Anime goes into high gear when Cyborgs 001 through 009 rebel against their nefarious creator!
In a rather interesting experiment, Cyborg 009: Uncut and Unedited is a recently animated series that was deliberately styled to match the 1964 manga from whence it came. Instead of updating character designs or plot elements to appeal to the tastes of today's anime watching crowd, both animation and storyline stay lovingly faithful to their original source, and to the flavor of past anime works. In an ironic time paradox, Cyborg 009 is like the love child of Astroboy, Robotech, and Lupin.
Facts of the Case
Cyborg 009, formerly known as Joe Shimamura, wakes up in an operating theatre, disoriented and suffering from partial memory loss. He doesn't yet know that he's a cyborg, so when voices in his head tell him to escape, it takes the room filling up with toxic gas to convince him to heed this advice. As he flees his captors, bits of memory come back to him. He was accused of a murder he says he did not commit, and in his flight from police he was forced off a steep cliff into the ocean below. Near death, he was picked up and made into a cyborg without his consent. Finally, he meets up with a group of rebel cyborgs, numbered 001-008, escapees from the same facility as 009. As they introduce themselves, it becomes clear that 009 was created to possess all of their combined capabilities and more. He is the last and most powerful of the zero-zero prototypes. Even though he is not sure who to trust, he joins their cause: wipe out Black Ghost, the evil organization that created them with the intent to spread chaos across the world.
There's a lot of history to this series. Considered a cult classic in Japan, the manga has been made into a television series twice already. This current run has 52 episodes in all, the first eight of which appear on this two-disc DVD set. The manga, originally published in the late 1960s, was heavily influenced by World War II, which the Japanese (to this day, in fact) have never forgotten about in their hearts. At the time, the rush to mechanization and thoughts of space exploration both intrigued and disturbed many Japanese, who longed for a simpler time. These themes come out in Cyborg 009.
Given the background, Cyborg 009 is especially notable for its multi-racial (if somewhat negatively stereotyped) cast of characters from around the world. There's a Soviet baby, a punk from the US, a demure French ballerina, an arrogant East German, a cook from China, an English actor, a lonely Native American, a freedom fighter from Africa, and of course the half-Japanese hero of the tale, 009. This disparate group of people is bound by a common cause, and has to find ways to work together and trust each other. It was a message for world peace and cooperation served in a metaphor pretty much anyone could relate to.
The question boils down to this: are the stories good? I'm almost ashamed to say it, but I liked Cyborg 009 mostly because I just love seeing a bunch of superheroes with cool powers do their thing. The action sequences were fun to watch—slow enough to catch everything, but active enough to keep me interested. They lack some of the kinetic energy of the manga, where panels would overlap and cut into others creating a feeling of chaotic events piling on top of each other. The anime sequences, by comparison, are fairly linear and choreographed. Still, I couldn't look away for the whole of the first episode, which convinced me that I needed to keep watching. Coupled with the character development and emerging background stories for each cyborg, I was definitely entertained by this suite of episodes.
As for being "unedited and uncut," this amounts to a minute or so here and there of shaved scenes. When this series originally aired on the Cartoon Network, some of the scenes with broken or dead bodies were removed. The scenes are not bloody or sexual in any way, and in one particular case, having those scenes omitted robs the story of some emotional tension. They have rightfully been restored on this DVD, but don't expect entirely new sequences you haven't seen before. Think of them instead as extended scenes.
The DVD feature is a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, which should please anyone who saw the full-screen TV version. English and Japanese soundtracks are in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and there is an extra English DTS track available. I love the virtual soundfield that DTS creates, so I was anxious to try this out, and was not disappointed. Both have their strengths, but I liked the DTS in certain action scenes that involved electricity, where it seemed the crackling current sounds moved fluidly in and out of frame. Picture is clear and sharp, with bold colors and no defects. Subtitles are excellent and easy to read, shown in the black strips on the top or bottom of the screen. Disappointingly, no "signs" subtitle track was offered, so you have to turn on the regular subtitle track if you want signs and on-screen chapter titles to be translated. Not much in the way of extras for this release: a printed insert with character profiles comes very much in handy while viewing, but the DVD extras are just trailers for other shows.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm not a fan of the overly cartoony animation style that was more popular before the 1980s. I prefer more realistic character designs and behavior, so Cyborg 009 took a bit of getting used to. The animation is bright, simple, and stays faithful to the cutesy, exaggerated look of the era from which the manga came. While there is some fun in identifying the affectionate way animators give a nod to classic anime conventions (such as posing characters dramatically during introduction scenes, or the blurred-limb freak-out when a character gets frustrated), I found myself being jerked out of the story a little too much by things like a character with a nose shaped like a banana. It's like the eye-popping, limb-flailing buffoonery of Lupin without the lightly humorous plotlines. Watching cutesy characters talk about serious issues is just…weird.
The English voice acting is mostly good, but some are unintentionally comical, such as the electrified nemesis the rebel cyborgs face later in the series. I generally preferred to have the Japanese soundtrack on for these sequences, where the more serious voice acting better balanced the on-screen looniness.
Frustratingly, the first four or five episodes feature so much recap of past events, that the meat of the episodes are only 15-20 minutes long. While helpful to bring in new viewers when a series is just starting, it's annoying on DVD when one is watching episodes back-to-back. I would have appreciated a chapter stop so I could just whiz by the recaps. Fortunately, later episodes abandon this practice altogether.
Most disappointing is the lack of extras for this series. The second disc has just two episodes and some trailers, and is otherwise empty. It only underscores the lack of extra material. Interviews with the creators about their process would have been very cool, considering how much history this series has behind it.
Otaku and fans of classic animation styles will want to get this DVD right now. You just can't beat the combination of old-style animation and a crisp, beautifully colored print with a kick-ass soundtrack. Even restored titles from bygone days don't match the clarity and sound. For the non-hardcore fan, this title is probably best approached if you have already seen something like Astro Boy or Galaxy Express 999 and enjoyed it. If you tend to focus on realistic character design and relationships, this might not be for you. One thing is clear, though: once you get into it, only the most jaded viewer would be disappointed by these stories. Acceleration mode: now!
Cyborg 009: Uncut and Unedited is declared a friend of the state, and Cyborg 009 is given a complimentary haircut so that he may be able to see with both eyes.
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