Movie: Japanese animation, also known as anime, has grown in popularity since my youth (which had shows such as Kimba, Speed Racer, and even Astroboy airing on television). The biggest problem you get with Americanized releases is that the purists demand the original shows while the majority of the market wants the shows they saw on television, not a bunch of funny voices with subtitles to read while the show is playing. Personally, I prefer to have both options available to me; the original and the version I'm used to and don't consider it a matter where I should have to choose. After all, if I want to see a show I enjoyed as a kid, I think seeing that version is what interested me in buying it the first place but I'd like to be able to compare it to the original if the cost isn't too great as well. Further, I've seen a lot of anime that the changes made it more fun to watch (although, to be fair, this is typically not the case). So, with great pleasure I came across a box set of episodes from a childhood favorite, Battle Of The Planets: Ultimate Boxed Set.
The set takes a look at episodes 14-18 and 21-27 of the show. The good news is that it includes both the Americanized version and the original Japanese version (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) for all the episodes. The first 13 episodes are available on individual dvds but I'm not sure what happened to episodes19 and 20. In any case, fans have good reason to appreciate the set since it provides far more than just the episodes, which I'll describe in the extras section. Here's a brief overview of the series, followed by the plot descriptions from Rhino.
The American version was released in 1978 on syndicated television, typically shown in the afternoons so kids, like me, coming home from school could watch the show rather than frivolous things like homework and chores. The show concerned the adventures of a group of youngsters who wore cool costumes and flew in a great ship while they saved the Universe from the bad guy, Zoltar, and his minions in an organization known as Spectra. Each episode set up a particular enemy to be taken down and in the period of the episode, the good guys would prevail. Since this was released, a majority of later series followed the pattern set by it (for better or for worse), with a strong leader, a rebellious but slightly younger brother, a love interest, and a little kid (along with the fat but strong teammate and robot). Star Wars had come out the year before and taking a Japanese anime series from 1972, throwing in some updates, and calling it something else to cash in on the science fiction wave made a lot of sense.
As an adult, the series still has it's share of retro-flavored fun but getting to see the original, and usually superior, Japanese version really made the box set shine. Yes, the show was utterly predictable and there were few surprises but the cheese was half the fun of watching this one. With the American version using the team to fight wrongs all across the Universe and the Japanese version focusing on Earth (with a few side trips to the moon and local space), here's a look at the episodes included:
Episode 14: Perilous Pleasure Cruise: A Spectra walrus monster attacks the cruise ship Starfire in the North Atlantic. Onboard the boat are Professor Wilde and his young granddaughter, Angie. Zoltar forces the Professor to reveal a new organ-regeneration formula he's been working on, then the Spectran leader threatens to test its efficiency on Angie!
Japanese Version: The Fearful Ice-Kandar: A series of oceangoing vessels disappear after Galactor begins using its newest robot, called Ice-Kandar, to abduct nuclear powered ships. When the Science Ninja Team arrives and looks into it, they come across Galactor's latest secret base!
Episode 15: The Thing With 1,000 Eyes: People are vanishing on planet Riga, and when a Federation recon team also disappears there, Chief Anderson sends G-Force in. A new form of life created by Spectra has been terrorizing the planet. Traditional explosives only split it into stronger pieces, so G-Force has to find another way to defeat this threat!
Japanese Version: The Fearful Jellyfish Lens: The God Phoenix receives a protective coating before leaving for the highly polluted Ghost City. There the team finds a Galactor base housing a horrifying new monster called the Jellyfish Lens.. It utilizes the pollution around Ghost City to make itself stronger, and the Science Ninja Team seems powerless against it!
Episode 16: Microfilm Mystery: 7-Zark-7 is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the computerized robot Metamorphosis One, which will act both as Zark's assistant and as the master computer for Center Neptune. Meanwhile, the Luminous One sets out to capture this new machine once he learns it contains a complete set of microfilm blueprints for all of Center Neptune's computers!
Japanese Version: The Indestructible Machine Mechanica: Galactor's latest robot, Mechanica, is one of their most terrifying creations yet, given that it can change its very form at will. The Science Ninja Team chases it into a tunnel, where it seems to just disappear. Jinpei volunteers to go alone to find out what happened to the monster!
Episode 17: The Alien Beetles: Keyop's new pet beetle is a Spectra machine! As he sleeps, the beetle grows, captures Keyop, and flies off with him. The Luminous One and Zoltar have captured Keyop and other boys in these beetle machines in order to use their energy as a power source to save their dying planet, Spectra.
Japanese Version: The Grand Insect Operation: Leader X releases small bug machines for young boys to discover. When they take these beetles home, they grow to enormous size and capture the boys as they are sleeping. When the boys are inside the machines, their naturally aggressive tendencies guide the machines on a path of destruction!
Episode 18: A Whale Joins G-Force: Keyop saves the life of a baby whale from a huge Spectran sharklike weapon that has destroyed fuel refineries and killed the baby whale's mother. The whale, which Keyop names Nambu, agrees to help G-Force track down the machine.
Japanese Version: Revenge! The Whale Operation: The Science Ninja Team is investigating reports of a menacing giant mechanical whale, and they come across it as it attacks a pod of real whales. A small whale is left motherless after the attack, and when Jinpei befriends it, the little one agrees to help the Science Ninja Team track down the location of the mechanical whale's base.
Episode 21: Mad New Ruler Of Spectra: The Luminous One kidnaps Professor Hugo Doriarity to get his new cyborg formula. The Professor agrees to reveal it if he can then rule the planet Spectra; but Doriarity is betrayed. The Luminous One intends to send Doriarity's cyborg horses to destroy Earth's nuclear power plants.
Japanese Version: Who Is Leader X?: Leader X captures Dr. Henjiman so he can get the doctor's knowledge on the advanced cyborg horses he has just created. Henjinman isn't scared though, and when he sees X, he demands to be given power within Galactor or he will reveal X to the world. X agrees to Henjiman's terms, but only to get him to play along.
Episode 22: The Sea Dragon: G-Force is sent to the planet Aquatica, where they do battle with Spectra's Sea Dragon. The team gets an unexpected shock when the Sea Dragon is able to defeat their powerful Fiery Phoenix! 7-Zark-7 and Chief Anderson take things to the opposite extreme in order to give G-Force a second chance to defeat the deadly robot.
Japanese Version: The Firebird Vs. The Fire-Eating Dragon: Galactor's King Dragon machine destroys an underwater uranium mining facility, as well as fleets of ships and airplanes. The Science Ninja Team disobeys Dr. Nambu to go after the threat. But Galactor is ready; the King Dragon can match the heat generated by the Science Ninja Team's ultimate weapon, the Firebird!
Episode 23: Magnetic Attraction: A black and perfectly round spaceship descends on Center City, and Earth's defenses are powerless against it. All missiles and attacks bounce harmlessly off its hull. Mark is wary of the sphere and does not want to risk G-Force, but Zark, Chief Anderson, and the Federation order them to confront the machine.
Japanese Version: The Giant Raging Mecha Ball: Galactor's latest weapon is a giant black sphere with a variety of weapons it can deploy! Although the rest of the team is eager to destroy it, Ken is cautious and refuses to go against the machine. The Mecha Ball continues on its path of devastation until Jinpei gives Ken a clue on the way to defeat it.
Episode 24: The Musical Mummy: Scientists at the Intergalactic Research Lab have been disappearing, and Mark is assigned to protect Professor Walter Lambert. He chases Spectrans trying to steal plans for Lambert's Electro-Dynamic Force Field, and follows them to a nearby amusement park where they disappear. Does the park have a Spectra connection?
Japanese Version: A Neon Laughing In The Dark: The Science Ninja Team separates to guard 150 scientists after several are murdered. Jun and Jinpei are attacked by a neon giant, accompanied by mysterious flute music. Ken is surprised by the Blackbirds-Galactor's own Ninja squad. Both attacks are near an amusement park, and the Science Ninja Team suspect Galactor activity within.
Episode 25: The Fiery Lava Giant: Zoltar is ordered to capture the Space Island asteroid, and he uses a terrifying lava giant to attempt it. The giant's face matches one that is being sculpted on Monument Mountain by a young girl named Amelia, and Jason suspects she's helping Spectra. But Princess knows Amelia and is sure she's innocent.
Japanese Version: The Magma Giant, Emperor Of Hell: The Science Ninja Team is sent to investigate an attack on an ISO research center. When a fiery magma giant ambushes them, they notice that it resembles a face from a nearby mountainside sculpture. The team suspects a Galactor base is near, but how can they find it?
Episode 26: The Bat-Ray Bombers: Tiny falls asleep on the Phoenix and fails to answer Mark's call to duty. Because of this, he gets suspended from G-Force. He returns to his old coastal home city only to find that a mysterious sea creature is terrorizing its citizens. Tiny decides to redeem himself by facing the threat alone.
Japanese Version: The God Phoenix Reborn: Ryu is removed from the Science Ninja Team for sleeping in the God Phoenix during a mission. He decides to return to his family in the rural fishing village where he was born. But soon after he arrives, he discovers that Galactor may be the cause of recent problems in the area.
Episode 27: Race Against Disaster: Jason and the rest of G-Force have traveled to Africa so he can take place in the African 9,000 Mile Obstacle Race. The race requires two drivers per car, and Jason is teamed with a woman named Lucy, whom he has raced against in the past. Strangely though, she has brought a rifle along with her, almost as if she's expecting trouble along the way!
Japanese Version: Galactor's Witch Racer: A Galactor agent named Lucy is ready to betray the organization and promises to reveal the location of their headquarters to the Science Ninja Team. But, before telling them, she wants Joe to accompany her on a marathon auto race. Galactor has learned of Lucy's actions and sends a number of additional obstacles to stop her.
Well, combined with the swell extras and the fact that you can obtain the other episodes on previously released dvds (most companies would have put those in the set and charged you for them without allowing you to get the newly released episodes by themselves), I have to give this a rating of Highly Recommended to any fan of the show (both the American version or the Japanese version). If more companies would follow this pattern, although preferably starting with the first episodes, I think a lot of anime fans would be willing to spend the money to buy them. I look forward to seeing if Rhino will continue to release future episodes in the box set format since this really worked well for me.
Picture: The picture was presented in it's original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. There were certainly limitations with the source material that included many print scratches but overall it looked okay for a series that was made in 1972 (and updated in 1978 for American audiences). There was some grain and minor issues but otherwise the dvd transfer was decent. Interestingly enough, the Japanese version looked cleaner, perhaps because it was taken from a cleaner print that hadn't been handled as much.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital English track or corresponding Japanese tracks with optional English subtitles. There were scratches to the audio track too but it wasn't unlistenable, just limited by the source material, which was never great. In any case, the sound was actually in monaural but the remastered tracks did seem cleaned up a bit.
Extras: audio commentary by Janet Waldo, Alan Young, and Ronnie Schell on episode 27, 10.5 minute long interview with writer/executive producer Jameson Brewer, Memorabilia gallery, 7.5 minute long interview with Casey Kasem, 10 minute long interview with Janet Waldo, 9.5 minute long interview with Ronnie Schell, 5 minute interview with Alan Young, biographies of the American voice actors, trailer to the American show, a large plastic collector figure and small metal car, a paper insert with detailed plot synopses and trivia, some ads for related materials, and a collector case to hold the four dvds. On a related note, the outer case was made of a flimsy plastic (mine had several broken areas although the fold out case inside was well made.
Final Thoughts: Compared to more modern anime releases, the style looked cheesy and really dated but it was still a lot of fun. As a way of recapturing my youthful memories of racing home to see the show, this was great and the entire package was worth rating as Highly Recommended for fans. I thought it funny that Alan Young, one of the American voice cast, hadn't watched the show before and his comments reflected it while Schell and Waldo discussed how they couldn't get their dvd players to work. In general, the extras really did add some value to the show. For those who care, the box set was good as a stand-alone product but if you get the individually released earlier episodes (two to a dvd as I recall), you may gleam more information too.