A groundbreaking anime from the year 1972, Gatchaman helped cement the concept of the five-member costumed superhero team, which would be seen in countless series to follow.
Gatchaman is also notable for having four different English adaptations/dubs across four decades: the first three (Battle of the Planets, G-Force: Guardians of Space, and Eagle Riders) suffered from varying degrees of editing and censorship, with Battle of the Planets being the most heavily altered. Gatchaman wouldn’t find an accurate, uncut dub until 2005.
The series told the story of the Science Ninja Team, a group of five young ninjas (Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei, and Ryu) in bird costumes who rode around in a special aircraft, The God Phoenix. Their enemy was an organization called Galactor, led by an alien (the appropriately named Leader X) that planned to conquer the Earth.
It’s raining. A lighthouse watches the coast. Violent waves. Lightning. A giant robot, Turtle King, rises from the water! It crushes a building and stomps on the scientists within (I’m assuming they’re scientists because they’re all wearing labcoats), then steals uranium from a vault.
In an International Science Organization conference room, representatives from multiple countries meet to discuss the Turtle King situation. Dr. Nambu, reveals that an organization known as Galactor is responsible. Galactor “possesses formidable scientific powers, and their goal is world conquest.” Finding their headquarters is top priority, and Dr. Nambu knows the right people for the job…
The Science Ninja Team
A small airplane flies over some mountains. Its pilot is Ken, G-1, the leader of the Science Ninja Team. Dr. Nambu orders him to rendezvous with the rest of the team in the God Phoenix, a large multipurpose aircraft. Ken waves his wristband in front of his face and shouts, “Bird, go!” A rippling light emanates from the band and he now appears in a white bird costume. His airplane changes as well and becomes snazzier.
Ryu, G-5, uses the incomplete God Phoenix to pick everyone up: Jun, G-3, motorcycle; Jinpei, G-4, dune buggy; Joe, G-2, racecar. Ken’s airplane is the last to join the God Phoenix.
On the bridge of the God Phoenix, Dr. Nambu gives a briefing on Turtle King. A horizontal line of static moves up the screen over and over again. Shouldn’t someone fix the monitor so it doesn’t do that? Joe gets pumped, ready to destroy Turtle King with the God Phoenix’s main armament, Bird Missiles, but Nambu reminds him that finding Galactor’s headquarters is more important.
Serendipitously, Ryu spots a whirlpool directly under the God Phoenix. Ken orders Ryu to fly the God Phoenix underwater, where they find a cave that everyone assumes Turtle King came out of. Meanwhile, Turtle King attacks a base of some sort that has a bunch of rockets sitting outside. The God Phoenix then rises out of the water, making the whole underwater excursion seem a bit pointless.
Joe, hothead that he is preps a Bird Missile, but Ken stops him at the last minute and offers a different course of action: sneaking inside Turtle King to steal back the uranium. Jun volunteers to accompany Ken because she’s an explosives expert. Also she might like him. As in, like like.
Inside Turtle King
In Turtle King’s control room, the commander, who wears a mask that looks like a mix between a cat and an octopus (let’s call him Octopuss), looks out the window at the God Phoenix and talks about how lame it is. He aims Turtle Kings lasers and fires, but due to Jun’s handiwork, Turtle King’s systems short out and explode. Octopuss is very cross.
Ken opens a huge door in Turtle King, allowing the God Phoenix to land inside. The team regroups and Ken tells them that the uranium is nowhere to be found. Octopuss and a bunch of Galactor goons make an appearance, but the Science Ninja Team beats them all up. We briefly see Octopuss’ boss, Berg Katse, and his boss’ boss, Galactor’s alien leader, Leader X, then Octopuss sets Turtle King to self destruct and escapes in its detachable head.
The God Phoenix tries to leave Turtle King’s body, but one of its wings gets stuck. Ken orders the activation of the Firebird, a dangerous technique that could destroy the God Phoenix – but they have no other option. The God Phoenix transforms into a literal phoenix, and predictably survives the destruction of Turtle King.
Overall, this episode is pretty average: you have a Galactor robot monster, which the Science Ninja Team has to infiltrate, beat up a lot of guards, and destroy within. On the plus side, I liked each of the characters’ introductions and characterizations
Everyone had something to do or dialogue to show us the type of people they are:
Ken showed he is a capable leader and was the one to come up with the plan to infiltrate Turtle King, Joe’s the impulsive one and obsessed with Bird Missiles, Jun had some nice banter with Ken and saved the day by disabling Turtle King, Jinpei got a few good lines showing his naivety and childishness, and Ryu…well, he got to leave the God Phoenix and beat up some goons, which is something that becomes a rarity as the series goes on.
My favorite part of this episode is that while the team was responsible for Turtle King’s destruction, they failed to recover the uranium. In essence, they broke even, which will happen a lot in Gatchaman: the heroes won’t have a perfect victory every time.