What They Say:
The Earth is in peril and Mankind seems doomed! Led by the sinister mutant Berg Katse, the international terrorist organization known as GALACTOR has launched its armies of henchmen and giant weapons of mass destruction against the entire planet. But the forces of evil are about to meet their match! Utilizing incredible fighting techniques, and with the mighty ship God Phoenix at their command, the Science Ninja Team stands ready to take the battle back to the bad guys and their evil alien overlords! Join Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Jun the Swan, Jinpei the Swallow, and Ryu the Owl, as these five costumed commandos join with their commander, Dr. Nambu, to save our world the old fashioned way: one flying kick at a time! It’s the ultimate in old school anime action as the classic that started it all returns in SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN – THE MOVIE!
Both the Japanese and English audio tracks are Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kbps. Gatchaman has the soundtrack that speaks to an earlier theatrical style of cartoon. Much of the time is spent with orchestral strains in the background with a few moments where modern soundtracks like a 70s funk track take the viewer out of the fantasy and reminds them of the decade they made the show. The front sound field reproduces the show in a manner that sounds clear and clean. One of my favorite things from early anime releases was sound in large spaces. On mono TVs, hearing the hollow separation of a footstep in an aircraft hanger created a sense of space that even today seems unique. This release retains the hard strike of a footstep and the hollow and shallow reverb of its echo. The dialog for the Japanese is clear and at the front, and as originally designed, the background and sound effects seem somewhat distant to maintain the mood.
While I did not watch the entire movie with the English voice track, I did spot check areas, and the overall sound quality was similar. The English voice acting is comprised of cartoony, exaggerated voices. I found this to be in conflict with the melodrama of the movie, altering the earnestness and angst.
The video quality of this 1978 production is excellent in 4:3, and it still looked mostly good when I accidentally started the movie stretched. The colors appear vibrant and complete. Encoded with variable bitrate, even scenes with rapid change or lots of lines have no noticeable artifacts from a standard viewing position. Some blemishes from the original source material remained, but this is the best I have seen the show. Lines are solid from a standard seating position, and the colors seem to accurately represent the original color scheme.
Art quality varies, but is mostly much better than TV animation. Some of the backgrounds and environment scenes have great detail and often multiple layers of animation. This adds to the realism in an unexpected way. Other scenes appeared less developed with shapes representing cars on a road or somewhat low detail backgrounds. I watched the Americanized version in 1978-79. Since then, several different revisions have been released in the U.S., and until now, I’ve never been able to see why I loved it so much. This movie version pops with great colors and validates my early enthusiasm.
Housed in an eco-LITE keepcase, the single disc is printed with the same graphic of the primary characters from the front cover. The cover shows the heroes in action poses standing on the surface of a planet in outer space with the burning form of their airship God Phoenix behind them. The backside shows the underwater base and the God Phoenix with what appears to be a fleet of ships in space heading toward earth. Small pictures show the primary characters and action from the movie.
The main menu has a vertical column of text buttons on the left side: play feature, Languages, Scene Select, Also Available. The scene select sub menu comprises three pages with 17 small chapter images that can be highlighted and selected. Selection movement is natural and quick.
There are no extras other than trailers for other available releases from Sentai.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Gatchaman’s story works to build an old-fashioned melodrama with a level of violence that may seem overly detailed to today’s viewers. Above all, it is a superhero movie where the heroes’ actions seem driven by emotions and haunting memories of the past. We have a short introductory story and two developed stories set in a world that has almost become Utopian but fails to do so because of actions by a terrorist organization that originated from an extraterrestrial source. The terrorists are combated by the International Science Organization, the group who would otherwise bring peace and prosperity to the entire world. The first story introduces us to the primary characters.
The heroes are the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, a group of four guys and one woman who have weapons and martial arts skills. The heroes all have individual vehicles that act as power supplies to their aircraft, God Phoenix. To help us all remember their places on the team, they all wear t-shirts with their position number on the front, and just for fun and fashion, they have colorful bell bottom pants to show how hip they can be incognito. “1” is Ken, the leader. In the second act, he we learn his father disappeared. A childhood friend sells him out to Galactor by telling Ken that he has seen his father in a hotel, and lures both Ken and his father into a Galactor trap. Ken escapes, Galactor loses, and Ken learns who his father is. As this is melodrama, this leads to tragedy.
Our final segment finds Joe, number 2, has a Batman like origin story. As a child he witnessed his parents murdered, and he had been permanently damaged by a bomb thrown by the Galactor assassin. We learn why he questions authority, and in his final moments as a member of the Science Ninja Team, he overcomes all obstacles to protect the Earth from certain destruction.
Melodrama operates by creating situations where character emotions drive motives and actions, and these emotional situations shape the audience response to the drama on the screen. Gatchaman’s weakness could be that some audience members will not respond to the melodrama or they will respond negatively to characters on screen crying at their losses. The scope of the action can shift to something we don’t see in contemporary media as we watch the heroes sob as they mourn a death or as we see Ken and Joe act irresponsibly due to their personal baggage. Our heroes could be the precursor to emotion-centric moe, but of course with much more violence and with emotional tragedies equal to their service to humanity.
For an older viewer who witnessed the dumbing down of children’s TV firsthand, I remember the Americanized version as the only animation at the time that showed somewhat realistic violence and emotional reactions to the violence. Early broadcasts cut the explicit violence out, but left a sense of weight to the action. Finally, we get the chance to see teeth fly from a mouth when a villain gets kicked. We see the heroes throw darts into the throat of an adversary and use what looks like a toy to decapitate henchmen. But not all of the violence is gratuitous. We see innocent people die by the actions of the terrorists. We see sadism, murder, and suicide, but we also see self-sacrifice, charity, and love for one’s friends.
Gatchaman may be a product of its time, but the tropes have been highly influential in subsequent anime production. The hybrid melodrama/sci-fi/action movie may find new fans even if there is really no ready-made, contemporary audience. It takes the expansive series and shrinks it down to a feature-length movie, and in the process it magnifies some of the story’s unique qualities while cutting away some of the tedium of the formulaic television experience.
The series paved the way for American fandom to accept the heroes and technology of Robotech and Voltron, and more importantly, it acted as a shared experience for fandom in the late 1970s through the 1980s. Beyond its importance in anime history, the show still packs a wallop if a viewer can appreciate the emotional motives of the melodrama. With unusual and vibrant art and an interesting theatrical soundtrack, new fans can easily find something to appreciate. From an old fan’s perspective, I have been unable to find the patience– and interest– to sit down and watch the monster-of-the-week original series, but this three act movie offered an entertaining and well spent evening.
Any anime fans who love melodrama, action, or sci-fi should have this release in their collection.
English 5.1 Language, and Japanese 5.1 Language with Forced English Subtitles
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: NA
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 3rd, 2015
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 Anamorphic
Samsung 40” LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.