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From Japan to the World: Battle of the Planets Collectibles

by James Burrell (09/24/13).

A “Battle of the Planets” frame-tray puzzle, released by Whitman-Western Publishing in 1979 carries a collectors’ value of about $10.

For many children growing up during the late 1970s and early 1980s, an animated TV series named “Battle of the Planets” had them running home from school so they wouldn’t miss a single action-packed moment.

A fondly remembered cult classic, the science-fiction themed program—which debuted in September 1978 and ran for several years in syndication—showcased the heroic exploits of G-Force, a team of five young people with superhuman abilities who protected Earth and other worlds from constant attacks by the evil Zoltar from the planet Spectra.

The team—which consisted of team leader Mark; his second-in-command, Jason; a lone female member, Princess; the diminutive Keyop and pilot Tiny—sported bird-styled helmets and costumes and were endowed with “cerebonic” implants, giving each the ability to jump great heights, move at rapid speeds and join together to create the “Whirlwind Pyramid,” a spiraling, tornado-like effect used to incapacitate enemies.

With an arsenal of weapons that included bird-shaped boomerangs, explosive yo-yos and metal-tipped feathers, G-Force could instantly change or “transmute” from civilian clothes to uniforms with the use of special communicator bracelets. The team traveled around individually in modified vehicles, which included a personal jet, racing car and cycle, as well as in a large spacecraft called the Phoenix. The Phoenix had the ability to evade attack or destruction by transforming into a blazing, flame-covered version of itself.

The team’s home base was an underwater facility known as Center Neptune and was supervised by their superior and mentor, Security Chief Anderson and was guided in missions by a robot co-coordinator named 7-Zark-7, who provided the members with various important information, such as what oversized, creature-shaped robot the bat-like looking Zoltar was using in his latest attack.

The show featured the voices of well-known personalities Casey Kasem (“American Top 40,” “Scooby-Doo”), Ronnie Schell (“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”), Janet Waldo (“The Jetsons”), Alan Young (“Mister Ed”), Keye Luke (“Gremlins”) and Alan Dinehart. It’s music was composed by Hoyt Curtin, who had a prolific career in television by writing the themes to numerous shows including “The Flintstones,” “Super Friends” and “The Smurfs.”

Many assume “Battle of the Planets” was an American production. But the show was actually an adaptation of a previously produced Japanese series called “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.” First aired in Japan in 1972, “Gatchaman” was created by famed Japanese animation studio Tatsunoko Production Co., Ltd., which enjoyed previous success with the 1967 cartoon, “Speed Racer.”

Together, Gold Key and Whitman published a ten-issue “Battle of the Planets” comic series.

Picked up for distribution by U.S.–based Sandy Frank Productions, the program was dubbed into English, character names were changed and footage was re-edited with more violent or intense content removed. Old footage was replaced with new scenes of 7-Zark-7, his mechanical dog, 1-Rover-1, and the young heroes relaxing in their ready room.

With recently released “Star Wars” permeating every facet of pop culture at the time, the decision was made to fashion the look and demeanor of the fussy, cylinder-shaped 7-Zark-7 after the blockbuster film’s two famous droids, R2D2 and C-3PO.

Distributed to numerous markets around the world, “Battle of the Planets” would become a hit, with millions of fans worldwide. With the show’s success came a multitude of merchandise, much of which is now highly coveted by collectors.

Prior to the show’s release in North America and Europe, a plethora of G-Force–themed products had already been available in Japan under the “Gatchaman” banner, including 4-inch-tall soft vinyl figures from toy company Bullmark; 9-inch dolls with nodding heads from Nakajima; an 8-inch-tall Mego-styled figure of Mark (who was actually named Ken in the original Japanese version), plus several beautifully made die-cast metal ships and action figure and vehicle sets from Popy.

In North America, the first “Battle of the Planets” items to hit stores were a series of model kits released by hobby company Entex in 1978. Five models were marketed: the Phoenix, Mark’s jet, a space station with miniature G-Force vehicles and two additional ships. These final pieces were G1-SP and an alternate Phoenix, which had appeared only in a Japanese-language sequel to “Gatchaman” and were therefore unknown to audiences of “Battle of the Planets.”

This “Battle of the Planets” Annual, issued in the United Kingdom, featured various comic-book stories and games and was published by World International Publishing.

In June 1979, Western Publishing Co., Inc. started publishing a line of “Battle of the Planets” comics under its Gold Key comic-book label. The stories were not based on any plots from the TV show, and the artwork was unsophisticated compared with the animation of the television program. Still, the comics were popular enough with children and 10 issues would be published bimonthly until late 1980. Later in the series’ run, the line would be released by the company’s subsidiary, Whitman Comics.

Western Publishing also put out several other items in 1979, including a colorful frame tray puzzle, a large, 60-page coloring book and a Magic Slate, which was a device that would allow children to etch images using a plastic stylus on a piece of coated cardboard covered with an opaque plastic film. When the plastic is lifted, the etchings would be “erased.”

The comic books and frame tray puzzle are still relatively easy to come by and can often be found for $10 each or less. The coloring book and Magic Slate are much more difficult to find, however, and can fetch substantially more, with the slate able to command values of as much as $100.

Other companies to release “Battle of the Planets” product included Milton Bradley, which put out a board game (featuring beautiful box art graphics), and King-Seeley Thermos, which marketed a fantastic looking metal lunch box and plastic thermos set. The front of the lunch box depicted the G-Force crew and the Phoenix, while the back featured 1-Rover-1 and a laser brandishing 7-Zark-7 taking on Zoltar and two of his Spectra henchmen.

While the lunch box can be bought in heavily used condition for as little as $15 to $20, a mint condition specimen with thermos can fetch from $150 to $200. The occasionally found board game has been known to sell for around $60 or so.

Also released in 1979 and 1980 were numerous “rack toys,” courtesy of Gordy International. A manufacturer of simplistic, low-cost toys, Gordy put out such items as a Signal Ray Gun (which was essentially a gun-shaped flashlight), a Mission Control Radio Set (a walkie-talkie set), a Spaceball Game (a table top pinball game) and a Space Water Gun. The cheap nature of the toys led to many of them being broken or discarded and specimens can be quite difficult to come by nowadays.

Looking across the globe, Europe saw a wide array of vintage “Battle of the Planets” merchandise released to store shelves, some of which was actually nicer than what was marketed in North America. In the United Kingdom, kids were given an “Annual,” a hardcover book featuring activities, games and reprints of some of the U.S. Gold Key comic book stories. The book, which was published by World International Publishing Ltd. and released in 1980 can usually be found for $10 to $15. Other items included a GAF View-Master reel set, various sticker albums, “Mystic Drawing” activity books and a coloring book from the Golden Acorn Publishing Company, a walkie-talkie-like intercom set from a company called Merit and a battery-operated Electronic Sound Rifle that featured light and sound effects from Crescent Toys.

Japanese toy company Popy released this 8-inch Mego-style figure of Mark, who was known as Ken in the original Japanese show.

In France, various record albums featuring music and stories were put out by French label Le Petit Menestrel. In 1979, a set of bendable rubber figures were released by Orli Jouet toys and Ceji Clodrey issued 9-inch tall Mego-like figures of Mark, Princess and Keyop.

The toys, which featured plastic helmets and cloth outfits, are now extremely rare and can fetch several hundred dollars or more apiece nowadays. A Princess figure sold for almost $1,100 on eBay last year.

In Spain, a set of action figures of 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1 were manufactured by toy company Colecciones Jecsan. The toys are particularly rare because no figures of the robot characters were produced outside of Europe. Other Spanish items included record albums, a comic-book line and a set of trading cards.

In Greece, fans were given a line of hardback comic books featuring stunning cover artwork. And in Italy, numerous highly detailed—and now very expensive to acquire—die-cast replica models of ships and vehicles were made available, courtesy of Popy.

In the late-1980s, Sandy Frank Productions sold its U.S. distribution rights to Turner Broadcasting, who in turn created a new series with the footage called “G-Force: Guardians of Space.” The program briefly ran on TBS in 1987 before being televised again in the mid-1990s on the Cartoon Network. The show, which had changed the names of the characters and used different voice actors and music, failed to catch on with audiences, and apart from a DVD compilation of seven episodes, did not lead to any merchandise.

Later, in 1994, Tatsunoko Productions released three new “Gatchaman” adventures directly to home video. And in 1996, Saban Entertainment—the company behind the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” program—attempted its own G-Force–themed series called “Eagle Riders,” which aired only very briefly in the U.S. Ironically, despite the dismal reception given to most of these projects, “Battle of the Planets” fans would actually see new G-Force–themed toys and collectibles produced in the mid-1990s and onward, courtesy of Japanese toy companies like Medicom, Banpresto, UniFive and Yujin.

In 1995, Medicom put out highly articulated 12-inch-tall figures of Mark and Jason, as part of its “Real Action Heroes” line. The figures came with fabric clothes, removable helmets and soft vinyl gloves and boots, as well as accessories like Mark’s sonic boomerang and Jason’s gun. A similarly designed 12-inch figure of Princess was later released by Takara in 2001 as part of their “Cy Girls” line of action figures.

In 1997, Banpresto put out their “Tatsunoko Collection” 3 3/4-inch action figure set. Two different versions of Mark were released: one with a boomerang, the other with both the boomerang and a mini figure of a character named Captain Cronus. Additionally, Banpresto also manufactured a set of seven figural key chains and a 7-inch-tall “super deformed” Mark plush doll with an oversized vinyl head. In 2001, Yujin released a set of six mini-figures similar in size and design to Lego toys that included Chief Anderson, a character who was never produced in toy form before. And UniFive released a set of five small vinyl figurines, as well as a die-cast version of the Phoenix that came complete with miniature versions of the crew’s individual vehicles.

This ultra rare “Battle of the Planets” French-issue Princess 9-inch figure was released by Ceji-Clodrey in 1979. It sold on eBay last year for more than $1,000.

In 2002, a whole new slew of “Battle of the Planets”–themed collectibles would hit store shelves. A 12-issue comic-book line, featuring beautifully painted covers by acclaimed comic artist Alex Ross, was published by Top Cow–Image Comics. Various spin-offs and “one-shot” issues were also produced, including standalone volumes devoted to characters Mark and Jason, as well as crossover issues where the crew interacted with such characters as the ThunderCats. The comics were also available in variant covers, including holographic foil, and were later combined together and issued in larger-sized trade paperbacks.

Collectibles company Diamond Select released six action figures in 2002, consisting of the G-Force members and Zoltar. Each came with weapons and a miniature vehicle, with some figures being offered in alternate versions—for example, team members without helmets. Of the figures, Jason and Tiny are the most difficult to locate and can fetch between $40 and $60 apiece in mint, packaged condition, while others like Mark and Zoltar usually sell for about half that.

That same year, Diamond Select would also reissue Medicom’s previously released 12-inch Mark and Jason figures in different packaging and would produce an 8-inch-tall Zoltar resin bust. The 12-inch figures can usually be bought for $30 apiece, while the bust can be found for around $20 or so. The program also saw two soundtrack CD releases: a single-disc release from Super Tracks Music Group in 2001 and a 2-disc CD set marketed by Silva Screen Records in 2004.

Since then, the series has been released on DVD by Rhino Home Video, and numerous G-Force–themed merchandise have been made available to collectors and fans, including coin banks, Kewpie-doll-style phone strap figures, miniature vehicles and children’s dress-up costume and mask sets.

For many North American children, “Battle of the Planets” was their first exposure to Japanese-style animation, or “anime.” And 35 years after its debut, the show continues to resonate with audiences. The program has been referenced in such popular series as “The Simpsons,” “Futurama” and “Robot Chicken,” and its source material, “Gatchaman,” has even been turned into a new Japanese live-action feature film. In addition, a new Japanese animated TV series, “Gatchaman Crowds” also debuted recently, but it’s only very loosely inspired by its predecessors. Whether the movie will be embraced by audiences is difficult to say, but if not, there’s always the classic animated series to revisit. Transmute!


James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction-, fantasy- and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.

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