Dedicated, Inseparable, Invincible (Except When Confronted With Carnivorous Plants): Part 2

Watching The Fierce Flowers again - which isn't easy, as the DVDs have been out of print for quite some time - the first thing you notice is that each episode of Battle Of The Planets originally opened with a spoileriffic teaser with a silly bombastic voiceover, all of which were thankfully edited out by the BBC for transmission over here. Whether they made any other edits is difficult to determine from this distance, though it's quite feasible that they did, so potentially we're dealing here not just with a re-edited show in the style of The Monkees and The Banana Splits, but a re-edit of an already re-edited show. But before you start letting that possibility frazzle your mind too much, please rest assured that in a weird sort of double-negative way, in this scenario it doesn't actually matter. The Fierce Flowers had such an unsettling impact that no amount of reinstated snipped bits here and there could possibly amplify or intensify it in any way. It was as creepy as fuck and will always remain so.

Anyway, let's just quietly tiptoe past the jarringly ill-fitting teaser, as it's not only the one thing that was definitely not present in the BBC broadcasts, it's also structure-disruptingly liable to pre-empt some of the stuff we're most likely going to be covering later on, and above all is both annoying and rubbish. Instead, let's move straight on to the opening titles, and indeed to the two primary reasons why Battle Of The Planets seemed so dazzlingly, exotically and futuristically different from the norm. And from The Space Sentinels.

Ignoring the shameless typographic attempt at jumping on the slantily scrolling Star Wars bandwagon (or should that be Landspeeder?), if there's one thing that you can say about the Battle Of The Planets opening titles, it's that they were cut together by somebody who knew how to grab the target audience's attention. Spaceships shoot across the screen and we're introduced by a booming proto-Barrowman voiceover to G-Force, "five incredible young people with super powers", and - watching over them from Centre Neptune - 7-Zark-7. There's some edge-of-the-seat grandstanding about "surprise attacks by alien galaxies from beyond space", while Mark, Jason, Princess, Tiny and Keyop blast off in their signature multi-atmospheric transport The Phoenix, dodge an attack by SPECTRA's fighter pilots, and finally form a human pyramid and whirl around in a circle until they create a bad-guy walloping mini-vortex. And as they break away at its apex and tumble haphazardly through the clouds, there's an infamous glimpse of Princess' alarmingly detailed pants. "Always five, acting as one - dedicated, inseparable, invincible!" concludes Voiceover Man as The Phoenix pulsates into the legendary 'Firey Phoenix', and admit it, you're wanting to watch from that description alone, aren't you? And we haven't even started on THAT theme tune yet.

Hang on a minute, let's just rewind a couple of sentences there. It's the early eighties, it's the BBC, it's slap bang in the middle of children's television, and some animated eye candy's jaw-droppingly contoured scanties are taking up the lion's share of the TV screen. How in the name of every single letter to Points Of View about Grange Hill did that one manage to slip through?? Well, in all honesty, it was probably more to do with money than anything else. Although, as we have seen, the BBC were not exactly averse to going to the time and expense of making great big butterfingered cuts for a variety of reasons to the imported likes of The Monkees, The Banana Splits and Boss Cat (call it by its proper name), by this time their efforts were really starting to look a little bit embarrassing and a lot like battered and badly-edited film prints, yet purchasing shiny new replacement copies would have been well beyond their meagre means. It's more than likely that whichever newer broom was looking after their bought-in catalogue by then didn't want to pay for any more trims than were absolutely necessary, and certainly wouldn't have wanted a huge great Least Effectual Top Cat-style music-kilter-skewing jump-cut at a key moment, especially if it might have to be reverted a couple of years down the line, and so just left it in. As for how it got there in the first place, it's possible that Sandy Frank Entertainment may have seen it as a younger viewer 'excitement'-generating selling point, but it's more than likely that it just slipped the net when they were trying to eradicate every single other trace of unsuitability from the decidely more adult-aimed Japanese original. As we shall see, sometimes this 'adult' nature was just too strong to disguise with any amount of chopping and changing, and without wanting to put anyone off there are a couple of troubling hints to come that a quick flash of knicker might have been the least of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman's worries. Anyway, suffice it to say that this did not go unappreciated by a generation of pre-Internet youngsters who had to take their kicks where they could find them. And also the reason why if you Google for some combination of 'princess', 'battle of the planets', 'cosplay' and 'comic con', you might find yourself with some explaining to do.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned undisguisable origins of the show meant that the target audience were at least able to get another, very different sort of kick where they could find it. At that time, the lurid and vivid world of Japanese animation (and indeed 'suitmation') was something of a far-flung exotic mystery, barely known about even by those who 'know these things', and only infrequently and unrepresentatively glimpsed through clunkily repurposed monster movies, earlier TV cartoon manglings like Marine Boy, and the occasional awestruck whisper from someone whose older brother had read about something once. Along with the similarly Anglicised Star Fleet (or, in old yen, X-Bomber) and Ulysses 31 (erm, Space Legend Ulysses 31), it gave an exciting hint of a whole alternate universe of sci-fi-flavoured animated entertainment, although despite the iconographically recognisable design hallmarks few actually knew what it was, less still what it was called. Stuck for a genre name, some would simply resort to calling it 'A-a-aaaaaa', in reference to the downtrodden and enthusiasm-deficient sigh croaked by the inevitable Keyop-esque 'gawky non-human child' character as they were knocked to the floor by a guard, or, if raining, saw a bird's eye gleam or something. It wasn't until somewhere around the late eighties/early nineties, when home video became more widely and affordably available and Akira briefly became the underground cineaste's obscurity of choice before being taken up en masse by an army of grubby schoolboys in WASP t-shirts, that anyone really realised that it was actually a 'thing'. And even then they mistakenly referred to it as 'Manga' at first.

Of course, once 'Anime'-mania kicked in, news of Battle Of The Planets' true origins spread like SPECTRA-disseminated plant life, and almost overnight those chirpy linking droids went from being dimly recalled figurheads of childhood cartoon excitement to fandom-denounced hate figures, mounted on a virtual dartboard for over-furious proto-bloggers to throw uncensored Metal Bird Things at. Even sidestepping the humourlessness, the tedious purism and the undertones of smug 'I could do better at cartoons because I seened a cartoon once'-ism inherent in this kind of attitude, it's also one that should be challenged because, well, untampered-with Science Ninja Team Gatchaman was not the reason why we all fell in love with Battle Of The Planets to begin with. Viewers who didn't know any better enjoyed the episodes with 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1 present and correct, not in spite of them, and that wasn't simply down to blinkered youthful inexperience as everyone detested Scrappy Doo and wished that they'd just go back to showing proper Scooby Doo, Where Are You?. They were as much part and parcel of the show's success and appeal as, on a similar note, Godzooky and Brock (who is provably 'canon') were to Hanna-Barbera's contemporaneous Americanisation of the similarly-sourced Godzilla franchise, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Of course, this partness and parceldom does mean that 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1 are going to be featuring heavily in The Fierce Flowers, the two-part story that this has somehow managed to expand into a three-part review of, so maybe we should get on with talking about those actual two parts themselves...

NEXT TIME: 7-Zark-7 causes a new 'BBC Fakery' scandal, Zoltar forms a double-act with Stewart Lee, and we might actually get around to talking about those 'Spaceburgers' at last..