One of the growing trends in the anime industry today is the interest companies and fans have for classic material. Astro Boy, Ultra Man, and the upcoming Voltron release are just examples of the kind of animation coming out or on the horizon. Another such show is the very old school Gatchaman series. The show originally aired in Japan back in 1972 but it saw limited release here in America thanks to censorship and lack of interest. Back in the 80s it could be found in a drastically cut back form known as Battle of the Planets. It wasn't until ADV decided to pick up the license and give the original Gatchaman a proper treatment that the series was brought to light.
ADV started releasing these discs last year and fans of classic anime started gobbling them up. The beautiful thing about this series of discs is that the show remains uncut with all 105 episodes intact. If you do your math right you'll realize that's leading to 18 discs or so and a massive chunk of space on your DVD shelf. I have to say that it's well worth the lack of room for other series and is something that should be applauded because support for a show like Gatchaman could lead into releases for other classics (please someone release Mysterious Cities of Gold!).
The whole concept behind Gatchaman is that in the future a sinister group known as Galactor rises up to try and take over the world. It's up to Dr. Nambu and his team of five Science Ninjas to stop their diabolical plot by whatever means necessary. The team consists of Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Jun the Swan, Ryu the Owl and Jinpei the Swallow. While there is some continuity between episodes, you don't have to catch all 105 to know what's going on in the show.
Fourteen volumes of Gatchaman have been released so far but I have only had the chance to check out the first twelve. If you have been picking up every release and wanted a recap of the last batch of DVDs, I'm sorry to tell you but I'm a collection behind the times. The last time I checked in with the Science Ninja Team Ken was still getting over the loss of his father, Red Impulse, and Galactor exploited his emotions as a weakness to get closer to destroy Gatchaman's secret base. Some more monster of the week episodes rounded out the two volumes and it all culminated in the near unmasking of Berg Katse. With flowing blonde hair and a shrill voice it was weird to say the least, even if we didn't get to see his face.
This time around things start off with more Galactor's crazy plot of the week formula that all Gatchaman fans have become accustomed to. How Galactor could ever think that a trio of acrobatic motorcyclists could beat the Science Ninja Team is beyond me, but nevertheless they try. After that Galactor buys up the world's supply of sugar, makes a giant crustacean, builds a two-headed sea monster, and sends a guy named Dr. Finger after our heroes.
On the fifteenth volume there is an episode where Gatchaman destroys several of Galactor's hidden bases. It seems only fitting that on the sixteenth volume there is a great multi-episode plot involving Galacto'rs plans to locate and eliminate Gatchaman's secret crescent coral reef base. This was one of the better storylines this show had seen in a while and really hit all of the right notes.
After the coral reef secret base story arc things slip back into the familiar territory of Gatchaman's weekly exploits. Galactor comes up with a giant robot fish and throws a team of chariot riding ninjas their way. Jinpei gets a little bit of development as some of the mystery surrounding his past may have been uncovered in these volumes. The background for his character is nowhere near as deep as Ken's, but then again it's still more than Joe, Jun, and Ryu have seen.
Gatchaman may not be for everyone, but if you have an open mind and are curious where many shows got their inspiration from this one will entertain you. It's a classic right up there with Ultraman and Speed Racer so that alone should tell you what kind of quality you can look forward to. If you're like me then this show came out before you were born and maybe you recall snippets of it from your childhood in the form of Battle of the Planets or G-Force. Reminiscing aside, this show is truly timeless and something you should definitely check out if you are open to an anime history lesson. I can't express enough how nice it is to have a classic of this caliber coming out on DVD and I applaud ADV for taking the care to put this all together for us.
Quite honestly, this is about as good as Gatchaman has ever looked considering the age of the show. It is presented with its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and any faults in image quality are attributed to the source material. Seeing as the show was produced in the early 70s you can expect to see a lot of grain, choppy animations, speckle, disproportionate images, lighting issues and occasional shaky image. As time has progressed since the start of the series it has become easily noticeable that the animation was constantly improving. Things get much smoother as each volume continues to be released.
Gatchaman includes a new English dubbing and the original Japanese audio tracks. These are presented with a 2.0 mix and depending what you are looking for they each provide different quality. The English features louder and cleaner sound but also some terribly good voice acting at times. There is a certain cheese factor to the way that it was handled though I guess you could say that adds some charm and humor. If you don't want to hear the characters say "groovy" and borderline make fun of what's going on you purists at least have the Japanese track to listen to. The original language features a softer sound transfer but is the most faithful to the material. I found myself enjoying the Japanese mix more, though sometimes I bounced back and forth for a laugh. Again, the overall quality for the original is decent considering the fact that it's over thirty years old.
One of the treats for Gatchaman fans hasn't just been the fact that the show is being released; it's the supplemental stuff ADV has been cramming onto the discs. Each volume features clean opening and closing animations, commentaries, and voiceless karaoke. For commentaries this time around we get one for episode 87 "Patogiller: The Triple Combined Iron Beast" with Samantha Inoue Hare and Charles Campbell, then one for episode 93 "Counterattack! The Underground Torpedo Operation" with recording engineers Eden Barrera and Bobby Gordon. Karaoke is included for "Iron Beast Snake 828" and "Counterattack! The Underground Torpedo Operation" respectively.
Because this is the collector's pack it also included the eighth bonus disc in the series. The focus this time around is on the narrator, George Manley. There is a profile included, along with an interview with George, and some footage from the February 2005 auditions. Also available on the bonus disc is a smattering of character and episode sketches as well as snippets of Gatchaman music and some vintage product information. A brief little "history of" type piece for some of the many Gatchaman games is here as well as a 64 page translated digital manga for "The Bracelets Exposed."
Gatchaman is one of those shows that's like a fine wine, it gets better with age. The earlier episodes of the series were a little rough in terms of overall quality, but as things continued the creator's obviously found their rhythm. The episodes got better thanks to overall production and some higher quality writing. What you'll find here in volumes 15 and 16 is no different. If you enjoyed Battle of the Planets or G-Force when they came out in the States, you owe it to yourself to see the uncut version of the show.
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