The first page of Jinzo Toriumi's earliest Science Ninja Squad 5 notes


Early pre-production sketches


Tightened early designs of Ken by Ippei Kuri


Early designs of Jun


Another early Ken design by Ippei Kuri


An early wrist bracelet design


Cover for a draft of the Gatchaman planning notes


An early height comparison chart

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 companies published.

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."

Tatsuo 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 of Gatchaman.

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 disguise).

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 talent.

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!



Unless otherwise stated, all program material, situations, descriptions and depictions are copyright © Tatsunoko Production Co., Ltd.