In the history of anime, few titles stand out as having a worldwide impact on the regional art form that would become a worldwide phenomenon. In most people’s minds, Akira is the film that introduced anime to the Western world. With its unprecedented level of violence—for a cartoon, anyway—and its sophisticated, complex storytelling, it had an enormous impact on the way anime—known as Japanimation way back when—was marketed to American audiences.
But long before Akira, there was a television show that slipped through the cracks and surfaced not once, but twice on American television: Gatchaman. Originally airing in Japan between 1972 & 1974, Gatchaman was recut for American audiences and appeared as Battle of the Planets in the 70’s and G-Force in the 80’s. Spawning action figures, posters, t-shirts, etc. Battle of the Planets proved the bigger hit, but the unexpurgated Gatchaman was never seen in the United States.
With Gatchaman Volume 1 ADV Films has begun to unleash the influential classic show on American soil.
Set in the 21st century, Gatchaman follows the adventures of Professor Kozaburou Nambu and his top secret experiment, the Science Ninja Team, a group of elite kids equipped with a super aircraft, the Phoenix, while they battle to save the planet from the evil clutches of Galactor, a nefarious organization hell-bent on world domination.
Before the days of sophisticated episodic anime shows were fast-paced, slightly whimsical variations on the age-old good versus evil scenario. And Gatchaman is no different. Each of the six episodes included on the Volume 1 DVD rushes to get to the meat of the story, to show the Science Ninja Team battling it out with everything from robots to giant mummies, while taking time out to develop their characters and foreshadow overarching storylines.
Newly dubbed, the voice acting is at times a campy ode to 70’s era performances, featuring cheesy and sometimes overly dramatic line readings. As for the animation, although dated, one can see, when comparing it to its contemporaries, how sophisticated Gatchaman was for the period.
Though a fun, often-funny ride, the show’s age is its biggest drawback. Although it was a progenitor of many themes and plot devices that countless shows would later convert into clichés, we have seen everything here before. And in the wake of truly brilliant shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, shows like Gatchaman can’t hold up without a built in nostalgic factor—and for those of us stateside who grew up with Battle of the Planets and G-Force the nostalgic factor is relatively high here.
Although originally a short-lived show, Gatchaman’s influence shows through in most anime today—particularly in team shows. It is an archetypal show by virtue of the fact that its origins coincided with the early days of anime. Everything from the morally superior ‘good guys’ to the reprehensible villains, from structure to typical story resolution seen in many modern anime shows can be traced back to Gatchaman and other shows of this era. And it is for this reason alone that any true anime fan should have the Gatchaman series in his or her collection.