How Battle of the Planets Foretold the Western Anime Boom

In the grand cultural exchange that's occurred between America and Japan since the late 1800s -- or, more relevantly, post-World War II -- no form of media has become more embedded across both countries than anime. There's a great deal of history anime fans of today might not know about.

You might think Robotech was the first example of an American production company taking Japanese animation and heavily rewriting it to appeal to American audiences and American broadcast standards. No, Robotech has a predecessor in a show that celebrates its 40th anniversary this Sept. 12: Battle of the Planets.

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Premiering via syndication in 1978 and running for 85 episodes over two years, the show followed a pretty simple formula. Every episode followed the bird-costumed members of the superteam known as G-Force -- stern leader Mark (Casey Kasem), hotheaded Jason (Ronnie Schell), ship's pilot Tiny (Alan Dinehart), theoretically amusing kid sidekick Keyop (Alan Young) and the requisite princess (Janet Waldo) -- as they defended the Earth. As part of Intergalactic Security, the team fights the invading forces of the planet Spectra, led by the evil Zoltar under orders from the Dormammu-esque Luminous One (both voiced by Keye Luke).

Guided in their missions by the robot 7-Zark-7 (voiced by Young, who also narrated the show), the team fought with a variety of vehicles and gadgets, such as their main ship, the Phoenix (which could "flame on" into the Fiery Phoenix), and miniaturized "Cerebonic implants" in their arms that allow them to change into their costumes and blessed them with fantastic powers, like the ability to make a combined tornado with their costumes.

The show was repurposed and edited for American TV by B-movie and game show entrepreneur Sandy Frank, who's probably best known today as the guy behind game shows like Name That Tune, bringing the Gamera movies to America and being the subject of this all-time classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 bit.

In May 1977, with Star Wars being all the rage, Frank was looking for a TV show he could market to syndication to cash in on the fad. Luckily, he recalled that he'd seen footage of the 1972 superhero anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman the month before at the annual MIPTV Media Market in Cannes, where studios and distributors exhibit TV shows to sell to other markets.

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