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All About GATCHAMAN Part Two

Remembering (and kind of explaining) the animated GATCHAMAN

By Jason Henderson     May 19, 2002


White Shadow from the GATCHAMAN OAVs
© 2001 Urban Vision
Yesterday we talked about Rhino Animation's release of BATTLE OF THE PLANETS and GATCHAMAN on DVD, allowing fans to experience for the first time an instant awareness of just how divergent (read: awful) the Casey Kasem-voiced American version was. Of course, I'm being a little unfair, because even if it is awful, BATTLE OF THE PLANETS introduced many of us to anime, and any one episode is still superior to any one episode of Superfriends featuring Marvin and Wendy. GATCHAMAN introduced us to G-Force, or the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, a team of five kids in bird-like outfits who had athletic skills to make Batman quake in fear. They were ninjas(!).

The '80s: Long Dark Teatime of Gatchaman


By the

GATCHAMAN's Ken and Joe - for the '90s

'80s, BATTLE OF THE PLANETS had disappeared because Ted Turner bought the rights to GATCHAMAN and produced a new show called G-FORCE, recently aired on Cartoon Planet. G-FORCE was a lot closer to the original show, although hothead Joe's death arc still didn't make it. At least the robot narrator was long-gone, and the earthly nature of the team's adventures had been restored. But the show had problems: an irritating dance-track played over every moment of the show that did not have music already, and besides, the show was now aging rapidly. (Seriously: if the characters are laying around on beach towels, we'll hear dialogue, plus this techno track: WOMP-UM bum bum WOMP-UM bum bum. It makes you long for 7-Zark-7, because at least Zark had a retractable arm with which one assumes he could swing a hammer and put you out of your misery.


The OAVs


Then, in

The OAV version of Joe from GATCHAMAN

the 1994, a breakthrough came that brought many old fans (including this writer) back to anime. In Japan, a brand-new GATCHAMAN OAV (original animated video) miniseries came out on video, consisting of three 45-minute episodes. Urban Vision has released the new series to DVD with welcome subtitles.


The new GATCHAMAN is just spectacular. It was expensive and sexy, with every character undergoing design changes that harkened back to the old series while giving the whole show a new look. Character designs come from ultra-modern and sleek Yasuomi Umezu, who stretches the members of the team out, giving them hard, lean muscles and slick new versions of the old Gatchaman ninja suits. My favorite metamorphosis is Condor Joe, the rebel: when introduced in episode one, Joe is seen in the desert brooding and shooting at cans on an old fence as condors circle overhead. Keying in on the bird designs of each of the team members, mythologizing had come to GATCHAMAN.


Mechanical redesign

The GATCHAMAN OAVs

comes from BUBBLEGUM CRISIS vet Kimihito Yamane, who makes the machines in the new GATCHAMAN come alive. There's a strange chill in seeing the old "gather the team" scenario from the original series perfected here, as each member's vehicle sails into the air to dock with the Phoenix, which Yamane has redesigned as a dangerous-looking spaceplane.


The three-part OAV updates the story of the entire first GATCHAMAN series, zipping through plot points that originally took a whole season to conquer. (The mysterious leader of allied air force RED IMPULSE is actually Ken's father? Really?) Everything is hyper-realized - when Ken punches, blood flies. When Joe leaps, he soars. Jun (a.k.a "Princess") has an Akira-style crotch rocket bike, and she's dangerous. The result is a series that stands on its own while giving GATCHAMAN fans the team they thought they remembered. The fun now is that you can watch them all on DVD in one afternoon, switching between various incarnations.


Oh, and my god, the rabid fans Gatchaman collects. You should read the fan-fic on Joe, who spends most of the OAV shirtless.


To this day, GATCHAMAN still strikes me as the best hero-team I've ever seen. But we've already learned that memories are faulty. Still, you should give this team another look. (And while you're at it, dream for the movie.)


Recent Rebirth


I should

The shirtless Joe

note as I sail out that BATTLE OF THE PLANETS has gotten its own share of renewed enthusiasm from none other than Alex Ross, the painter whose images of superheroes made work like KINGDOM COME so moving. Ross apparently has nursed a desire to re-introduce Gatchaman, and has released a set of lithos representing the characters as they appeared in the '70s, the version he loved as a child. Recently, BATTLE CHASERS writer Munier Sharrieff  announced he would be writing a new BOTP comic series for Top Cow with Ross overseeing the art and providing covers.


This franchise may reawaken itself yet.

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