Once I saw that Attack on Titan had been released as a region free DVD with English subtitles, I went and looked for Gatchaman and lo and behold there was a region free DVD out there.
I didn’t watch the anime growing up so I had never heard of Gatchaman until I stumbled across the trailer for the live action movie. It looked like a lot of fun and I had hopes it would eventually make its way to the States but it never did. Thankfully though this DVD came into existence.
The plot sees a race of evil beings called Galactors appearing on Earth and quickly overpowering standard militaries. They have completely conquered Europe, and are slowly working on conquering the rest of the planet. Japan is one of the last Galactor-free zones. The ISO (International Science Orgaization) discovered 20-some odd stones that, when bonded to the right person, gave them powers that could be used to defeat the Galactors. The ISO went about finding people that would bond with the stones, and when the movie begins there are five that make up the Gatchaman team. They are about to face their biggest challenge yet as the Galactors, led by leader Berg Kattse, are unleashing a plan called Final Suicide which is aimed at defeating the last countries still fighting.
Overall, I liked Gatchaman a lot. It’s a slower movie than I had originally anticipated. It starts out with an amazing action set-piece that sees the five heroes fighting Galactor troops, generals, and a giant wheel of death in Tokyo. It’s a great fight scene that shows off the five heroes and their powers quite well. While it obviously doesn’t have the budget of a Marvel or DC superhero movie, the effects are still good and the fight choreography is superb. The movie slows down until the last twenty or so minutes when another great action set-piece is unleashed.
The rest of the movie is devoted to exploring the characters (mainly team leader Ken and bad boy Joe) and exploring some back story. It’s not all talking though. Ken and Jun infiltrate an event being thrown to raise funds to take back Europe so they can make contact with a Galactor defector known as Iriya. It’s a semi-tense sequence that has Joe, who has reasons for wanting Iriya dead, turn on the team so he can exact his revenge. Later, Iriya breaks free from his ISO cell and easily defeats the youngest Gatchaman, Jinpei, as well as some guards.
I did appreciate the character work though because it does make the final battle all that more personal and engaging because there’s more at stake than just saving the world. There are very personal stakes for Ken and Joe.
Ken is the strict, by the book leader who will sacrifice his team members if it means completing the mission. This basically happens twice, both with Jinpei. The movie takes the time to let viewers know why, though. It gives Ken an arc through the movie and it resonates more when he decides to go save Joe at the end of the movie.
Joe is more the black sheep, who because of an event in the past, hates Ken and had to be moved to Europe to keep them from killing each other. He has come back to Japan because he learned that Iriya was going to be brought in.
Jun is the sole female on the team, but she’s an accomplished fighter and is the one who stops the wheel of death and the bomb it was carrying. She’s in love with Ken, but he doesn’t return the feelings basically because of what happened to him in the past. She’s also apparently a bad cook.
Ryu is the muscle of the group and he takes an older brother role in regards to Jinpei. The two bicker like brothers and Ryu is protective of Jinpei, rescuing him after Iriya breaks free and then taking a blast meant for Jinpei in the final battle. His mother is sick and probably dying, and he worries about her throughout the movie.
Jinpei is the youngest on the team and the most inexperienced fighter. However he’s a tech genius and plays a pivotal role in stopping the bad guys in the end.
While they aren’t the most well developed characters, there’s enough here to make you like all of the heroes and the movie does a good job of highlighting the bonds between the team members.
The major theme of the movie is one of free will. The five men and women that make up the team don’t have a say in whether they fight or not. The stones bonded with them so they were conscripted. Several times the heroes question why they fight and if they even have a reason to fight. Berg Kattse tempts Joe over to her side by saying that the Galactors represent freedom. They won’t force Joe to fight and die in a war against his will. Sure, the theme isn’t subtle and it’s not the best developed but I appreciated the movie trying to have a message.
There’s also some decent world building. In the few scenes set in Tokyo and not on the ISO island, we are shown more soldiers on the streets and more non-Japanese people in the background. It’s explained that Tokyo has taken in a lot of refugees which has caused some problems. There’s also mention of high unemployment. It’s not a lot, but it does show that this movie exists in a world different from ours.
It does look like most of the budget went into the suits, the opening action set-piece, and the closing action set-piece. Most of the movie takes place on the ISO island and the sets are pretty minimal. When the team takes off in their Phoenix jet the cockpit is a small area with five chairs and basically white walls. There’s not much to it. The villain’s giant flying base, which looks awesome on the outside, is basically just small tunnels on the inside.
I’m sure I could think of some negatives to say about the movie, apart from the small budget allocated to additional sets, but honestly I just enjoyed the movie a lot. I read some reviews after I watched the movie and they didn’t like the fact that there were only two action scenes and thought the movie was cliché riddled but that didn’t bother me. The two action scenes were great and while the movie does have clichés they weren’t deal breakers. I enjoyed Gatchaman and will probably end up watching it multiple times.