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!
Each episode is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with both English and Japanese language tracks. English subtitles are provided. Given the age of the show there is, unsurprisingly, no directionality to the tracks, but the voices come through crisp and clear, as do the music and sound effects, making it a very good transfer.
Each episode is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio and taking the age of the show into consideration it looks great. While the colors may not pop like they do in modern animes and the show may seem a bit flat, it looks very good.
The packaging for this is a real treat. The four disks are housed in a gorgeous slipcase featuring a wraparound picture created by famed comic artist Alex Ross. Very little text is placed on the cover so as to not cover the art. The show summary and DVD specifications are given on the very bottom. Similarly, each Amaray case features art from Ross on the front. The back cover, however, contains the episode list for each disk and list of special features. The DVDs are housed in center insets and on the inside of the back case for each volume and given that this contains all 105 episodes plus three OVAs and three discs of extras, it’s amazing that the set takes up so little space. The art, the attention to detail, and the consideration of space make this an excellent package worthy of the show.
The menu for each disk is basically the same. It’s broken into four distinct, uneven quadrants with the episode selection taking up the majority of the screen. To the left of the selection screen is a picture with one or more of the characters from the show and in the lower left-hand corner sits the languages and special features options. The Gatchman logo rests on the bottom right. The show’s theme plays on a ten second loop.
The menu is easy to navigate and I enjoy the theme enough that I didn’t mind it playing on such a short loop. Overall it’s a solid design.
Like everything else with this set, the extras are excellent. Typically I have a five-year-old’s attention span when it comes to watching extras. I sit and squirm and wait for it to be over. That wasn’t the case this time. Probably my favorite of the extras was the documentary “What is Gatchaman?” but I also very much enjoyed “The Origins of Tatsunoko Production.” I feel slightly spoiled with the selections on this set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Although I grew up watching Robotech and Voltron, I somehow missed out on Gatchman. The show was broadcast first in the United States as Battle of the Planets and later as G-Force, and it either flew under my radar or just wasn’t available where I was living at the time. That’s why I was so excited to get the opportunity to review this set from Sentai. I knew enough about the show to have an idea of what I was in for, but I wasn’t prepared for the fun, the energy, and the sheer insanity of the show.
The series follows the exploits of the Science Ninja Team, an elite strike force working directly under Dr. Nambu for the International Science Organization. While the ISO works to better humankind through science, the Science Ninja Team fights against the machinations of Galactor—an evil organization bent on world domination through science. Each member of the team has adopted a bird identity and uses specialized weapons and fighting techniques. Ken, the leader, is the Eagle, and he uses a special bird boomerang. Joe is the Condor and he is the team’s marksman. Jun is the Swallow and uses her special yoyos to deadly effect. Jinpei is the Swallow and fights with bolas. And Ryu the Owl uses his prodigious strength and expert piloting skills to protect the team. Each episode features a new threat from Galactor—typically in the form of some giant mecha patterned after an animal or insect—that the Science Ninja Team must defeat.
If any of this sounds remotely familiar it’s because Gatchaman is the first Sentai anime. It features young men and women that work as a team against an evil organization. They have special abilities and pilot individual vehicles that combine to create a super vehicle, and their opponents often take the form of huge mechanical beasts. Gatchaman set the template for this type of show, but there are few out there that can match the energy and throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks attitude of the original.
I typically don’t like to use the word crazy to describe a show, but I can’t think of a better one to describe Gatchaman. It’s absurd and weird—at times taking on the quality of a fever dream. Perhaps one of the best examples is “The Giant Mummy that Summons Storms,” about a giant mecha that’s dressed as a mummy. It can set itself on fire and summon storms and there’s no good reason for any of that. There’s no connection in the episode whatsoever to Egypt or mummies or anything like that. It’s like the writer threw all those pieces together because he could, and it made for a fun, memorable episode.
This speaks to a spirit of unfettered creation that lies at the heart of this show. There’s an undeniable energy that permeates this series and if you buy into it then you’re along for the ride. Giant flying flaming mummies that can summon storms? Sure, why not? A huge flying jellyfish that focuses the sun’s light into a deadly beam? I can see that. It’s hard to imagine that the writers and animators weren’t having a great time working on this show, and it’s that sense of fun that allows the series to get away with some of the more ridiculous monsters and characters.
This sense of fun and playfulness extends to some of the smaller decisions the producers made for this release, especially with the dialogue. Voice actors were brought in specifically for this set for the English dub. Since the show was made and set in the 1970s, the producers decided that the characters should speak with 70’s slang, so at times Ken would tell Ryu to “keep on truckin’” or Jinpei would say, “Watchu talkin’ about, Joe?” I loved the 70’s slang and in an odd way it made the show feel more real and authentic probably because it matches the visuals. It would have felt odd if Jinpei had said, “Bitchin’!” or something similar.
Another aspect that made this show so enjoyable for me was the way the plot and characters progressed. For the most part many shows made for kids are done-in-one affairs with no narrative arc beyond the monster-of-the-week the protagonist is facing. While there are plenty of done-in-one episodes here, the story does move forward and events happen that change the lives of the characters in real ways. Ken’s issues with his missing father, Joe’s discovery of his parents’ past and his illness, and the destruction of the ISO underwater base all had repercussions for the characters and changed them. By the time they finally face the head of Galactor, Leader X, they are different people than when they first started their crusade, which adds depth and nuance to the overall story.
Perhaps the greatest surprise for me was how I enjoyed the character Berg Katse. He starts off as your garden variety evil overlord, making grand, sweeping statements of superiority and forever swearing vengeance on the heroes. But as the show progressed there was this side of him that started coming to the forefront and for the life of me I don’t know if it’s something that was in the original show or something that was added here. Whether it was there from the beginning or not, Katse becomes less an evil overlord and more a pathetic, incompetent middle-manager possessed of a dim inkling of his own inadequacies. There are moments when you can see him acting as the evil overlord—or at least how he thinks an evil overlord should act—but as the episodes progress you see more and more the person behind the mask. For all his grandiosity and penchant for mass murder, at heart he seems like a pathetic man that reached farther than he should and actually caught a star, only now he has no idea what to do with it. This gives him an oddly sympathetic quality that elevates him above the average incompetent second banana villain of other cartoons.
Unfortunately, everything I loved about the series (the slang, the grandiose concepts, the outright energy and sense of fun) was absent from the OVAs. The three OVAs included after the series are a modern take on the show and they try to cram 105 episodes worth of story into the space of a feature-length film. Sure, Joe wants to blast everything with Bird Missiles, and Ryu is fat and lazy, but the sense of fun is missing and the animation style is too clean. Also, the truncated time doesn’t allow for the same level of character and plot development as the series, making moments such as the revelation of Red Impulse’s identity and his death about as impactful as an ant bite. I also did not like how they sexed up Jun. In the anime Jun was drawn as a beautiful young woman and while it’s true that she did wear a miniskirt and we could see her underwear, it doesn’t have the same impact as the redesign where her breasts bounce at the least provocation and her skirt is slit on the sides up to her hips. Maybe I’m just being a prude, but it feels wrong. There was a sense of innocence in the original show that’s lost in this update and it makes me rather sad.
While I knew the importance of Gatchaman to animation history, I wasn’t prepared for how much fun I would have watching it. This is a big, bold, fun show full of hypberbole, humor, and real plot and character development. This is an amazing collection with a gorgeous cover and a general attention to detail that makes it worth the money. While the OVAs are rather joyless, the original series, the extras, and the packaging more than make up for that. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews, Commentaries, Profiles, Sketches, Audition footage, Music , Galleries
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A+
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 10, 2013
Running Time: 2770
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection