The first thoughts for what would
evolve into Production 21 had actually begun sometime around
mid-1969. Tatsuo Yoshida was constantly wanting to push his animation to the
edge of what was possible and he was anxious to create a program
that would showcase everything of which his young studio was capable.
But it took the successful completion of the previous few series
to prove his studio was up to the task.
By the early seventies Tatsunoko
Productions was no longer creating any regular monthly manga series. The
titles they did put out at that point tended to be adaptations of their
own original works that appeared in magazines their sponsor
But as their comic work decreased,
Tatsunoko's animated works were becoming more detailed and sophisticated.
Their audience of youngsters was also growing up and Tatsuo wanted
to have a show that appealed to a slightly older age group. Ippei Kuri
remembers, "When we made up our minds about it, planning
was started about ten months before it went on the air. Then the
production started about three or four months before." This
would have been around the end of 1971 and very beginning of 1972.
A core group of creatives was
brought in to help come up with this new series. Tatsuo had a
rough idea of what he wanted to accomplish, it had actually been on his mind for a few years at this point and he knew who would
be able to help him see his visions realized. Included in the
group were brother Ippei Kuri, Hisayuki Toriumi who had worked
on Mach GoGoGo and writers/planners Jinzo Toriumi, Akiyoshi
Sakai and Satoshi Suyama. These six were the main people who would
give this new production its motivations and goals.
Tatsuo's initial idea was for
a mechanical action-type show, possibly in the same vein as Tezuka
Productions' Iron Man 28 (Tetsujin Nijuhachi-go);
but he also began to toy with the idea of exploring the relationship
between mankind and science in a more realistic style. "At one
of the comic publishers where we worked, the most popular story
was one about a Ninja adventure." recalled Ippei Kuri referring
to Tatsuo's own Boy Ninja Squad Moonlight, "So, we came up with the
idea of joining Ninjas with science to create something new."
Also, Ippei and Tatsuo's love
for their American superhero comics had not died down and they
desired to bring something similar to the youngsters of Japan.
Their Ninjas, for it was decided from the very beginning that
the show would focus on a team of heroes rather than an individual,
would be in bright, colorful heroic costumes. They'd be larger-than-life
and so would their adventures.
The three main planners of the
series, Toriumi, Sakai and Suyama, went away for a secluded weekend
at a countryside inn so they could focus on their planning. There
they recorded their conversations which centered on the plotting
of the new series in general and its first three episodes in particular.
They decided they should write with science in mind - that
it could almost be an educational program, yet with a satirical
bend. Jinzo Toriumi was particularly in favor of the evil in the
show almost appearing as its own character - a relentless force
from space with the only good people being the five heroes.
Other important concepts were
hashed out in these initial discussions, including the attention
to the problems of pollution in Japan at the time. A few franchises
like Godzilla (Gojira Tai Hedora [Godzilla Versus
Megalon]), in particular in 1971 had tackled stories about the
evils of pollution as it was very much on the minds of people
in Japan. Tatsuo and his staff thought that would be a good way
to help tie in the scientific aspects they wanted to focus on.
Their good guys would be using
scientific discoveries and advancements for the benefit of mankind,
while their enemies would use the same knowledge for evil and
destruction. It would be a program that would show how technology
must be used with caution and discretion. A pretty weighty subject
as an underlying message for a children's adventure show.
To ensure scientific realism,
or at least plausibility with the material, math teacher Rei Kozumi
was brought in to act as the show's Science Fiction consultant.
It was his job to come up with scientific explanations for the
technologies and what would make them possible. He had a background
in theoretical science and was featured in early publications
about the types of technology the future may bring. So he was
a perfect addition to the show to add some believability.
A lot of the story and plot elements
for this new show were borrowed, adapted and updated from previous Tatsunoko works. Some of these ideas included
the team aspect from Moonlight, the missing relative angle
from Mach GoGoGo, the orphaned youngster of Kurenai
Sanshiro, plus the amazing realistic quality of animation
and action from Decision. Even the comedic angle as explored
in so many of their early shows would be incorporated to a degree.
After these early initial discussions,
Jinzo Toriumi sat down to write out a treatment for the show.
His first drafts from 1969 called the team Science Ninja Squad 5
(Kagaku Ninja Butai Faibu), and he built upon those initial ideas to form the back story for the production. Many of the names, terms
and themes that would make it through to the final planning were
introduced at this stage. The names of the five leads were Ken
Hayabusa, Jun Shiratori, Joe Takano, Ryu Washio and Jinpei Tsubakuro.
Interestingly, these last names were all types of birds, indicating the bird motif was present from
the beginning. The Science Ninja Squad were assisted by Dr. Kozaburo
Nambu and Red Impulse, and they were hampered by a main villain
named Berg Katse.
At this early stage, the Science
Ninja Squad was seen as a type of special police force who operated
from Phoenix Headquarters. They would be dispatched wherever
needed on board a special disc-shaped giant submarine/aircraft,
also called the Phoenix. While the team could rely upon their
Ninja training for hand-to-hand combat, they also were to have
a selection of advanced technological implements at their disposal.
Early designs and sketches were
done of the main leader of the team and at least a couple were
done of the main villain. Tatsuo headed the character design team
and came up with the basic look with the helmets and capes for
the team. "We tried putting on wings and various things,
but nothing was as satisfying as capes. We also introduced the
bird elements into the heroes' helmets" remembers Ippei
Kuri. Kuri himself did additional character designs and helped
flesh out the look of the team.
The planners had initially wanted
to focus most of the stories on Ken, Jun and Jinpei, with Joe
and Ryu on hand as background characters. However, Joe turned
out to be far more dynamic and interesting to the writers, so
it naturally occurred that his character got greater focus and
Jinpei was pushed out of the spotlight to an extent. The original
"rank" lineup for the team was Ken, Jun, Joe, Ryu and
Jinpei, but that got changed around as the writers started to
get a better feel for the characters they were putting together.
The name of the show was also
something that was seemingly difficult to come up with. In addition
to the Science Ninja Squad 5 name, there was also Secret
Seven and Shadow (as appears on early model sheet drawings)
and, what was probably the closest to becoming the series' name
until fate stepped in - Birdman. Reportedly, "Birdman"
was still written on the first episode's film canister so strong a contender was it for the final title.
But the final name for Production
21 came about during a meeting between Tatsunoko and their
advertising agency Yomiko. Ippei Kuri remembers the day, "Tsurayuki
Matsuyama was Yomiko's managing director at the time. The name
came about as a joke he said to ease the air one day. He started
half-jokingly saying things like 'How about Gatcha...?
Gachameman, Gacharman...?' and finally, Gatchaman.'"
Kuri continues, "'Gatcha' sort of brings to mind the image
of dragonflies coupling, and we thought it was funny initially,
but not very good.
But someone said 'wait,' and we
thought about it a little more. 'Gatcha' also brings to mind the
sound of machines joining together, which would be something the Gatchaman
production would be associated with. Ideally we wanted a word
that would sound cool when it was said. Also at the time there
was a show called Combat that had an eyecatch where a foreigner
said 'Combat!'" "We liked the sound of that," concludes
Kuri, "and considered that the character of the word 'Gatchaman'
would sound good for an eyecatch."
Yoshida's final design for Ken
By this point the final planning
and description notes were being completed and production was
about ready to begin on Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Visual appearance
for the characters was pretty well set at this point, except for
one more last minute change - Berg Katse's initial design was
scrapped in favor of one drawn by uncredited character designer,
Yoshitaka Amano. The previous design for Katse would not be wasted
though, as it was used for the enemy captain in the first two episodes
Amano joined Tatsunoko around
the age of fifteen after impressing the staff with his natural
drawing ability. He wasn't hired right away but he was allowed
to intern on Mach GoGoGo and other projects. He shared
the deep love of American comic books with the Yoshida brothers
and kept scrapbooks of his favorite poses, from which he would
sketch and try to mimic. Amano was allowed to try his hand at
several character designs for Gatchaman and although he was not
credited for them on screen, three of his attempts were used in
the final show - Jun, Dr. Nambu and Berg Katse (in and out of
One of the other main creatives
that Tatsuo brought in early on the project was animator Sadao
Miyamoto. He had been working previously at Mushi Productions
but was lured away by Tatsuo to work on Decision at Tatsunoko.
Tatsuo sought him out because of his talents. As it was a step
up for Miyamoto, he took on the assignment. He was an impressive
The final planning for the series
laid out ideas and conventions that would make for a rousing and
exciting show, not to mention setting the basis for countless
live-action Sentai shows in the very near future. This genre of
programming is still going on to this day with many of the themes
and ideas seemingly lifted straight from Gatchaman's example.
The story had a team of five youngsters who would transform into
special suits for combat. They each had specific individual weapons
to use. Each team member also had their own vehicles, four of
which could transform. When the five vehicles were brought together
they had even more combat capabilities and the means to utilize
a final ultimate weapon if need be.
The team members uniforms were
all similar but were rendered in distinct colors unique to each
person. The character archetypes were set out as well, from the
passionate and headstrong leader Ken, nihilistic and impulsive
Joe, sensitive yet strong Jun, comedic and dependent Jinpei, to
big-hearted and brave Ryu.
The evil Galactor organization
was bent on conquering Earth for their own purposes (these were
never really clear). They were headed by two main leaders and
hordes of faceless captains and soldiers that could be thrown
in the direction of the Ninja Team members. Some of these
concepts may have been around before, but it took the creators
of Gatchaman to organize everything into a coherent storyline
and soon-to-be trendsetting program.
Everything was prepared and ready
to go, the next step would be the actual production of an episode
to see how it would work. Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
was poised to hit the air!