"Who wants a horse-machine race?"
"They're not mechanical horses. They're galloping dynamite."
Star Wars (1977) arrived and set the tone for space opera and sci-fi adventure films for the next many decades. It was undeniably a craze and everyone and their brother were looking for ways to manifest the popularity of Star Wars and infuse it into their own productions. Of course today we have Star Wars and Marvel films like saturation bombing.
At the end of the 1970s Sandy Frank acquired rights to Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974), which predated Star Wars, purchasing access to the series from Tatsunoko Productions and hastily applied a space theme to the Japanese hero series.
Suddenly, the team of young heroes were traversing space in search of the latest evil to quell from planet Spectra. The original series wasn't of the same mind at all, but rather a persistent team of young people assembled to protect Earth at all costs never traversing the stars at all.
For Battle Of The Planets 7-Zark-7 was born (along with 1-Rover-1 and sexy artificial intelligence Susan), a robotic accompaniment a la R2-D2, to pull in young viewers even though it eschewed the intent of the original Japanese TV series.
Nevertheless, Frank, the creators and writers slap-dashed some relatively haphazard American animation onto the series, appending an already perfect original, slashed some of the graphic violence and re-worked the stories accordingly with an expert voice cast. It was ingenious really particularly the all-star voice cast featuring Casey Kasem, Janet Waldo and more.
A year after Star Wars, the American Battle Of The Planets was a success with kids across America, maybe not to the degree of Star Wars, but enough that today it still retains its fans, like this writer. The original is beautiful, but it's a testament to Frank that he Americanized it to some degree of perfection.
Some have referred to Battle Of The Planets, or Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, as but a mere footnote in anime history, but it really was a much bigger deal that that and even saw a resurgence at the turn of the century with a new comic book line and new toys. In Japan, there are still diecast ships and books created in support of the Tatsunoko classic. A live action adaptation was even produced, albeit not a particularly good one. An animated film was conceived, but fell apart as well. These were real missed opportunities when you consider the quality and effort put into something like the live action Attack On Titan (2015) adaptation of the anime series, the latest Japanese sensation.
Frank's efforts to transform Battle Of The Planets, despite a few that seemed mildly disjointed, were met mostly with success. Episodes generally rang true in terms of character and action with the occasional head scratching that accompanies a young person's series, but viewed through more mature eyes.
But for Battle Of The Planets, like Star Wars, G-Force was often taking the adventure to the stars.
As for Battle Of The Planets, Episode 18, Mad Ruler Of Spectra, it's hard, high-flying space adventure is brought down to a more equestrian-styled earthbound tale, still, somewhere in space.
Visually the episode can be best remembered for the cyborg horses, which seems like a more fitting title for the entry (ahhh The Cyborg Horses).
Mad Ruler Of Spectra refers to the old scientist who created those wild, machine horses. He's abducted by Spectra to use his intellect. His creations are applied against Earth. He agrees to work with Spectra initially for the gift of supreme power for which he temporarily replaces Zoltar so that Spectra can get what it needs out of him. It's all in the business of villainy. Zoltar had nothing to worry about really despite his unintentionally funny objection to the move. The Luminous One quickly puts the nefarious Zoltar back in power. Smart to keep your evil minions in check though. G-Force must rescue the old scientist and save Earth yet again.
Not a terrific entry by any stretch. Not much in the way of emotional subtext happening in this one.
Still, the horse animation is impressive. Far from the home stretch of Battle Of The Planets, Mad Ruler Of Spectra receives a mild nod of approval by a horse's nose.
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman Title: Who Is Leader X?.
Up Next: The Sea Dragon.