Battle Of The Planets: Volume 1 & 2

Battle Of The Planets: Volume 1 & 2 (1978)
Extras: Gatchaman Episodes, G-Force Episode

"G-Force! Transmute!" These are the words, which I couldn’t wait to hear as I ran home from school everyday. Once there, I would plop down in front of the TV to catch the latest episode of "Battle of the Planets". Back then I had never heard the terms "Anime" or "Japanimation". All I knew was that I loved watching the adventures of G-Force as they fought the alien armies of Spectra. Years later, I’m still a fan of the show, and now, through a newly released series of DVDs from Rhino Home Video, I can relive those childhood memories of "Battle of the Planets". But, more importantly, I can also learn the origins of the show with the original Japanese "Gatchaman" episodes, and see why purists prefer this to the homogenized "Battle of the Planets".

"Battle of the Planets" is an animated program, which tells the story of five teenage orphans, who have been trained as an elite fighting group known as G-Force. Each member is patterned after a specific bird. There’s Mark the Eagle, the forthright and disciplined leader of G-Force; Jason the Condor, hotheaded and always ready to fight; Princess the Swan, the only female and heart of the group; Keyop the Swallow, an impetuous test-tube baby who has a bizarre speech impediment; and Tiny the Owl, a very large young man, who pilots the teams’ spaceship, The Phoenix. G-Force was brought together by Dr. Anderson, and are watched over by a robot named 7-Zark-7 (who is often seen with his robot-dog sidekick, 1-Rover-1). The team’s mission is to protect the Earth was an evil alien race called, Spectra, who are led by the merciless Zoltar. Using The Phoenix, G-Force constantly battles and prevails over the mechanical monsters which Spectra dispatches to destroy the world.

Coming from Tatsunoko Productions, the same team responsible for anime favorite "Speed Racer" and "Robotech", "Battle of the Planets" contains innovative animation and complex storylines. While some of the animation does look a bit dated today, the use of multi-plane animation and creative uses of color certainly give "Battle of the Planets" a unique look. And while the storylines can be a bit episodic — Spectra sends a monster, G-Force destroys it, Spectra sends a monster…etc. — there is a surprising amount of character development, as we learn the unique personality traits of the members of G-Force. And let’s be honest, any show where the spaceship’s special power is to catch on fire has to be good!

To celebrate this landmark series, Rhino Home Video is releasing the "Battle of the Planets" episodes on DVD in chronological order, with two episodes per DVD, plus other goodies. Volume 1 includes the episodes "Attack of the Space Terrapin", in which G-Force must battle a robotic turtle, and "Rescue of the Astronauts", which features the team heading to Spectra’s undersea lair to track down information about life in outer space. Considering the fact that we’re looking at re-edited footage of a show, which is almost thirty years old, these two episodes look pretty good. There is a noticeable amount of grain on the image and the occasional defect from the source print. Also, some of the shots are somewhat fuzzy. Most of the colors look nice and have retained their original vibrancy. However, the audio is another story. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack offered on both episodes sounds awful. The audio is muffled and the voices sound as if they were recorded in a cave. The only way to watch these two episodes is with their original Digital Mono sound.

The Volume 1 DVD also offers the first two "Gatchaman" episodes which correspond to the two "Battle of the Planets" shows on the disc, which are entitled "Gatchaman vs. The Turtle King" and "The Evil Ghostly Aircraft Carrier Appears". Watching the shows side-by-side, it become very clear why pundits prefer "Gatchaman". When the show was brought to the US, some of the violence and more mature themes were excised from the episodes and replaced with the segments involving 7-Zark-7. We now see that the somewhat childish US version pales in comparison to the serious and sophisticated Japanese version. (The difference become very clear in the "Rescue of the Astronauts"/"Evil Ghostly…" episode, where the outcomes are totally different.) These episodes actually look better then the "Battle of the Planets" shows, showing little grain or distortion. The colors are about the same. These shows offer a Japanese Mono soundtrack and English subtitles, which are yellow and easy to read.

But that’s not all, the DVD also includes one episode of "G-Force". This was yet another version of "Gatchaman" which was shown on Turner networks in the late 80s. The episode "Robot Stegosaur" is another version of "Space Terrapin". The visuals are basically the same as the "Gatchaman" show, and the script follows the original closely as well. Unfortunately, the voice acting is horrible and I still can’t believe the Owl is named "Hootie". "G-Force" shows some of the grain and blur which was evident on "Battle of the Planets" and the audio is a Dolby Digital Stereo mix. This episode also offers Spanish and Portuguese tracks.

"Battle of the Planets, Volume 2" follows the same format. There are two episodes of "Battle of the Planets" — "The Space Mummy", which has a giant mummy (?!) attacking airplanes, and "The Space Serpent", in which a giant robotic snake begins attacking fuel sources and G-Force must help a girl deal with the death of her daughter. As on the first DVD, both episodes look OK, but show that same grain and occasional fuzziness. But, the audio is greatly improved here. The Dolby Digital <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack is quite good, offering a nice use of surround sound, and none of the echo heard on the first DVD. But, there is barely any bass response from this track.

The corresponding episodes of "Gatchaman" are called, "The Giant Mummy That Calls Storms" (What?) and "Revenge of the Iron Monster Mechadegon". (Didn’t Godzilla fight him?) Once again, the differences in plot are very obvious. Both of the "Gatchaman" episodes deal very frankly with the death of a loved one, and its interesting to see how "Battle of the Planets" tap-dances around those touchy subjects. Also, "Iron Monster…" has a scene in which Princess (Jun in the Japanese show) shows an attraction to Mark (Ken). That scene was cut from the US version. As with Volume 1, these two episodes look quite good, showing only a slight bit of grain and distortion, and offering nice colors. The Japanese mono soundtrack and English subs are comparable to the first disc.

The bonus "G-Force" episode is entitled "The Blast from the Bottom of the Sea", and corresponds to the "Rescue of the Astronauts" episode from Volume 1. The video is again somewhat blurry, and the audio is adequate.

With this "Battle of the Planets" collection, Rhino Home Video has created a treat that should please everyone. Fans of "Battle of the Planets" will get to relive all of those fond memories. Die-hard "Gatchaman" fans now have their favorite show on DVD. The inclusion of both shows on one DVD is a stroke of genius which will hopefully set a precedent for future collections. Here, fans can go back and forth effortlessly, comparing the original Japanese "Gatchaman" episodes to the strangely re-edited "Battle of the Planets". Having only read about "Gatchaman", it was with great interest that I made these comparisons. While "Battle of the Planets" still holds all of the charm that it did when I was in third grade, it’s very clear that "Gatchaman" is a much better story in terms of style and focus. I would love to see a hybrid of the two, in which the "Gatchaman" storylines were kept, but I could still hear Casey Kasem as Mark. Now that would be a great show! Fans of either "Battle of the Planets" or "Gatchaman" will have to check out these DVDs, no questions asked. And those who are interested in the roots of modern-day anime will want to examine these discs as well. The viewer will be exposed to two great, but different shows, and a wonderful DVD experience.