What They Say:
Using amazing weapons powered by super-science, the international terrorist organization known as GALACTOR is out to steal all of Earth’s resources for itself and its inhuman masters. Mankind’s only hope? The International Science Organization and their elite strike force, the Science Ninja Team! But these five young heroes will have their work cut out for them as they take on the seemingly impossible task of defeating GALACTOR’s horrific arsenal of mechanized weapons of mass destruction and endless armies of henchmen.
Can costumed commandos Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Jun the Swallow, Jinpei the Sparrow and Ryu the Owl really overcome such overwhelming odds? Utilizing the incredible technology and fighting techniques created by Dr. Nambu, and with the mighty ship the God Phoenix at their command, they just might! It’s time for the bad guys to get old-schooled science-ninja style as Japan’s original super team defeat evil, one flying kick at a time!
Contains episodes 1-105 plus OVA episodes 1-3 (previously unreleased).
For this viewing, I took in the English dub, which is offered in 2.0. The Japanese track is also offered in 2.0. The mix was nicely balanced with no dropout on the channels and some directionality on sound effects. Considering the amount of action in the series, a 5.1 mix would have been nice, but the age of it might also have made it a bit strange. It’s perfectly fine.
For such an old series (it premiered in Japan in 1972), this release looks really nice. The transfer is free from technical flaws, the colors are bright, and the imagery is clean. The quality of the animation is a bit shoddy, and sometimes the coloring will briefly go off (an issue with the masters, not the transfer), but that’s generally to be expected for an early 70s release. I was a little more surprised at the low animation quality of the OVAs, which are from the mid-90s. The design of the OVAs were fine (though very different from the TV series), but the animation was very jerky at times.
For a set that has 22 discs, this is really compact. The discs are housed in four amaray cases, which are then stored in a box. The front of the box has a realistic original art piece of the Science Ninja Team in BirdStyle super-imposed on a shot of Berg Katze, while the back has an image of the five in their street clothes. Actually, it is all part of the same picture, which wraps around the spine of the box. Each case and dics also has a picture of some of the characters in the same realistic style, while the spines of the cases line up to form a head shot of Ken in BirdStyle. It is a very well put together case; Sentai put a lot of care into the design of it, and I’m not sure that it could be any more compact than it currently is.
The menus are pretty basic. The episodes are lined up vertically along the left on a red bar, with an image set to the right. Languages and Special Features are offered at the bottom of the menu, and the cursor is a yellow box that shows up well against red bar. There is a relatively short loop of the beginning of the Gatchaman theme music, which can get old if left on for any period of time.
There are a ton of extras on this release. For starters, every disc has a commentary track for at least one episode with some of the English VAs and technical staff. The TV series and OVAs take up the first 19 discs of this set, which leaves the last three discs purely for extras. They are filled with galleries, interviews, clean OP/EDs, unused animations, concerts, histories, etc. Basically, it’s hours of stuff that is filled with all sorts of interesting information on the series. If you really like Gatchaman (and if you buy this set, chances are you do), then you will likely have a ball with all of this.
Gatchaman was a series created in the successful wake of Kamen Rider, and went on to find some great success of its own. A few years after its run in Japan (1972-1974), Sandy Frank picked up the rights to it for the US and edited it down to create the iconic Battle of the Planets (much in the same way as to how Beast King GoLion became Voltron and Macross became Robotech). I am just a shade too young to have been around for the prime of Battle of the Planets, but I have seen enough to have fond memories of the adventures of Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop, and Tiny.
The original series, though, never saw official light of day in this country until 2005 when ADV released it on DVD. It was quickly out of print, though, until this release just a few months ago, which adds the brief, three OVA series from 1994 to it. So, for the first time, I have the opportunity to experience the adventures of Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Jun the Swan, Jinpei the Swallow, and Ryu the Owl, which brought back a lot of groovy memories.
Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei, and Ryu form the Science Ninja Team, a covert group under the jurisdiction of the International Science Organization dedicated to preserving world peace. In recent times, their main goal has been to protect the Earth from the machinations of the evil, shadowy organization GALACTOR, whose leaders—Leader X and Berg Katze—are bent on world domination. There’s nothing GALACTOR won’t stoop to in order to achieve their goals, but the Science Ninja Team are determined to stand in their way, no matter how difficult that task might be.
For a series that has 105 episodes, you might think that the story would have a bit more depth, but that’s basically it. Pretty much each episode follows the same formula: GALACTOR causes a problem (sometimes in hilarious ways), the Science Ninja Team are shocked to find out that this random thing is GALACTOR’s doing, then they go and foil GALACTOR’s plans while Berg Katze just manages to make his escape. Throw in a healthy smattering 70s lingo, Bird Missiles, a GALACTOR mecha or two, and misplaced chestiness from various members of the Science Ninja Team (mostly Joe, but often Ken too), and boom: you have a plot. It’s not until the very late stages of the series that there is any real progression to the overall story, but even when that happens the episodes still typically follow the formula. It can make it hard to watch in marathon sessions (hence the reason it’s taken me over four months to complete it), but it’s otherwise fine.
Considering the general lack of sophistication in the series, I was surprised to find how much depth there was to some of the characters. Ken is a tortured leader: he and his mother were abandoned by his father when he was very young, and then she died not long after. This makes him a compassionate leader who has trouble sometimes making the tough decisions, particularly if the tough decision will condemn innocent people. And when the father he is searching for is later killed, his rage and hatred for GALACTOR starts to color his judgment, which forces him to reign in his recklessness and learn how to be a proper leader, even during times of duress.
One who doesn’t have this problem is Condor Joe. The reason he doesn’t have this problem is that he doesn’t see a need to reign in his recklessness. For me, Joe was the most interesting character in the series. From the very start, Joe comes off as a little psychopathic. GALACTOR killed his parents when he was a kid, and he wastes no time when the series starts introducing us to the homicidal rage he feels towards them. His immediate reaction to any problem GALACTOR starts is to shoot Bird Missiles at them, and then shows his disdain anytime Ken tells him stay frozen (as a side note: I love the 70s slang). A pretty funny early scene that shows how little he actually thinks ahead is when Ken gives him the go ahead to use some Bird Missiles, and when he burns through the entire stock because they have no effect, he has no idea how to react. It’s a funny, but insightful, little touch.
But as the series progresses, Joe shifts subtly from a psychopath to an interesting psychopath. He still has homicidal rage, and he still shows unnerving amounts of recklessness, but we start to learn some context to his rage and we start to get some context to his personality as he gets caught up in events that help show his more human side. It’s the most dramatic character arc and some real depth to a series that really doesn’t have a whole lot of it.
But I want to be clear about something: I have complained a little bit about the general lack of sophistication in this series. Frankly, that’s to be expected for an anime series from the early 70s, and I certainly wasn’t looking for it when I sat down to watch it. I was looking for a fun romp that provided some good action and nostalgia, and I got that in spades. My only real complaint is what I mention above: its simplicity does not lend itself much to binge watching. I found myself watching a few episodes—a six episode disc at most—and then wanting to go do something else and not come back to it for a few days. It doesn’t mean I hated it, but it couldn’t hold my attention for lengthy periods either.
The last thing I want to talk about is the OVA series. In 1994, they attempted to reboot Gatchaman for a new audience and created this three 45 minute episode series to do it. The OVA series gets some grief, and having watched it, I can understand why. I am not entirely sure what they were thinking with it. To be fair, I enjoyed the OVA series, but to fully understand it, you have to have good knowledge of the TV series and understand where it is all coming from. Essentially, they try to cram the whole idea of the 105 episode TV series into three episodes, and it comes off very superficial—more so than the TV series already does. It doesn’t really have a chance to gain a new audience because it tries to do far too much in its limited space, and fans of the earlier series are likely both put off by the new character designs and the fact that it doesn’t introduce any new ideas to the series. So while I enjoyed the OVAs to an extent, it was also an empty experience.
As a casual fan of Battle of the Planets from my childhood, I was really excited to finally get a chance to watch the original Gatchaman. It gave me everything I could want in terms of action and nostalgia, and I loved some of the characterizations. The plot isn’t the deepest and will seem very superficial to people used to more modern fare, and I did find it tough to watch it in large chunks. But in small doses, it was great fun. If old school is your thing, then you will probably love this series. Of course, the flipside to that is that if old school is something you strenuously try to avoid, Gatchaman won’t do anything to change your mind. Still, for what it is, there is a lot of entertainment to be gotten out of it. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews, Commentaries, Profiles, Sketches, Audition Footage, Music, Galleries
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 10, 2013
Running Time: 2770 minutes
Video Encoding: 480 i/p
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System