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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Anime > Action > Superhero > Science Fiction > Martial Arts > Japan > Gatchaman: Complete Collection (aka Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, 1972 - 1974) + OVAs (1994/Sentai Filmworks Blu-ray Box Set)

Gatchaman: Complete Collection (aka Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, 1972 - 1974) + OVAs (1994/Sentai Filmworks Blu-ray Box Set)

Picture: B Sound: B- Extras: B+ Episodes: B (w/Japanese Track)/B- (English Dub)

In what I hope will be one of the big trends of 2014, classic TV and especially classic animated TV on Blu-ray, Sentai Filmworks has issued Gatchaman: Complete Collection (1972 - 1974) in a remarkable 14 Blu-ray disc set that has a solid set of extras, great transfers and more. After a series of Japanese animated shows became syndicated hits in the U.S. market, a sudden shift happened and these shows (as good as they were) suddenly were not getting imported from Japan to the U.S. in what is a big loss of The States at the time. However, the show would show up in two whittled-down variations, but more on that in a moment.

Already producing some classics on their own, Japanese TV continued to grow what we now know as Anime with more hits shows and the idea of Gatchaman has influences hat especially include what DC Comics and Filmation in the U.S. had done in the late 1960s with that publishers hit comic books (especially Hawkman) as well as the biggest of the famous U.K.-originated SuperMarionation puppet shows from Lord Lew Grade, Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and ITC-TV in their international megahit Thunderbirds (all reviewed elsewhere on this site). Yet the makers were very original.

Art designs started to become more angular and comparatively complex, while storylines got bolder at times. This series ran for 105 half-hour episodes and offered plenty of different adventures, but the main team of the title (five people who combine into one when necessary) took on the terrorist alien army GALACTOR trying to rob the earth of all of its resources. That alone likely got it banned or ignored in the U.S. for a while, but the show has more to offer than just fights and preaching. We can now see it as the seminal transitional show in which the series ands feature films that followed become the Anime we know today and this show ultimately became the first Japanese animated show that started to make a break in a non-U.S. & U.K. Direction even when it was derivative.

Led by the brilliant Dr. Nambu, the five heroes separately are Ken Owashi aka The Eagle, Jun Ohtsuki aka The Swan, Jo Asakura aka the Condor, Jinpei Ohtsuki aka The Swallow and Ryu Nakanishi aka The Owl. Each had their expertise in fighting and other action talents and have vehicles that can go from regular to superhero form. Without any tampering or editing, it is in some ways the last major animated action show of the 1960s though it debuted in 1972, with its ideas and element coming from the success out of so many great shows before it. So what happened to it U.S. debut?

Maybe it would have arrived in a slightly edited version as Speed Racer first had (edited further before the awful live action film was made and rightly bombed), but the first Star Wars in 1977 arrived and with hits like the live-action Space Academy (also reviewed on this site) was snagged, reedited, re dubbed, even recolored and juvenilized in 1978 as Battle Of The Planets, which now plays as a politically correct nightmare that never ends. Radio personality Casey Kasem was also known for voicing animated characters (including Robin for Superfriends!) and was enlisted to make the show friendlier, but the most obnoxious twist (thankfully not in any episodes in the box set) was the addition of an annoying R2-D2 knock-off called 7-Zark-7, used as filler for al the edited footage and to make this child-friendly to the point of nausea. We also got 1-Rover-1 (Doctor Who's K-9 had nothing to worry about) and other unnecessary additions. Marvel Comics would make the same error replacing The Human Torch (because children might try to set themselves on fire and jump out of windows, thinking they'll fly?) in a new Fantastic Four animated series with the almost-as-annoying Herbie The Robot.

It was simple, silly, awful and a huge hit as all the Star Wars imitators (which the original version of the how here obviously was not) enjoyed a honeymoon period of success no matter how lame or silly. 1986 saw anoth4er edited version called G Force: Guardians Of Space, but they were not able to guard the episodes against more bad editing, though it was not the hack job of the 1978 version. It was still weak and still managed to reveal how duped, robbed and ripped off we were in the 1978 release. It was not until 2005 the shows were dubbed faithfully, 32 years after they debuted in Japan!

As the show stands on its own, the more I watched it, the more I liked it and especially in its original Japanese audio version which has a heart and soul all the dubs (sorry 2005 guys) and massacres of the show ruined and trashed. Now you can see the show for the at-least minor classic it is and not just the silly junk show it played as worldwide (translated in many languages) cashing in nicely on Star Wars. I would also suggest that the changes to this show when compared to the edited 1978 version are at least as outrageous as anything Lucas did to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Fans of the 1978 and 1986 U.S. versions will be shocked at how much more graphic the action and language is, as well as how much sharper, brighter and smarter the writing and dialogue is versus what we got back then. From a memorabilia standpoint, you can see why the show was so heavily licensed before it hit the world in the 1978 version, because it juggles all of its familiar elements with new ones better than you would know from the cut-up versions. It feels like a great artistic wrong has finally been corrected and in a set worth its list price and for fans, then some.

Two sequel series (Gatchaman II (1978) and Gatchaman Fighter (1979)) followed, but they were not butchered into sequels to the 1978 U.S. version, but Saban Entertainment combined them into an English-dubbed and edited show called Eagle Riders in 1996 that did well in Australia but bombed in the U.S. with few episodes making it to air.

Making a clean break from all that, three hour-long episodes of the franchise called Gatchaman

OVA arrived in 1994 and those shows are included on Blu-ray 13 in this set. They are not bad and have some good color, but the joy, fun, innovation, heart and soul that made the original show here so good and enduring was not recaptured despite ambitious animation (for TV) and I can see why it did not spawn a revival. A new series and two feature films, one of which got cancelled, followed and we hope to cover these other incarnations as they hit Blu-ray.

In the meantime, the real, original Gatchaman is here with playback quality impossible to imagine unless you somehow had film prints to screen of it. These transfers look that good here!

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used, but these transfers have very consistent color, even if they may not seem as saturated as other full color animated series of the time from the U.S. or Japanese TV markets. Detail therefore is subtly revealing and more so than you might expect. Most of all, the image has not been tampered, had its animation sanded down or been badly recolorized as was the case with the lesser Battle Of The Planets and G-Force versions issued in the U.S. and as it turns out, worldwide. The only other animated TV show from the period to hit Blu-ray (which we did not review in its basic edition, but is highly recommended) is The Jackson 5: The Complete Animated Series which also has prints with some cell dust and minor flaws, but has better color if not better detail, in part due to the art design of the different shows. I cannot imagine Gatchaman looking any better without insanely expensive cleanup that might actually do more harm than good. Needless to say, this version makes all previous video releases obsolete.

The three OVA episodes are here in 1080i 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers because though they are newer and have some color advantages, they do not totally outdo the original show and the reason the definition is in a lesser, interlaced form is because the show and many of its visual effects were finished on old analog video, so this is the best they will ever look either.

As for sound, both the original Japanese and new 2005-recorded English dub tracks are presented in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes, but the new English track are on the harsh side and sound design is overdone, making them become tired very quickly. The Japanese tracks are lighter in comparison showing their age, but they sound better, more balanced, more natural and mixing and editing is better integrated, making the while narrative stronger and showing off this show at its best. DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes appear on the OVA episodes, but have some of the same kind of sonic and artistic differences. Lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 sound appears on many of the supplements and is simple stereo at best.

Extras include audio commentary tracks on 19 episodes in the set, while the last Blu-ray, #14 in this set, adds standard definition extras that apparently appeared on previous DVD editions including a nearly 36 minutes piece explaining the series entitled What is Gatchaman?, tiny text bit about shows on TV at the time of this show's original debut, tiny texts Character Profiles, several great section of sketches for the characters, their gadgets, vehicles (in and out of costume), a few older compilations of the team in action, nearly 19 minutes of the all home releases of the show beginning with 8mm film to a $1,200 LaserDisc box set to its DVD debut that is terrific, Music releases (songs, albums, record & book combos) issued on the show all over the world in convenient subsections, Publishing Gallery sections showing books issued on the original show's Japanese release, then a ton (again split into subsections for each country) when it became Battle Of The Planets, Gatchaman At Play has various games (more than you might imagine) based on the show, artist Alex Ross interviewed as he sees the original episodes uncut for the first time ever then talk about how he loves the show, English-Language Voice Actor Interviews in subsections, their separate audition footage, their dubbed episodes being screened at Austin, Texas Alamo Draft House, (as in without text credits) Clean Opening & Closing Animation sequences (access-separated), a set of Unused Ending Sequences and nice TV ad for the Gatchaman ModelLock toy that you can snap together into their spaceship or take apart in any way you want. Shows like Speed Racer, Astro Boy, Gigantor and Marine Boy deserve the same treatment when they arrive on Blu-ray in the U.S. and worldwide.

The only toy they missed and am surprised they did being so incredibly thorough here are the fully posable 8-inch action figures made in Japan by the Popy Toy Company of Ken Owashi. They were the company that produced the Japanese equivalent of the landmark Mego Action Figures in the U.S., though the figure was slightly different in the way it was made despite having the same size, cloth clothes and accessories. Mego skipped licensing this show, Ultraman Leo (a sequel series to the classic reviewed on this site) and the original 1973 Casshan animated series (which Sentai has also issued on Blu-ray and we hope to review next) for action figures that Popy made in Japan. You can see some of the action figure line on this interactive page:


And you can see Ken at the end of this Popy Casshan page (the Casshan figure is extremely rare) with Ultraman Leo at this link:


This Gatchaman Blu-ray set is terrific and a must have for any serious action and animation fan.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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