Monday, December 2, 2013

Battle Of The Planets Vs. Gatchaman

"Always five acting as one. Dedicated! Inseparable! Invincible!"
We sure could use a little more collective, inseparable thinking in this country today.

Like most, my best moments to write seem to come when the spirit moves me.  In this case perhaps The Great Spirit moves me.

Where does one begin with an animation and series as revered as Japan anime Studio Tatsunoko's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974) (Gatchaman) or its American counterpart, Battle Of The Planets (1978-1985). Because sadly, it's truly not easy being a Battle Of The Planets or Gatchaman fan or maybe both.  It's a bit like being that sometimes youngest and forgotten child.  Of course, in this case, we're the much older children now.

I've been giving a lot of my time over to re-assessing the classic Tatsunoko series Gatchaman (1972-1974) and its American translation, under the direction of Sandy Frank, Battle Of The Planets (1978-1985).

Speaking of Frank, I'll be frank here. My loyalty runs deep for the series. I was raised and reared upon Battle Of The Planets.  It was entirely my own discovery too. And the images you see here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic taken from the television, actually began with a Kodak instant camera back in the day watching Battle Of The Planets on a less than impressive tube television. Battle Of The Planets is one of those series where it all began.  It was extremely formative and influential to me.

Mind you, without question, it was hardly the infusion of new animation and the inclusion of the Star Wars (1977; a year earlier)-inspired robot 7-Zark-7.  As a child I recalled wanting to edit 7-Zark-7 out of the product myself.  There was clearly a rub and even our young eyes knew that 7-Zark-7 never quite belonged.  7-Zark-7 was more an annoyance than a bona fide enhancement of the original series.  The American-infused animation, too, was also inferior to its Japanese source material.  Nevertheless, today, 7-Zark-7 isn't entirely Jar Jar Binks for me, but he definitely seems an odd fusion of R2-D2 and C3P0.

One can hardly make a case against the intended, uncut original Gatchaman series that gave birth to its bastard child Battle Of The Planets, but for those of us who arrived home from school and often navigated treacherous routes home to get there, it's hard for that bastard son to do any wrong in our eyes.  But Gatchaman on the whole is a beautifully, hand-crafted, perfect animation.  It's storytelling acumen and vision is untouchable in my eyes and you'll find no objection to it here.  Gatchaman is simply stunning and remains as powerful today as the day it was conceived.  It's no wonder it influenced so many American children including acclaimed artist Alex Ross.   It was simply like nothing we had ever seen. Yet, ironically, founder Tatsuo Yoshida was inspired by the American-based superheroes comic books.

To offer a touch of background, Tatsunoko was formed in 1962 and continues to endure its amazing run.  It's certainly notable for Mach Go Go Go (1967-1968).  Like GatchamanMach Go Go Go was adapted for America as Speed Racer.  The company even had a hand in animation assistance to Gainax's Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996).  The company was formed by Tatsuo Yoshida, Kenji Yoshija and Ippei Kuri. Gatchaman was created by Tatsuo.  Sadly, Tatsuo passed away in 1977 from caner just shy of learning what Sandy Frank would made happen with his property in the form of Battle Of The Planets on an international scale.

On the personal front, let me give you a sense of the hardship in being a fan of Battle Of The Planets.  I will share my story.

At one point just shy of Rhino releasing Battle Of The Planets on DVD (2001-2003) I began importing Gatchaman from Japan on DVD.  The Gatchaman series was released there in a series of volumes.  Of course, to view them, I needed to purchase a code-free, region free player so I could experience the series in its unedited and ultimately intended form.  Finding a reputable seller was a concern too.  This chain of events presented some challenges.  These amused The One To Be Pitied to no end.

Thus as my Gatchaman Japan import DVDs arrived it was a fact of life they would not be subbed or dubbed.  That's right I was working purely on visual stimulus, but Battle Of The Planets and thus Gatchaman was always a truly visual experience for me anyway.  So, it was a break I was willing to live with to experience this childhood favorite again.  My brain was going to do all of the translating work using strictly images.  So, I took to the Internet and found two exceptional Battle Of The Planets/ Gatchaman sites, both of which are sadly no longer. Fortunately, I printed the bulk of the contents from those sites at the time complete with episode lists for both Battle Of The Planets (85 episodes) and Gatchaman (105 episodes).  Those sites also provided extensive information on Gatchaman's two sequels, Gatchaman II (52 episodes) and Gatchaman F (Gatchaman Fighter) (48 episodes). The latter two have proven expensive to find at this point and Gatchaman F is well beyond my pay grade. So, I printed each and every page, created a binder book of them and planned to proceed with my Gatchaman experience.  I would be immersing myself in Tatsunoko's unedited masterpiece for the very first time.  It was a complete geek move I understand, but these were desperate times and required desperate measures with no sign of Battle Of The Planets or Gatchaman anywhere to be found.  So prior to each viewing I would read the summary narrative in English and then view the episode.  Of course these are fairly short episodes and we're not talking Shakespeare here so they were easy to decipher and follow a long. And before long my other half and I were speaking Japanese.  Okay, that's not true, but we were singing the opening theme song in Japanese with no idea what we were saying, but damn it was catchy.  In fact, little did I know Jameson Brewer was taking much the same approach to his translations with the limited window of time he was allotted with each entry.

But early on in the process, The One To Be Pitied often looked at me with crooked neck.  She noted this process one day.

Honestly, that's about the size of it Tiny.

"What are you watching?"  "Gatchaman," I replied.  "In Japanese?," she inquired.  "Well, yes." "There are no subtitles?" she noted.  "True."  "Is there an English language track?," she begged.  "Uh, no, not a one."  "And how is it exactly you are getting all of this?," she wondered.  "Well, I printed this here nice little binder book of Gatchaman summaries.  I read the summary and proceed to watch all of the anime action fun." "Of course, that makes sense" she responded with eye rolling.  And with that she carried on.

So at the time with my region free player I happily enjoyed the original Gatchaman series.  I was unstoppable until of course my code free player broke.  Well, things don't always go as planned and they don't make things like they used to as the cliche goes. My plan of attack on finally experiencing the Gatchaman series was cut short.  I reached episode 29 in my grading process and my region-free player choked and died. The fairly expensive item died. Into the trash heap it went.  With little enthusiasm for purchasing another player my gorgeous Japan import collection sat and collected dust with many unopened.  It was a monumental disappointment.

As I mentioned, word had arrived that Rhino would be releasing Battle Of The Planets for the first time on DVD.  Oh joy I thought.  I quickly went to ebay and sold off my entire Japanese DVD import collection in the hopes of recouping much of my money even though I was parting company with the original Gatchaman which I was really enjoying by the way.  It was a generally successful sales effort but a loss was still incurred.  Those are the breaks.

The good news was that Rhino was featuring the Gatchaman original episodes on each of their two episode volume releases.  This all might work out.  Right?  Wrong.

Little did I know, Rhino would fail miserably and deliver just a percentage of the original 85 Battle Of The Planets episodes.  The company just wasn't up to the task. How hard would it be to release them all in one collection?  The British pulled it off releasing Battle Of The Planets: The Complete Series (2004).  Yes, there they were - all 85 shining, delightful episodes in one Region 2 box.  But, operative word Region 2.  That set is now out of print and to watch them it would be back to the region free drawing board. Oh the injustice of it all.

So of course, like I said, I had Rhino. Rhino would deliver.  One would think.  But No.  The series was cut short and the plan to release Battle Of The Planets in its entirety stateside was terminated and shelved.  As of 2007, Sandy Frank's 30 year license for the series expired.  The shame of it all.

Well, new hope arrived in the form of ADV films who had recorded a new English dub for Gatchaman and released the series in its entirety, all 105 episodes, in 2005-2006.  The series arrived in nine, expensive, bulky limited edition sets with artwork by Ross.  That set also was discontinued. But, I was also generally underwhelmed by the English dub which brings me back to the crux of this post.

The Gatchaman English dub is indeed serviceable and perhaps with a little time I could get used to it.  Gatchaman has once again found a new home and been released on Blu-ray for 2013 by Section 23 films.  I'm committed to viewing it and if I can't take the English dub there is always the Japanese audio track with subtitles (this time).

But as a child of the 1970s I grew up with Battle Of The Planets and adored the series.  The reason it was adored was not 7-Zark-7, but genuine a professional, grade A, stellar voice cast that infused this handsomely animated series with real personality, character and emotional warmth and tension in equal parts.  Rarely will you find a voice cast as well assembled and memorable as the one hired for Sandy Frank's Battle Of The Planets.  A series like Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996) may come closest with its then virtually unknown English voice cast.  But Frank assembled a cast of characters that brought the original Gatchaman to life here in the states.  Casey Kasem, Keye Luke, Alan Young, Janet Waldo, Alan Dinehart and Ronnie Schell comprised a group of characters that would resonate for years to come.  Apart from American Top 40 and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, in my humble opinion, Battle Of The Planets is the best thing Casey Kasem ever committed to recording.

The new English dub provided for Gatchaman is passable and pales in comparison to the distinct voices of the original Battle Of The Planets.

So when people discuss Gatchaman and Battle Of The Planets and refer to Gatchaman as the far superior product, most of us fans understand.  We get it.  We want uncut, unedited originals as much as the next guy and they aren't wrong.  Gatchaman is one of the finest in animation and storytelling.  But I believe I speak for a lot of Battle Of The Planets fans when I say we also want the original Battle Of The Planets thanks to those talents that brought that series to life.  It's simply irreplaceable to me.  Kasem, Waldo, Schell, Dinehart, Young and others genuinely knew how to bring a pensive or emotive moment to life on Battle Of The Planets.  They could hang on a scene, on a beautiful still shot of that animation and generate real power in a tearful moment with those voices.  The new dub is certainly average at best.  The voice talent that created the remarkable and glorious Battle Of The Planets deserves to live on, be memorialized on DVD and preferably Blu-Ray once and for all.  We fans are waiting people. My binder is waiting. We're not getting any younger.

So for me it was back to the drawing board yet again.  With Gatchaman II (1978-1979) and Gatchaman F (Gatchaman Fighter) (1979-1980) unlikely to ever be released along with Battle Of The Planets it was time to act once again.

With time passing me by, in the rear view mirror, and Sandy Frank losing the licensing rights to Battle Of The Planets, what recourse did I have?  Of course Region Free DVD Players have certainly come down in price since the first time I purchased one.

So first, I have resorted to the purchase of Battle Of The Planets, the complete series from the UK.  Mind you, the series has been out of print there and to obtain a new copy was not cheap and no easy task.  But it is done.

Second, a purchase of two used but Mint box sets for Gatchaman II, Japan releases, have also been purchased.  Both are out of print in Japan and not cheap.  But that mission was tackled and has been completed.

Third, Gatchaman F or Gatchaman Fighter, the second sequel to Gatchaman, is also out of print and requires a small bank loan and perhaps the sacrifice of one of your own and I'm simply not willing to go that far for the anime gods.  So, for now, Gatchaman F will remain elusive.

Finally, the purchase of a Code Free player is not far away.  And, fortunately, it's easily the least expensive of all the purchases to make this dream of watching these series a reality.

For me, to this day, the brilliant Gatchaman not withstanding, which is unquestionably a must own, Battle Of The Planets remains just as magical a creature and retains all that was special about it decades on.  And so the next time you hear someone rip Battle Of The Planets as the inferior offspring of the original feel free to courageously stand by the professional voice cast, producer, writer Jameson Brewer and Sandy Frank who made Gatchaman happen here in America giving fans a chance to rediscover the perfection of the original Tatsuo creation that is Gatchaman.  If not for them, we wouldn't be writing a word of it.  As good as Gatchaman has got it, our beloved Battle Of The Planets forever remains a (G)force with which to be reckoned.

Battle Of The Planets episodes officially released to date in the US:

The initial SIX volumes (2 episodes each) (2001-2003): Attack Of The Space Terrapin/ Rescue Of The Astronauts/ The Space Mummy/ The Space Serpent/ Ghost Ship Of Planet Mir/ Big Robot Gold Grab/ Ace From Outer Space/ The Fearful Sea Anemone/ The Jupiter Moon Menace/ A Swarm Of Robot Ants/ Space Rocket Escort/ Beast With A Sweet Tooth.

The Ultimate DVD Boxed Set (2003): Perilous Pleasure Cruise/ The Thing With 1,000 Eyes/ Microfilm Mystery/ The Alien Beetles/ A Whale Joins G-Force/ Mad New Ruler Of Spectra/ The Sea Dragon/ Magnetic Attraction/ The Musical Mummy/ The Fiery Lava Giant/ The Bat-Ray Bombers/ Race Against Disaster.

25th Anniversary Collection (2004): The Ghostly Grasshopper/ The Galaxy Girls/ Curse Of The Cuttlefish Part I/ Curse Of The Cuttlefish Part II/ Demons Of The Desert/ Siege Of The Squids/ Orion, The Wonderdog Of Space/ The Fierce Flowers, Part I/ The Fierce Flowers, Part II/ The Space Rock Concert/ Prisoners In Space/ Victims Of The Hawk/ Raid On Riga/ Seals Of Sytron.

The US releases give us a grand total of 38 of the original 85 produced Battle Of The Planets episodes.  Something smells in Denmark, or in this case with USA licensing.

Stay tuned for a complete list of Battle Of The Planets episodes.


El Vox said...

You're hardcore dude--but I admire that about you or any fan that likes going full throttle into aspects of their hobbies. I get Battle of the Planets mixed up with Starblazers, not that they are the same, it's just that I sort of became aware of them around the same timeframe.

I just was over at Amazon and saw where the new Blu-ray Gatchaman had come out. Even at that, some fans aren't totally overjoyed with the final product, and I guess I can understand their quibbles if you read their comments. That said though, I think it would be great to see the set on Blu.

I'll admit too that DVDs are such a better medium than VHS it's not funny, however, I guess you have to take what you can get. That's one of the good/bad thing about fandom--there's always something to collect.

SFF said...

It was indeed a hardcore move and, trust me, a rare move at that.

SFF said...

Btw, those complaints regarding the new Blu-Ray release are mostly concerning the presentation on some of the Extras.

Now that's harcore. It's a great looking set.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I remember this show mainly for the bird suits, but the moment I remember most was when it turns out the main villain was a woman (or were they)? Too bad the Gatchaman film never got made.

SFF said...

The villain was something of a hermaphrodite.

In real life I expect G-Force would have found those brid outfits to be a little impractical but they looked SOOOO COOOL!

Roman J. Martel said...

I've got my own "Battle of the Planets" story. A long time ago in the late 1970s a small kid caught an episode on TV and was completely blown away. I was a huge Star Wars fan, how could I not be, but this was something else - something so unique I couldn't describe it.

But man did it catch my attention. I have vivid memories of climbing up on the couch, spreading my "wings" and then jumping off to float down to the ground and fight evil. And the theme song, that was an ear worm to be sure. Never forgot that one.

But oddly enough, I did forget the name of the show... and over time the details of the show... but not that damn theme song.

Time passed, and it fell into the recesses of my mind. Until one day a couple decades later, I was closing up the video store with a co-work and he started humming the theme song!

It was like a thunderbolt. I literally did a double take and then told him to stop, and start from the beginning. He didn't follow me at first (probably didn't even realize he was humming it). But then he started humming and I joined in - it was kinda creepy actually.

But it was also great to know that I hadn't dreamed up the whole thing (how could I have dreamed up such a catchy theme song?). We talked about the characters, the phoenix, even the odd villain. But neither of us could remember the name of the series. We were just happy to know that someone else out there shared the mutual insanity. :)

Now this was the early days of the internet in the dim mid-90s. We ended up finding a couple sites dedicated to Gatchaman, and then about a week later he found the name "Battle of the Planets". That didn't sound right to me - for some reason "G- Force" did sound correct.

A few years later, I'm writing for the now defunct website. Rhino contacted the webmaster and gave him a couple of promo DVDs for a series called "Battle of the Planets". He asked me if I wanted to review them. I said sure (I had already forgotten about the video store revelation). So what happens when I get the DVDs and there are the bird costumed people there - I freak out!

So I popped in the first DVD and was transported back to the ancient 1970s, when I was a little kid getting up early to watch cartoons, play "Star Wars" and hang out with my dog. It was one hell of a nostalgic blast - and confirmed once again, that I wasn't dreaming the whole thing. :)

I consider myself part of the "Robotech" generation of anime fans. But "Battle of Planets" along with "Ultraman" may have been some of the first anime I actually saw. So it will always hold a place in my nostalgic memory.

Anyway, that was way too long a post. But I just had to share. :)

Unknown said...

Like yourself, I too was raised and reared upon BATTLE OF THE PLANETS. STAR BLAZERS was actually my first exposure to anime, but I was too young to fully appreciate it. I have fond memories of rushing home from school just so I could catch an ep. of BATTLE OF THE PLANETS. Such a shame that it has never been given a decent home video release. There's a whole generation of folks who would scoop up a legit box set in a hot minute.

Franco Macabro said...

Wow, I use to watch these as a kid and don't remember the stories, but I remember the jist of the show, the vehicles, the villain and his mysterious "master"...and I remember the shape transforming into a phoenix. I'd love to get my hands on that boxed set! Not a bad idea for a x-mas present.

Franco Macabro said...

You should do an article on Voltron, I was a bigger fan of that show and the toys that came with it! I actually had four of the five lions, so my Voltron was missing a leg!

Still waiting for that Voltron movie that was in pre-production a while back though..I even got to see some of the conceptual artwork.

SFF said...

So Roman... loved your story. Thank you for sharing that one my friend. Gosh we have some great memories don't we? So no, your post was a pleasure to read. Not long at all.

J.D. - Waiting for that box set and YES I would buy it in a hot minute indeed. My UK set just arrived. Now I have to repurchase a Code Free player.

Franco- Definitely get that Gatchaman set! It's amazing!

I missed the Voltron boat. I never got into transforming truck cartoons or the lions. Just couldn't do it. Maybe I missed something there.

Franco Macabro said...

YOu just might like it, you can definetly see some Gatchaman influence on there, five people working as a group to battle a villain....only Voltron was more like a Kaiju thing, with Voltron, a giant robot, battling a monster in space which I remember in the dubbed version of the show were called "Robo Beasts" so anyhows, knowing how much you love Kaijus and Japanese cartoons, Voltron should be required viewing, I mean when we consider how Pacific Rim was influenced by Voltron.....oh no, I said the magic word! Pacific Rim! ja ja

Roman J. Martel said...

I really dug Voltron too. But it was always on in the morning during the week, and I never saw a complete episode. I'd have to go to school before it was finished. It wasn't until a few years later when I saw it on video. I had already seen "Robotech" by that point.

Voltron had some really cool elements to it. Some of the villains were really creative. And I always wanted those lions. My neighbor had four out of five lions too, but he was missing the black one. So his Voltron could never combine. poor guy. :)

SFF said...

What! What did you say!? PACIFIC RIM!? What you talkin' bout Willis?

Man, now you have my interest. You are funny Fran!

Roman - your toy story cracked me up. Nothing worse than having all but one component to a toy set. Ha.