Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (which is often shortened to Gatchaman) is an anime series produced by Tatsunoko Productions in 1972. There was also an animated feature film in 1978 and two sequel series (1978’s Gatchaman II and 1979’s Gatchaman Fighter). In 1994, an OVA series was released that condensed the original Gatchaman series down into three episodes.
Sandy Frank Entertainment acquired the North American license for the original 1972 Gatchaman series, and released an English version of the series in 1978 under the title, Battle of the Planets. Of the original 105 episodes of Gatchaman, only 85 were used for Battle of the Planets.
In the 1980s, Sandy Frank Entertainment collaborated with Turner Broadcasting to create a newer and more faithful translation of Gatchaman for American audiences. This newer version was created in 1986 under the title, G-Force: Guardians of Space. Even though this version was meant to more faithful to the original Japanese, the series still used Americanized names that were different from the Americanized names given to the characters in Battle of the Planets.
In the 1990s, Saban acquired the rights for Gatchaman II and Gatchaman Fighter. They combined both of the series together, and released the English dub versions under the title, Eagle Riders, in 1996. All 65 episodes of Eagle Riders aired in Australia, while only 13 episodes were aired in the United States.
In 2005, ADV Films released an uncut version of the original Gatchaman series in the United States on DVD, which includes subtitles and an all-new English language 5.1 dub. This release included all 105 episodes and all of the original footage remained intact. Unfortunately, these DVD sets are now out of print.
A second feature film version of Gatchaman had been in production by Imagi Animation, and it was supposed to be released in 2011. However, the company announced on June 21, 2011, that the Gatchaman project had been cancelled.
At the time of this writing, it has been announced that a new Gatchaman series, Gatchaman Crowds, will begin airing on Japanese television in July 2013. According to Anime News Network, Gatchaman Crowds will consist of 12 30-minute episodes.
Gatchaman features a young five-member superhero team; while most of the members are in their late teens, one of them is only about 11 years old. The members of the team are: team leader Ken Washio, second-in-command Joe Asakura, electronics and demolitions expert Jun, reconnaissance expert Jinpei, and pilot Ryu Nakanishi. The team members wear a uniform to represent a particular bird: Ken is an eagle, Joe is a condor, Jun is a swan, Jinpei is a swallow, and Ryu is an owl.
Each member of the team also has a signature weapon and vehicle, as well as a mundane-looking disguised form. They also have a wrist device that serves as a communicator and a tracking device; it can also be used to change modes with the proper gesture and voice command.
The team also has a vehicle called the GodPhoenix, which is a supersonic plane that is capable of underwater travel and some minor space travel. It can also temporarily transform into a massive phoenix of flame in order to escape from danger; however, the process of going into this mode is taxing on the team.
The Gatchaman team is employed by Dr. Kozaburo Nambu of the “International Science Organization.” The organization’s mission is to stop the technologically advanced Galactor from taking over Earth’s natural resources.
I admit that I didn’t get to see Battle of the Planets when it originally aired on American television in 1978, because I was living in Japan at the time due to my father being in Navy and being stationed there in the late 1970s. While I might have potentially seen Gatchaman II or Gatchaman Fighter on Japanese television when they are on the air, I have no memory of it; this would be due to the fact that I would have been between the ages of three and four when those two series would have been current on Japanese television.
We left Japan in 1980 after my father was given orders to be stationed in Hawaii, and we lived there for four years in the early 1980s. After getting cable around 1983, I remember flipping through channels and coming across a rerun of Battle of the Planets. We have a Japanese 7” record of a song from Gatchaman that my dad bought while we lived there, and I recognized the characters from the cover of the 7” record. Unfortunately, this is only a vague memory, and I seem to recall only watching that one episode.
Around 2007-2008, I found the first episode of Battle of the Planets on YouTube and watched it. It wasn’t too bad for what it was, considering that it was an English dub of an early 1970s anime. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if what I saw was the original Sandy Frank Entertainment dub from 1978 or ADV’s dub from 2005.
From what I’ve read, it seems that to some anime fans, Gatchaman was the start of the five-member group dynamic that became prevalent in other anime series. One of the best examples of this dynamic is Beast King GoLion.
Gatchaman has gone on to become a classic anime title, and the fact that a new series for the franchise is just around the corner proves that there is still interest in this property over forty years after its original debut.
Additional post about Gatchaman: