5) A Secret, Evil Fashion Show
The queen of the tiny nation of Monarins is enraptured by the exploits of the famed science ninja team, and holds a fashion show to raise money for Gatchaman. Jun loves fashion, and is thrilled at being asked to participate in the affair. The rest of the team tags along to play guard duty, and it's a good thing - Galactor boss Berg Katse knows about the queen's financial support of the team, and is hoping to weaken them by assassinating her.
Katse executes his clearly flawless plan, which is to replace every contestant except Jun with a carefully trained assassin armed with a ring that launches tiny bombs. But are Galactor's extremely fashionable murderers, the Devil Stars, ready to sashay down the catwalk against Bird Fashion, the trendy new fashion style... of justice?
4) Children's Christmas Gifts Loaded With Poison Gas
Was the PTA really active in Japan in 1972? I have to think that any such TV watchdog group wasn't being that attentive, because Gatchaman's big holiday episode involved booby-trapped Christmas gifts. As kids, we're often warned to be careful of sketchy Halloween candy. But sketchy Christmas presents?! I like to do the whole "shake the box" thing, but I've never thought to listen and see if the box is ticking. In the world of Gatchaman, it's a real problem.
The most compelling thing about this episode isn't just the child murder, it's the fact that it simply wasn't enough to get a few characters killed offscreen by Galactor's latest attempt to cause mayhem. No - they had to show the victims slumped over the dinner table, as well. It's shocking, kinda hilarious, but also genuinely creepy. As a kid, I would have loved this kind of insanity, but it still would've given me scary dreams later.
3) Music That Causes People to Die
In episode 41 of Gatchaman, we're introduced to the Demon Vibe, a neat-o psychedelic rock band that's taking the entire musical world by storm. Naturally, Galactor and their leader on the ground, the raving, seemingly ambisexual Berg Katse, see an opportunity to cause chaos - so Katse kidnaps Demon Vibe and straps giant helmets on them, which allows him to program them to play music. Really bad music!
How bad is the music? The Demon Vibe's new hit, which they deliver by flying over cities in a sleek, scary-looking helicarrier, is so discordant, bizarre, and awful that it literally causes buildings to collapse and listeners to drop dead after too much exposure. In other words, it's kinda like that latest Justin Bieber single.
2) Dr. Nambu Being a Humongous, Hilarious Dick
Dr. Kozaburo Nambu, the ostensible genius behind the team of scientific ninja called Gatchaman, is an accomplished scientist and Nobel laureate. He dresses stylishly in a powder blue leisure suit, complete with vest. He's got that swingin' mustache and feathered hair just like every other sexy man in the 1970s. But while his mission may be a peaceful one, the Gatchaman team sometimes find him to be as scary an adversary as anyone from Galactor.
In one episode, Dr. Nambu scolds Jun for losing her shoe in battle, appearing visibly angry while doing so. In another, he hotly orders Jinpei to cease trying to save a helpless baby seal, because the mission is more important, dammit! And in yet another, he demonstrates the graveness of the situation by replaying a tape of civilians dying for our heroes. He tries to cure Joe, who's sickened by a terrible brain injury, by placing him in a centrifuge and attempting to violently shake the shrapnel out of his brain pan. Hell, remember that Murder Music episode above? The dude puts on a pair of fuzzy headphones and plays the killer music back for the science ninja team, just so he can observe them convulsing in agony! Dr. Nambu may be a genius, but he's also one hell of a douchebag.
1) LAVA JESUS!
The episode opens with a sculptor toiling away at a massive granite, Rushmore-style reproduction of the face of Jesus Christ. You just know this isn't going to end well, and soon enough, Galactor steals the sculpture and bolts it to the front of their towering, lava-powered robot. The newly-created Lava Jesus flattens a city, and Gatchaman are called to square off with this 100-foot-tall burning facsimile of the Messiah.
This episode is amazing to watch from a western point of view. Sure, only a small percentage of Japanese practice Christianity, but it's intensely bizarre simply because no character ever thinks to remark on how weird it is that they're basically fighting a skyscraper-sized Magma Christ. As Homer Simpson might say, it's sacrilicious!
So, there's ten things that make Gatchaman one of the wildest, craziest, and most undeniably entertaining and enduring animated rides of the 1970s. Best of all, I've really only scratched the surface of science ninja team-related weirdness - there's an infamous episode where Joe endangers the team by insisting on rescuing a puppy, there's the peculiar dress and mannerisms of series heavy Berg Katse, and there's the curious story of Battle of the Planets, the original English adaptation that featured celebrity voices like Casey Kasem and Alan Young, plus terrible new animation to fill in the parts where they took out the murder (you couldn't do murder in American children's cartoons back then).
But for now, let's pray for the big-screen success of Gatchaman, and cross our fingers for at least one diabolical plot involving fiery religious statues, plots to steal the world's sugar supply, or death-inducing musical numbers.