Introducing Your Father's Anime to a New Generation--Gatchaman resurrected!
Before there were Powerpuff Girls, Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Samurai Troopers, and even Voltron, there was a popular team of morality-guided superheroes delighting fans around the globe. Featuring an optimistic squad of young heroes squaring off against the oppressive terrorist organization, Galactor, Gatchaman might not have been the first superhero team, but they were one of the most popular.
Gatchaman, originally released in the early 1970s, was transformed into the English-language series Battle of the Planets, G-Force, and Eagle Riders. This sort of repackaging of a series was a common practice for the anime industry at the time, and similar efforts were undertaken to create Robotech, Voltron, The Samurai Pizza Cats, and Transformers.
The fandom for Gatchaman and its offspring has been strong over the past three decades. It's actually quite interesting to seek out information about a series such as this online. This was one of the first anime series to inspire websites devoted to such subjects.
Surprisingly, there is even a Gatchaman Doom WAD for readers who know what WADs are. For that matter, how many of our readers are old enough to have even played the original Doom?
In a testament to the show’s popularity, a new comic book series has revived the Battle of the Planets mythos, with respected comic artist Alex Ross providing some excellent pieces related to the Science Ninja Team.
Readers who were not around in the 1970s (or even the early 1980s), however, are probably wondering what all the hubbub is about. More to the point, younger fans are almost certainly questioning the phrase, "Science Ninja Team." After all, not everyone is a Gatchamaniac... yet.
When the evil terrorist collective known as Galactor begins to unleash terrible weapons upon the masses, a secret team of heroes is summoned as the only force that can stop them. Dr. Kozaburou Nambu, a man of considerable wealth and great scientific knowledge, created the technology that supports Gatchaman's efforts. Each member of the Gatchaman crew has his or her own preferred form of transportation, which has the ability to transform into a combat vehicle worthy of standing against the forces of Galactor.
The individual machines can combine to form the God Phoenix, a ship that lives up to the mythical source of its name with its own special abilities. The concept of having several components that join together to form a more powerful weapon remains a popular staple of sci-fi anime series even to this day.
In addition to their various modes of transport, every member of Gatchaman can use Dr. Nambu's technology to instantly change into an outfit resembling a particular bird. Their costumes don't merely look stylish; they grant the ability to fly. Of course, Gatchaman is also armed with nifty weapons for close range battle.
The actual term "Gatchaman" refers not only to the team of heroes as a whole, but also to the leader of the group, Ken Washio, otherwise known as Oowashi no Ken, or Ken the Eagle.
Ken is the perfect leader. All of the members of Gatchaman are as intelligent as they are formidable fighters. However, Ken is the team's core. His efforts don't merely keep Gatchaman focused on defeating the enemy; he is the team's beacon of morality whenever dark times fall upon them. It takes significant effort to divert Ken from his path, and with the rest of the team backing him up, he is an almost unstoppable commander.
Balancing out Ken's straight-shooting characteristics is Joe the Condor (Konduru no Joe), or Joe Asakura. From the first episode of the series, it is clear that Joe reacts impulsively in situations where Ken just wants to stick to the plan. Joe is a magnet for misfortune, though the extent to which he is unlucky isn't revealed until the series progresses further. Joe is the typical hotheaded yet exceedingly competent member of the group –- similar to Raphael's character in the more recent (and more amphibious) ninja team. His skill as a marksman is unmatched, and his weapon of choice is the team's custom shuriken.
Adding a much needed feminine touch to the team's dossier, Jun the Swan (Shiratori no Jun) is more than just a pretty face. She's every bit as formidable a fighter as the rest of the team, and in some ways she's the smartest of them all. Jun has the tough responsibility of fulfilling the duty of both a mother figure as well as a sister figure -– and in the case of her relationship with Ken, perhaps something less platonic than either of those roles.
Jinpei the Swallow (Tsubakuro no Jinpei) is the character that serves to help to dig up the answers to questions that viewers might have. He's the youngest member of the team, thus his inexperience tends to inspire him to ask for information that might be apparent to the other team members, but not to himself. In doing so, he allows the writers to pass on the same information to the viewers.
As the most recent descendant in a long line of ninja, Jinpei is a skilled warrior, but his playful nature and naivety gets him (and subsequently, the rest of his team) in trouble with dependable regularity.
The final member of the team is Ryu "the Owl" Nakanishi, known in Japanese as Mimizuku no Ryu. Ryu is the only member of Gatchaman with a family, and in a way, this sets him apart from the rest of the team at times. While everyone on the Gatchaman force sees each other as siblings of a sort, Ryu actually has blood relatives he can go home to. However, he cannot reveal his secret identity to them, lest he run the risk of endangering them, so having a family isn't necessarily a good thing. He's quick to joke with Jinpei, but when needed, he can be a calm and reassuring presence in a tense situation.
Galactor's motives aren't immediately apparent. Sure, it's clear that they want to take over the world, but what self-respecting evil organization doesn't? They're led by the mysterious Berg Katse, referred to as Katse-sama by lesser members of Galactor. Of course, much of the fun of the series comes from not knowing Katse's reasons for wanting to rule the earth –- or even if the nefarious leader is the highest ranking member of Galactor -– and the series offers plenty of unpredictability to have more than enough fun.
While the setup may sound like countless other series, that's mostly because scores of successive series copied many of the conventions established (or at least popularized) in Gatchaman. The animation is undeniably dated, but this is a surprisingly complex series. Expect characters to die, tragedies to strike, and plot twists to develop over the run of the show.
Gatchaman may be old, but if viewers are willing to look beyond the surface, they might just discover a new favorite. There's always room for more Gatchamaniacs, after all.