'Battle of the
to DVD with
all the extras
April 26, 2001
By Franklin Harris
When the history of television is written, Sandy Frank will be remembered for two things.
First, he was a successful TV game show distributor, syndicating programs like "Face the Music" and "Liar's Club." Second, he was among the first to bring badly translated Japanese anime and monster movies to America.
In addition to releasing the original "Gamera" films, Frank syndicated one of the most fondly remembered cartoons of the '70s: "Battle of the Planets."
"Battle of the Planets" debuted in 1978, and while it wasn't a huge success, it developed a loyal following that keeps its memory alive on at least half a dozen Web sites and Internet forums.
Courtesy Photo © Copyright Tatsunoko Productions|
Name that Gatchaman: Is it Mark, Ken, Hunter or Ace? It depends which version you're watching.
In July, Rhino Home Video will release four episodes of "Battle of the Planets" on two VHS tapes and two DVDs, marking the first time episodes of the series have been commercially available in America.
As a bonus, each DVD will feature two uncut, subtitled episodes of "Gatchaman," the Japanese series Frank edited into "Battle of the Planets."
This is also the first time episodes of the original "Gatchaman" series have been available legally in the United States.
Yes, "Gatchaman" fans, you can finally get rid of your fifth-generation bootlegs.
Each VHS tape and DVD will retail for $9.95 and $19.95 respectively, but before you watch this classic series, you'll need a scorecard just to keep everybody straight.
"Battle of the Planets" fans will recall the series' premise: Five young people, gifted with superhuman fighting abilities and fantastic weapons and vehicles, battle Spectra, an alien force bent on conquering Earth and its off-world colonies.
The young people -- Mark, Jason, Princess, Tiny and Keyop (an android with a speech impediment) -- form G-Force. Wearing bird-like costumes, they patrol the universe in their spaceship, the Phoenix, protecting the innocent from Spectra and its mysterious field commander, Zoltar.
Watching over G-Force from an underwater base called Center Neptune is 7-Zark-7, a robot who daydreams of joining the team in space.
If you think 7-Zark-7 looks suspiciously like R2-D2, you're right, and he also has his own sidekick, a robot dog named 1-Rover-1.
Of course, in terms of personality, 7-Zark-7 is more like C-3PO, and 1-Rover-1 is more like R2-D2, but you get the idea.
That, anyway, is Sandy Frank's version.
In the Japanese original, the team is called Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which sounds infinitely cooler than just G-Force, and the team members' names are Ken, Joe, Jun, Ryu and Jinpei (not an android, and no speech problem).
Absent are 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1, who Frank included in "Battle of the Planets" to supply narration for whenever his edits made the stories unintelligible. And all of the action takes place on Earth, which explains why the so-called outer-space colonies in "Battle" all look like earthly towns and villages.
In Japan, Gatchaman ran for 105 episodes, from which Frank culled 85 for his version. It was followed by "Gatchaman II" (52 episodes) and "Gatchaman F" (48 episodes).
This is where things start to get confusing.
In 1996, Saban Entertainment released some of "Gatchaman II" in America as "Eagle Riders" and saddled our heroes with new names: Hunter Harris, Joe Thax, Kelly Jenar, Ollie Keeawani and Mickey Dugan (still not an android).
"Eagle Riders" was a flop, but it wasn't the last time someone would try to adapt "Gatchaman" for American audiences.
Turner Entertainment actually produced its series, "G-Force," based on a slightly different set of 85 redubbed and re-edited episodes of "Gatchaman," in 1986. But it wasn't until Cartoon Network came along that the series got any regular airplay.
In "G-Force," our heroes get more new (and ridiculous) names: Ace Goodheart, Dirk Daring, Agatha June, Hootie and Peewee (at least, thankfully, not an android). They also go into battle to the tune of a monotonous, drum-machine beat that sounds like it was composed on a $30 Casio keyboard, which it probably was.
Rhino also plans to include a "G-Force" episode as an extra on each of its DVDs.
To make matters more confusing, Tatsunoko, the Japanese studio that animated "Gatchaman" in the first place, released a three-volume, direct-to-video version in 1994. In America, this version, which updates the original concept, is available uncut on VHS from Urban Vision.
Suffice it to say that none of the Americanized versions comes close to the complexity of the original, although "Battle" at least has nostalgic value. So, give Rhino credit for including uncut "Gatchaman" episodes as DVD extras.
Gatchaman and BotP Web sites