Story: The authors chronicle the origins and history of, and public reaction to, both the Japanese animÃ¨ series Kagakaninjatai Gatchaman (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) and its heavily re-edited American counterpart, Battle Of The Planets, imported by U.S. syndication pioneer Sandy Frank. Cast members and the makers of the shows are interviewed extensively, and the recent revival of interest in the shows are covered in terms of merchandise and an extensive interview with Alex Ross, artistic director of a new latter-day Battle Of The Planets comic. (Ross also contributes the cover artwork.)
Review: A fascinating, one-of-a-kind guide to a classic animÃ¨ series and its distinctly different but joined-at-the-hip Americanization, “G-Force: Animated” contains a wealth of information I’d never seen or heard elsewhere. It seems like a fairly thin book for the price, but for one thing, it’s an oversized trade paperback, and for another, I imagine a great deal of the price is tied into the licensing from both Tatsunoko Productions and Sandy Frank. It’s also full color throughout (with a great many rare merchandise photos, initial character design sketches, animation cels, and so on). It may not be cheap, but if you’re a fan of either or both of these shows, this is the only game in town.
The research that went into the book is phenomenal – stuff like this is truly the best possible application of fannish energies. Jason Hofius is generally acknowledged to be the authority on the history of both shows, and his passion for the material shows in both meticulous research and an occasionally overenthusiastic authorial tone – quite a few sentences end in exclamation points! Because the show was firing on all cylinders and doing well! It’s really more worthy of a chuckle than a genuine complaint, however. It’s unlikely that a book on this particular topic would’ve gotten off the ground without the zeal of a True Believer or two behind it, so I can grant the authors that quirk.
The book seems to be formatted in a way that very much recalls some of Boxtree Publishing’s behind-the-scenes tomes (“Creating Babylon 5” and “The Making Of Blake’s 7” spring immediately to mind), which sidebars and boxed factoids contributing isolated chunks of trivia that more or less fit into the context of a given page’s topic. And from the scriptwriting process to the voice recording sessions to the music to how the series was distributed across the U.S., there are few stones left unturned in this exhaustive study of Gatchaman and Battle of the Planets. In fact, the only unexamined area I can think of is that there are some curious omissions in the merchandise section. Granted, the book is, as made clear by its title, about Battle Of The Planets more than it is about Gatchaman, but given that merchandise from Japan would be of great interest even to American and European fans, Japanese memorabilia seems like an odd thing to not mention. There are also numerous Gatchaman and Battle Of The Planets video games that go unmentioned as well, though much of that also falls under the strange non-examination of Japanese merchandise. (We’ve reviewed at least two such games on this site, Tatsunoko Fight and Gatchaman: The Shooting.) I understand the author’s admonition that they can’t cover everything in the merchandise section, but Gatchaman premiered in 1972. It’s a creature of the video game age, and that makes that particular category of merchandise a somewhat surprising omission. Call me, guys, I’d be happy to help out in the event of a second edition.
Appropriately, the book closes with a lengthy interview with Alex Ross, accompanied by some of his rough artwork and his stunning finished pieces. Ross’ Battle Of The Planets comic has really proven to be the front-runner of the current revival of interest in the shows (when everyone else, myself included, expected the DVD releases to lead the charge), and it’s interesting to see Ross reveal himself to be every bit the lifetime fan as the authors. There’s also plenty of discussion about how Ross assembled the team that works on the comics, and how he managed to pitch a modern comic revival of – let’s face it – a watered-down Japanese cartoon from the late 1970s as a promising prospect for Top Cow. As the comic is the one thing carrying Battle Of The Planets into the 21st century, it’s an ideal note to close on.
A really, truly, fascinating book – if you’re into the subject matter at hand.
Authors: Jason Hofius and George Khoury
Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing