Animation lovers these days pretty much take for granted the influence of Japanese anime on today's darker, more character driven features. That same influence was probably more patently revolutionary in 1986 when The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers first hit the airwaves. Though the show seems less groundbreaking to modern eyes and ears than it most likely did 20-odd years ago, there's still a lot to like in this animated series that has developed a large cult following in the decades since it left the air.
It's no big secret that none other than Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to network executives as "'Wagon Train' to the stars," something that George Lucas expanded on in the Star Wars films, and that same melding of western and science fiction genres is alive and well in Galaxy Rangers. In fact the show is highly reminiscent of Star Wars at times, with bad guys who wield light-sabers (or something amazingly similar) and, instead of an Evil Emperor, an Evil Queen. Galaxy Rangers takes place in 2086, after two runaway friendly aliens appeal to earthlings for help, giving earth scientists the secret to "hyperdrive", i.e., light speed travel, to bring earth's technology up to par so that it can help fight the literally universal battle against evil as personified by the Crown Empire. The series follows the heroic exploits of several rangers, part of a crime-fighting unit dubbed BETA (Bureau for Extra-Terrestrial Affairs), all of whom are implanted with a "Series 5" implant that allows them have superhuman abilities. The rangers are led by Zachery Foxx, who, after a battle with recurring nemesis Captain Kidd, is left half-bionic and is able, among other nifty powers, to use his mechanical arm as a gun. Secondary characters, aside from the evil Captain Kidd, include an interesting precedent to Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data, an android named Buzzwang, who over the course of the series attains his fondest wish to become a Galaxy Ranger. There's also a not too subtle nod to the dialectic between the original Star Trek's Spock and Bones in the two aforementioned alien ambassadors. Zozo, the ambassador from planet Kirwin, is ruled by his emotions, while Waldo Zeptic, from Andor, is logic-bound enough to give a certain pointy-eared Vulcan a run for his alien money. Even reading this short summary should make obvious that Galaxy Rangers relies on a host of sources, from the aforementioned Star Wars and various incarnations of Star Trek to pirate melodramas and oaters to The Six Million Dollar Man. It's to the series' credit, however, that these recycled strands are woven into something that usually feels fresh.
As creator Robert Mandell admits in an interview included in the set, he wasn't always able to get the same animators (his "A-Team," as he puts it) for every episode, and the disparate animation styles are abundantly evident throughout the series. While some have fairly fluid motion and nicely etched characters, unfortunately a lot of the episodes are fairly poorly drawn, with little if any nuance to either character or background. There's also a noticeable difference in various episodes between the sometimes stilted lip movements and the voice work (done by, among others, Jerry Orbach). It should be noted, though, that the show was quite innovative in its use of then nascent CGI, used mostly in this case for characters that live in the computer, such as the spaceship's onboard version of "HAL" (nice this time). The show is also notable for its collaboration between the U.S. and Japan. While the show's creative team worked in the United States, all of the animation was done at Tokyo Shinsha Japan, something unheard of in that day and age.
The show, which ran 5 times a week for most of its 65 episode run, was frequently seen out of order, giving no continuity to various storylines. Koch previously released 4 episode compilation DVDs, so this first volume of every episode, in correct broadcast order, will be welcomed by Galaxy Ranger's many fans. My hunch is new interest in the series generated by this release may well give rise to Galaxy Rangers: The Next Generation, which, considering the influx of anime and CGI since the original series' broadcast run, should be something quite special to behold.
This first volume contains episodes 1-32: "Phoenix, "Tortuna", "Mindnet", "Chained", "Queen's Lair", "One Million Emotions",
"One Million Emotions",
"Edge of Darkness",
"Birds of a Feather",
"Heart of Tarkon",
"Murder on the Andorian Express",
"Lady of the Light",
"The Magnificent Kiwi",
"Natural Balance", and
The full frame transfer I'm sure accurately reflects the original source elements, which, due to the varying quality of the animation, isn't always excellent. Colors are uniformly good, but you'll notice some wobbly backgrounds and characters which I'm sure are inherent in the source elements themselves.
The stereo English soundtrack (the only option offered, other than audio commentaries on some episodes) is pretty run of the mill for television kiddie fare. There's little if any separation, though fidelity is excellent. Lovers of 80s power-pop groups like Foreigner and Loverboy are going to love the frequent "rock out" segments featuring synth and guitar laden tunes.
The best extra is a 30 minute or so interview with series creator Robert Mandell. Mandell is the son of the man who helped bring such fare as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999 to American television, so he knows his stuff. There are several commentaries featuring Mandell and various production crew, as well as a jukebox featuring several songs utilized in the series and a separate "music video" (which is simply culled from one of the episodes). Die-hard fans will love the pilot/demo reel, which contains some footage never previously seen, and a storybook slideshow that recreates one released during the series' original run.
Galaxy Rangers may sound derivative, and it undeniably is. That doesn't detract from its frequent pleasures, if you're in the proper uncritical "popcorn" frame of mind. Though some of the animation will look crude to modern eyes, the show is important from an historical perspective and deserves to be seen by a new generation. Mark my words--this DVD release (as well as the hopefully soon to be released Volume 2) bodes well for a Galaxy Rangers resurgence in some form. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet