.  

Once 1978's Battle of The Planets had run its syndication course, the entire series was re-dubbed by Fred "Astro Boy" Ladd for Turner, under the new title G-Force. This new, uncut version of the series (1986) featured goofy character names ("Ace Goodheart") and new, synthesized, incessant, maddening background music. The series was shown a few times on the various channels of the Turner cable network before vanishing mysteriously.

In the 1990s Saban (you know, the Power Rangers people) took the second and third Gatchaman series (Gatchaman II and Gatchaman Fighter) and dubbed them under the title "Eagle Riders". This fairly nonsensical dub worked its way into syndication and vanished opposite a late-decade wave of newer, more popular anime imports like Sailor Moon.

Once DVDs made their appearance, Rhino Video produced six volumes of Battle Of The Planets - each release featuring two BOTP episodes, two subtitled Gatchaman episodes, and one G-Force episode.

Four years later,  anime localizer A.D.Vision released the entire 105-episode Gatchaman series, with new, accurate dubs AND subtitles, in DVD box sets with extras. Suddenly anime fans could not only enjoy the entire Gatchaman series as it was intended to be seen, but anime con panelists could spend an hour discussing the show, and then go to the dealers room and purchase an officially licensed, uncut, super-high-quality edition of the actual show under discussion, in order to demonstrate that the original series, while more violent than typical American cartoons of the period, was not the blood-drenched gore-fest popular imaginations would have you believe. The series continues to live on in the American video market: ADV's successor Sentai Filmworks has released the TV series and its compilation film on Blu-Ray and DVD. The 1990s OVA remake, the abortive CG film, the live-action film, the Zip! "Good Morning Gatchaman" shorts,  and kinda-sorta-sequels like Gatchaman Crowds remind us all that the bird ninjas continue to thrive in the Japanese cultural landscape. 

Chinese-language Gatchaman II book

Gatchaman was one of the first American anime releases to have a substantial fandom built around it; when I got into anime fandom in the 1980s, Gatchaman fans were there already, publishing APAs and writing fan fiction, cosplaying and drawing fan artwork and swapping 13th generation copies of the last 5 episodes of Gatchaman F. It's an enthusiasm that's mirrored in the culture at large; Battle of The Planets inspired two completely separate American comic book releases and continues to be a minor cultural touchstone among former 70s cartoon kids, wide-eyed with wonder at a future that gives us both Battle Of The Planets and Gatchaman and Gatchaman II and soon, Gatchaman F

-Dave Merrill

(this post has been modified from its original 2007 form to fix links and include updates circa 2017)


Wendy said...

Thanks for the links! I do have one thing to add: In addition to the computer animated version of Gatchaman currently in production, Tatsunoko has approved a live action version to be released in Japan in 2008/2009. This show is being revived like crazy.

Anonymous said...

Actually my grandparents kept that exact puzzle at their house for when we would come over. It was a cornerstone of my early childhood, strangely enough.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Too bad I was only a year old when the show first aired back in '78, and hardly knew of any channel that might've had it on in the early 80's (besides WTBS I've noticed). Had to find out about it years later in books and a pirated videotape I had to get for $25 someplace just to get some idea of the show. I guess if I had saw it as a tyke, my impression would've been more favorable than it is now. I don't want to knock that it still had some great action sequences and funky designs for it's day, but it's editing and newly hand-cranked animation made it felt more like a Superfriends wannabe to me.

Being reminded, the Eagle Riders dub Saban put out totaled 65 episodes or so (mostly using II and some from F in the process), but only 13 episodes were ever seen in the US, while the rest of the world got to suffer through the rest. I still love the episode where they found a great way to segue between II and F by making the villain from the first morphed into the baddie in the second (and probably the best line I've ever heard if a clunky anime dub of it's time I should've used as a sig).

Anonymous said...

It's a rare cartoon that still holds interest after 30+ years. I enjoy watching it as much for its storyline and character development as for nostalgia. Gotta love the Kagaku Ninja Tai.

Wendy said...

New goodies to add:
Gatchaman's inclusion in the new CGI series Infini-T-Force in 2017
Sentai Filmworks' subtitled commercial release of Gatchaman II in April and Gatchaman Fighter in July 2017