This week’s edition of The Animation That Changed Me, a series in which leading filmmakers and industry artists discuss one work of animation that deeply influenced them, features Shannon Tindle, an Emmy-winning designer, story artist, and director.
Tindle’s credits include Coraline and The Croods; he created Laika’s Oscar-nominated Kubo and the Two Strings, and is currently writing and directing at Netflix. His choice is the 1972 anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which spawned a franchise, and was broadcast in the U.S. in a modified version known as Battle of the Planets.
Over to Tindle:
I was four years old when I first saw the show on tv. I distinctly remember the opening titles: the theme song blaring while the sun rose over a painted earth and the God Phoenix [aircraft] glided through space. So incredible! Then a voice announced that this was the “Battle of the Planets!!!” — and there was a pan across the Gatchaman team (or G-Force team, as it was called in the U.S.), dressed in these sleek bird-inspired costumes. I’d never seen anything like it and was immediately hooked.
I grew up in rural Kentucky and my entertainment was limited to Looney Tunes, Marvel Comics, and whatever movies happened to pop up on tv. My dad was a huge moviegoer, but at that age, he and mom would only take me to see Disney movies. The one exception was Star Wars, my first big sci-fi experience. Gatchaman felt like Star Wars and Marvel Comics merged into this amazing, action-adventure baby!
I didn’t really know that Gatchaman was a Japanese production until much later, but I could sense that it was different. The design, animation, and story were a complete departure from American superheroes. It really stuck with me, and I began seeking it out around the time I started high school. This was the late 1980s/early 1990s, and manga and anime had just started trickling into the States.
Although access to a lot of Japanese content was still limited at the time, my love for that show caused me to seek out comics and movies from all over the world. I watched Akira, read Kamui-den and Lone Wolf and Cub — both absolute masterpieces — and just devoured anything new that I hadn’t been exposed to. Gatchaman really opened my mind to all the amazing content, created by a diverse range of artists I’d never seen growing up.
It was around then that I became aware that Battle of the Planets was actually an edited, dubbed version of Tatsunoko Production’s Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Around the 1990s, I got my hands on bootleg copies of the U.S. release. Then, not long after I moved to L.A., they began releasing both the U.S. and the Japanese versions on DVD.
It was so incredible to see the original release as intended: there was more violence and profanity, and no fast-talking robots to soften it for kids. I love both. I still have a deep sense of nostalgia for the U.S. release, but the harder edge of the Japanese version is great.
The design of the show has always been a huge influence, so much so that Yoshitaka Amano’s character designs inspired my costume designs for The Sisters in Kubo. Those winged capes are just too cool. My good friend Jorge Gutiérrez is also a fan of the show, and he’s convinced that the Gatchaman designs were inspired by the Aztec cuāuhmeh (eagle warriors). I think it’s an intriguing theory and would love to find out if it’s true.
I’ve revisited Gatchaman several times over the years and it’s still a huge inspiration. When I watch it now, I can see the budgetary constraints — the reused animation and backgrounds — but it’s so well designed and conceived that it still feels fresh to me. I even shared it with my daughter who loves the show and can sing the opening and end titles in Japanese!
I’ve never met anyone involved with the show but would love to. I’d like to tell them that all the hard work they put into the show not only formed my early tastes in story, but also introduced me to the beauty of other cultures. Their work reached a little kid in a tiny rural town, and truly changed my life and helped set me on my current path.
“Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” can be streamed on Hidive. Some episodes are also available on Amazon Prime Video.