Battle of the Planets (1978) is the first Westernized adaptation of the 1972 Japanese animated television series known as Kagaku ninja tai Gatchaman. Of the 105 original Gatchaman episodes, 85 were used in the Battle of the Planets adaptation, produced by Sandy Frank Entertainment. The adaptation is generally faithful to the plot and character development of the original Gatchaman series, but significant additions and reductions were made in order to increase appeal to the North American juvenile television market of the late 1970s.
As of February 2007, Sandy Frank's 30-year license to Battle of the Planets is expired. It is not clear how this will affect the future of the series.
Battle of the Planets casts five young people as G-Force, consisting of Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop, and Tiny. The question has been raised whether or not the characters were cyborgs due to their super-human agility and demonstrations of power such as the whirlwind pyramid. G-Force protects Earth from planet Spectra and other attacks from 'beyond space'. Their main ship is The Phoenix, which can deploy four smaller vehicles, each operated by one team member. A regularly featured deus ex machina was the transformation of The Phoenix into a flaming bird-shaped craft able to handle virtually any exceptional situation by functioning as something like a large blowtorch. The Phoenixs primary weapon was a large supply of rockets. It also occasionally flaunted a powerful solar-powered energy blaster, although the team had the misfortune of choosing very cloudy days to use it.
In 1986, Gatchaman was re-worked in the US as G-Force: Guardians of Space by Turner, with a good deal of the original content that had been edited out of Battle of the Planets put back in to the show. It followed the plot of the original Gatchaman much more faithfully than Battle of the Planets because of this. However, the lack of Hoyt Curtin's original score and inferior voice acting prevented this series from attaining the high praise given to Battle of the Planets.
Battle of the Planets was also released in comic book form, originally by Gold Key Comics, but later revamped by Top Cow Productions. Two soundtrack albums and several DVDs have also been released.
The two Japanese follow-up series (Gatchaman II and Gatchaman F) were combined into 65 episodes and released as the Saban-produced show Eagle Riders. All 65 episodes aired in Australia, but in the United States only 13 episodes were aired.
The Battle of the Planets adaptation differs significantly from Gatchaman. The difference is due to heavy editing made to make the show appealing to the children's audience in the United States by removing controversial elements (i.e. graphic violence, profanity and transgenderism) while adding elements reminiscent of the feature film Star Wars, which was popular at the time. While the original Gatchaman was earthbound, dark-toned, and environmentally-themed, the adaptation morphed it into a child-friendly outer space show with robot characters, although some environmental themes were kept, and is also why the other planets to which G-Force traveled on missions looked very much like Earth. Setting, violence, objectionable language, and (most) character fatalities were altered or eliminated by cutting scenes, dubbing, and explanatory voiceovers (for instance, claiming that "the city has been evacuated" before a battle scene that would show the incidental destruction of buildings and houses, as well as explaining away the destruction of the Earth armies and air forces as being "robot" tanks and fighter planes).
One of the most notable changes in the BotP adaptation involves the character Keyop (Jinpei in Gatchaman), who picked up a bizarre verbal tic of stuttering, chirping, and burbling. There was a longstanding fan rumor that this was done because the original character spoke using profanity, and that Keyop's excess mouth motion would cover up deleting the words. This was not true, as demonstrated by the existence of an unedited Gatchaman version published by ADV Films, in which Keyop rarely if ever uses profanity. The in-story explanation for Keyop's unique manner of speech is that he is an android or an artificial life form.
The main villain, known as Zoltar in BotP, had an unusual background due to the hermaphroditic nature of the original Berg Katse character. In an episode where Katse's female half was featured (BotP title: "The Galaxy Girls"), "she" was introduced as a separate character, Zoltar's sister, for BotP. (A hint of "her" actual nature was retained in the name "she" used when masquerading as a human, "Mala Latroz"an anagram of "Zoltar.")
To compensate for the other differences, an R2-D2-type robot named 7-Zark-7 performed explanatory voiceovers and light comic relief, which not only padded the time lost from editing but also filled in the gaps in the storyline. Notionally, 7-Zark-7 ran the undersea monitoring station Center Neptune, from where he received information regarding incoming threats to Earth and relayed that information to G-Force. Zark and other added characters, such as 1-Rover-1, Zark's robotic dog (who could hover from one side of the control room to the other by spinning his tail like a propeller, Muttley-style) and Susan (the early-warning computer whose sultry feminine voice often sent Zark into paroxysms) added to the cartoon's youth appeal. Some additional footage was also animated showing G-Force members (using their Gatchaman model sheets) interacting with Zark, helping his addition blend more smoothly into the existing Gatchaman footage (although there is a clear difference in quality between the "Zark" and the "Gatchaman" animation).
At the time, Battle of the Planets was a favorite with children; the series is generally recalled with fondness by those now-adult viewers. However, some fans of the original Gatchaman contend that, due to all the changes made, the resulting Battle of the Planets is and should be considered as a wholly different show. It should be noted that, in spite of the alterations, the plot and character development of the adaptation generally follows that of the original to a higher degree than it is usually given credit for.