A few weeks ago, I dreamed that I’d written an incredible post for tor.com about how the BP oil spill had been fixed by Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. It was a fierce scene I dream-wrote about, with lots of anime-bird-science-ninja fighting and explosions and heroic trumpet fanfares and swooping sounds. And if you clicked on a special button, Joel from Mystery Science Theater 3000 narrated my post, making it a gazillion times cooler.
And then I woke up. No Joel. No science ninjas. Still a lot of oil in the gulf. I sighed the sad sigh of sadness. Still, awesome dream, ne?
It doesn’t surprise me that I’d dream of the Gatchaman team coming to save the day. They’re deep in my subconscious. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be part of their team, just as I wanted to control Johnny Sokko’s Giant Robot. I also wanted to jump off of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and live there. Imagine that! A robot-controlling scientific super hero pirate kid. That’s what I wanted to be. Sailing the seas with a crew of robot-skeletons, in a ship that could go into outer space and totally had a laser catapult. Yeah, a catapult. Why not? Everyone has laser cannons. I wanted a catapult. Oh, and sometimes Catwoman and Emma Peel would battle for my affections. You know who would win in that fight? Me.
Back to Gatchaman. I watched Battle of the Planets, the rather diluted American version, not the full-strength Japanese. I had no idea at the time there was any other version. Battle of the Planets (better known to most American kids back then as G-Force) featured bird-suited teenagers with special powers and weapons and vehicles and a helpful robot and a plane that could burst into flames and they could do this really powerful human pyramid wind tunnel thingie and they fought against giant monsters from outer space led by a villain—called Zoltar in the USA and Berg Katse, of all things, in Japan—who looked kind of like Anubis with lipstick and took orders from some other weird looking guy who was only a sort of astral space head and it was way more awesomer than animator Tatsuo Yoshida’s more famous creation, Speed Racer, which is plenty awesome already.
In Battle of the Planets, G-Force consisted of brave leader Mark, hotheaded Jason, burger-eating Tiny, yo-yo fighting Princess and little Keyop, who spoke with a sort of parrot/dot matrix printer speech impediment totally absent in the Japanese version. In the subtitled version of the Japanese original, they are Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Ryu the Owl, Jun the Swan and Jinpei the Sparrow. Other translations have equally interesting names.
As an adult I’ve watched Gatchaman, the original show, with English subtitles. And while I certainly think it beats the 7-Zark-7 out of Battle of the Planets from my grown-up perspective, nevertheless the show I watched as a kid holds a special importance for me. I used to see myself as a sort of Voltron composite of the whole team, possessing the leadership and charisma of Mark, the strength of Tiny, the quirkiness of Keyop and the same name as Jason. I resisted thinking I was much like Princess, but I have to admit a fighting yo-yo is pretty cool. My vehicle was a big wheel that could fly and go underwater. My weapon was fire numchucks. (Yes. Numchucks. It was the late 1970s and transliteration was iffy. And anyhow, my mouth was always full of Nammalaters.)
Who did you want to be when you were a kid? What shows and movies and books informed your young mind, showing it new ways to be awesome?
When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking, dreaming dreaming of a laser catapult or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA.