Anime Spotlight: Gatchaman (Updated)

Gatchaman is an anime directed by Hisayuki Toriumi and was produced by Tatsunoko Productions. The series aired on Japanese television from October 1, 1972-September 29, 1974. This series was brought over to North America in 1978 by Sandy Frank Entertainment under the title, Battle of the Planets, but only 85 of the original 105 episodes of the series were dubbed into English. As of this writing, Sentai Filmworks holds the North American distribution license for Gatchaman.

The series 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 birds: 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 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 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. Galactor is led by an androgynous masked antagonist named Berg Katse.

When it comes to Gatchaman, I can definitively say that it is a product of its time. The animation style and the clothing the protagonists wear have an obviously early 1970’s feel to them. For some modern viewers, this very dated look could potentially be a turn off to giving it a chance.

When I went beyond the overall look and feel of the series, though, I found that there were times that the writing wasn’t as strong as it could have been. I remember there were times when my husband I would shake our heads at some of the stories and plot devices that we saw in the series. Sometimes, stories and plots were either ridiculous and made no sense, or they were just simply stupid. While some of it could be excused by the era that the first Gatchaman anime series was produced during, that alone couldn’t explain all of it. There were just times when the writing was simply flawed.

As my husband and I watched this series, we found the fact that Joe was so trigger happy and wanted to use his weapons whenever he could to solve problems almost comical. When we realized just how often Joe did this, we would start singing a refrain from Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”: “Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?” To be honest, counting how many times Joe is trigger happy would probably make for a good drinking game. LOL!

To be honest, though, outside of trigger happy Joe and the portrayal of Berg Katse, there wasn’t much that was memorable to me about Gatchaman. After hearing so much about it and knowing how much of a classic this franchise is seen as, I was ultimately let down by the series when I finally watched it. Maybe if I hadn’t heard so much hype going into it, perhaps my expectations would have been lower and I might have appreciated it a little better.

I was glad to see Gatchaman for its historical significance to anime, but I was disappointed that the series wasn’t better than what it was.

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