ADV Films // 1972 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // November 17th, 2005
"Sometimes they are five; sometimes they are one. The white shadow that steals close without showing its true form. They are called the Science Ninja Team!" -- Dr. Nambu
I have a confession to make. I did not watch Battle of the Planets when I was a kid. Starblazers was the preferred anime among my friends. So I was never traumatized by the horror that goes by the name 7-Zark-7 until well after the show's initial run on American television. In fact, I never saw Battle of the Planets (or G-Force, its cousin), until after I saw bootleg tapes of Kagaku ninja tai Gatchaman, or "Ninja Science Team Gatchaman." In those days (the mid-'80s, in case you are keeping score), we watched anime without subtitles (walking uphill both ways in the snow to get to it, you young whippersnapper!) and tried to puzzle out just what was going on. So, when I finally did see Battle of the Planets, I was quite shocked at how completely uncool those ultraviolent, avian-themed heroes turned out to be. Or, at least, how uncool Sandy Frank (producer of Battle of the Planets) made them.
So my sense of nostalgia about Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is probably a little different from yours. If you grew up on either of the two Americanized versions of the show, then ADV's almost reverent release of the original 1972 series may come as a surprise. People really got killed? Where did 7-Zark-7 go?
You can find out more about the Battle of the Planets years in my reviews of the first few volumes from Rhino Video. You may notice in that often snarky review that I complain bitterly about the preference given to Sandy Frank's hatchet job by Rhino over the original show. Somebody over at ADV must have listened (excuse me for a moment while I relish the illusion that I have any actual power), since they now are lavishing attention on the 1972 anime classic. Instead of only three or four episodes with no extras for an inflated price, ADV has packaged six episodes per disc (so the entire 105-episode run might be completed in your lifetime) -- plus extras! You can buy the discs individually, or in two-packs with even more extras. (I only have the first four volumes separately here, so I will get back to you on these bonus discs.)
The premise of Gatchaman is familiar to anyone who has watched a sentai (soldier) show before: five good-looking youths from all walks of life (as they used to say in the parody Dynaman) gather together to fight evil with the aid of a brilliant scientist who imbues them with wondrous powers. In this case, said scientist is Dr. Nambu. Said youths are Eagle Ken (the leader, technically the only one called "Gatchaman"), Condor Joe (the brooding one with anger management issues), Swan Jun (the girl, so of course she is in love with the handsome Ken), Owl Ryu (pilot and comedy relief fat guy), and Swallow Jinpei (the precocious kid).
Said powers? The Science Ninjas mimic birds of prey, flying and attacking with deadly precision. These Science Ninjas are honestly not much up on science, but they sure know how to ninja. Razor-sharp darts, killer yo-yos, deadly bolos -- plus acrobatic martial arts that make Cirque du Soleil look like quadriplegics. Add a cool ship (the God Phoenix) that fires "bird missiles" to finish off any giant animal-shaped robots prowling the area. Perfect for your local Toys R Us.
The evil in this case is Galactor, a group of villainous aliens led by the sexually ambiguous Berg Katse (who really needs to cut back on the lip gloss). They have a ton of giant robots ready for blowing up and anonymous goons ready for an ass-kicking. Because this show was made during the environmentally conscious 1970s, most of Galactor's plots involve stealing resources, destroying energy sources, and generally polluting. They claim their plans are to conquer the world, but without a corporate board and some Washington bureaucrats willing to hand them lucrative no-bid contracts to rebuild third-world countries, you know they are going to ultimately fail. Oh yeah, and the fact that the Science Ninja Team keeps finding their secret bases and destroying them probably hampers the takeover effort as well.
These first four volumes cover 24 episodes, from the Science Ninja Team's battle with a giant robot turtle to a giant robot mummy to (in a refreshing change of pace) little robots who steal gold. Bugs, jellyfish -- if you can make a mecha out of it, you can bet that Galactor will send it into battle against Earth. You can read some more episode summaries in my Battle of the Planets review, although honestly, Gatchaman episodes can get a little routine after a while. Berg Katse laughs and announces the impending end of Gatchaman while his latest mechanical monster rages. Ken and Joe argue about tactics while Jun frets that the handsome menfolk are not getting along. Dr. Nambu orders the team to save the world. The Science Ninjas find the secret base and attack. Ryu waits in the car -- I mean, God Phoenix -- while the others do the work. We get some panty shots of Jun. The team beats Galactor, and Berg Katse gives his excuses to the mysterious Leader X. Over the long haul of the series, the writers do bring in a few subplots, in particular the Science Ninja Team's tense relationship with the show's resident "Racer X," Red Impulse (whose real identity I will not spoil). There is a little character development here and there, but it mostly comes in the later episodes that ADV has not gotten to yet.
I must commend ADV. For a show that is now over 30 years old, Gatchaman looks great. The animation is limited (low frame rates, repeated shots) and the colors are a little faded, but the prints are clean and much sharper than Rhino's Battle of the Planets discs. Best of all, the competent English dub is remixed in 5.1 surround that makes everything sound fresh and exciting. The vocal performances overall are unimpressive (Ken and Joe fight a lot, but their pissing contests come across as mere trickling for the most part). I suppose it is hard to take some of this show very seriously, considering its clunky humor and deadpan heroics (and its ridiculously dated sense of fashion), so maybe the actors are trying for a campy tone. Gatchaman is the kind of show that needs more convincing performances to counter its dated looks. Still, they do get a few things right: Never has Eagle Ken's cry of "Bird Go!" sounded so inspiring.
Extras include commentary tracks featuring the English voice actors and ADR director Charles Campbell. Leraldo Anazulda (Eagle Ken) rhapsodizes about old-school anime (he remembers the show's '80s incarnation as G-Force). Brian Jepson (who plays Condor Joe in a voice that sounds a bit like Val Kilmer) thinks Jun is hot in a "Marcia Brady" way. Kim Prause (Jun) never grew up with the show but gets a big kick out of Jun's deadly yo-yo and the bizarre villains. On Volume 3, Luci Christian (Jinpei) jokes about the appeal of the show as a retro artifact over an episode in which Berg Katse pilots a transforming mecha programmed with what looks like 8-track tapes. Finally, Victor Carsrud (Ryu) expresses discomfort with the way Ryu is portrayed as the dimmest member of the team (remember, this is the guy they always leave in the ship every time they sneak into Galactor's base -- and who ate a bag of sugar in an earlier episode). They all call it epic and timeless, but they also make a lot of jokes about dated fashions (bell bottoms!) and the limitations of the animation. None of it is essential stuff, but I am glad ADV is putting forth the effort.
Striking new artwork by Alex Ross on the package covers highlights the comic book superhero qualities of the show. The discs also include clean closing animation and a "karaoke" version of an episode on each volume, in which the dialogue has been removed so you can try making up your own dub. Feel free to add all the 7-Zark-7 your little heart desires.
At a mere $15 per volume for six episodes (the "collections" are $35 for two volumes plus a bonus disc that includes voice actor auditions and other behind-the-scenes stuff), this new release of Gatchaman from ADV gives fans of old-school anime hope that other classics may come out in reasonably priced editions. In the meantime, let's all sing along: "Whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh! Roaring engines! Ninjas of Science!"
Review content copyright © 2005 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks
* Clean Closing Animation
* Karaoke-Style Soundtrack
* IMDb: Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
* Gatchaman Fan Site
* DVD Verdict: Battle of the Planets: Volumes 1-5