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This was one of the very first anime to which American audiences were exposed in the late 1970s. The original series appeared on Japanese television in 1972, produced by Tatsunoko Productions; 105 episodes were originally produced, but the English translations used only 85 of those episodes.
The show revolves around five heroic teenagers in bird suits who use ninja-type weapons. Each hero drives a special vehicle which combines with the God Phoenix mothership, which is then able to fire missiles and convert to the Kagaku Ninpo Hinotori ("Science Ninja Art: Firebird", or "Fiery Phoenix" in Battle of the Planets). Gatchaman was, in fact, the very first place the concepts of Five-Man Band (hero, cool guy, token female, precocious kid and big guy with a hick accent) and Combining Mecha intersected. The heroes mostly waged battles against the Monster of the Week built by the evil Galactor crime syndicate/terrorist army, which was ultimately led by Sosai ("Leader") X, an alien supervillain who wanted to rule the Earth, and Berg Katse, a mutant who could shift genders at will.
Gatchaman first appeared on American television in 1978, syndicated as Battle of the Planets, which has its own page.
In the mid-80s, after the popularity of BOTP waned and Sandy Frank was trying to find a new way to market the series, Turner Broadcasting Services became interested and acquired the rights to produce a new adaptation. In 1986, Turner hired Fred Ladd to reissue Science Ninja Team Gatchaman as G-Force, Guardians of Space. Although the stories were much truer to the original, the budget was much lower than that of Battle of the Planets, while the voice acting, dub names, and horribly, horribly repetitive background music were considered by a lot of fans to be very inferior.
The second and third series were then localized by Saban in 1995 as Eagle Riders. As bad as Gatchaman was edited for consumption, the later two series were downright butchered into one series, with some episodes even merged with others and a plot twist manufactured to tie both series together. Only 13 episodes of Eagle Riders saw the light of day in America, as the rest of the series would be aired only overseas.
For years, the first series was not available in the US uncut, with the last twenty episodes (including the series finale) unseen until 2005, when ADV Films announced the ambitious project to dub ALL 105 episodes into English for release on DVD. Which they did, finishing up the series in five box sets. However, the rights for all of the English-language adaptations expired after Sandy Frank's license lapsed in 2007, which included this version as ADV had sub-licensed the title, leaving fans to Keep Circulating the Tapes for it and the older dubs.
A lot of older American anime fans saw it as kids from one or another syndicator, and have a nostalgic soft spot for it. Many critics do consider it to be a historically important anime. Considering its competition in its time in the realm of Superhero animated television series was Superfriends, then the superior animation and writing of Gatchaman easily made this series the best in the genre until the Diniverse franchise began in the 1990s.
The series was revived in 1994 as a 3-episode OVA with character designs by Yasuomi "Mezzo Forte, Kite" Umetsu and a soundtrack by Maurice White of the band "Earth, Wind, and Fire". A CGI Revival film animated by Imagi Animation Studios (who rose to fame with the fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film) was scheduled for release in 2010, but the project entered Development Hell and never came out. More recently, Ken, Joe, and Jun have appeared as playable characters in Tatsunokovs Capcom alongside some of Tatsunoko's other greatest hits.
Check the Character Sheet for character-specific tropes.
Gatchaman provides examples of:
- The Abridged Series: Well, there's ONE episode but it would be great if someone decided to continue.
- Alternate History: The first series takes place in 2001, an indeterminate amount of time after the Third World War. Many countries shown in the series are Captain Ersatz versions or hybrids of a few different ones, save for some like Japan. There at least THREE different countries based off of America in the series, all meant as separate entities yet with similar naming scheme (Ameria, Ameris, and Amerishima).
- Amnesiac Dissonance: Episode 60 involves Ken saving an amnesiac pilot who ends up becoming an unofficial sixth member of the team. When he recovers his memories during a mission and remembers that he was a member of Gallactor, he must decide between his loyalty to Gallactor or his new-found friends at the Gatchaman team.
- Animal-Themed Superbeing: While their names don't imply this trope, their costumes and ship do.
- Badass Normal: The entire team sort of since none of them have any latent superhuman abilities and can kick ass even as civilians.
- Big Red Button: The firing button for the God Phoenix's bird missiles.
- By the Power of Greyskull:
- Calling Your Attacks
- Charles Atlas Superpower: Science Ninja Technique Tornado Fighter.
- Chest Insignia
- Clothes Make the Superman - The costumes, called "Bird Styles" enable the team to use a few special techniques (usually involving spinning really fast) and enhance their speed/agility/mobility some by granting them the ability to glide and maneuver in air (by jumping really high, etc.). They are also bulletproof against small arms fire (but they still have to dodge bullets since the impact will hurt them regardless).
- Combination Attack
- Combining Mecha: The God Phoenix.
- Compilation Movie: One was released in Japan in 1978, which compiled key moments from the series into a 2-hour theatrical feature meant to reacquaint viewers with the original series before the premiere of the Gatchaman II series a few months later.
- Cool Plane: The God Phoenix, again.
- Distress Ball: Everyone picks it up every now and then due to stubbornness or overconfidence.
- Dub Name Change: Only the ADV Films dub kept everyone's original names.
- Earthshattering Kaboom: The fate the Earth would have faced, hadn't Joe used his feather in the earthquake machine in the first season finale.
- Everyone Knows Morse: The drummer of a rock band captured by Galactor manages to smuggle out a distress signal this way.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Ninja Art: Tornado Fighter!
- The episode where Joe is put in a spinning cylinder.
- Fauxtastic Voyage: Used to foil a mass prison breakout launched by Galactor.
- Five-Man Band: The Trope Maker (or at least the Trope Codifier), there are two Smart Guys on the team.
- Forgotten Superweapon: Justified in the series concerning the God Phoenix's Fiery Phoenix function as it is very dangerous to use, is hard on the crew regardless and thus is strictly a last resort measure.
- Fur Bikini: A feather one seen during a carnival style celebration in one episode.
- Henshin Hero
- Hoist Hero Over Head: Not by a Bad Guy either.
- Hot Wings: The God Phoenix's "Firebird" mode.
- Humongous Mecha
- In the Name of the Moon:
"Sometimes one, sometimes five; the white shadow that moves unseen..."
- Last-Note Nightmare: Warera Gatchaman, the opening theme of the first sequel, Gatchaman II. You're listening to a rousing song about how awesome the Gatchaman team is, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, the song ends with a nasty Scare Chord.
- Limited Animation: In some episodes, it's painfully obvious that columns of identical-looking people are running out of buildings or whatever.
- Limited Wardrobe: Although this was sort of explained as their civilian clothes are not simply swapped out for their superhero outfits and actually become them. This was a major plot point when Jun lost one of her shoes and Galactor realized that the Gatchaman team had secret indentities when it accidently transformed into the boot of her costume.
- Literal Change of Heart: Condor's heart is replaced.
- Local Hangout: The Snack J., a bar/dance club owned by Jun, and operated by her and Jinpei. They also live there as well.
- Mecha-Mooks: Flesh-and-blood Mooks in the originals became "robot soldiers" in the US edits.
- Monster of the Week
- Mooks: The standard Galactor Goon squads.
- Nakama: Very much so.
- No Ending: The finale was never seen in the US until 2007, when the ADV Films finally released them.
- Offscreen Villain Dark Matter
- Ominous Fog: In an early episode, clouds of Ominous Fog cover an oceanic area where ships are vanishing. At the beginning of the episode a character tells he does not like that eerie fog and it is crepping him out, and another character scoffs that are silly superstitions and there is nothing to be frightened of... right before they disappear.
- Pre-Explosion Glow
- Riding Into the Sunset: Flying, anyway.
- Running Gag: Joe always wanting to use the bird missile. Ken/the rest of the team tries to dissuade him from using it. With various results.
- Sentai: A Spiritual Ancestor of the trope.
- Ship Tease: Ken and Jun. Jinpei makes fun of this.
- Stock Shout Out: Tons of anime have had shout outs and references to this show, especially the first episode. Heck, even several western cartoons have referenced this or one of its dub versions.
- Storming the Castle
- Superhero: The producers were big fans of American superhero comics and were eager to try their take on the genre.
- Super Sentai Stance: Lots and lots of posters of this.
- Tell Me How You Fight: Although they appear to fight the same at a glance, each member of the Science Ninja Team has subtlety different fighting styles. Ken, being The Hero, will often incorporate flashy, elaborate, show-off techniques into his moves, while Joe is usually much more direct and prefers No Holds Barred Beatdowns, incapacitating strikes and killing blows. Jun is a typical She Fu practitioner and mainly uses highly acrobatic maneuvers combined with kick based attacks and open-palmed strikes. Jinpei takes advantage of his smaller size to be as speedy and agile as possible, and will often sabotage his opponent's attacks before they have a chance to hit him. Ryu uses sumo style techniques which take full advantage of his bulk and raw strength.
- Three-Point Landing: Lots and lots of these by all hands.
- Totally Radical: A very unique example as the ADV dub makes no attempt to modernise the show at all and actually makes liberal use of 70's slang such as "groovy" and "solid."
- Transformation Trinket: Their bracelet/communicators also triggers change into bird style when they say "Bird go!". Most importantly, the bracelets have to stay on while transformed or they change back to civilian form if the bracelets are broken or knocked loose.