Summary: Great (but dated) animation, stereo sound, good-to-great episodes, and lots of extras make vol. 4 totally worthwhile if you're familiar or curious about the show. The chapter stops are at logical points in the episodes, and packaging is secure, and the artwork by Alex Ross is AMAZING!
A mix of camp, action, soap-opera, and melodrama, this fourth collection is probably a good place to start picking up the series if you've been waiting. Any background info you need can be gotten from searching the internet for "gatchaman".
If you want the long review, read on...
By this point the series the viewer is familiar with the character types of each member of the science ninja team, and now their relationships are explored. The series begins to stray from the 3-act formula of Monster attacking, Gatchaman coming up with a plan, then running off to fight the Monster. In the Jigokiller episodes, we see the team wrestle a weighty issue: Save Jun and allow the Jigokillers to keep up their murderous spree, or allow them one selfish choice (saving her) in light of all the good they've done so far. Ken is especially conflicted, and his emotions (and the rest of team's) are very real. We also see a bit more of Red Impulse, the character with a strange connection to the team, and a very dated form of motivating them! In Volume 5 we should close the chapter on Red Impulse, so pay attention now! In these episodes we're also shown more about Galactor...what happens to those who try to leave the evil organization, and some of the mysteries of Berg Katse!
My take on the extras: The Edwin Neal (Berg Katse) commentary on Vol 7 left me flat--Katse is arguably the best character of the series, and Neal does a decent job of voice-acting him. I'd be interested in what he thought of the original Japanese voice-actor's (T. Mikio) performance, what he thought of the series, how familiar he was with the story, etc... Mikio was one of the better of the original voice actors, and played much more melodrama, which I thought did a great job of showing Katses hormone swings--listen the the Japanese language track on the DVD and see what you think!
-Vol 8 includes a commentary by Sarah Alys Lindholm (Senior Translator). Like many of the commentaries, she barely comments on the episode at hand, but she stays on the topic of Gatch much better than a lot of the actors and I was fascinated by it! First, I imagined the senior translator as being Japanese, but Sarah is from Minnesota and has red-hair! I wish we had a picture! Second, she mentions how tongue-in-cheek the original japanese was. We get lots of it (Romina and Julia as star crossed lovers--where'd those names come from?), but she lets us know how much more got filtered out. And finally, she mentions that they (ADV) is working with Sandy Frank (the people who first dubbed Gatchaman, editing and releasing it as Battle of the Planets in the US) and implies Sandy Frank still has some control over the translations and transliterations... interesting.
-The extra's disc is a nice touch, and certainly makes it worthwhile to buy the collector's set rather than the individual DVD's. As each on focuses on a character, these extras are Jinpei specific. Jinpei's text biography is helpful since he hasn't gotten a lot of face-time yet, and he's the most cartoony of the team. The audition footage is great, as always, because you can see how different people had different takes on Jinpei. Luci Christian's (Jinpei) interview is good; she describes the process of getting hired, her take on the character, and the series. The Gatch "Shwagg" section was a bit of disappointment to me--it was mostly british coloring books and comics. That was actually fascinating, but the whole thing was only a few minutes long, and I KNOW there must have been more material out there for them to put in! The Manga comic has great art and a decent story.
-The extras actually did something unique this time... they really got me interested in the spotlight character! An orphan saved by Jun, Jinpei came from a mysterious mountain village that with mysterious connections to a ninja clan. Luci's interview, the biography, and the sketches put Jinpei's motivations and choices into focus, and revealed a new layer to the series. It's easy to be captivated by Joe, Katse, and Ken (in that order, IMO) and I'm glad they've highlighted what a great character Jinpei is.
This is probably the first set I'd recommend to the casual Battle of the Planets fan--the plots have become more sophisticated, the animation is cleaner, and the characterization hits its stride. If you're only going to buy one set though, wait for the final volume of ADV's release, as those episodes are by far the best of series.
Vol 7 episodes and titles:
37: Renzilla, the Electric Monster
38: The Mysterious Mechanized Jungle
39: Jigokillers, the People-Eating Flowers (part 1)
40: Jigokillers, the People-Eating Flowers (part 2)
41: Murder Music
42: The Breakout Trick Operation
Vol 8 episodes and titles:
43: A Romance Destroyed By Evil (w/translator's commentary)
44: Galactor's Challenge
45: The Sea Lion Ninja Team in the Night Fog
46: Gatchaman in the Valley of Death
47: The Devil's Airline
48: The Camera Iron Beast, Shutterkiller
E4: The Extra Features DVD
-Jinpei the Swallow Profile
-Character Sketches of Jinpei
-Jinpei the Swallow Audition Footage
-Interview w/Luci Christian (voice-dub actor for Jinpei)
-Gatchaman Publishing Gallery Part III: Gatch in English!
-The Demon 5 in Concert
-Gatchaman Manga Vol 1, Chap 3
-The Firebird vs. the Firebreathing Dragon