With a hot new Gatchaman live-action film poised to hit Japan in August, plus a TV anime re-invention (Gatchaman Crowds) this summer and a re-release of the TV series in North America on DVD coming in the fall, interest in the exploits of the five heroic color-coded teenagers dressed as birds who murder evil henchmen by the dozen is at a fever pitch. The thing is, there's a reason why the original TV series is so well-remembered more than thirty years after its debut - it starts off as a fun, swinging monster-of-the-week yarn before amping up the conflict between the heroic Gatchaman team and menacing interplanetary crime syndicate Galactor to ridiculous heights. How ridiculous are these heights? And how awesome would that new movie be if even one one of them were included? Let's check it and see.
10) Robot Dinosaurs!
Episode 38, "The Mysterious Mechanized Jungle," opens with a museum exhibitor coming to town with his compellingly realistic set of life-sized dinosaur models. These massive lizard replicas capture the Gatchaman team's imagination, but it isn't long before the city explodes in flames - flames issued forth from those same dinosaur models, which are obviously evil robots in disguise!
Ken investigates the exhibit of magnet-powered robo-sauruses, only to be captured. He escapes just in time to scramble Gatchaman and fire on the rampaging metal and plastic thunder lizards. Their facades slough off, revealing an even weirder-looking squad of killer robots underneath! "Big deal," you might say about all this, but remember, this was more than ten years before stuff like the Dinobots and that one Dino-Riders cartoon. So, yes, big deal.
9) The Hunky Second-in-Command Dies, Only to Be Turned Into a Killer Cyborg
One of the most emotional parts of the original series is when Condor Joe - the Gatchaman team's smoldering, impulsive loner - dies heroically after battling a chronic brain injury for several episodes. Joe made the perfect foil for team captain Ken - while Ken preaches justice, Joe hungers for revenge, yet when Ken's fiery temper boils over, it's Joe who often keeps a cool head and continues ruthlessly killing Galactor henchmen with his feather shurikens. His struggle and demise give the show's climactic run of episodes real emotional weight.
The problem was, both Gatchaman and Joe were simply too popular at the time, so when the TV series got a sequel, Gatchaman F, a few years later, they had no choice but to bring Joe back - as a solar-powered living bomb! Okay, the "living bomb" bit is a surprise for later, but even though the team is happy to see Joe again (after they deal with his scary-looking and obviously evil red-herring replacement), they're plainly unnerved by the fact that he's kind of a robot now. A very handsome robot, with flowing locks and fine, chiseled features.
8) The World's Sugar Supply Gets Alarmingly Low - Twice!
Gatchaman is a series fraught with conflict, and no conflict is higher-stakes than the one that arises when the world's supply of sugar is about to be exhausted. The International Science Organization's successful development of an artificial sweetener, shugare (yep, it's pronounced "sugar ray"), seems like a peaceful solution - until Galactor swoops in and seizes the entire supply, the better to create a monopoly. Needless to say, the team has to fight hard to get that shugare back.
Something like seventy episodes later, when the supply dips again, the kid (Jinpei) and the fat guy (Ryu) on the team freak out, because no more sugar means no more candy and cake. Galactor then creates a flying, super-robotic sugar factory for the Gatcha-team to battle, and tubby ol' Ryu does the trick by using a variation on the "sugar in the gas tank" prank, only on a terrifyingly large scale. This multi-episode chronicle of pilfered sugar is a gripping tale of industrial espionage...for kids.
7) Killer Buddha Robots
Jaw-droppingly weird enemies are a common sight in the world of Gatchaman. The show's opening episode features a villain in an extremely turtly turtle costume, and by episode three they're already into Space Mummy territory. But some of the bad guy robots and henchmen are more hilariously weird than others. One of them being a towering, city-smashing replica of Phra Phrom, the four-faced Buddha.
I don't know what it is about this show and evil robot versions of religious icons and beloved cultural figures. In episode 58, the Gatcha-squad has to contend with both a team of five or six Buddha-bots, and one particularly large, regal-looking one with four horrible faces, which is actually a Thai-based recreation of the Hindi god Brahma. It's really something when you get to see a towering representation of the god of creation firing lasers from his forehead.
6) Super-Combining Ninjas
The Gatchaman team's signature move is this wild, crazy team effort called the Tornado Fighter. See, it's pretty simple - they do a 5-man triangle stand, like a cheerleader team, and then somehow start spinning, even though the legs of Ryu and Joe, the two holding up the bottom, don't seem to move. They move so rapidly, in fact, that they basically turn into a spinning murder tornado. A spinning murder tornado of justice!
It seems like a power like this would be unique, but not in the world of Gatchaman - instead, they square off against a team of enemy ninja specially trained to thwart their tornado attack. These four matching assassins combine into a single gigantic, horrible shuriken! Now, this kind of physics-defying combat is routine for Gatchaman, but the human shuriken pictured above is a particularly awesome example of the show's disrespect for things like mass, gravity, and inertia.