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"Galaxy Rangers: Collection 1": Excellence from the Eighties

by on May 13, 2008

My experience with Galaxy Rangers is quite limited. Since there were so many 65-episode, action-adventure series all launched within a few years of each other back in the eighties, only the very most popular ones made an impact in the UK. Galaxy Rangers was one of the few that made it over here, but its lower profile meant that I had never seen an episode until now.

But I’ve always been a big fan of Galaxy Rangers‘ creator Robert Mandell’s adaptation of the Thunderbirds 2086 anime series, so I was intrigued by Galaxy Rangers. Having finally watched just under half of the show’s 65 episodes, I can say that it’s definitely an underappreciated series.

The story is set at the cusp of the 22nd century, shortly after two alien ambassadors arrived on Earth in search of help against the evil Queen of the Crown and her space empire. As a result, Earth was given hyperdrive technology, and the Bureau for Extra-Terrestrial Affairs (BETA) was established. Four specially selected BETA volunteers were chosen to receive Series 5 brain implants, which enhanced their natural abilities and enabled them to become the Galaxy Rangers.

Galaxy Rangers was one of no less than three “space western” animated series broadcast in the eighties; and like Saber Rider and BraveStarr, it was an original show not based on a toy line. It’s easy to see why it stood apart from its contemporaries. The first episode, for instance, focuses almost solely on the lead character, Zachary Foxx, with the other Rangers only being introduced at the very end of the episode. In fact, many episodes concentrate on one or two Rangers at a time, and these are often the most satisfying stories. The cast-heavy episodes, on the other hand, are sometimes packed with too much plot that would have been better handled as two-part stories. But that’s true of a lot of shows from that decade, and it’s only a minor drawback here.

The characters, while necessarily archetypes, are handled very well. Foxx himself is an older family man, which is quite a refreshing change from other series. Undoubtedly the most interesting of the Rangers after Foxx is Shane ‘Goose’ Gooseman, the distinctly Clint Eastwood-inspired hero. He’s quite a loose cannon compared to other eighties characters, and it’s easy to see why the writers gravitated toward him rather than Foxx as the de facto lead character. Doc Hartford, a somewhat reluctant hero, is quite fun as well, and only the psychic Niko seems to have given the writers trouble in the early episodes.

The Queen of the Crown is an interesting primary adversary, but she’s mostly a background threat, which makes sense since she’s the head of an empire; but it also means her starring episode appearances stand out all the more effectively. There are plenty of imaginative space desperados for the Galaxy Rangers to tackle though. Standout episodes include “Psychocrypt”, which concentrates on the tragic fate of Zachary’s wife, and “Scarecrow”, which features a genuinely unnerving villain who gets to strangle Niko in a dream and shoot Goose with a real gun.

In fact, it’s striking how mature the show’s tone is, and how well it does at putting its characters in realistic jeopardy. A good example, even for a syndicated series, would be the surprisingly ubiquitous sight of clearly manned enemy craft exploding. Thankfully, there’s also plenty of humor to offset the seriousness, and, amusingly enough, many of the verbal jokes and puns are of a deliberately corny nature. Still, the commentary tracks do suggest the show was slightly too mature for the younger demographics, which was one reason the series was not as successful as other shows. Plenty of people were watching, but they were too old for toys.

Galaxy Rangers was one of a few high-profile East Coast-produced animated series in the eighties. Another was ThunderCats, with which this show shares many voice cast members. That cast gives a much less stilted, more naturalistic performance in this show, though, under the direction of Speed Racer‘s legendary Peter Fernandez, who had previously worked with Mandell on Thunderbirds 2086. It has to be said, though, that the true casting coup was in bringing the late Jerry Orbach in as Zachary Foxx; Orbach is fully convincing as an older, wiser, and realistic lead character.

The video and audio on the DVDs is pretty good considering the series’ age, although some episodes do look noticeably more vibrant than others; these tend to be those episodes released on the single DVDs a couple of years ago. One of this set’s important selling points is its arrangement of episodes in production order, which means the series’ internal chronology is finally respected, as the episodes had originally aired wildly out of order.

The main DVD extra is a fifteen-minute interview with Mandell, in which he discusses some of the influences on the show, including his own adaptation of Thunderbirds 2086, and TMS’ own Lupin III, Mighty Orbots, and Space Cobra. (The latter’s title character was a direct inspiration for Foxx’s arm blaster.) His comments on the series’ production are also quite interesting, especially his revelation that in order to crank out the series in less than a year, TMS’s animators were split into A, B and C teams, with such better episodes as “Psychocrypt” being steered to the A group. This explains why not all the episodes were up to TMS’s staggeringly high standards, even though TMS animated the entire series. That said, TMS handles the production designs well, rendering the insane amounts of detail in a meticulous, eighties anime style.

Four episodes come with commentaries from Mandell, his brother (and voice actor) Henry Mandell, and co-story editor Christopher Rowley. They impart some interesting bits of information, such as the fact that the whole show was ADR-ed, and that Jerry Orbach was the best at dubbing in his dialogue. Also included is the series’ pilot presentation. Don’t expect it to look too different, though, since 90% of its footage was reused in the first episode; the main differences are in the voices and a slight change in Foxx’s conundrum at the end. Still, it’s a very welcome addition, as promotional pre-series reels like this are rarely, if ever, included on series of this vintage.

There’s even a video presentation of one of the storybook audio cassettes, as well as full music tracks for four songs, including the infectious “No Guts, No Glory” from the opening and closing titles. I believe the other three tracks are library songs that were used in later episodes. The songs are all pure eighties power ballads, and as such are perfect complements to the series, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’re worked into future episodes.

Galaxy Rangers was sadly overlooked at the time it was originally released, and the show is here revealed as an astounding anime-style entertainment, and a great example of what both US and Japanese animation producers were capable of in the eighties. Koch has done the series and its loyal fans great justice, and as a complete newcomer to the Galaxy Rangers universe, I certainly know I’ll be looking forward to Volume 2.

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