It All Began With Gatchaman…
The romance for me started when I was 6. Now provided, 6 years old isa bit young for boy to fall in love but it was right there in front of me. 5 teenagers wearing shirts numbered one through five who, at the first sign of trouble would shout “TRANSMUTE!” and become ass-kickinbg superheros dressed as birds. I was six and at that point in time I knew that this TV show I was watching, called Battle Of The Planets, would be one of the great loves of my life. It was my gateway, so to speak, to the world of anime.
Battle Of The Planets was everything a six year old boy could want from a cartoon. It had heros in coloful costumes, a cool ass spaceship and an evil terrorist organization determined to rule the world. I was six, I had no idea that it was even Japanese. I had even less of an idea that it wasn’t originally called Battle Of The Planets, but we will get to that later. BotP led to me watching another show a year later called Star Blazers. I should rephrase this… it led to me sneaking into the kitchen after school to turn on the TV to watch Star Blazers. See I wasn’t ‘Allowed’ to watch TV unless it was PBS or The Muppet Show. So like any good six year old, I snuck into the kitchen to watch TV as much as I could. Now Star Blazers blew me away even more due to its incredible story, telling the tale of Earth’s Space Force raising an ancient Battleship in order to travel to the Planet Iscandar in order to save the Earth itself from the radioactive asteroids being hurled at it by the Gamillon Star Empire. This was 2 years after Star Wars and thus anything that was remotely space opera-ish would grab my attention.
So nothing noteworthy happened to me, in my opinion at least, until 1984. Yes boys and girls in 1984 Voltron hit the airwaves and it became my new afterschool obsession. Thus began what was, most likely, the most physical time of my life before puberty. See, I got out of school everyday at 3:45 PM. My school was on 70th street between 3rd and Lexington avenues. I lived on 82nd street and East End Avenue. All told that is 12 North/South blocks and 5 East/West blocks. The bus was not fast enough for me, I had to watch Voltron and thus learned the art of controlled running. This is the fine art of running two and a half blocks, stopping for 60 seconds to catch your breath and then running another two and a half blocks. It is amazing that I didn’t have a stroke at the age of 12 doing this. This lasted for 3 months. Christmas of that 1984 was when my family got its first VCR.
For those of you who don’t remember the VCR allow me to enlighten you. The Video Cassette Recorder, or VCR, was about the size of one of those women you see used to on the Sweatin’ To The Oldies commecials with Richard Simmons. For those of you who are to young, I really don’t have time to explain “Sweatin’ To The Oldies” and I really don’t have time to explain Richard Simmons. Anyway, the VCR was there so we could record our favorite shows. What it meant to me was that I would no longer be left gasping for air every two and a half city blocks. I was the first one in the house to master the art of setting a pre-record and thus was Voltron taped and thus I was able to go back to being supremely lazy and not having to run home every day and avoid a pre-pubescent heart attack.
For 5 months Voltron was king on my VCR. It was the only thing I taped. Yet that to would come ot an end one fateful Saturday morning in March. I used to dread Saturday mornings because from the time I was about six until I was about 11 I was always dragged to my Father’s tennis club. My Dad LOVES playing tennis. If there was a tennis tournment at Madison Square Garden, my Dad had to go see it. I’ve never been taken to Madison Square Garden against my will so many times in my life. My Dad’s tennis club was the Columbia University Tennis Center in Riverdale. I would be woken up at 9 AM every Saturday and be forced to sit at the center until about 2 in the afternoon. This was a my father’s attempt to be clever and prevent me from watching Saturday morning cartoons. This backfired on him because all I did was stay in clubhouse and watch TV. When I turned ywelve I put my foot down and determined that I would be bored by tennis no longer and amazingly my father acquiesced. But this isn’t what happened in March of 1985… no no, this was just a completely unrelated tangent because that is just how I roll…
It was a bleak and cold day. I had, for some reason, woken up at 6 AM that Saturday and found myself unable to sleep. My parents were both asleep and my sister was away at college. Her old room had been redone and made into the family TV room. It ws kind of ironic that this had been done because my parents HAD a TV in their room. Thus ,the Family TV Room became James Harris TV command center. So I, unable to sleep, stumbled int othe Family Room and turned on the television, Lo and behold there was a cartoon like none I had ever seen before. Sure Transformers was on TV and the concept of robots becoming vehicles was nothign new but this show blew my mind because it had robots but also would focus on dialogue. In fact the very first episode of this show featured 2 of the main characters trapped during an air raid drill basically yelling at each other for 22 minutes. This was not your average children’s programming, This was Robotech and this was a revelation to me. Robotech was immediately set to record on the VCR every Saturday at 6:30 AM. After one month of watching Robotech I boldly declared to my friends that “Voltron is for kids, I watch Robotech you losers!”.
Not soo after that I found myself in the New York branch of Forbidden Planet, a magnificent store that catered to all forms of geek hobby. From comics, to model kits, to Role-Playing Games… Forbidden Planet everything! What they had that caught my eye this time though was this slick book titled Robotech Art 1. I flipped through it and knew right then and there that I had to have it. I plopped down the last of my birthday money from my Grandma and it was mine. I rushed home, on my bike no less… no more controlled running for me, especially since Forbidden Planet was on 59th street between 2nd and 3rd avenues back then an not on its ever so posj Broadway location that it is today… I got home, ran into my room and sat down and read the entire book. It had a complete episode guide and a a woderful history of Japanese animation. Robotech was Japanese? Who knew?
In fact, Robotech was culled from 3 completely unrelated series into one cohesive story by one Carl Macek, this I learned from reading Robotech Art 1 I learned that all my favorite animated shows were in fact from Japan. The big shock for me was discovering that Battle Of The lanets was originally called Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. The book also told how Gatchaman was savagely edited to make Battle Of The Planets. Basically Gatchaman is one of the most vioent children’s show ever made and thus whole sections of many episodes had to be edited in order to be suitable for broadcast. I was even more horrified to learn that 7-Zark-7, the beloved robot sidekick in Battle Of The Planets, was an entirely American creation designed to fill in the gaps that got edited out of the Japanese original. Even more shocking was the revelation that my favorite character DIED in the Japanese version in the final episode. I made up my mind right then and there…Battle Of The Planets was dead to me, my goal in life was to watch Gatchaman. It was pledge that I never forgot but feared would never be fulfilled…
The years rolled on. I went to Boarding School and cartoons became somewhat less important as I geared up for college. College came and I achieved the impossible (a perfect 0.0 GPA). This was in no small part to gaming taking a huge hold of my life. Everythiung became about gaming ot me. I skipped class and didn’t do my class-work because I was always either sleeping or gaming. One day, on route to my 0.0, my friend eric and I got talking about how cartoons weren’t nearly as cool as they used to be. This entire discussion was sparked due to viewing on the new and utterly awful Swamp Thing cartoon. Eric mentioned he actually had a copy of the Super Dimensional Fortress Macross movie. I FREAKED out. SDF Macross was the original version of the first third of Robotech. I demanded to know why he had been holding out on me. He told that was nothing, because he had just gotten his hands on Akira. I was vaguely familiar with Akira due to Marvel Comics publishing the series uner its EPIC comcis imprint. I never read it mind you, it was just one of those things that was on the stands that I did not read. What followed was a viewing of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? and Akira.
Akira blew me away. It was so mind blowingly incredible that I nearly declared it the greatest movie I’d ever seen. I spent practically every weekend watching Akira and marvelling at how incredible it was. Its range of motion foranimation was just so amazing. Of course then I flunked out of college and had to get a job. Lucky for me I landed at Marvel. It was working in the mail room that I met fred. Fred had 2 friends named Tom & Paul. Tom and Paul were Japan-o-philes and had stacks upon stacks of videos from Japan which they were more than willing to make copies of for me, for a nominal fee of course. I made a deal with them that I’d hook them up with free comcis, both DV and Marvel, every week. But what did I want? What did they have that I wanted to see so badly…
Simple, they had Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and I was going to get it!
Tom copied off 2 tapes for me to start with. The first included the first 4 episodes of Gatchaman and the scond included the last 5. These had no subtitles. I knew not a lick of Japanese. I didn’t care. I went home and spent that Friday night in front of my TV screen, glued to the set as I watched Gatchaman destroy the evil hordes of the alien terrorist organization known as Galactor led by Berg Katse. The Batttle Of The Planets characters of Mark, Jason, Princess, Tiny, and Keyop were dead to me once and for all. In their place stood Ken The Eagle, Joe The Condor, Jun The Swan, Ryu The Owl and Jinpei The Swallow. Once again Gatchaman became my gateway drug. It remains, to this day, my favorite show. Not my favorite cartoon. No, saying that belittles its epic story. Gatchaman is myu favorite TV show ever! It si my number one anime of all time and it is truly the stuff that makes believe that there is a kind and merciful creator that loves me. Why else would he makes suck a great show for me to heap praise upon? Why else would he use it as means to help me explore modern Japanese culture?
I spent a year getting tapes from Tom and Paul. They turned me on to many differnt things as far as anime went including Saint Seiya, Devilman and they re-ignited my love of Star Blazers by handing me a copy of the origianl Uchu Senkan Yamato movie Be Forever Yamato, subtitled in english no less! For the record, Robotech Art 1 taught that Star Blazers was originally called Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato) in Japan and it was not only a beloved franchise their but also predated Star Wars by almost 3 years. Yamato was a cash cow for the Japanese spanning 3 TV series, 5 movies and countless toys, video game and other merchandise. But I shall talk of my love of Yamato another time for this i about my love of the White Shadow that slips in unseen, sometimes five, sometimes one. The unbeatable Science Ninja Team known as… GATCHAMAN!