The History of Tatsunoko – 5 – Maturities

This article is Part 5 in the History of Tatsunoko series. You can read Part 4 here

If one single work were to sum up Tatsunoko’s entire production, it would probably be Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. By far the studio’s most iconic series, it was already one of its most popular when it came out. It started airing in 1972, 10 years after the creation of the studio, and 5 years before the death of its creator and leader, Tatsuo Yoshida. Due to this special position, Gatchaman easily stands as an exceptional high point in Tatsunoko’s early history. Moreover, because of its length (105 episodes!) and the changes that occurred within Tatsunoko during its production, it symbolizes the end of an era for the studio: it is, in a sense, the last work from its “early years”. Indeed, it would be so hard to replicate Gatchaman’s success that most of Tatsunoko’s following works are more-or-less simple copies or parodies of it. It would not be until Yoshida’s death and the production of a new Gatchaman series, in 1978, that the studio would find again the creativity and originality of its first years.

To understand Gatchaman’s success, it is necessary to put it in the context of superhero shows in Japan. The idea of a “ninja squad” was already part of Tatsunoko’s catalog, since Tatsuo Yoshida’s first TV credit was on the tokusatsu series Boy Ninja Squad Moonlight in 1964. It seems that both Yoshida and his brother Ippei Kuri wanted to revisit that concept, but this time with a science-fiction twist – one that fit very well in the times when Thunderbirds enjoyed its third broadcast in Japan on TV Tokyo (between January 1970 and January 1971) and Kamen Rider started its run (in April 1971). It was also at the same time that mecha anime as we know it today was born in earnest, with Mazinger Z, which started airing in December 1972 – 2 months after the beginning of Gatchaman.

Just like Casshern would take more inspiration from Kamen Rider than contemporary anime, Gatchaman is both linked to, and distinct from contemporary mecha anime. Indeed, the series did play a major role in the development of mecha animation and designs; but at its core, it remains a superhero story, whose group dynamic seems to have more influence over Tôei’s live-action Super Sentai series than on other anime.

Gatchaman through its beginnings

Since Gatchaman is so long, and rather daunting, it may be best to begin by those influences, and especially on the way they play out in the show itself. A close look at the first two episodes is a good start, since it illustrates the evolution of Tatsunoko’s animation and the way it integrated and reworked elements from previous works.

Both episodes work in tandem, since they follow each other narratively – whereas most of the series is episodic – and were probably made in parallel. As it seems that no pilot episode was made, the finished first episode, perhaps followed by the second, probably played that function. Some interviews do indicate that episode 1’s production was rushed, opening the series of difficulties and tight schedules the production staff would have to go through during the entire show. In any case, episodes 1 and 2 are incredibly different from each other, to the point that it’s sometimes hard to believe they belong to the same show.

Both were directed by series director Hisayuki Toriumi, but the real differences were in the writing and animation. Episode 1 was entirely handled by in-house animator Masami Suda, who had become one of the studio’s most trusted artists since Decision one year prior. Episode 2 was handled by studio Tama Production, and probably mostly animated by longtime Tatsunoko collaborator Eiji Tanaka. Although Suda had been Tanaka’s student in his early years as an animator, by that point, he had grown as an artist and both men’s sensibilities were very different. It was also clear that, in terms of talent, Suda had by far surpassed his old master.

Indeed, Suda’s episode 1 is largely considered to be one of the single best episodes in 70s animation. In the fight scenes, Suda seems to have been able to go past the limitations of the gekiga style of animation: he reconciled complex and anatomically realistic character designs with fluidity on one hand, and a sense of weight and impact on the other. What’s really striking is that when a character hits another, the viewer feels it on a visceral level – and Suda does it without any flashy techniques, but only conveys it through the rhythm of the movement and occasionally thicker linework. In that, Suda himself and all of Gatchaman’s animation owed a lot to Mushi’s Ashita no Joe – but managed to simplify it even more, to maintain a certain degree of realism while taking away the most expressionistic elements.

However, where Suda really stood out was in the mechanical animation. He had clearly learnt from the difficult experience of Decision and, helped by Gatchaman’s simpler mechanical designs, was able to pull off impressive movement on a constant basis. Episode 1 features multiple rotations like the one above, which are animated with perfect fluidity, without any single detail losing its consistency or proportions. This was an impressive show of skill, especially considering that the titular mecha of episode 1, the Turtle King, was initially supposed to be shot in live-action and then edited with the animated footage. Suda showed that he was able to do even better than that, and conveyed an impressive sense of scale and even life. As a result, most people discussing episode 1 describe it as an animated kaiju film.

This is where it differed the most from episode 2. Instead of focusing on the enemy mecha as an awe-inspiring monster destroying everything in its wake, the action is considerably slower and the focus is rather on rescue operations, strategy and character movement. If episode 1 played out like a kaiju movie, its follow-up feels like an action-packed episode of Thunderbirds.

Eiji Tanaka’s drawings played a large part in this: he had an impressive ability to convey the volume of bodies, and the close-ups he drew made the characters look just as beautiful as real, three-dimensional dolls.

Episode 2 also looks very different – as we will see, the character designs changed throughout the show, but Tanaka’s characters are clearly his own and have no equivalent. This is most probably the direct consequence of his special place within Tatsunoko, which earned him the privilege of never being corrected by the animation directors of the episodes he worked on. But, given how many resources were obviously poured into Gatchaman, the difference was perhaps not too well appreciated here: Tanaka would never work again on the series. Still, his only episode is fascinating, as it gives a glimpse of another, completely different series: one less focused on flashy action and complex movement, but rather more narrative-driven, where the animation and action are more subservient to the storyboards and try to improve on them with painstakingly detailed drawings. But in the end it is Suda’s vision that won over – ultimately influencing not only Gatchaman, but the future of animation in Japan as a whole.

The golden age of Tatsunoko’s production model

While the previous remarks may make it sound like Gatchaman was an animation-driven series, this couldn’t be farther removed from the truth. In fact, Gatchaman represents the most successful example of Tatsunoko’s internal pipeline and the way it relied on “special effects” rather than sakuga. As explained in the previous article of this series, the early 70s were a time of crisis within the industry which profoundly changed the internal organization of studios. Tatsunoko, which weathered the trouble rather well, seems to have been one of the few studios to maintain important divides between its departments – it even seems to have strengthened it, as the “writing and planning” division was created in earnest and finally stood equal to its rival, the directors’ division.

The most apparent and well-documented aspect of Tatsunoko’s organization is, however, the relationship between two other divisions: the art and animation ones. To understand how it functioned, we must focus on one specific role: that of animation director. The result of a slow development within studio Tôei, the position was officially created in 1963, on the movie The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon. The role of the animation director is to correct the drawings of the characters so that the look and feel of the animation does not vary too much from sequence to sequence and animator to animator.

This tendency towards centralization, however, was met with a contradictory one within Tôei itself: indeed, the tradition in the studio was for each animator to design one or a few characters that they would animate for the most part of a given movie. The adaptation of Tôei’s movie pipeline to TV animation, and the quick development of outsourcing, resulted in a sort of compromise. At the scale of an entire series, there would be a single animation director, who acted as uncredited character and mecha designer; but his role was in fact limited to creating the recurring characters and doing corrections on his own specific episodes. Indeed, at the individual episode level, a complex system of rotations was established in which each episode was given to a specific team or studio, led by its own animation director. The animation director for a given episode would then not only correct the animators under them, but also design all the guest characters and/or mechas in that episode: they would therefore be almost completely in charge of how an episode looked and moved.

With some exceptions (such as the model established by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yôichi Kotabe in Zuiyo Eizô and Nippon Animation), this model triumphed in the industry and was perfected by other studios such as Tokyo Movie. Particularly well adapted to the reality of outsourcing by the early 70s, this model was essentially sakuga-centered in that it gave most of the creative agency to the animation staff. Tatsunoko, however, proceeded quite differently: theirs was a design-centered model. 

In Tatsunoko was a team of 3 “official” character designers, Tatsuo Yoshida, Ippei Kuri and Yoshitaka Amano (joined by Noa Kawai in the “comedy” series). With the help and advice of the director and/or producer of a given series, they produced a series of rough designs which were then sent directly to the animation division. After that, it was the role of the series animation director to pass them on to the animators, with or without changes (note here that there was only a series animation director, not one for each episode). The same process seems to have happened with the mecha designs: they were made by Mitsuki Nakamura and Kunio Okawara, and then left in the hands of the animators. It must be noted that almost all the artists mentioned here were members of the art, and not of the animation division of the studio. Agency was therefore in the hands of non-animators, which explains why Gatchaman is probably the first series in anime history to explicitly include both the “character design” and “mechanical design” credits.

What this means is that, in Tatsunoko, the animation director was less a creator than a necessary intermediary between the multiple in-house divisions of the studio: between the art and animation divisions, but also between the direction and animation divisions, as it seems that, on Gatchaman, animation director Sadao Miyamoto directly received the layouts from the episode directors and passed them on to the animators, possibly modifying them in the process. Two testimonies from Tatsunoko Pro Insiders detail the process of character creation on Gatchaman and the role of the animation director: one is by Kôji Sugii, who was in charge of training Tatsunoko’s new animator recruits, and the other by Miyamoto himself. Sugii’s testimony is by far the most detailed:

On Gatchaman, there were no character sheets. Animators would take the corrected drawings made by the animation director, cut-and-paste them and use it as reference material for the characters. As a result the references would accumulate, and you’d have a realistic Gatchaman, and some other character, but you didn’t have a unified blueprint. […] For that reason, Miyamoto wasn’t the “character designer”: he was rather the one who created the visual unity of Gatchaman.”

Miyamoto himself gives less details, but here is how he presents his role vis-a-vis the animators:

I tried to adopt the perspective of an animator, and so I had to make some changes to Gatchaman[‘s characters]. […] Of course, we had to bring out the best out of Tatsuo’s original drawings, but I didn’t want that to interfere with the animation, so I made some changes to make them more efficient.”

Because of that organization, the art division had more agency than the animation one; but that was not all, as the photography and finishing divisions were also instrumental in making Gatchaman. Through their work, the show didn’t only take narrative and thematic inspiration from the tokusatsu genre: it also borrowed some of its special effects techniques.

Admittedly, most of them had already been tried out on Decision. The two most notable follow-ups are the prominent use of harmony cels on effects, which meant that the art division was often in charge of drawing explosions and the sea rather than the animators, and the constant use of transmitted light to represent bullets flying by. This latter effect especially is a good illustration of the progressing technical mastery of Tatsunoko’s teams: the  integration between the lighting and cels feels seamless in Gatchaman, whereas its handling tended to be haphazard in Decision. The latter had a reportedly higher budget than usual, but its production was notoriously difficult, and the technicians in the studio probably had to improvise all the time. On Gatchaman, they had more experience, were in more comfortable conditions (as they didn’t have to make up for the lacking animation), and had unflinching support from their higher-ups. As a result, the series was  a constant ground for technical excellence and experimentation.

Since Gatchaman was such a long series, it would be impossible (not to say bothersome) to list all the interesting or creative effects used by Tatsunoko’s artists and technicians. I am therefore just going to limit myself to a few of the most indicative and recurring ones. However, it should be noted that not all episodes were created equal: using specific lighting or compositing techniques took a lot of time, and the photography division wasn’t able to show its talents on all episodes. Just like bank animation, which will be touched on later, the way these specific resources were used is a testament to an often uncelebrated ability of episode directors and storyboarders: how to best allocate time, artists and technicians in a constrained environment.

To begin with the most obvious effects, there is everything that can be grouped under the category of lighting and compositing. Using transmitted light to represent bullets is one of such techniques, but there were many more. Perhaps the most striking and recurring one was the use of various kinds of lighting in the room where the main villain of the series, Berg Katze, addresses (and is often reprimanded by) his own chief, the mysterious Leader X. This kind of scene is among those that happen most often in the series, often at the beginning of each episode as Leader X scolds Berg Katze for his inability to defeat the Science Ninja Team and gives him a new mission. It is also a good example of how the different departments within Tatsunoko worked in tandem.

It is most probable that the design of Leader X was handled by Tatsuo Yoshida and Ippei Kuri, and it would be reasonable to assume that they, alongside art director Mitsuki Nakamura, designed the room. But the design process was truly collective: Kunio Okawara reported that his role as mechanical designer involved all “technological” elements such as the interior of cockpits and panels. It was therefore probably him who drafted the layout of that room. At this point, or just after the early draft, either (or both) the art and photography divisions had the opportunity to add multiple, more-or-less complex, effects: a cel rotating behind Leader X’s “face” to create a sense of movement, multiple colored light sources behind the background layer to create the impression of dials going on and off, and even sometimes shooting the scene through kaleidoscopes to convey Leader X’s perspective and anger, such as in episode 88.

It is hard to know what their position entailed precisely, but the supervision of such effects was probably the responsibility of Kiyoshi Asanuma. He had been credited under “special effects” (特殊効果) on multiple previous series (notably Kashi no Ki Mock and Decision) and once again had the position on Gatchaman. However, it seems that Asanuma was perhaps a member of the finishing rather than the photography division, since he is mostly famous for introducing a technique that seems like a matter of course today: airbrushes. 

In my article on Decision, I have already noted how the finishing division artists used airbrushes to convey the metallic surfaces of planes and boats. On Gatchaman, this was refined to an even more impressive degree. Not content with tricks in cel painting, Asanuma would apply different layers of paint on different cels: this is mostly the case of the helmets of the members of the Science Ninja Team. They each have a sort of glass visor going forward and protecting their face; this part was actually on a different cel from the rest of the face, on which were applied two layers of paint. First, there was one in color (blue, in the case of the one shown below) – which was already a delicate process since the coloring had to be made in such a way to keep the cel transparent so that the face under the helmet remained visible. Then, Asanuma would apply a thin highlight of white paint with an airbrush to create the impression of light being reflected on the glass. This is the kind of detail that viewers (today’s or 1972’s) probably don’t even register; but it was innovative enough to make its way into many following mecha series from other studios.

Finally, aside from the work on lighting and cel painting, it is possible to distinguish a third register in the “special effects” used in Tatsunoko: that is the insertion of live-action footage. Such techniques were already discussed in the article on Kurenai Sanshirô, and they remained rather rare in Gatchaman. They stand out precisely because of how exceptional they are, and illustrate the overlap between Tatsunoko’s work and that of live-action “special effects”, that is the tokusatsu genre.

The most spectacular example is one that appears in episode 1 (and never does afterwards) of live-action “smoke” footage. This was a common technique in live-action special effects, which consisted of shooting colored liquids being inserted in a water tank and then showing them in slow-motion. As was usually the case, the tank was installed, filled and shot by art division director Mitsuki Nakamura. He was also the one supposed to make “real” models of some of the mechas that were supposed to appear in the show – but didn’t for lack of time. However, he did have time to make a three-dimensional model of planet Earth that was composited with the animation and shown in the opening – a process that would be used in a similar fashion more than 15 years later, on the movie Char’s Counterattack.

The Three Wings of Tatsunoko

Gatchaman was a long-running series, with a diverse staff that evolved throughout its run. However, there were three noteworthy animators on the series who rose to become some of the most important artists within Tatsunoko: Masami Suda, Tsuneo Ninomiya and Tomonori Kogawa, who would go on to be nicknamed the “three wings” (タツノコ三羽烏) of the studio, the bird metaphor being a clear reference to Gatchaman.

I have already covered Suda’s career before Gatchaman; he seems to have become an in-house artist in Tatsunoko in 1969, for Kurenai Sanshirô. Ninomiya and Kogawa had different profiles, and were not in-house. To begin with the most experienced of the two, Ninomiya had entered the industry around 1966 in the small studio P Production. He didn’t stay there for long, and with other animators Saburô Fukuda (福田三郎), Katsumi Endô (遠藤克己) Yûsaku Sakamoto (坂本雄作), Yasutoshi Nakamura (中村泰敏) and Hisao Enomoto (榎本久雄), they joined studio Jack and then created their own place, Animas. It is from Animas that Ninomiya did his first work with Tatsunoko, on the comedy Dokachin in 1968. He remained on comedies until Gatchaman – on which he said he specially asked to work because he wanted to “broaden” his horizon.

Kogawa, who was 10 years younger than Ninomiya, entered the industry just a few years after him. After failing to enter an art school, he first joined Tokyo Movie and did his first in-betweens on the late episodes of Star of the Giants. He was quickly invited to leave by other artists and started working with Tatsunoko to do his first key animation on Decision. Although Kogawa’s status at the time of Gatchaman is unclear, it seems that he created a studio (more probably a collective of freelancers) called Ben Geshan (ベンゲシャン) at some point – but he was most probably under contract with Tatsunoko and had a desk within the studio.

The three men rarely worked as a trio on the same episodes, although Suda and Kogawa clearly had a relationship of master and student and regularly worked together. In fact, Suda was clearly the most important of the three: he was the one behind the impressive opening episode and one of the most prolific artists on the series, working on 22 episodes. This could happen because, already at the beginning of Gatchaman, Suda was an experienced artist, whereas Ninomiya and Kogawa developed their styles throughout the series. Kogawa himself claimed that his “realistic” approach to human anatomy first emerged as he worked on Gatchaman. The fact that the animators learnt as the show went on probably explains why its visual style evolved so much with time.

As for the characteristics of each animator’s style – I already mentioned Suda earlier, who established the series standard in both character and mecha animation. What made him stand out was not just his ability or experience – something that he shared with many artists in the studio by that point – but his willingness to take on complex scenes and pull them off without any difficulties. Unlike most other animators at the beginning of the show, he would rarely compromise with the detail on the designs, precisely outlining shades, muscles and folds in fabric. This, as well as his tendencies to use abstract effects on each hit and slight smears to support the movement, would inspire Tomonori Kogawa’s own animation.

Besides the sense for detail, Suda’s animation is often spectacular or flashy: for instance, the animator wasn’t afraid of background animation and rotations. Whenever he had the opportunity given to him by the scenarios and designs, he would also pioneer yet another approach to mecha animation, one not focused on volume or realism, but the sense of scale. Laying the groundwork for what would become, years later, Takashi Nakamura’s own revolutionary mecha animation, Suda would slow down the movement and focus on debris: the way a building crumbles, each debris adopting a shape of its own that itself breaks down as it encounters other fragments and moves in accordance with the whole… Debris animation was still very much in its infancy in 1972, but it would quickly develop as series like Gatchaman repeatedly contained scenes of mass destruction.

All in all, what made Suda so well adapted for something like Gatchaman was how polyvalent he was: nothing seemed to be a difficulty for him. In contrast, Tsuneo Ninomiya was a character animator first and foremost – and he excelled at it. That probably comes from the fact that he had until then mostly worked on comedies. But to explain what made his animation special, I’d turn elsewhere: towards what seems to have been his inspiration, or at least something that shares many similarities with his style at the time – Ashita no Joe.

At first glance, there may not be that many contacts between Joe and Gatchaman: the latter’s drawing style, although it sometimes uses smears and the characteristically rough linework of the time, is nowhere near the former’s intensity when it comes to drawing. As most of Tatsunoko’s productions, Gatchaman is remarkably “clean”, and Ninomiya wasn’t an exception – in fact, his linework was notably cleaner than Suda’s or Kogawa’s, both of whom tended to add anatomical details in their drawings.

It is rather in how it produced movement that Ninomiya’s animation shares multiple resemblances with Joe’s: in the expressions, posing and timing. The most surface-level element is how multiple poses and drawings in some of Ninomiya’s sequences seem directly taken from scenes of Joe. But one could say that this is just cherrypicking or coincidences; for me, the real sign is that Ninomiya’s approach to bodies is very similar to Akio Sugino’s.

What made Sugino’s designs special, especially when compared to those from contemporary productions such as Star of the Giants or Tatsunoko’s Decision, was that they weren’t big and bulky, but rather slim and elegant. This, in turn, gave them a unique sense of elasticity, which made them more dynamic and easier to animate. Ninomiya incorporated that into his own style: in his hands, the limbs of the characters are much thinner than usual. In the sequence above, this is associated with snappy timing and a strong sense of posing: what the animation loses in verisimilitude (Ninomiya doesn’t seem to care much to convey weight here) it gains in speed and energy. As a result, the movement is always surprising and unexpected – a quality that mustn’t be underestimated in a series such as this, where fight scenes are frequent and risk becoming repetitive. This was, in fact, a risky trade-off: as we will see later, on Polymar, the more muscular character designs and the repetition would make Ninomiya’s style of animation grow stale very quickly.

It is therefore no surprise if the one who actually carried Polymar’s animation was the one who defended a completely different philosophy at the time of Gatchaman: that was Tomonori Kogawa. As I have explained elsewhere, Kogawa’s drawings didn’t stand out that much from other Tatsunoko animators at the time, at least in the sense that they were just as detailed and anatomically accurate as that of the other main animators on the show. Still, Kogawa had a great sense for how bodies are structured and move, which gave his animation a very special taste and enabled it to stand out not only from Ninomiya’s, but also from Suda’s.

Just like Suda, Kogawa was able to pull off complex choreographies and had no problem animating them in difficult layouts. However, his real focus seems to have been on expressing effort through notions such as muscular power and weight: in terms of animation techniques, this meant a close attention to timing and how it played out. In the sequence above, for example, the movement almost systematically slows down just before or after an impact – this is especially the case in the series of close ups between 0:05 and 0:08. The feeling of verisimilitude isn’t perfect yet – some of the hits still feel surprisingly weak, such as the punch at 0:09 – but it’s clear where Kogawa was moving. 

First, he followed an imperative of clarity: detailing the action and slowing it down helps the viewer take it in and assess the strength put into each movement. Then, there was the question of realism: each movement has to feel real and convincing, which meant, for Kogawa, detailing it in terms of anatomy (how each part of the body moves in a single coherent motion) and forces (physical strength and weight).

It took some time for Kogawa to perfect his animation to this point. It seems that the first moment when he was able to pull off all these aspects with enough mastery was around half the show, that is episode 46. At this point, his animation still owed a lot to Suda, especially in its use of smears and speedlines. Slowly but surely, Kogawa stripped off what must have felt like unnecessary, ornamental elements: what Suda did through both the movement and linework, Kogawa would express with the motion and nothing else. By around episode 60, he seems to have succeeded, and his “mature style” came out in earnest in episode 66 or 81, from which the sequence above is taken.

This focus on the three most famous and important artists of the series may make it sound like the evolution of Gatchaman’s animation was a linear process. Such was obviously not the case, as the “three wings” were far from the only artists at work. Here are some among the other most important.

The first is not a single animator, but rather a group of three people: Nobuyoshi Sasakado, Ikuo Fudaki and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. These three men were among the founding members of the legendary studio Madhouse, which had been established on October 17, 1972. They only worked on one episode – #10 – aired in December of the same year; in fact, this episode seems to be one of the very first works of the studio after its creation. Nothing makes it jump at the eyes of the viewer, marking it with an obvious difference; but, among the early episodes of the show, it is among those that feature the best animation, from extremely lively character acting to certain mastery on the animation of the guest mecha, a particularly complex one since it is a giant robot ant.

In fact, it seems that it is at the beginning of Gatchaman’s run that most outsourced episodes are situated – perhaps because Tatsunoko’s in-house artists weren’t all up to the challenge yet. For example, episode 6 is notably animated by legendary animator Takeshi Shirato and possibly other artists from his studio Tiger Pro (although I’m not sure it had been created yet). Just like Madhouse, Shirato’s presence is rather surprising: at the time, he was rather mostly involved with Tôei and Tokyo Movie – of whom Madhouse would soon become a prime subcontractor. This illustrates the troubled situation of the industry as a whole: by the early 70s, Tatsunoko had little contacts left with Tôei or Tokyo Movie, but since animators all over were moving from a company to another, it was easy for the studio to pick up whoever was available at the moment.

Finally, it is on Gatchaman that we find the first elements of what would grow to become a strong connection between Tatsunoko and studio Sunrise. Kogawa is, of course, the most obvious representative of those artists who started out in Tatsunoko and would go on to work with Sunrise. The aforementioned Nobuyoshi Sasakado is also one of those: this animator from Mushi spent but a short time in Madhouse, and would become one of Sunrise’s most regular and trusted artists. On Gatchaman, we must also mention in-house Tatsunoko animator Shigeru Katô, yet another Masami Suda student who seems to have done his first key animation on Decision. Finally, there is Moriyasu Taniguchi, who worked from the Osaka-based studio Cam at the time, and contributed to multiple episodes of Gatchaman – he would go on to become one of Sunrise’s closest collaborators from his second studio Anime R.

Beyond the diversity of artists, Gatchaman’s evolution must be understood through some other stylistic elements. The first is the use of bank, or recycled, animation: as can be expected, it is extremely rare in the early episodes, but becomes omnipresent by the second half of the show. Sometimes, it is entire fight scenes that are composed of reused cuts – all edited in a seamless manner, such as this sequence from episode 76.

Then, there’s the change in general animation and choreography philosophy: as mentioned earlier, the character designs changed throughout the show, but so did the fight scenes. In fact, the last 20-or-so episodes of Gatchaman are quite strange for someone familiar with Tatsunoko’s productions of the time: the story gets darker, and closer in some aspects to the concurrently airing Casshern. But at the same time, comedic and parodic elements grow in importance, to the point that the antagonist Berg Katze running just before his mecha gets destroyed becomes a running gag. This was felt in the animation itself, as the fights become surprisingly close to those of Gatchaman’s follow-up Polymar, especially in the way they turn into a 1 versus all brawl and heavily rely on quickly repeated punches or kicks cut by gags or pauses in the action and weird shouts from the fighters.

As an extremely long-running series, Gatchaman is naturally very diverse; here, I didn’t even have the occasion to touch on the directors’ side, and especially the prodigious growth one can witness in Hisayuki Toriumi’s style. I couldn’t either discuss how Gatchaman is probably one of the first works in anime history to frontally discuss “real-world” issues such as environmental crisis, or the problematic relationship between science, technology and morality. In any case, this length was an advantage for the artists involved: their development was that of the series, and Gatchaman became a comfortable element for them, where they could feel at ease. It also shielded the series, and perhaps Tatsunoko as a whole, from what was happening around it: while the industry was crumbling, the studio was in the midst of its most popular and ambitious property yet. For all these reasons, Gatchaman justifiably stands as a symbol of Tatsunoko’s golden age.

And yet, as I mentioned earlier, what followed Gatchaman was less glorious: the studio and its artists had grown, but this seems to have produced a certain complacency as inventivity slowly decreased. It is notable that it is by the end of the series’ run, in 1974, that departures from major artists began. 1972’s Tatsunoko was very different from 1974’s.

Still, this shouldn’t obscure Gatchaman’s huge impact and influence. A sort of tokusatsu anime, it paved the way for modern mecha animation and enabled some legends of animation to make some of their best work yet. It was also incredibly creative, establishing a new standard for “special effects” and designs. No action or adventure anime after Gatchaman would ever be made quite the same way.

Additional sources

Hofius, Jason. “What Was Gatchaman?” Battle of the Part 2 ( & Part 3 (

Kogawa, Tomonori. Animator Interview. WEB Animestyle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s