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Gatchaman Complete Collection
DVD Released: 12/10/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/24/2013
While I feel that I'm a unique individual, if you compare my interests to other males my age -- at least those who are into pop culture --, they are probably similar. Horror movies, sci-fi (some), video games (although my tastes are narrow), cult comedies -- these are the things to which I devote my time. However, there is one aspect of entertainment which is quite popular that has never grabbed my attention -- anime. I've tried to get into it and it simply does nothing for me. I appreciate Akira and I liked Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, but otherwise, most anime simply escapes me. But, there is an exception to every rule. Young Mike fell in love with a television show called Battle of the Planets, which began airing in 1978. I can't explain why, but I was fascinated by this show and raced home from school everyday to catch it. Armed with my Battle of the Planets lunchbox, I engaged by friends in long discussions about the program. Years later, I learned that Battle of the Planets was actually a re-edited version of a Japanese show called Gatchaman, a program which ran from 1972-1974, but is revered. Sentai Filmworks has now brought the Gatchaman Complete Collection to DVD so that fans of that show and fans of Battle of the Planets alike can delve into this show.
Gatchaman is a science-fiction/action program which focuses on a group of five special young people. Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei, and Ryu are all members of the Science Ninja Team, a group of heroes who were assembled by Dr. Nambu. In civilian life, the group all seem very normal, but when danger strikes, they assemble as a team and each is dressed as a bird -- Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Jun the Swan, Jinpei the Sparrow, and Ryu the Owl. The team finds themselves going up a group called Galactor, whose goal is the create chaos and panic, while attempting to take over the world. (Often through stealing resources.) The evil Berg Katse (there's a name that rolls off of the tongue) leads Galactor in their evil pursuits, overseeing scores of henchmen. Using their powerful ship, the God Phoenix, the Science Ninja Team uses their skills and technology to battle Galactor and save everyone.
If you've come here looking for a definitive comparison between Gatchaman and Battle of the Planets, then you've come to the wrong place. (I can say that I didn't miss 7-Zark-7 and that some of the violence which was cut for the American broadcasts is very obvious.) I want to discuss how the show has held up over the years and what appeal it has for kids today. There's no doubt that the memories came flooding back and I immediately remembered what made the show seem cool to my younger self. We can set aside the debate over whether or not it's cool to dress like a bird, but there's something undeniably appealing about the look of the team, especially the bird-of-prey beak look of Ken and Joe's helmets. The vehicles are unique the way in which they all fit into the God Phoenix is intriguing (although physics are often called into question). While we are clearly dealing in stereotypes, the show does a good job of illustrating the individual personalities of the team, most notably the moral issues between Ken and Joe. There's no denying that the show is a bit redundant, as the Team faces the "mechanized monster of the week", but many of these monsters show very creative designs. And, how can you not like a show where the key to winning a battle is setting your ship ablaze.
Now, for the experimental phase. I introduced my daughters to the show and, to be honest, I expected a lot of resistance. But, they were immediately drawn in for two reasons. First of all, the overall look of the show apparently transcends generations. I have braced myself for comments about how silly the Team looked in their bird costumes, but those never came. While I thought that they might respond to Jun, they seemed to like the dichotomy between Ken and Joe. Now, these are kids who are notorious for simply getting up and leaving the room during movies, but they watched the show without hesitation. While I don't think that they ever found the show to be suspenseful, they wanted to see how each episode concluded.
But, this does bring us to the second reason why they liked the show, and the one big chink in the Gatchaman armor. When viewed today, the show does come off as somewhat campy. The dialogue is rather stilted at times (both the English dub and the Japanese subtitles, which often don't agree) and some of the lines are simply ludicrous. Ken, while in his street clothes, introduces himself as "Ken the Eagle". Who does that? Jinpei's behavior, no matter what the explanation, comes off as silly (and he looks as if he's in a different show altogether). And can we address the elephant in the room? If five people dress as birds, complete with beak helmets and wing-like capes, then they aren't ninjas. Ninjas blend into the shadows and strive to remain unseen. You can't miss these cats.
No matter your view on the show, Sentai deserves kudos for bringing the complete series together in this massive set. This set also includes a 3-episode story arc from an updated version of the show which aired in 1994. These episodes, while interesting, look too much like every other modern anime and the character designs leave something to be desired. Watching Gatchaman brought back memories and if my experiment is any indication, the show is primed to win new fans.
Gatchaman Complete Collection dresses like a bird on DVD courtesy of Sential Filmworks. The episodes are letterboxed at 1.33:1. The original episodes are sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and occasional defects from the source material, typically in the guise of black or white dots. It's obvious that the shows have been cleaned up and re-mastered, as they look very good for something which is 30 years old. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is a bit soft at times, but this isn't distracting. Being newer, the OVAs look better. They show no grain or notable defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, but these episodes also have that intentionally hazy look which some anime flaunt, making the detail appear questionable. The shows offers a Dolby Digital 2.0 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are quite subtle and most of the audio seems to emanate from the center. The voice actors are always audible and music never overwhelms the other sounds.
Not only has Sentai Filmworks graced us with this great 22-DVD boxed set, they’ve also loaded it with extra features. The episodes of the original series are housed on discs 1-18 and each of these contains an AUDIO COMMENTARY from various members of the English version cast members and crew. The remainder of the extras are found on discs 20-22. Disc 20 kicks off with "Character Profiles", which are text descriptions of the main characters. "English Actor Interviews" offers talks with eight members of the voice acting staff, all of whom also provided commentaries. We see these same actors at work in "English Audition Footage", which were held in 2005. Disc 21 contains a variety of featurettes. "What is Gatchaman?" (36 minutes) is an odd documentary in which we watch storyboards from an episode while a narrator describes the creation and history of the show. There is a lot of information here, but it's sort of hard to absorb in this way. "What We Were Watching" is a weird text piece describing what TV shows were popular in America when Gatchaman was airing. "Character Sketches" shows concept drawings for six characters, while "Episode Sketches" offers vehicle concept art. "Science Ninja Tech" (7 minutes) offers clips from the show which illustrate the team's fighting strengths. "Art Gallery" (18 minutes) offers cover art and promotional art from various Gatchaman releases. This is accompanied by narration describing the different releases. "Gatchaman Music" offers seven examples of the show's title song from around the world. "Publishing Galleries" examines books based on the series from various countries. "Gatchaman at Play" (10 minutes) offers a gallery of toys based on the franchise. "Clean Opening Animation" and "Clean Closing Animation" offer each without text, while "Unused Ending Sequence" shows an alternate closing. "Gatchaman ModelLock Commercial" is an ad for very cool toy line. Disc 22 continues the featurettes. "The Origins of Tatsunoko Productions" (11 minutes) offers another brief overview of the show, described while we see color examples of the art. "Interview with Alex Ross" (11 minutes) is a discussion of the franchise with the famed artist who has done some great paintings of the characters. We get an idea of how the original show was brought to the U.S. in "Interview with English Director Charles Campbell" (17 minutes). This goes along well with the "English VA Round Table" (41 minutes) which has the American actors answering questions. "Gatchaman at the Alamo Draft House" (7 minutes) takes us to a screening of the show at the famed theater. "The Demon 5 in Concert" (86 seconds) shows some girl singing some song.
Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long