I recently bought the first DVD set of Gatchaman, the 1970’s anime that was re-edited and repackaged as Battle of the Planets here in North America. I watched BOTP religiously as a youngun, having no clue as to its origins—and honestly, not caring that much. But now I do care and, seeing the original, uncut and redubbed (and resubbed—I usually prefer subtitles anyways), I’m shocked at how much was “lost in translation.” For one thing, the violence and the deaths were toned down quite a bit. For another, the robot sidekick and narrator 7-Zark-7 was added to the mix (because I guess kids need cute but annoying robots), cutting into yet more of the original story. Jinpei/Keyop was just a normal kid in the original series, but became some sort of lab-grown artificial human in BOTP to explain his weird speech impediment. The real explanation, of course, was that it was damn hard to fit English dialog to his huge flapping mouth. The adult characters all had much smaller mouths, so it wasn’t a problem for them. And, for some reason, in BOTP Galactor/Spectra (the evil organization trying to conquer Earth) got renamed and became extraterrestrial, where originally they were just human terrorists, no more alien than Doctor Evil. I’m not sure how much I should read into that. Were the BOTP writers too twitchy about blurring the lines of good and evil? Or maybe it was just to make the whole thing more science-fictiony and allow the heroes to visit other planets (which looked just like Earth) and put in some cool starscape shots?
I have to say, once it’s stripped of all the useless and irritating Kiddie Show frills, Gatchaman is pretty good stuff. Nothing spectacular, and somewhat talky and overdramatic as anime tends to be, but it’s good solid entertainment, highly enjoyable. Even the “character development” scenes and storylines (the “chemistry” between Ken/Mark and Jun/Princess, Joe/Jason’s hotheadedness and constant butting heads with the leader, the mysterious “Red Impulse” who turns out to be Ken’s father, etc…) are somehow a lot less annoying in the original.
Battle of the Planets wasn’t the only anime I grew up with. There were three other shows, all French-dubbed. And, interestingly, none of them toned down the violence. I guess English censors were more timid than French ones?
First up is Goldorak (original Japanese name: UFO Robo Grendizer). Giant robots with exotic-looking weapons! Earth in peril! A prince in exile! The series actually wasn’t hugely violent, since most of the action took place between the aforementioned giant robots; however, there were a number of tense and emotional scenes, as well as a few deaths over the course of the series—including most of the main bad guys in the finale. I’ve found a few videos on YouTube and a few more as bittorrents. It still holds up quite well. The action and visuals are excellent, and the characters have some depth (except for a few who are there just for comic relief). Good stuff. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: Goldorak was huge in France and French Canada when it came out.
As it turns out (and again, I had no clue then), Goldorak/Grendizer was just one of many giant robots already fighting in anime. My brother and I had lots of the little Shogun Warrior action figures back in… 1979, I think. Later, we got the bigger Raydeen and Daimos. I wonder how much they’d be worth now. It’s kind of a moot point, since we threw them away long ago, and even if we hadn’t they’d be far from mint condition. For example, I remember that Poseidon’s missile launcher things broke off at one point.
Albator (English: Harlock) is the story of a noble space pirate fighting evil alien plant women called Sylvidres (English: Mazones), who mean to conquer Earth. This series was very violent, with people always getting shot or stabbed or burned, often in slow motion. One scene I remember shows Clio (Miime), the mysterious alien crewmember with strange magical powers, quietly playing solitaire (I think) on board the Atlantis (Arcadia), when a Sylvidre soldier snuck up on her. So what did she do? She threw a playing card like a knife at the Sylvidre and hit her right in the chest. Whereupon the alien burst into flames, ’cos that’s how they die. Man, that’s hardcore. In addition to the violence there were also a few scenes of nekkid wimmin (well, nekkid Sylvidres), though with their long hair or other props artfully arranged to cover the naughty bits.
Albator was recently broadcast for a while on Radio-Canada; I stumbled on it by accident and managed to catch a few episodes. It’s a great show, very dark and over-the-top dramatic, though lightened by gorgeous space battles and small amounts of comic relief. But damn, how old was I when I first watched it? Seven, maybe? I guess the moral is, TV violence won’t necessarily harm your child as long as it’s artfully done.
Last but not least we have Capitaine Flam. This anime was based on a 1940’s sci-fi pulp series called Captain Future: each storyline, taking up four half-hour episodes, was adapted from an original Captain Future story. As far as I can tell, the TV series is very true to the original. We have a hero who is a physically and mentally perfect human being, with vast scientific knowledge and amazing athletic skills that he uses for the good of humanity. We have a few interesting sci-fi sidekicks (a robot, an android, and a brain in a floating box), as well as a platonic love interest. This is a universe when men are men, women are women (yet, though Joan is often the damsel in distress, she’s got a sharp brain and can kick some ass when needed), space is big and dangerous, and on every planet and moon you’ll find exotic aliens or mysterious ruins hiding fabulous ancient technologies. But though Flam can fire a proton blaster with the best of them, as often as not he saves the day through diplomacy or ingenuity. You don’t see that too often these days, but it was a time when a hero could be manly and scientific. In fact, though some of the science is extremely silly (no, you can’t hide an entire planet in Halley’s comet), there’s a very didactic tone to the show that reminds me of some Victorian adventure stories and slightly more recent comic books.
I downloaded a few episodes, and I’m happy to say Capitaine Flam still holds up. In fact, it’s damn good stuff, even more enjoyable now that I’m aware of its roots. And, best of all, there are online copies of many of the original Captain Future stories. Just in case you want to see where it all started.