Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman/Science Ninja Team Gatchaman first hit Japanese TV screens in October 1972. The Anime Encyclopedia calls it a “watershed show”. Its classic status has outlasted many of the anime it influenced. There’s even a live action film in production.
It’s been a fan favourite from the beginning, and not only in Japan. It was first screened in the USA in 1978, as Battle of the Planets, and gathered a devoted and very active fandom that endures to this day.
Because Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets fandom is so long established is the US, it has a lower profile than many more recent groups whose entire activity has been online. This fandom began in the days when paper zines and newsletters were not a retro novelty, but the only option. Its early online presence was significant, but some of the sites and forums no longer exist.
Probably the first distinct manifestation of American Gatchafandom was the APA (Amateur Press Association) Bird Scramble!, founded by Pat Munson-Siter in August 1986. An APA was one way for fans to get together and share information across long distances in the days before the Internet and the mobile phone. As Fred Patten notes in Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews) half a dozen American APAs appeared in 1986: none have outlasted Bird Scramble!
APAs compile information from members and circulate it at regular intervals. Each member contributes a letter, article, drawing or story by the agreed deadline for the next issue. The editor puts all the contributions together, organises cover art and copying, and sends out a copy to each member in return for a subscription fee to cover the cost of copying and postage. Bird Scramble! is issued four times a year. The first two issues are held in the University of California’s fanzine library at UC Riverside, but I encountered it through one of its contributors, Vaunda K. Perry. Some of the art contributed by members is visible online, and members including Alara Rogers and JulieAnn Adolf have put their Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets writing on the web.
Tatsunoko, who made the series and its successors, created commemorative goodies for each release and anniversary. These were sought and treasured by foreign fans in the days before online ordering and Paypal made collecting anime stuff easy. American Gatchaman fandom even made waves in Japan: the March 1987 issue of Animage magazine had a feature on American cosplayers with a photo of Pat Munson-Siter in her Gatchaman costume.
Being a Gatchaman fan outside Japan is easier than ever now, and American Gatchaman fandom is still going strong. From the Gatchamania.net forum to posts on Tumblr, fan activity attests the currency of the series. (Over eleven million words of fan fiction have been posted on the Gatchaman Fiction Archive.)
Looking back on forty years of the series, and thirty-four years of its first US alter ego, I’m profoundly impressed by the dedication and energy of those early American fans, creating an impressive body of work without benefit of email, Google or translation engines.