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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. Battle of the Planets™, G-Force™, logos, all related characters and likeness are ™ and © 2002 Sandy Frank Film Syndication Incorporated. Images © Top Cow productions incorporated (comics) © Tatsunoko Pro (anime)
BY PATRICK MACIAS
Ah, 1978. A very good year, especially if you were a wee little kid with stars in your eyes. Or better still, with Star Wars in your eyes. The original classic, decidedly non-Special Edition, was probably still playing somewhere at a galaxy near you. Inferior, but fun, knock-offs like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century clogged TV airwaves. And seemingly every nation on Earth was conducting a space opera arms race through movies like Japan's Message From Space, Italy's Star Crash, and Turkey's unforgettable "Turkish Star Wars."
Given such an environment of sci-fi over-saturation, one would think that a little animated show named Battle of the Planets--imagine for a second if it were called "War of the Stars"--wouldn't really stand a chance of even being remembered decades later. And yet, endure is precisely what BOTP continues to do.
Just this year, Rhino Home Video has begun releasing the long-overdue definitive home video presentation of Battle of the Planets on VHS and DVD. A series of new 12" G-Force statues and action figures are being offered to collectors courtesy of Diamond. And an all new Battle of the Planets comic book is being produced by Top Cow, a major event overseen by American comic art heavyweight Alex Ross (Kingdom Come, Marvels).
Ross, like many fans, first caught the Battle of the Planets bug back during that first great deluge of space fantasy in the late seventies. And it is not too hard to see why he, like others can't seem to shake the memory.
Although originally produced by Tatsunoko Productions of Japan (as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman airing from 1972-74), the Americanized BOTP didn't much at first look like what we've come to think of today when we think of "anime." If anything, the show's art style, with "men in tights" costumes and muscular protagonists, owed as much to American superhero comics as it did to previous Tatsunoko Pro. shows like Speed Racer (which had already been shown in the USA in the late sixties).
Looks aside, BOTP's actual idea of what constituted superheroes differed vastly from, say, the Super Friends.
G-Force were anything but a bunch of grinning do-gooders (although Casey Kasem interestingly provided the voice of both Robin the Boy Wonder and Mark, leader of G-Force). Instead, they suffered no small amount of discomfort. Just think about what happened every time G-Force's ship the Phoenix changed into the Fiery Phoenix. The anguished crew looked like they were being barbecued alive. They were orphans, all except for Tiny, with emotional scars and neurotic afflictions rarely seen before on TV, let alone kiddie TV. Yet even a child could perceive a lot going on beneath the costumes and colorful battle scenes. Jason was always in an ill-tempered "shoot first" mood, probably because he wanted to wrest control of G-Force from Mark, which might put him in better standing with Princess. Meanwhile, Mark and Princess were clearly meant for each other, yet they could never ever bring themselves to admit it; a great love affair in denial. Besides, Mark was too busy conducting a tortured search for his long lost father, a storyline whose emotional payoff rivals anything in The Empire Strikes Back for paternal trauma. But despite the petty quarrels and selfish motives, G-Force stuck together. Heck, they had to. The team was the only real family that Mark, Jason, Princess, and Keyop were ever going to get.
To be fair, Battle of the Planets had more than its share of cuts, re-edits and other questionable creative moves best typified by the addition of cute comic relief robots 7-Zark-7 and his sidekick 1-Rover-1 who only appear in the American version. The re-writing was extensive. The original Earthbound Gatchaman now took place on a different planet each week (or so trusting viewers were mislead to believe). But maybe it is best not to be so fixated on these changes anymore. In the end, the emotional dynamics made it through the simplification process. But make it they did.
In the end, former Hanna-Barbera veterans Jameson Brewster (writer and executive producer) and Alan Dinehart III (script and the voice of Tiny) did as good a job as anybody could have in bringing Gatchaman to American airwaves. Maybe we weren't ready for the graphic violence and the full gamut of bizarre plot twists (like the gory details behind Zoltar, aka Berg Katse's, gender-switching difficulties), but we probably also weren't ready for the full emotional impact of the show. Battle of the Planets' first generation of viewers thankfully got it anyway. Pick up the Rhino DVDs, and try it out for yourself. Odds are, you'll probably find it rather unforgettable.