Giant Robots! Alien Terrorists! Super Ninjas! Gatchaman @ 50!
Back in the Seventies, American animation was confined to either Disney , Filmation or Hanna Barbera who for the most part, were family friendly cartoons that often aired during Saturday mornings. Shows like Superfriends, etc. avoided violent or adult subject matter due to regulations imposed by the FCC. But back in 1972, Japan didn't give a damn about guidelines as Gatchaman stormed the networks instantly appeasing kids and especially older teens as well as adults since Japan viewed animation as a standard medium for television.
Gatchaman or rather, "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman were produced by Tatsunoko Production running in at 105 episodes where the series involves five super skilled bird costumed teenagers who uses a variety of weapons each piloting a special vehicle that combines with an aerodynamic ship called the God Phoenix mothership, which is t hen formed into a fiery spectre. Gatchaman is more of a team name than a single hero like say, Ken Washio aka "Ken the Eagle" who leads the Super Ninja team into battle against the notorious Gatalactor, a Terrorist syndicate just like G I.Joe's Cobra, determined to rule the world, but even more dangerous as they employ giant mecha and robots that can and has destroyed hundreds of lives as demonstrated in many episodes.
This series is groundbreaking in many ways, one being a five-member team who each bare different personalities such as Marvel's Fantastic Four, their vehicles serve various purposes with impressive designs especially Joe's car that looks like souped up corvette that reveals a gatling cannon. Berg Katse can easily be codified as the first Transgender Non-Binary Supervillain who is capable of shifting genders at will. Gatchaman was also known for its unapologetic violent content where our heroes would slaughter armies of human Galactor soldiers, or the terrorist organization would destroy cities via giant mecha that helped to establish a trope of "Monster of the Week." This show had recurring themes such as environmentalism with the Superhero Ninja Team defending Earth's natural resources, such as water, oil, sugar and uranium.
After its successful first run in Nippon TV, Gatchaman eventually arrived on American television in 1978, syndicated as Battle of the Planets, and like Speed Racer, the show was heavily censored, especially when it came to death scenes and hardcore violence. Now even as a kid, I was smart enough to know, what was omitted during the Sandy Frank American production. While the voice acting was decent thanks to Casey Kasim (Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) Keye Luke of Kung Fu, and the talented Wally Burr, I was annoyed by the 7 Zark 7 sequences that further dumbed down Battle of the Planets. Even the intro was corny AF.
1979’s Star Blazers for the most part, didn't shy from death and violence, which had they done, would cheapen the brutal themes of warfare. God, I hated BOTP but learned to appreciate the original uncut Gatchaman, thanks to bootleg VHS cassettes back in the nineties and became a fan, ever since. Later, the remake titled, "Gatchaman 94" served as an excellent and fitting tribute to the iconic franchise.
However, later on around 1995, Turner Broadcasting acquired the rights to Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and released it on the Cartoon Network as "G-Force: Guardians of Space," despite the content being truer to the original, the overall production was lackluster be it voice acting, dub names, and the silly repetitive background music. Saban was worst, for their atrocious Eagle Riders series that was culled from Gatchaman F. Also disappointing was the live action Gatchaman movie released in the aughties and the less said about that, the better.
Gatchaman is also credited for introducing the Super Sentai concept which was the inspiration behind Himitsu Sentai Gorenger aka Power Rangers, and even after its final episode the series went on to enjoy success via merchandising, videogames and successor shows such as Tatsunoko's Infiniti Force which combines the legendary Animation studio's greatest Heroes, Gatchaman, Hurricane Polymer, Casshan and Tekkaman as a Supergroup. (Available on Peacock's streaming platform.) That said, happy 50th birthday Gatchaman 🎂 "Baaad-goo!"