Battle of the Planets
Revisiting the shows of your childhood can often be a very mixed blessing. That said, even when I was young I thought this show was dated and pretty cheesy, after all, it had robotech for competition. That said, once I take a closer look, there are some very odd elements in this show.
Incidentally the rather excellent "Anime Encyclopedia" by Clements and McCarthy (Stone Bridge Press) provides some wonderful clarification to the confused heritage of this show. Note that the date and episode count are for this show, which was created from the 105 episodes of the 1972 Japanese original. There was actually a second english release called G-Force, which was notable for having less editing and no 7-zark-7. It was also a ratings flop apparently, go figure. It also notes that there where two more seasons in Japan bringing the total episode count up to 205. These episodes later being released as `Eagle Riders' (which I have never heard of before) for the American market.
To begin with the show feels as if the designers sketched in all the `state of the art' anime standards. To begin with there's a 5 person team, all orphans, each with distinctive appearance and personality elements. When things are a bit slow a touch of inter team dramatics can always spice things up. And when that gets boring, well, you can rely on the evil alien empire spectra which has nothing better to do than build some of the most odd threats yet to challenge the forces of goodness and rightness.
At this point the team reveals themselves as G-force, by transmuting into rather exotic `bird-man' outfits. They each have individual vehicles, which naturally transmute into superior forms as well. And these vehicles can combine with an even larger ship, oh, and of course it transforms as well. With all these gadgets, and their impressive physical skills, there is no threat they cannot find and defeat. And even better they can keep a straight face while doing so.
Why is keeping a straight face an issue? Well, another element this show borrows is `giant monster' concept best known from godzilla movies. A huge beastie that flattens earth's cities, destroys any attempts at defence, and can only be defeated by the power and cleverness of the team. Sadly they kept, and even amplified, the `cheesy' and silly nature of some of the monsters. For example the first episode has a gigantic robotic space terrapin (turtle). This is quickly followed by a gigantic nuclear powered robotic mummy and a robot centipede. They're really, really silly. And the design on them makes them look even worse, complete with alien death rays and selective invulnerability. They also tend to have convenient access ports so that the team can drop in for a little hand to hand before blowing the thing up.
Of course when you meet the leaders of spectra it makes a bit more sense. A collection of lunatics, uttering every evil overlord quote in the book, with a very bad taste in fashion sense. There's a lot of very silly looking costumes on their side. And of course they only hire soldiers who are both legally blind and have single digit IQ's. Then again, if you're looking for people to wear latex suits and man the guns of a space terrapin I guess you can't be picky. And the plots are just insane. Building a huge centipede so you can defeat earth through seismic disturbances?
Given this it comes as an immense surprise to find that the good guys play it very straight, as do some of the stories. There's precious little humor in how they act, and the stories often have elements of tragedy or angst in them. For example in one episode I watched a guy who the leader considers as the closest thing he has ever had to a parent get killed right before his eyes. We've only met just met him, just long enough to learn of his importance, when he gets munched. Meanwhile the daughter blames the leader for not being able to save her father while the leader doubts his own ability to continue. It's not amazingly deep, but is is surprisingly intense. This is before you consider the fact that one member of the team has some serious personal issues to work out, something he ultimately fails to accomplish.
Another thing worth noting, and perhaps responsible for the somewhat broken feel to the show, is the fact that this has been heavily edited from the original Japanese. Sizable changes have been made to the story and every attempt has been made to soften it. For example the script goes out of its way to mention that all the vehicles getting popped are `robotic', as are all of spectras troops. Thus we have scenes of massive destruction but it's all right because no one gets hurt, apart from those required for dramatic purposes.
And how do I know the story has been greatly edited? This is because the fragments remaining were not actually enough to make sense, leading to the introduction of a robotic narrator, the infamous 7-zark-7. He provides a lot of the story detail, thus allowing it to be drastically modified, and has long discussions with the audience thus filling up all the space left over. He's meant to be amusing and entertaining but is actually truly awful. A handful of cheap animations, tasteless humor, techno gibberish and really stupid script-writing. Not only does his existence make the extent of the editing clear he's also annoying in his own right.
All things considered the show is a bit of a mess, best used only for nostalgia purposes. It would be interesting to see the original Japanese version, something unlikely to happen, but even the name of that (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) doesn't give much hope. And even if the writing and characters were better you still have to cope with bad design and ridiculous robotic alien space turtles. The heavy editing, and additional character, in the western version doesn't manage to produce a very coherent or enjoyable experience either. It is true that some of the intensity of the original material still shows through, and thus was probably unusual and interesting at that point compared to western cartoon shows, but we can more easily get the `real' anime stuff now.
In production terms its seriously dated. The design is dated, the concept is dated and the production is dated. And sadly, since it was meant to be cutting edge science fiction with epic special effects this really hurts it. Especially because we get to see an awful lot of `scenes of destruction' which just look sort of silly these days. This is especially true because they want to have quiet complex objects but don't have the money to animate them, thus some of the movement is very poor and jerky. While the story and characters still have some edge and energy to them this is not the focus of the show, and the terrible hack job further reduces this power. Of interest is the fact that the voices are actually quite strong, which actually jars with the `cheesiness' of much of the production. The music is stirring orchestral stuff which tries a touch too hard to add energy to whatever is happening.
It doesn't seem like any of my sources have a review for this rusty old original. Although them has a review for the more modern OAV which i've reviewed as `Gatchaman'.