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By Thomas Wheeler

Battle of the Planets is one of those Japanese animation concepts that might have been just a little ahead of its time. Japanese animation, or animé, as it is better known today, has had its ups and downs in the United States, until the recent massive influx of it in recent years courtesy of such concepts as Gundam, Pokemon, Digimon, Zoids, and similar concepts, many of them thanks to the Cartoon Network and its affiliates.

Animé first made the stateside scene in the 1960's, through the legendary Astro Boy and the almost as legendary Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion. It was in the 1970's, though, when more action-oriented shows appeared, and one of these was Battle of the Planets, known in Japan as Gatchaman. One of those times where the translation sounds better than the original.

Battle of the Planets has resurfaced in popularity in recent times in the United States, in part because of the growing popularity of animé in general, but also because of the efforts of famed comics illustrator/painter Alex Ross, best known for works such as Marvels and Kingdom Come. A huge Battle of the Planets fan, Ross persuaded Top Cow Comics to secure the rights to a Battle of the Planets comic book, for which he has provided a number of covers.

For myself, Battle of the Planets was a treat weekday afternoons in the 70's, when I returned home from school. It was a different sort of animation than I was used to. Remember, this was in the days well before the 80's, when Masters of the Universe, G.I.Joe, Transformers, M.A.S.K., and a host of other syndicated animated programs would dominate the late afternoon pre-Cartoon Network airwaves. The 70's were a dark time for fans of adventure animation. There just wasn't much around.

Battle of the Planets followed the adventures of five young people, all of whom had special vehicles that could combine to form a larger craft called the Phoenix, in their battle against interplanetary invader Zoltar and his minions. The team included overly-serious team leader Mark, ill-tempered and rebellious Jason, obligatory female Princess, Tiny, who was anything but, and the oddball youngster Keyop. There was also a robot named 7-Zark-7, who looked a fair bit like R2-D2 and had a more fretting personality than C-3PO. And this was before Star Wars. He also had a robot pooch. The less said about all that the better, probably.

The characters all wore ornate costumes that were fairly close to superhero outfits. All in all, it was a nicely done animé show, and certainly different fare than the usual reruns of the Hanna-Barbera stable that were the prevelant presence on weekday afternoons at the time.

But there weren't any toys at the time, at least none of which I was aware.

A few years ago, Medicom, a well-regarded toy company in Japan, despite having a name that sounds like a medical supply corporation, produced a couple of nicely crafted 12" figures of Mark and Jason from Battle of the Planets. However, they were not marketed in the United States, and even if one could find them, they would have been horrendously expensive. These figures have no relation to the 6" scale figures that have been turning up of late in places like Suncoast and Software Etc., I should add. Same concept, different product entirely.

Recently, an individual posted in a toy-based newsgroup that he was looking for a few toys and items that were impossible to find in his home of Canada. He had a number of items to trade for anyone willing to help him out. On the list were loose-but-excellent condition Battle of the Planets 12" Mark and Jason. In return, he wanted some of the newest Marvel Legends figures -- and a box of Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch.

So, in what I have to say was one of the strangest toy-based trades I ever got involved with, I promptly dispatched the figures and breakfast food, and received my Mark and Jason figures from Battle of the Planets in return.

So, after all that preamble, how are the toys? EXCELLENT!

Both have rather slender builds, in keeping with their appearances on the show. These are not muscle-bound characters. They're supposed to be teenagers, and the animé style being what it is, they are portrayed as relatively slender, which doubtless makes it easier to animate them as agile martial artists.

Articulation on both is excellent, although it is somewhat hindered by the stiff fabric of their uniforms. This is an instance where it might have been better to use a spandex-like fabric, or the flexible cloth of super-hero action figures, rather than the coated fabric used on these figures to make their outfits seem as smooth as an animation cel. The outfits are quite tight-fitting, and despite that there are fairly well-concealed zippers in the back under the capes, I have been told by their original owner that attempting to remove these outfits would be a mistake. Same with the helmets, which appear removable, but again, I was told this would not be wise.

The helmets are nicely detailed, and include the prominent transparent visors in the proper colors. The faces underneath the helmets have been very well sculpted. Sometimes it's not easy to take an amimé-designed face and translate it into a three-dimensional toy, but these were done with great precision and work out very well.

The outfits also have capes, which as far as I can tell are not removable. They appear to have been sewn into place. The long plastic gloves are removable, and each figure comes with an extra pair of human hands that snap into place, although why one would especially need to display the figures with their gloves off I'm really not sure. They both also come equipped with small weapons

The original owner told me that Medicom made a more recent version of these 12" Mark and Jason figures, with fabric uniforms that don't fit quite as well, and don't look as good. I can well imagine that, but I have to suspect that it allows for greater mobility. That's the one down side (which I was warned about in advance) to these two figures. The uniforms do hinder their movement. However, they're excellent and distinctive display items, which is about all I do with any of my action figures anyway, and I am truly delighted to have them.

Medicom has also produced, apparently as part of their "CyGirls" line, a 12" doll of Princess from Battle of the Planets. Logically, this doll would be size-compatible with Mark and Jason, but I haven't seen one "in person" so I can't really comment on it. I am not aware of any plans to add Tiny or Keyop to the lineup. Both would need distintive body molds, and Tiny would use a lot of plastic and fabric.

Whatever the case, though, I am truly pleased to have Mark and Jason, and if you are a fan of this cool animé series, and get any chance to own either version of these 12" figures, then I definitely recommend them!