Coming to your TV screen all the way from an origin in early 1960’s Manga, Cyborg 009 was the brain-child of Manga pioneer Ishinomori Shoutarou, and one of the first titles to feature a team of similar characters fighting against a mysterious and deadly enemy.
The story focuses most on Joe Shimamura, a young Japanese man who awakens to find himself in a strange lab; changed into a cyborg. Advising him in escape is a mysterious voice that helps Joe Shimamura explore his newly acquired abilities and join eight other cyborgs from the same lab.
It seems that an organization led by the mysterious Black Ghost has been collecting and converting regular humans into bionic battle machines for sale to the highest bidder/ Black Ghost didn’t expect them to rebel.
For the remainder of the series, our nine cyborgs will face increasingly deadly cyborg soldiers sent by the Black Ghost to apprehend or kill them.
Thus is the entire storyline of Cyborg 009.
Sounds kinda-sorta like hundreds of other anime titles, huh? What separates Cyborg 009 from the others is lineage. The manga from which this series springs is one of the first to feature this particular storyline. The style of the manga influenced decades of manga and anime titles from Space Battleship Yamato and Captain Herlock to Mazenkizer and Force Five. That history gives Cyborg 009 a little more weight.
And like those other titles, each of the cyborgs possesses a unique ability. Joe can move so fast that time appears to slow, 008 is a crack shot who can breath underwater, 007 can change shape, 006 blows fire, 005 is super strong, oo4 has missles for knees and a machine gun for a hand, 003 (the only female) can see and hear things better than the others, 002 has jet feet and can fly, and 001 (an infant) is telepathic.
Yes, it’s all very familiar now, but when this premiered it must have been something exciting.
However, all that history stuff aside, this production of Cyborg 009 comes into the game late where virtually every anime fan has seen at least a dozen variations of this story from Gatchaman to Guyver to Voltron and all points in between. So Cyborg 009 not only feels tired, it looks tired. Ishinomori Shoutarou’s character design lives in the world of the super deformed. The only characters with a remotely normal look are Joe Shimamura and Francois (Cyborg 007) the rest run the gamut between sorta-normal and awful. As I watched Cyborg 009 I instantly saw where Taro Rin found his inspiration for the design of his Metropolis feature. Incidentally, I didn’t like the character design in that one either.
I may be a special case, but I find this sort of character design extremely jarring.
The animation is extremely fluid and beautiful which helps smooth out the appearance of the characters. But it only helps a little.
One of the better aspects of the series is the score by Avex Mode. Cyborg 009 has one of the best and most distinctive soundtracks I’ve come across in a long time. The Fully orchestrated and powerful accompaniment really helps emphasize the tension in the action sequences. However, there isn’t all that much music so I can’t imagine a full soundtrack release. Still, it’s great to hear in the show.
The eight unedited (not that it means anything really) episodes begins with Joe’s awakening as a cyborg, his joining the other cyborgs, and immediately falls into formula. Since each of the other cyborgs is from a unique socio-ethnic background; French, East German, African, Native American, Chinese, Russian, American, and Japanese, and each one has a distinct back story that a little bit of about every other show, explores but not in much detail. For example, Joe was raised in a Catholic orphanage. When the priest who was a father to him (no pun intended) is murdered and the cathedral razed to the ground, the police think he’s the culprit. Joe leaps from a cliff into the ocean to escape the police and washes up, unconscious, on the island where the Black Ghost has his lab. But, there isn’t all that much information to begin with so it feels like filler.
Overall, if you’re looking for a series that really shows the origins of so much we take for granted with respect to anime in art and storytelling, the Cyborg 009 is a nice little history lesson.
Columbia Tri-Star offers Cyborg 009 unedited and uncut in a nice 2 DVD set featuring eight episodes, weblinks, and trailers. The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with both English and Japanese language track and English subs. A little more about the history of the show would have been a welcome addition. But they did include a nice fold-out character sheet so you can get a little information about who you’re watching.
It’s a nice presentation for a so-so anime.