Gatchaman rebooted - with dignity

Gatchaman rebooted - with dignity
The Gatchaman team (from left) Tatsuomi Hamada, Ayame Gouriki, Tori Matsuzaka, Gou Ayano and Ryohei Suzuki has to fend off the villains.

Gatchaman (PG - Some violence)

Review: Action

Rating: 3/5

Duration:110 minutes

The story: Powered by strange glowing crystals, the four-member Gatchaman team, led by Ken Washio (Tori Matsuzaka), is humanity's last defence against an unstoppable army of armoured beings called Galactors. When an old friend George Asakura (Gou Ayano) joins the group, their mission is compromised by George's desire for vengeance.

The best thing about the Gatchaman movie is that it could have been so much worse. This reboot of what was a kitschy 1970s anime actually allows it some dignity and lets a new generation appreciate the story and structure that later inspired equally popular heroic partnerships such as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

The original 1972 anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman started the trend of a five-member team of heroes with hidden tragedies and cool - for the 1970s - catchphrases. Anyone else remember "Bird, go!" which accompanied each transformation from teen to caped crusader?

Laugh now, but Gatchaman was so popular that a heavily censored version was screened in America as Battle Of The Planets and, in Japan, there were several animated sequels, including this July's wildly popular Gatchaman Crowds.

Crowds replaced the series' original gloomy teenagers who sacrifice life and love to save the Earth with peppy neon- haired girls.

Director Toya Sato has tried to return to the roots of the original concept, which was inspired by Western caped crusaders such as Batman - hence the group's cloaks, which get a nice update here as being retractable and usefully shock-proof, not just a sacrifice on the altar of 1970s fashion sense.

The movie will reel in old-school fans in the first 15 minutes, simply by the way it cleanly and believably sets up and delivers the overused "power walk" sequence in which the heroes march towards the fray.

The love lasts through the next half hour as snazzy action scenes featuring spiky machines and high-tech armament give way to post-battle camaraderie and some nice ensemble acting from the cast.

Viewer investment in the world falters a bit when it appears that the Virus X which turns people into Galactors not only cannibalises the victim's nervous system, but also his clothes, turning ordinary pants and shirts into purple spandex from a Guillermo del Toro nightmare.

Yet the cast does a credible job of working through these and other plot holes.

Best of all is Ayano as the moody George, who consistently overshadows Ken's square-jawed leader and is the best reason to look forward to the sequel hinted at in the post-credits teaser.

In the end, whether or not Sato's version works depends on viewer reaction to one mind-blowing scene early on where spandex- clad Gatchaman member Jun Ohtsuki (a highly underused Ayame Gouriki) grapples with a pigtailed villain dressed in frilly Gothic Lolita costume.

Is this masterful commentary on the evolution of the Gatchaman concept or a clear indication that the director has tried to please far too many genres of fans and failed at satisfying any?

Watch the movie and decide for yourself.

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