Wednesday, May 10, 2006

REVIEW: Gatchaman / G-Force / Battle of the Planets Vol-1

Review for (c.2003)


Here we have a treat for both casual ‘Battle of the Planets’ fans and hardcore fans of the original Japanese title, Gatchaman. Rhino Home Video has wisely decided to start releasing the 1978 cartoon series ‘Battle of the Planets’ with the additional bonus of the previously unreleased original Japanese version, ‘Science Ninja Team Gatchaman’. Furthermore, they have included one extra episode per disk in the ‘G-Force – Guardians In Space’format - a more direct translation of the Japanese show that aired a few years after Battle Of The Planets.

The Episodes:

Attack of the Space Terrapin/ Gatchaman Versus Turtleking/The Robot Stegosaur

Our heroes are introduced to the audience and we meet the first mecha robot monster of the series – a giant metal plated monster. It seems none of the versions can decide on what it is. Is it a Stegosaur? Is it a Turtle? Is it a Terrapin from deep space? Who knows?

‘Battle of the Planets - Attack of the Space Terrapin’ is rather disappointing compared to the rest of the show’s run. It’s quite evident that this is the series’ pilot. We open to a less refined title sequence, endure an unsettled voice dub (Jason and Tiny having vastly different voices compared to the rest of the series), and a vastly more electronic 7-Zark-7, who has, for no reason offered, decided to adopt the vocal mannerisms of a buzzing honeybee trapped in microphone. This robot is probably worthy of a bigger introduction. If I don’t, he’s bound to give one himself. That is the very nature of the character.

7-Zark-7 is to some, the robot co-ordinator of the group, to others, a poorly animated dustbin with all the charismatic attributes of an itchy scab. Regardless of opinion, the character’s use within the pilot means he is never far from your screens. Thankfully, I can inform you Zark is only relegated to the ‘Battle of the Planets’ version – a tool to bridge the gaps between the edited violence as well as adding the required space element for the Star Wars generation.

The most obvious difference between the pilot and the rest of the ‘Battle of the Planets’ series is the lack of Hoyt Curtin’s additional score. Thankfully, Sakuma’s original music for Gatchaman is enough to keep any listener content.

The ‘Battle of the Planets’ plot remains pretty close to Gatchaman’s with only minimal edits for violence. The only major change is the end, in which Gatchaman leaves us on a nasty cliff-hanger. For trivia buffs, some of the references within the story do not remain consistent with the rest of the series. Zark tells us that it takes a whole day for the fiery phoenix to transmute back to its original state, he also tells us he controls all the individual team member’s transmute. Lying neon plated wheelie bin. ‘Battle of the Planets’ can never be said to be a consistent show, one of the elements that as viewer you have to get used to.

‘Gatchaman versus Turtleking’ conveys a more serious tone, and introduces a little of the political background to the series. Such scenes were clearly considered to be far too boring for the American edit, so Battle of the Planets’ fans have to suffer Zark’s camp electronic dribble instead.

The battle scenes are understandably more fun in their unedited format and you’ll also begin to notice some rather stark differences between the Japanese team in comparison to their American counterparts. These aspects will become almost painfully apparent by the second disk.

Finally we have G-Force – Guardians of Space and it’s version, ‘The Robot Stegosaur’. While remaining a great deal closer to the Japanese than ‘Battle Of The Planets’, with less edits in both story line and violence, it never seems as involving as its simplified brother. It suffers on three counts.

Firstly, we have a brain stopping, glass shattering, and frankly soul disintegrating mess of an incidental soundtrack that manages to jar with every form of eardrum found on the planet.

Secondly, we have a rather inferior voice dub thanks to a mix of poor voice acting and lip syncing - especiwhen compared to its American counterpart.

Thirdly, we have character names that simply verge on mental agony. We have Ace Goodheart, Agatha Jun, Dr. Brighthead and Hoot Owl (Hootie to his friends!!) – whoever came up with those names should be forced to spend a week listening to 7-Zark-7 reading Chaucer. Overall, however it offers more than most cartoons, but in relation to its siblings; it is definitely the worst of the three.

Rescue of The Astronauts /Gatchaman - The Apparition of a Demonic Ghostly Airplane Carrier

Here we see ‘Battle of The Planets’ at it’s best. This is not to say that the Gatchaman edit is inferior, just that both are vastly different.

‘Battle of the Planets’ is infamous for its harsh edits. Sometimes the cuts are painfully apparent, sometimes they are mind bogglingly confusing, but in fairness, the major changes are implemented with a great deal of thought and originality.

Sandy Frank Productions wanted to take the original Japanese material and simply turn it into Star Wars, the craze that the company hoped to cash in on. This meant radical plot reworking of all the episodes and the addition of certain animated sequences. Because of this, compare ‘Rescue Of The Astronauts’ to Gatchaman’s ‘The Apparition of a Demonic Ghostly Airplane Carrier‘, and you’ll find two unique stories.

The Gatchaman tale continues on from the previous episode. We see the team hunting down a deadly new Galactor vessel that has captured two orbiting astronauts. The Battle of the Planets’ plot tells of a Spectra’s attempts to dominate Mars using special information stolen from astronauts returning from the red planet.

Watched back to back, the reworking of this story actually looks rather impressive. The manipulation of the source material is surprising thought out. The minor cuts and edits for violence are still evident – the most obvious is that the astronauts don’t survive in the original - despite what Zark tells us to the contrary.

Finally, a quick mention must go to Hoyt Curtin’s score on Battle of the Planets. This is its first appearance and we will see an increasing range of tracks as the series progresses. This exclusively composed soundtrack is exciting, bombastic and funky. Turn the volume up, put on your flares and boogie to the best beats in space.

Certainly better than the pilot, ’Rescue of the Astronauts’/’The Apparition of a Demonic Ghostly Airplane Carrier’ is a great example of what Gatchaman and Battle of the Planets have to offer the hardcore and casual viewer.

My Opinion:

Technically, the visual and sound quality of the DVD is nothing astounding, but nevertheless it remains adequate. The print does suffer from a slight amount of grain, as does the sound, but these are both very old shows, so the quality is no worse that expected. All episodes on the disk play on full screen format and Gatchaman offers English subtitles for those not fluent in Japanese. There is the option to choose either Dolby Mono or Dolby Digital 5.1. The animated menus are nicely designed and the box is pleasantly presented.

Overall, this is a great DVD, only let down slightly by the first story. Rarely are pilots as good as the series and here we have no exception. It’s a pity there wasn’t an option to skip all the Zark tracks on the disk. Never mind, maybe next time.

Look out for the Gatchaman OAV DVD for another retake on the Turtle King story.

Review copyright: James Mclean

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