Battle of the Planets Vol. #1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, May 17, 2002
Release Date: Monday, October 15, 2001
Like other post-'65 Asian Americans who grew up in the 1970s and 80s (as they only could), the last few years I've been indulging myself by wallowing in nostalgia, and of course what's been supporting that indulgence, besides the dotcom salary, is a ready market for people like me who refuse to part ways with their youth. Also it certainly doesn't hurt also that the Internet has made the world a lot smaller, and the free flow of goods has been helped by this development. I was very pleased, therefore, when Unifive put out its spectacular diecast Godphoenix toy, but when it came to the recent Rhino release of Battle of the Planets on DVD I was slightly more wary.
I knew that it contained two original episodes of Gatchaman, and that was really the only reason to buy this. Even as a youngster, I was already cognizant that something was amiss in the story. I remembered of course the fabulous voice acting, but didn't realize until I got this disc that Casey Kasem played Mark or that Keye Luke was Zoltar! (Kasem, arguably the most famous Arab American personality in my mind, marched in a MANAA rally I helped organize in LA back in '95 and the great Chinese American actor Keye Luke played Charlie Chan's Number One Son during the '30s, the grandfather figure in Gremlins, and blind Master Po in Kung Fu among other "oriental" roles). Anyway, the visuals just didn't make sense in some ways and the storyline seemed awry for whatever reason. For instance, one thing still puzzles me after all these years: how is it that Keyop and Princess could slide down a chute to the bridge when the Phoenix's wings were not only in down mode but also so thin there couldn't have been any way a chute could've fit in there? I think I now know why Jason always seemed so angry in the series: everyone else gets to slide down a chute or take an elevator into the bridge. Using handrails he has to slide himself on his back through a very narrow chute into the ship. I'd be hella pissed too.
Anyway in some ways it's good to be reminded of the past and how really unromantic the past really is through our jaded, HDTV, broadband access eyes. Return with us now to the days before cable, where you counted yourselves lucky if you had a living-room-sized wood-grain-paneled television set with knobs which clacked with each turn and when VHF and UHF were separate features. The Sandy Frank version, Battle of the Planets, was quite a trip down memory lane for me. Who didn't want to be Mark or Jason back in the day as youngsters say now. We'd form little gangs and would race around the block on our bikes in the spring and summer pretending to be G-Force, or set up the bridge of the Phoenix in our living rooms out of sofa cushions, the stentorian voiceover in our heads saying we were inseparable. . . invincible, and awaiting only the word to transmute into our true forms and engage the Fiery Phoenix.
But back to reality: the Frank version sucks just as hard as I remembered it to be visually, the quality being even more awful on DVD. I watched as much as I could stand of the first two episodes, mostly to hear the voice acting, which still holds up today. I didn't even look at the G-Force episode on there, considering it to be an abomination. No, Gatchafriends, the real reason to buy or rent this is to watch the original product in its pure unexpurgerated form, what many of us have waited twenty years to see, Gatchaman in its original Japanese format (albeit with English subtitles). The reason to watch this is because it is a historically important anime. It is THE paradigmatic sentai show, the fount from which all Power Rangers flow. Sure Tatsunoko had Speed Racer before this, but really, let's face it, this is the show that really broke so much new ground in so many ways: the teamwork motif, the dying character motif, the final attack motif. Even with my poor Japanese I was still able to understand a good amount, as it is a kid's show. And visually, it is the best quality stuff on the disc anyway (for 1972 anyway). I didn't care too much about the 5.1 audio 'cos they didn't have it in 1972 when the series first aired. I was there for the story and the uncensored, untouched visuals. And the story, while not without its continuity problems, holds up pretty good, not least of all as a document of the early 70s, when Japan began to emerge as a major economic power into a world of environmental dangers and energy crises. The most remarkable thing was that as the story began to unfold, with the individual characters revealing their motivations through exposition, I was taken back to when I was seven or eight years old, marker and crayon pictures of the Phoenix, humming little musical motifs from the show during warm summer days in Chicagoland: that's priceless, and that's what Rhino does best, really. Get it now.
Philips Q50, Apple DVD Player, Sharp TV
Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: C
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: C
Menus Rating: D+
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: All
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Rhino
Running time: 60
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2