Joe Shimamura and his companions may seem like regular men, but they are anything but. Joe is actually Cyborg 009, member of a team of cyborgs who fight for the greater good. Each cyborg is outfitted with a special power, from the ability to melt any material, to underwater breathing and flight. He and the other eight cyborgs were modified against their will by the Neo-Black Ghosts organization in order to further their own interests. But instead, they decided to band together and use their powers to fight against their former captors, and all forces of evil.
Cyborg 009 (1979) is the original adaptation of the first manga to be featured in colour. Come the 1980s, Fuji Television allowed a subtitled English version to air in certain areas of the United States.
Let me tell you the strange tale of one of the most obscure cult-anime ever created. Back in the 80’s, when countless critically acclaimed classics were born, and movies like Akira created the first stepping-stones for anime to be recognized in the west, some countries were introduced to anime in a different way. This is not just a review, but also the story of Cyborg 009, the Swedish dub.
The year is 1979. The cold war is fresh on people’s mind, the regime of Pol Pot just got thwarted, relations with China and the west are shaky, any opponent of the Bolsheviks gets funding from the
US, and mistreated chemical weapons leak from soviet factories. Cyborg 009 was revolutionary for its time, for being an anime that took on more mature subjects like politics, religion, and war. It was no doubt a moral compass for children to grow up with, inspiring a new generation to work for peace and be more skeptical. Today, in 2016, the show’s messages would probably be ripe for censoring, particularly for portraying religion as a tool to instigate conflict several times.
Regarding the artwork, the animation is not impressive by today’s standards, yet has that old retro style that is hard to hate. Some of the cartoony designs however stand out like sore thumbs. One of the African main characters is designed in a straight-up dated and offensive fashion. At the same time, the fact that the show included such an international cast was probably regarded as a step forward back then.
Despite its mature sides, it can’t be denied that Cyborg 009 also contains a lot of 80’s cheese, with corny inventions and cackling cartoon-villains. Already in the second episode for example, we see a fisherman try to stop an iceberg with a measly harpoon, which comically clinks off the icy surface, and the man acts genuinely shocked that it wasn’t effective. The series also doesn't hold back on the use of swear-words, dropping f-bombs and insults wherever it likes. If that doesn't convince you, one episode involves a man in a killer-wheelchair trying to resurrect Hitler, and that is only a small part of the weirdness contained in this show.
This is where the Swedish dub comes in, making the flaws even more apparent. What truly happened is a mystery. Very little info is available about the production. What we do know is that the dub was made by a one-man-army. The translation of the Japanese script to Swedish was all done by a single man, a Danish man to be more precise. Worse yet, he clearly did not fully grasp either the Japanese or Swedish language. One episode for example is titled ‘Giant Lizards’, despite being about gene-manipulated plants. Amateur-hour didn’t stop there though, because the same man did all the voice-work, which would include the voices for all women and children in the story. The end result, bad acting coupled with such illiterate sentences that you’d think the characters just had a stroke, and females that sound more like shemales.
While this is only speculation, it is also rumored that the video-tapes of Cyborg 009 were distributed through a porno-company, handed out along with other sleazy titles for free.
This is all a great example of something being so bad that it becomes good, starting out innocent with a glimmer in its eye, yet turning out unintentionally abysmal. Being 50 episodes long though, it’s a very lengthy show to watch for the sake of comedy alone, so the action and political messages thankfully does bring more to the table. Cyborg 009 manages to entertain both with its good and bad sides. Whether it’s the Swedish dub or another version, the show gets by on its charm despite its flaws. It is a fascinating time-capsule with a good story surrounding it, with bad execution and 80’s cheese sprinkled all over it.
If I could choose one anime that I think the anime community doesn't appreciate enough, it would be this one. A sequel to the 1968 series (and the 2001 series aired on Cartoon Network, a remake of the '68 series), the 1979 series deserves to be recognized as a memorable series of its time, similar to Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato. However, its limited online availibility (had to watch the last 15 episodes in Italian without English subtitles, for crying out loud), could be the reason for this lack of knowledge of its existence. Someone should change that availability problem, but without further ado,
here's why I think it's so damn great:
Story: With 50 episodes, there's a lot to choose from, and the creators really used them well. There are many different types of episodes, ranging from dealing with various villains (along with villains working for THOSE villains), backstories, and those centered on individual characters. Overall, they are enjoyable, but sometimes the frequency of similar plots across the episodes can be repetitive, and the episodes don't flow together as well as they should. Many INDIVIDUAL episodes, however, are wrapped up very well or end on a suspenseful twist, and seeing it all come together will warm your heart and leave you shocked, respectfully. All of it is balanced with action, romance, drama, and a dash of comic relief and horror, making it a blend of everything one could hope for from an episode.
Its originality is also worth noting. I've gotta admit that it feels good to see a great anime story that relies off of something like a team of cyborg superheroes rather than clichés like mecha, vampire/demon hunters, card playing/dueling, and/or high school slice of life comedies. Those genres aren't bad per se, I, in fact, like some of them myself, but a combination of originality and the quality of a work is what people remember as time goes on and as fads die out.
Characters: The main strength of the show lies within the main characters, all of whom have apt, talented voice actors.
Professor Gilmore is the glue that holds the team together. He's a strong mentor figure, similar to Gandalf from "Lord of the Rings," and is always around to make sure that everything's going well and that planned actions follow through. His strong presence makes him hard to forget.
009, our main character, is one that really struck a chord with me. He's a compassionate leader that tells the team what to do, and is an underdog with arguably the toughest past out of the whole team that just wants the best for everyone, from other cyborgs to random strangers he bumps into on the street. In terms of characters I remember from my early childhood, his overall demeanor reminds me of Arnold from the 90s Nickelodeon series, "Hey Arnold," but 009 tends to be more serious in comparison.
001, although a baby, holds the wisdom and knowledge of what to do, and is always willing to help out with his telepathic powers that many may underestimate. The shock value from one's underestimation of him makes him stand out.
002 and 004 are similar characters. They're short-tempered, stoic, and can quite simply be dicks, but their style, realism, and hard work during tough battles make up for that.
003, the subtle love interest of 009, is always looking out for the mental well-being of the team, and is the peaceful one always looking for alternative solutions for many things.
006 and 007 are the comedic relief that can be found even in the toughest of times, and are practical with their superpowers, making them easy favorites.
005 and 008, while admittingly the characters I found the most bland in comparison to all the rest, are members of the 00 Cyborgs that do contribute a very important role. 005, for example, represents both strong physical abilities and a strong mental ability, as his calm, quiet, and serious demeanor, together with his super power, can help out in any situation. 008, similarly, uses both his super power and his willingness to achieve victory by any means necessary to set everything in motion.
The main villains of the show, from the Neo-Black Ghost's Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu, to the Norse mythology-inspired characters, have everything one could hope for from a villain: mysterious, creepy, dignified, elusive, cruel, power-hungry, and ingenious. The smaller villains, however, had less of these qualities, and because of that, they were hard to take seriously, and felt more like simple plot devices rather than pure evil that would make the audience shake in fear.
Aesthetics: This show has a lot going for it in terms of the music, animation, and style. For starters, the theme song is relatively simple, but, unexpectedly, I eventually found it playing in my mind. Its ending song and background music are also very beautiful, embodying a peaceful, slow, nostalgic sound that I find less of nowadays.
The animation generally flows well and looks pleasing for a dated show that didn't have the largest budget in the world; my only complaints are that low frame rate movements are rather common, and certain character motions look awkward and/or unrealistic. The settings in the show based off of real places are adequately designed as a whole, even though certain buildings aren’t very detailed. Fictional places, on the other hand, are drawn with great imagination and feel as if they could be tangible places.
Its greatest aesthetic strength, though, is within the variety and overall style. The 00 Cyborgs will take you on their journey from Japan to the deserts of the southwestern US, the savannah plains of Africa, and everywhere in between. Due to the sci-fi element of the show, it also has that unique, late Cold War, retro-futurist feel that I really like, shown in everything from the fashion of the characters to the architecture and the technology.
Conclusion: The '79 series, compared to the '01 series, has stronger, more in-depth characters, more immersive settings, and episodes that each individually have a good mixture of emotions and situations that end in a satisfying manner, leaving you wanting to marathon the episodes ASAP. Although the overall plot flow and purpose of the characters felt better in the '01 series, the '79 series is still worth checking out, especially if you can look past its age. So, whether you've watched one of the other series or have seen one of the movies, give this one a go and watch the various cyborgs with differing abilities save the day by putting their strengths all together.