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.