Friday, December 6, 2013

Battle Of The Planets: The Characters

"The characters were ... dynamic.... They each had distinct personalities, which were not always so easily defined. Mark could be rash and bullheaded at times, just as Jason could be compassionate and understanding. Keyop could be surprisingly insightful and Princess would be sarcastic or crack a wicked joke....  The uncertainty of ... these characters ... was a big draw for fans....  Even the villains had interesting character development ....  Zoltar... had a wonderful duality that was absorbing to watch."
-G-Force: Animated: The Official Battle Of The Planets Guidebook, Jason Hofius and George Khoury, (p.28) commenting on the depth of character beyond the standard archetypes established for the series-

Our colorful primer to Battle Of The Planets (1978) here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic continues. If you weren't able to tell, we (me, myself and I along with a legion of others) loved the series here in the United States.  Of course, it had everything to do with the animation.  It was like nothing we had seen before, but beyond those gorgeous 2D surface penciled aesthetics the series also delivered the stories, characterizations, mech designs and weapons in glorious fashion.  Based on Gatchaman (1972), Battle Of The Planets was anime that had it all for children of all ages - even the big kids. It looks as hip and cool as it did forty years ago.  Can you believe it has been forty years? Now that is staying power.

Let's begin with those beloved characters of Battle Of The Planets.

The series revolved around five orphaned teenagers who comprised the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, better known as G-Force for Battle Of The Planets.  All were adorned with cerebonic implants and were essentially gifted assassins and much more. The idea of teenagers in anime certainly began very early on in Japanese anime as evidenced here.  The concept of the young and cerebellum-based implants would even appear later in Gunslinger Girl (2003). Gatchaman and thus Battle Of The Planets created concepts later found in anime here in their purest form.

Strong archetypes were indeed established.  This was readily apparent but beyond those patterned recurring symbols there was a depth and distinction to these characters rare in cartoons and they certainly had their impact on us as kids.

The Heroes. G-Force.

Mark. The Eagle. (1). The leader of G-Force and sometimes reluctantly so.  He's charismatic with those beautifully animated blue eyes. Mark is essentially the James T. Kirk of the group with the ladies without the desire to bed them. Mark is awkward with the ladies. This is given his loyalty to the group and sense of mission. He was orphaned at a young age (4) and raised by Chief Anderson with a strict sense of loyalty and mission to G-Force.  The group is his family.  It stands to reason he might be awkward in this arena and saves his affection for the opposite sex for Princess.

If anything Mark has often suggested a connection with Princess though it's never an open admission. Shippers, like myself, hoped for a love connection in much the same way we hoped a connection might be consummated between Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neil in Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) or Judy and Don West on Lost In Space (1965-1968).

Though the leader of the band, there is a sense of burden to his role that weighs heavy on his shoulders and his heart. Though a strong leader and normally even-tempered Mark is hardly perfect and is given occasionally to sometimes hasty decisions. Unfortunately that is the nature of his command post.

His father is Colonel Cronus.  This fact is obscured for a time.  The relationship is strained before and after this discovery. Remarkably, the series dabbled with estranged relationships head on which was unlike most animation of the day.  In many respects the daddy issues exemplified here would be a precursor to more successful and complex undertakings within series dynamics like Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) between Shinji and Gendo Ikari, but one can see the parallels.

Mark butts heads with Jason and even Chief Anderson. In other words nothing is entirely black and white on Battle of The Planets including the outcomes of their battles.

Mark flies the G-1 which is also disguised as a Cessna before transmute into the Summit Jet (as noted on DVD).

His weapon of choice is the Sonic Boomerang.

The character is voiced by Casey Kasem (American Top 40). The character's name is Ken in Gatchaman.

Jason. The Condor. (2). Jason is the perceived second in command, but is not.  The antithesis of Mark often impulsive and hot-headed. Brave. Fierce.  He's often quick to push the fire button on the Bird Missiles of The Phoenix.  Shoot first and ask questions later.  Still, we are dealing with Spectra.  His itchy trigger finger places him at the forefront as chief gunner of The Phoenix. Jason is a bit of a hot-tempered bad boy or bad ass.  He's more a predator than Mark. He's arguably the most popular character in G-Force though I liked them all.

Still, despite a tough exterior Jason also shows a lot of heart for his team mates.

Whereas Mark keeps his distance from the ladies but draws the lovely ladies, Jason tends to fall for many of the bad girls or undercover Spectra agents.

Jason is a gifted race car driver and a top marksman, dart and knife thrower. He is essentially a weapons expert and sharpshooter.

Jason drives the G-2 which masks as a stock race car before transmute into a sophisticated, high-tech race car dubbed the Space Mobile (as noted on DVD).

His weapon of choice is the Multi-Purpose Gun as well as a plethora of Feather Shuriken.

The character is voiced by Ronnie Schell (Wait Til Your Father Gets Home). The character's name is Joe in Gatchaman.

Princess. The Swan. (3). Smart. Strong-willed. Wise. Poised.  Maybe she should have been the leader. Independent and more than capable, as evidenced in her spotlight attack on Spectra in the debut episode, Attack Of The Space Terrapin, Princess is indeed a significant player within G-Force.  She is an excellent technician, computer hacker and explosives specialist.

Princess appears attracted to both Mark and Jason.  She has a deep sisterly affection for Keyop.  Despite her lethal abilities there is indeed a maternal instinct at work within the team and it wouldn't be the same without her. She has a big heart.

Princess even has a good business sense running her own snack house.  Keyop lives with her and works with her.  Once again, I'm reminded of the relationship between Shinji Ikari and Misato Katsuragi in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Echoes of these dynamics would penetrate future anime classics.

Princess drives the high-powered G-3 Galacticycle (as noted on DVD) disguised as a motor bike before transmute.

Her weapon of choice is the Yo-Yo Bomb or Special Yo-Yo (as noted on DVD).

The character is voiced by Janet Waldo (Josie And The Pussycats). The character's name is Jun in Gatchaman.

And quite possibly the hottest chick ever with green hair.

Keyop. The Swallow. (4). Keyop is the youngest member of G-Force created from a single embryonic cell. He truly embraces the others as family.  He has been graced with a trademark speech impediment often imparting a series of bloops and bleeps.  To some it was annoying, to others it was part of his charm. making him adored by many.  As kids we sometimes mistakenly perceived him to be a kind of robot or artificial being like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that was not the case. Princess is like a nurturing mother or big sister. Mark and Jason are like big brothers. Tiny is that and more as his best friend. Sometimes sensitive Keyop often aims at proving himself. Like any kid, he loves animals.  He takes to whales, seals, dogs, etc..  You name it.  My brother was much the same way growing up bringing home dogs, birds, snakes, chinchillas, etc..  It seemed like he came home with a new animal each week.

He drives the G-4 Star Buggy (as noted on DVD)disguised as a dune buggy before transmute.  It is also thought of as the Space Buggy, Helico Buggy or Widget.

His weapon of choice is the Bolos.

The character is voiced by Alan Young (Mister Ed). The character's name is Jinpei in Gatchaman.

Tiny Harper. The Owl. (5). Tiny is the chief navigator and pilot of the beloved Phoenix or G-5, a ship also capable of transmute into the fiery Phoenix.  He serves as backup to the team on all missions and is often left out of the action much to his disappointment.  Still, his role is critical as pilot of that fantastic Phoenix. I'd say that's pretty cool.  He has a healthy appetite for Space Burgers, but despite his deceptive girth, he is also very strong.  He's essentially the muscle man of the group.  Every super hero team has one and there's no better superhero team without actually officially being one than G-Force.

Tiny is the only member with a known last name.  He's as big-hearted as he is burly and strong. Tiny is his own biggest critic and is often quite harsh on himself.  He often feels a failure and has much to prove to his family, a father and brother.  They are the only living family to one of G-Force outside of Colonel Cronus as father to Mark.

His weapon of choice is his might and brawn.

The character is voiced by Alan Dinehart. The character's name is Ryu in Gatchaman.

So of course this was the five member super group that the kids fell in love with and thus was backed by several important supporting characters.

The Other Good Guys.

Chief Anderson. Founder, chief scientist, with a degree in astrophysics, and administrator for the International Science Organization or G-Force. He formed the Intergalactic Federation Of Peaceful Planets and is Chief of Security for that organization. He leads the war against Planet Spectra and its complex criminal web syndicate. His mission is to protect Earth and its allied planets. He is a mentor to the five members of G-Force. He is extremely intelligent and a stern task master who coordinates, assigns and oversees all missions.  He sometimes comes off harsh, but is essentially a man who cares deeply for the team and is committed to their success and is proud of the young team's achievements.

The character is voiced by Alan Dinehart. The character's name is Dr. Nambu/ Professor Kozaburou Nambu in Gatchaman.

Colonel Cronus. Colonel Cronus is a spy and mysterious figure who formerly headed The Red Rangers of Planet Riga as a general. Cronus is Mark's father. Cronus has saved G-Force and conversely G-Force and Mark have saved Cronus. Cronus is distant and purposefully established Mark's care within the hands of trusted Chief Anderson.  Cronus gave his son to Anderson's care some fourteen years earlier prior to embarking on a top secret mission against Spectra's Doomsday weapon the X-3. The X-3 was intended to destroy Earth's Van Allen Belt by leaving a radioactive wasteland. The relationship between Mark and his father is one that is indeed dysfunctional.  Cronus is not a loving father but a man dedicated to the mission and the fight against Planet Spectra. Echoes of this character personality can be found elsewhere in anime such as Gendo Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Cronus would one day sacrifice his life against a takeover of Planet Riga. Cronus is the pilot of the Red Impulse. *// The character is voiced by Keye Luke (Kung Fu, Green Hornet, uncredited in Godzilla Raids Again). The character is Kentaro Washio in Gatchaman.

President Kane. Kane is head of ISO. A powerful figure in the United Nations.  He is deferred to by Chief Anderson.

The character's name is Chief Anderson in Gatchaman (I know crazy).

7-Zark-7. 7-Zark-7 was a narrative device specifically created for Battle of The Planets and is not a character apart of Gatchaman. His role is intended to move the story along given Sandy Frank had created a space-faring adventure series and edits would occur.

7-Zark-7 watched over G-Force from Center Neptune with lovable robot compatriot 1-Rover-1 and sexy sweetheart Susan (voiced seductively by Janet Waldo), a disembodied computer voice of a robot from Pluto. 7-Zark-7 is indeed eager to interface with Susan for some face to face computerized intercourse. The robots were the Federation's first line of defense against Spectra in protecting G-Force.

7-Zark-7 is particularly keen to keep a close watch of Crab Nebula, home of Zoltar and Planet Spectra. Zark enjoys a love of oil lubricants and even showers in them. 7-Zark-7 was also originally designed by none other than beloved artist Alex Toth (1928-2006; The Herculoids, Space Ghost, Super Friends).  In fact, in many respects, for Americans stateside, Toth was to animation here what the very best animators were to anime in Japan.  Toth was a revered cartoonist and artist with a technique that surely remains as perfect as the work of Tatsunoko on Gatchaman. Toth literally died at the drawing table as many Japanese animators die today. The character is voiced by Alan Young who also handled the Keyop chores.

The Villains. Spectra.

The Great Spirit/The Luminous One/O Luminous One/The Luminous Spirit. You get the picture. The powerful head of the Spectra organization and alien ruler of Planet Spectra. A truly malevolent, dictatorial, chaotic, evil being. He oversees, directs and orchestrates Spectra's assault on Earth.  He is capable of taking physical form to save Zoltar and others if required but is generally a non-physical presence.  The mysterious alien life form is generally vicious and more than willing to sacrifice his own.  Zoltar answers to The Luminous One and Zoltar is his right hand. Subjugation of all is the Great Spirit's mission and devotion.

The character is voiced by Keye Luke. The character is Sosai X or Generalissimo in Gatchaman.

Zoltar. Leader of the Spectra organization who has vowed to destroy G-Force and the Federation in search of vital Earth resources. Zoltar loyally worships The Luminous One.  Zoltar is in command of the Spectra Goons and its various commanders. His/her appearance is fittingly cat-like given his game is in direct opposition to the bird team that is G-Force. He/she is a master of disguise, deception and lies. He/she is genius in the art of trickery, subterfuge, deception and even magic.  He/she is a master escape artist with an affection for mecha and bombs.

Is Zoltar male or female? In Gatchaman, the character is something of a mutant hermaphrodite taking both male and female form.  In that series he/she is a single entity, the result of cellular fusion as created by Sosai X. It's all very ambiguous in Battle Of The Planets which makes it such surprisingly good fun. There is a powerful allure to Zoltar in the fashion his/her character was written.

The mysterious Zoltar is just one of the many fascinating characters with varied layers in Battle Of The Planets and Gatchaman. His identity was revealed once by Mark, but the team was blinded by The Luminous One. Zoltar's sister is Mala. Whatever your perception, as a child, Battle Of The Planets' evil Zoltar played with our fragile little minds quite effectively.

The character is voiced by Keye Luke who also handled the O Luminous One chores. The character is Berg Katse in Gatchaman.

The Spectrans/The Spectran Goons. Hordes of Spectran Goons serve as cannon fodder to the Federation and G-Force.  The green-masked soldiers are not particularly intelligent. Think Stormtroopers, but pre-dating the George Lucas Star Wars creations. The characters are Gallactor Goons in Gatchaman.

The Galaxy Girls. An elite force of female ninja from Planet Spectra. Dangerous and well-armed with guns, bombs and other explosives. They assassinated Jason's parents when he was a child and nearly killed him.  The characters are the Devil Stars in Gatchaman.

The Blackbirds. Biker ninja. The characters are Blackbirds in Gatchaman. That was easy.

So that wraps up our Battle Of The Planets character primer.  If I sometimes confuse Gatchaman with Battle Of The Planets my apologies. This is in good fun and hopefully as complete as can be.

It was the characters, like the best in any series, that made Battle Of The Planets, like Gatchaman, so special.  To make the comparison, and I cannot stress and preface enough how the two animes are clearly very different in advance, but like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Battle Of The Planets glimpsed the lives of teenagers who certainly carried their fair share of burdens and flaws but faced great odds in the face of an alien apocalypse.

These were indeed real characters we loved because they were flawed.  They were damaged to a degree.  Most of all, these characters had feelings.  As kids we sensed that.  We picked up on these very real lives.  They weren't mere two dimensional animated figures to fill a time slot with a child's cartoon.  Tatsunoko and later Sandy Frank and Jameson Brewer infused these people with real personality and delivered a truly substantive artistic creation.

As tough as G-Force was as assassins there was a fragility there too.  Battle Of The Planets tapped into that vibe well.  It was overflowing with character even following the translation from Gatchaman. And like the best of Marvel Comics superhero teams that were pencilled and colored on the page in the very best of the 1970s like The Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four in the mighty Marvel manner, Tatsunoko brought their band of superheroes to life via animation. Fortunately for kids everywhere those colorful characters were energized and animated for television brought to life by Sandy Frank who saw Gatchaman's potential. It was extremely easy to relate to.  Thankfully, like Bill Murray, it was never lost in translation.


Unknown said...

Used to absolutely love this tv ❤️ show back in the 1980s!! Wish someone would bring it back in the modern world 20/20 ... Eg a movie or updated tv show! 😉👍

SFF said...

I hear you, but only if it could look this good and this close to the original animation! Mind blowing stuff!