History: From Then to Now
It All Started in 1972...
Since its creation in the early 70's, different parts of Tatsunoko's Gatchaman anime have been translated into other languages around the world. Unfortunately, many feel that the farther we get from the original, the worse the quality of what remains.
From Sandy Frank's Battle of the Planets to Turner Entertainment's G-Force:Guardians of Space and Saban Entertainment's Eagle Riders, the Gatchaman story has become one of the most beloved stories in animation history, and its fan base of Gatchamaniacs is still growing over 30 years later.
There are three installments to the original Gatchaman storyline:
- Gatchaman I (105 episodes)
- Gatchaman II (52 episodes)
- Gatchaman Fighter (48 episodes)
On October 1, 1972, Tokyo's Fuji Television premiered the very first episode. Originally dubbed "Birdman," the show's creators renamed it "Gatchaman" at the last minute. To the Japanese, the title sounded a bit like mecha smashing into each other —Gatchaan!
Gatchaman was Tatsunoko's most successful superhero production, and with 205 episodes it was also one of the longest-running drama series in early anime.
Gatchaman was a juxtaposition of the 1971 henshin (heroes who transform) concept and the American superhero. It set the standards in the animation world for the now-archetypal team show; according to one Wikipedia contributor, "It is agreed among both anime and tokusatsu fandoms that Gatchaman was the originator of the Sentai concept and set the bar for all transforming hero teams; from Super Sentai to Magic Girls and beyond."
Breaking New Ground
Unlike other animation of the time, Gatchaman included a lot of adult material. The characters swear, kill, hate, and — in the case of one of the team's most beloved members — die.
What started as a science fiction action series that featured one mecha-monster after another evolved into a drama that capitalized on its characters' relationships. And though Gatchaman started as a showcase for its titular character, fans fell in love with the hotheaded second in command. "From the beginning, we decided that Ken would be [everything] a hero should be — brave, cunning, etc. — but as we entered into this, we saw that the fans were really for Joe and Ken. And then Joe (as the series ended) had become a fan favorite."
Series creators took advantage of Joe's popularity and built on the story they'd already put in place: Joe witnessed his parents' death at the enemy's hands and suffered several serious head injuries. As the second half of Gatchaman I developed, so did Joe's symptoms, thanks to a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder and brain damage.
"Melodramatic though it was, [we knew] it would cause fans to rejoice for the interesting twist, and [be] saddened by the loss of what was quickly becoming a popular character." Fans watched while Joe's health declined, and were shocked by his death at the close of the series. "We knew it would be shocking," said one of the people who worked on the show. "But not that shocking."