Here we our with another series from Toonami history, the early 2000’s adaptation of Cyborg 009. I remember watching this show as a kid and unlike The Big O, I remembered a lot of story and character details for most of it’s run. Maybe because it’s not as complicated? Yes, I’m still mentally beating myself up over not remembering anything about Big O until my recent rewatch. While I would never call this show the best thing that aired on Toonami, I still liked it a lot. At least enough to buy Discotek’s blu-ray release of the series last year and watch again. Did Cyborg Soldier hold up to my positive memory that I had from more then a decade ago? I suppose you will have to read the rest of this post to find out. Whatever is the result, I don’t regret making this purchase from Discotek. It’s a beautiful release that they worked half to death on.
(Just a reminder, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about an adaptation of Cyborg 009. Here is my review of Call of Justice from years ago. Seriously, it’s an old review.)
The anime Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier starts when the mysterious 009 wakes up after his transformational operation by a mysterious voice. A voice that he decides to follow despite not having being assured by it or having a gut feeling against it. What that voice leads him to are eight other cyborgs, 001 to 008, rebelling against the mysterious organization that created them, Black Ghost. A fight they want 009 to join even if he is completely unsure about. After the cyborgs show off their abilities when fighting off Black Ghosts tanks and soldiers with a plan to escape the island with a professor named Gilmore’s plan while escaping on the experimental plane ship called the Dolphin, 009 decides to join the cyborgs on their quest for vengeance and peace for all mankind. I mean, peace just happens after evil, large conglomerates are dead right? Just that easy.
So yes, the main story of Cyborg 009 are our cyborg friends vs all forces of the evil corporation, Black ghost. The first arc focuses on the 00 Cyborgs surviving assassination assassination attempt from the more advanced 00 cyborg models sent from Black Ghost and then moves into a mixture of Star Wars and James Bond adventures when the cyborgs infiltrate Black Ghost bases and armed forces to eventually destroying Black Ghost himself. Yes, Black Ghost is ruled by…Black Ghost. The adventures are very much like some of Roger Moore’s weirder James Bond films but better. Of course since this series is 51 episodes long, it doesn’t just end there. Before we jump back onto those Star Wars and James Bond adventures again for it’s finale (sort of), the show either tells episodic stories and little arcs. Let me tell you, those arcs are all over the place in terms of the material presented in them. That is far from being a bad thing. Really, there is a lot of fun in this series.
We get character backstories, fun episodes that may be black ghost focused or not, war stories, blood diamond war off shoots in Africa, greek gods, robotic dinosaurs, aliens from another dimension that learn to stick up for themselves, the spirit of mankind attacking oil refineries through the use of spirit wolves, a mechanical city that falls in love, a reverse terminator arc with 009 and others sent to the future, and many more things. Cyborg 009 is one of those all encompassing science fiction work and while some stories are better and more memorable then others, I’m glad Cyborg 009 includes all these stories because each of them appeals to different sides of my brain for different reasons. All of them being human stories because of our cast that seek humanity wherever they go. At the same time, none of this time is wasted. This is how we get to see what our Cyborgs are made out of. Personality wise and physically too.
All of that is great considering that each story ties into the themes of this story. Especially since Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier is very human story about seeing the positives of humanity in the cyborgs quest for freedom and peace in face of their own humanity being taken away from them. What better way then using science fiction stories that are all over the map to do that. (That’s not a joke.) There are some serious flaws in this sort of structure though. While the direction of each story allows you to feel what the story is getting across, each episode is very fast and doesn’t explore each arc as much as it could. Seriously, each one of them could be a single cour story that is compressed into 1 to 4 episode stories. There are a lot of these stories too so if the anime didn’t stick with our main cast who are developed over the series, then nothing would work. It’s a good thing that the 00 cyborgs are great characters and come from large variety of backgrounds which makes their interactions wonderful.
First up our the out of time cyborgs, 001 to 004. Cyborg 001 whose name is Ivan, is a baby cyborg with amazing psychic abilities. His backstory from who knows how many decades back involves his father being a doctor who worked on failing psychic research. In order to save that research, Ivan is a psychic baby who is the first cyborg. 002 or Jet is an American gang member from New York until he got in over his head and was kidnapped by Black Ghost for experiments. He can fly at high speeds and has some acceleration abilities. That last one is waht makes him have an inferiority complex with 009, our main boy. Next is Francoise or 003. She’s French and wanted to live her life as a ballerina. Her chance to move in the Ballerina world turned out to be s Black Ghost abduction. Now she is who knows how old and has the ability to see and sense anything from great distances. She also has a crush on 009. Finally, the last cyborg in this group is Albert or 004. He’s an East German from the cold war and wanted to escape to the west side with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, she didn’t survive and he got blown apart. Now he’s a cyborg made out of all sorts of weapons inside his robotic limbs.
From the next part of the list, 005-008 involved some cyborgs that aren’t as explored or have a complex backstory, but we do understood their personalities which works for me. Cyborg 005 is a tall native American character who is very calm and peaceful, but is also insanely strong so don’t make him mad. He lived a normal life working in the construction industry before he was given a chance to move up in the world that was just a Black Ghost abduction. I think you can see that there is a theme here. 006 is a Chinese Chef that breathes fire. We don’t know how that happens, but he and 007 are the comic relief pair. 007 was a British (of course) actor who was captured after his career failed. He can transform into anything. I don’t like him because despite being an actor that transforms, he can’t see anything in other people then their outsides. Yes, he’s very shallow. Moving on to someone cool and good, we have 008, or Pyunma, who has another war horror story background. He’s an African whose story involves a war over blood diamonds or the blood diamond stand in. In the middle of that conflict, Pyunma was captured by black ghost to be a cyborg aquaman. That not all though, he’s also noted to be a combat master because of his time at war. He’s very soft spoken, but Pyunma is one of my favorites.
Lastly, we have Doctor Gilmore and Cyborg 009 to talk about. Doctor Gilmore is a former Russian scientist hired by black ghost. He got so involved in his research because he never saw the inhumanity in what he was doing until he finished his work with the later brand of cyborgs. Seeing what he did wrong, he made plans with his cyborgs to help them escape with him. For the rest of the story, he plays the support role of helping and repairing the cyborgs in dire times of need. He escaped Black Ghost after 009 was woken up. Cyborg 009 is the main character of the show. His name is Joe Shimamura and he is an orphan from Tokyo who used to live at a church priest with other kids. One day, his life completely turned to hell when his church caught on fire, the priest died, and he was hunted down by Black Ghost to where he became a cyborg with the power of speed/acceleration. He’s also very peace minded which is why he didn’t originally want to join the other cyborgs. He wants to see the best in every opponent they fight which clashes with former gang member 002 who loves voilence. Sometimes his peace and kindness was the solution that ended conflicts and sometimes it’s caused his fellow cyborgs pain and discomfort. It’s a good conflict. All these personalities help create interesting stories because everyone can have great interactions with everyone else. Yes, even 007.
Another thing blew my mind with this show, besides all of it’s fun and interesting cyborg stories I like, is it’s amazing production values. Cyborg 009 was not a manga by Tezuka. Instead, was written and created by his protégé Shotaro Ishinomri, but the character designs are still Tezuka character designs. It’s nice seeing these character designs and well detailed older science fiction styled backgrounds in a modern (early 2000’s) series given some great facial animation, slightly updated designs that are still accurated to the original, well detailed power use when needed, and generally everything else. The 009 cyborgs characters are wonderful and distinct so it’s nice to see them treated right. You know, unlike some cgi movie (Re:Cyborg) that came out more recently which didn’t understand its characters at all. In fact, the action animation is great in general because this show is very well directed. Each movement is given it’s distinct feel and feels important. None of this is consistent because this show is 51 episodes and has some down time in terms of production, but there are a lot more positives then negatives here.
All of that goes into the mechanical designs too. Every single plane, cyborg, robot, flying saucer, and everything else are all old designs that have been updated through fantastic production design and direction. It’s incredible to see these old designs moving in such amazing ways to the best of their capabilities. There is just so much genuine effort and love put into everything that is Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier for everything that I can’t help but love it too. I love seeing older mechanical designs being put through modern production methods with heart and soul and I think that watching Cyborg 009: Cyborg Soldier in my teens was what helped push me in that direction. Why? Because I’m still in that mind set now. Maybe Cyborg 009 was more influential to me then I thought. I’m just glad to see this trend continue with Yamato 2199 and a lot of other series recently.
Through all that, I can’t help but love Cyborg 009 still. You know, despite the ending (last three episode ova) that sucked, everything just clicked for me. Why? Because it’s this an all encompassing piece of work in terms of science fiction and humanity that has a lot of power behind it. How? Can we talk about how the cyborgs are people that had their lives stolen from them in order to be weapons by Black Ghost. Despite that fact, here we see these characters living their own lives and finding their own joys in spite of all their horrible pasts. The cyborgs have formed their own family and fight to protect against other people being taken away and each other. That point itself internally resonates in my own soul. Sure the structure of the series is all over the place and can leave some mental whiplashes, but so what? Most of the stories presented in the show are at worst unique and at best come with powerful messages we still need today. To answer my own question from the beginning, it did hold it what I remember and then some. Maybe it’s not for everyone for a lot of reasons, but I would recommend it anyway. Definitely deserving of that good rating from me.
I’m not the only blog doing Mecha March this year. Be sure to check Lita Kino’s blog for content too. She’s put a lot of work and effort into this month, so please support her too.