Forget X-Men and its new animated incarnation X-Men: 90210. When I was a kid there was one super-team that kept me tuning in. They were five teens, each with special abilities. The stalwart and slightly boring leader. The hotheaded, sensual dark one. The capable female. The food-enthused hulk. The prankster.
When I was young, I - and no small percentage of my peers - were stuck on GATCHAMAN. But we didn't call it that, nor did we call it by the series' Cartoon Network name, G-FORCE. This was the '70s. We called it BATTLE OF THE PLANETS.
Some of you will remember BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, one of the most bizarre experiments ever in a producer's attempt to repackage one animated show as another. Through 85 episodes of BATTLE (called BOTP), plots ran thus: the team would be called across the galaxy to some peaceful Earth-like planet where the evil forces of Spectra, led by that alien Kevin Spacey in tights, Galactor, just might be plotting some vicious attack.
Yes, the giant dinosaur or guy-with-muffler would shake, roar, and begin to move. As thousands of innocents ran screaming for cover, the giant would suddenly, and completely without warning, shed its plaster skin in a thousand glorious falling flakes to reveal a hideous and lethal (and screaming) giant robot underneath. Which the team would then fight.
It's still a shock to me that our stalwart heroes never saw this coming. I'm thinking, you're G-Force, and you go to the fair, and there's a giant anything, keep your eye on it.
G-Force traveled around in a wonderfully '70s space-plane called the Phoenix, which Tiny piloted. The team itself each had their own special vehicle (race car, motorcycle, etc.), which fit into the tail of the Phoenix. Each member fought with a stylized bird-suit that gave them enhanced short-range flying and fighting abilities. Usually they would go up against, besides the giant roaring things, entire squadrons of badly fighting green-suited soldiers of Spectra, precursors to the Imperial Stormtroopers of Star Wars in their glass jaws and inability to hit the side of a barn with a bazooka. The Phoenix, with the team, launched from an underwater hangar on Earth when called out by a monitoring R2-D2-like robot named 7-Zark-7, who also functioned as the BOTP narrator. 7-Zark-7 had a dog, Rover 1.
The Horrible Truth About BATTLE OF THE PLANETS
BOTP was a complete mess, of course. Those 85 episodes had been cobbled together by producer Sandy Frank from 105 episodes of GATCHAMAN, of which none of us kids had heard. The plot of GATCHAMAN, though, was different: the Berg Katse, Galactor in BOTP, led a giant terrorist organization in an all-out attack on the futuristic, peaceful Earth. Berg Katse himself was a transsexual who sometimes appeared as a woman. All the battles took place on Earth, which explains why every planet looked like ours. Moreover, there were story arcs. Joe, the character we knew as Jason, was not just a hothead but a borderline loon who went downhill until, after running across a field to save a puppy (say it: aww), took shrapnel to the head and eventually died.
In fact, lots of people died. None of this made it to the show we called BATTLE OF THE PLANETS. So many of the elements of GATCHAMAN were deemed unsuitable for kids that all 85 BOTP episodes were cut and pasted to form an all-new story, of sorts. American animators, keen to ride the Star Wars wave, added narrator 7-Zark-7, who filled up space left over in each show and tried to explain what was happening. No one died. Jinpei, a ten-year-old boy in GATCHAMAN, became a clone because Frank worried about putting an animated child in harm's way. Berg Katse's sexual habits were glossed over, explaining why sometimes his "sister" appeared in his place in BOTP. The result, as I say, was a complete mess.
I never noticed. None of us did. One reason is of course that we were children and, frankly, even a butchered GATCHAMAN was more interesting than He-Man. Another was that, believe it or not, GATCHAMAN was still on the early edge of five-man balanced hero teams (leader, loose cannon, capable female, mascot, and Big Guy) and it was the first to nail the formula down in animation. It's only become a cliché since.
And after the run in the '70s, BATTLE OF THE PLANETS disappeared like Amelia Earhart. Until now.
Rhino Home [IMG4R]Video, who specialize in this sort of thing, have released a new series of BATTLE OF THE PLANETS/GATCHAMAN DVDs.
The DVDs are sort of strange because although I sat rapt through the first two releases, I still can't explain why. The almost wonkish trick of the Rhino releases is to package two episodes per disc of Battle of the Planets, accompanied by two episodes of the original Gatchaman. Strangely, you also get one extra: an episode from Ted Turner's '80s packaging of Gatchaman, "G-Force."
Now you can watch GATCHAMAN become BATTLE OF THE PLANETS with the clear vision of an adult and marvel at the choices Sandy Frank made. Watch as bad comedy from 7-Zark-7 fills out up to a third of cut footage, as any slightly adult fare (such as the discharge of weapons) gets left on the cutting room floor. Watch as the motivations of characters, such as the little girl urged by Eagle Ken in one episode to avenge her dead father, are completely reversed. In BOTP, the girl decides not to take revenge, and Mark (Ken's name change) says, "Good. Because revenge never solves anything." Then the ship the bad guy is cruising in, through the miracle of editing and dubbed dialogue, self-destructs. In that example, we're not even talking about revenge on a human, because in the BOTP version the villain talks like a robot so even considering revenge doesn't stray into the sinful.
Oh, it's wonderful. If you barely remember Gatchaman or Battle of the Planets, check these DVDs out. Because next time, I'm going to tell you how G-Force grew up.
Check back tomorrow for part two of CINESCAPE's Gatchaman retrospective.