Bird-themed ninja superheroes battle against shadowy evil villains in Gatchaman.
Note: If you Google Gatchaman, the first thing to come up is the 1972 anime, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. That version was the original; all other versions are adaptations, sequels, reboots or remakes. This article will focus on the 1972 series unless otherwise noted.
If you watch an episode of the 1972 version of Gatchaman today, it can sometimes seem very campy — somewhat less campy than the 1960s TV version of Batman, but it’s definitely up there.
Campy or not, it can be a lot of fun if you’re in the mood for some 1970s superhero action.
The show features five straight-laced teens in colorful superhero tights. They fight for all of the usual good guy stuff, which includes saving the environment.
The main bad guy is Berg Katse, an over-the-top masked villain. Berg Katse’s mask looks like it has bat ears, and he (she?) wears a wonderfully campy evil cape.
(Berg Katse can apparently be both male and/or female.)
Berg Katse leads a technologically-advanced evil organization, Galactor. Naturally, Galactor wants to take over the world. Galactor has an endless supply of bumbling henchmen/ mooks for the Science Ninja Team to fight and defeat.
Berg Katse may be the leader but he/ she has a boss, the mysterious alien Leader X.
Pretty much every episode features one of Galactor’s evil robots or evil monsters of some sort. Most of these robot monsters have a “giant centipede” or “giant turtle” or giant something-or-other theme.
Occasionally, the show will take a moment to remind us that our teenage heroes have lives outside of saving the world. Some of these backstories are quite serious:
- Ken, the leader, wants to find his missing father. He believes that his father faked his own death.
- Joe, the anti-hero, wants revenge against Galactor. Galactor killed his parents.
- Jun, the team’s female member, is an orphan.
- Jinpei, the youngest member of the team, is also an orphan. He may be the last survivor of a ninja clan.
- Ryu, the big guy, is apparently the only member of the team to still have both parents (although his parents may be divorced).
The show generally implies that all five heroes are needed to fight against Galactor. Teamwork makes the dream work.
But some episodes will focus heavily on one member of the team. In one episode, Jinpei might feel like he’s tired of being treated like a kid and run off (temporarily). In another episode, Ken will go off on his own to find out information about his father.
Of course, the wayward member will return to the Science Ninja Team in time to help defeat the latest monster threat from Galactor.
Ken, the leader of the superhero team, is sometimes called Gatchaman; but the group as a whole is the Science Ninja Team.
The team is led by Dr. Kozaburo Nambu, a scientist with the International Science Organization.
Dr. Nambu brought the team together. He also gives them their missions.
Not Hawkman, Birdman or Blue Falcon
All of the members of the Science Ninja Team have bird themes. Their helmets have beaks, and their superhero capes resemble wings. Their caped costumes would sometimes allow them to glide.
Specifically, the members are Ken the Eagle; Joe the Condor; Jun the Swan; Jinpei the Swallow and Ryu the Owl.
Some of the Science Ninja Team weapons also have bird themes, such as the Birdrang (similar to the Batarangs and Birdarangs used by Batman and Robin).
There are also Bird Missiles (launched from the Science Ninja Team’s aircraft/ spacecraft, the God Phoenix).
They aren’t featured in every episode, but most members of the Science Ninja Team have a cool transforming vehicle.
Ken flies an airplane. This starts out as a rather ordinary-looking prop plane. The prop plane can transform into a fighter jet, the G-1. The jet can dock into the tail of the Science Ninja Team’s God Phoenix.
Joe is a racecar driver. His car is some sort of stock racing muscle car. It can transform into a high-tech racecar. Like Ken’s jet, it can also dock into the God Phoenix.
Jun rides a motorcycle. When it transforms, it looks like a rocket bike.
Jinpei has a dune buggy. When his vehicle changes, the transformed version looks a bit odd. It has a bug-like shape and tractor wheels. But it can fly and move underwater.
Ryu often flies the God Phoenix. But he also has a tank.
Otherwise Known As
If you grew up in the late 1970s, you might recognize these five teenagers as the heroes from Battle of the Planets (1978-1980).
Battle of the Planets was one of those anime shows which came out before most Americans knew what anime was.
(Astro Boy and Speed Racer are among the others.)
Battle of the Planets is an adaptation of Gatchaman created by Sandy Frank Entertainment. There are quite a few changes from the original.
Some of the changes are not surprising, given the intended kid-friendly U.S. audience. They cut scenes that would have been considered appropriate in Japan, but not appropriate for American children (or possibly the TV networks). Violence and profanity were removed. References to death were also removed.
Characters were renamed. Ken became Mark; Joe became Jason; Jun became Princess; Jinpei became Keyop; Ryu became Tiny.
(Unlike Jinpei, Keyop is a genetically-engineered child. He has odd verbal tics.)
Berg Katse became Zoltar. The Science Ninja Team also became G-Force.
Other changes were the result of the huge success of Star Wars. The robot 7-Zark-7 was added, along with his robot dog, 1-Rover-1. The action was moved from Earth to other Earth-like planets.
The robot 7-Zark-7 also provides some narration. Since Battle of the Planets cut scenes from the original series, this narration helped to fill potential holes in the plot. The robot could also explain how characters actually survived seemingly impossible situations.
The original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman series (or Kagaku ninja tai Gatchaman) aired in Japan from October of 1972 to September of 1974. It was produced by Tatsunoko Production, the same people responsible for Speed Racer.
As we saw earlier, it was brought to the United States as Battle of the Planets in 1978.
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman: The Movie came out in 1978. It combines parts of the original story with new animation.
Gatchaman II was a sequel to the original series. It ran in Japan from 1978-1979. In this version, Galactor has a new leader, Gel Sadra.
Gatchaman II was followed by Gatchaman Fighter, also known as Gatchaman F. It ran from 1979-1980 in Japan.
In 1986, Gatchaman was adapted for American audiences again. This time, the adaptation was named G-Force: Guardians of Space. The new English dub got rid of 7-Zark-7 and other space elements from Battle of the Planets. G-Force stayed closer to the original material, while still removing some violence.
Ken/ Mark was renamed Ace Goodheart, Joe/ Jason was Dirk Daring, Jun/ Princess was Agatha June, Jinpei/ Keyop was Pee Wee and Ryu/ Tiny became Hoot Owl.
Berg Katse/ Zoltar became Galactor. (This was the name of the evil organization in the original Gatchaman.)
Anime News Network describes G-Force as “superior to BOTP,” but adds that it suffers from “a lackluster dub and a horrible disco soundtrack.”
The new version was by Turner Program Services, King Features Entertainment, and Sparklin’ Entertainment. At the time, Sandy Frank still held the rights to Gatchaman. However, Battle of the Planets ran on Turner’s TBS cable network.
Gatchaman II and Gatchaman F would be adapted in the United States as Saban’s Eagle Riders. Eagle Riders came out in 1996-1997.
Saban doesn’t attempt to link Eagle Riders with Gatchaman, Battle of the Planets or G-Force. Characters are once again renamed, indicating that these are new characters. (Ken/ Mark is now Hunter Harris.)
However, it is stated that the Eagle Riders had fought together earlier (which is clearly the case with Gatchaman and its sequels).
A Gatchaman Original Video Animation was created in 1994. This consisted of three episodes. Each episode was 45 minutes.
A new English-language version of Gatchaman was released on DVD in 2005. This version by ADV Films avoided making cuts and modifications.
The ADV version is now part of the collector’s edition, available at Sentai Filmworks.
Gatchaman Crowds and a Live-Action Movie
Gatchaman Crowds came out in 2013. Although it is part of the Gatchaman franchise, it is very different from previous versions.
In Gatchaman Crowds, the Gatchaman Crew (or G-Crew) are heroes with special powers. They wear reinforced suits and fight to protect the Earth.
There are various villains, including an alien creature named Berg Katze. Berg Katze seems to be named after Berg Katse (different spelling) from the original series.
The story revolves around Hajime Ichinose, the newest member of the team. She is a high school girl and very impulsive.
The second season of Gatchaman Crowds is titled Gatchaman Crowds insight.
A live-action version of Gatchaman was created in 2013.
The movie was based on the original series. In this film, Galactor is a real threat to the human race. Fortunately for us, Gatchaman is here to save the day.
At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, the Russo Brothers announced that they would be making an adaptation of Gatchaman. It was unclear if it would be live-action or animation.
The Gatchaman Complete Collection, a box set of the original series, is available on Blu-ray on Amazon.