Cyborg 009 Anime Review
US Release By
Retro Robot Fighting
52 25-minute episodes
2001-10-14 - 2002-10-06
Nine hapless humans are picked up off the street one day in the indeterminate future and remodeled by the mysterious Black Ghost organization. This is an organization that stokes wars in countries, then sells weapons to both sides to make a dirty profit. They've just remodeled these people as a test of their newest weapon, cyborg technology. Somehow (sorry, I missed the first few episodes), the nine prototype cyborgs end up on a flying ship thing with a professor type guy. He persuades them to use their powers to fight Black Ghost. These people all come from distinct backgrounds and countries, but now they're just a bunch of numbers: 001 to 009.
I saw the commercials for this and thought, "How underwhelming. Another stupid Shotaro Ishinomori anime coming to Cartoon Network." This is the reason I didn't see the first few episodes. After the debacle that was Kikaider, I was going to give retro robot anime a kick in the ass and tell it to get off my property. But as it turned out, a retro robot anime is not identical to its brother.
Yes, being remodeled into cyborgs has been done. We've seen it in Ghost in the Shell, Robocop, etc., but in Cyborg 009's case it's possible to forgive this because it's really just a well-done show. The characters are so ostensibly from whatever their country of origin is that it's almost a stereotype play like G Gundam. However, the characters are actually one of the best-done facets of the show. I haven't really seen enough to truly appreciate most of them, but the ones that I've seen have been excellent examples of how to put characterization on the forefront and still have action, a marked difference from the plodding pace and overacted emotions of Kikaider. They've truly had their lives and dreams stolen against their will by Black Ghost, but every so often a bit of it will pop into their current situation. They also try to make the best of said current situation. Despite the emotions involved, however, you won't find any morals or messages. It's just good old feelings, like us real people have, instead of a big setup to demonstrate a moral principle the way shounen anime like Yugioh and Dragon Ball Z often end up as (oh yeah, and Kikaider). The storyline is played out, of course, but sometimes a very simple story is best for what you want. I feel like this is just a simple, honest show with straightforward, easily-understandable characters, and a simple, straightforward show deserves a simple, straightforward storyline.
As far as technicalities, Cyborg 009 ain't bad at all. The animation isn't as impressive as Love Hina, The Soul Taker, or the Animatrix. But who cares? It's good enough, a bit lower than Kikaider (the only area where it is). Cartoon Network left in what I suppose is the original ending, since it actually has Japanese lyrics, and the show didn't seem as heavily edited as even recent additions like Yuu Yuu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin. There was an episode where a man actually said 'the Devil' and 'Hell.' As in, "I'd sell my soul to the Devil if it would let me send my enemies to Hell." The show does encompass a few mature themes, like an African civil war, and real guns were not deleted (like in Yugioh) or kept out by choosing a different show.
The only weak technical point was the design. I still dislike the super-weird character designs of some main characters (like 002 with his hair that sticks out in the back and his long, pointy nose that balances it). I also don't really enjoy the weapons (all the characters carry the lemon-shaped, ring-encircled laser guns people back in the sixties thought we would have in the year 2003), and the official cyborg uniform looks like a Santa Claus outfit with no white trim, no hat, and an ankle-length yellow scarf. The dub, lastly, is well-done. It has a lot of voices that dub-watchers will recognize, and they all do well in their respective roles. Like I say, it's easy to talk about a good dub.
Nostalgic old fans will definitely want to apply, but newbies should check it out as well. It's like those simple pleasures in life, except it's an anime. Also, the fights really are good, unlike the dreadfully yawn-inducing Kikaider (have I made it clear I hate it and Cyborg 009 is better in every way?). The sixties laser guns are used just like regular guns, and all the cyborgs have their own super power (006 breathes fire, 002 has rocket boots, 007 can shape-shift). I know it's not fair to lower the rating over the designs, but somehow despite all that's good, I can't bring myself to give this a perfect rating. But fours are good too.
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Notes and Trivia
Cyborg 009 is based on a comic series by Ishinomori Shoutarou, available in English from Tokyopop. Ishinomori is generally credited as the father of the sentai genre.
There are a confusing variety of Cyborg 009 productions, most of which never made it to the US. After the original comic series there were two movies and then a TV series produced in the late '60s. This was followed by another TV series (with the same title) running between 1979 and 1980, and another movie shortly after that, also in 1980. Finally, there was a 2001 TV series, which this review is of. There is also, apparently, a plan for a live-action Hollywood movie.
Of these, only the 2001 TV series and the 1980 movie have seen US releases; the movie was released on video twice, once in 1988 by Celebrity Home Entertainment under the title "Defenders of the Vortex," then again in 1995 by Best Film and Video as Cyborg 009. Although the 2001 TV series was aired (in somewhat edited form, and with a few episodes omitted) on Cartoon Network, only the first 8 episodes have been released on DVD as of 2006.
Incidentally, it's easy to confuse Cyborg 009 with a different series based on an Ishinomori concept, 009-1. Despite the confusingly similar titles, 009-1 is a different series, and (unlike Cyborg 009) had a proper US DVD release.
US DVD Review
As of 2010 the series hasn't seen a proper US DVD release. Only 8 episodes made it to disc, in two forms: On two edited, dub only volumes, or a 2-DVD set of the uncut version with both Japanese and English soundtracks and English subtitles. The two edited discs each have Dolby 5.1 audio in your choice of English or Spanish, and are cropped to standard-ratio images. The uncut version has anamorphic widescreen video and Dolby 5.1 audio in Japanese or English, plus an English DTS 5.1 soundtrack.
10-up; It's not bad, but a bit violent.
Violence: 1 - The cyborgs always use their sleeping rays on humans, it's only robots they kill.
Nudity: 0 - In the golden ages of the '60s, fanservice had not been invented.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - I think 003 had a crush on 009 (003 is a girl).
Language: 1 - That "hell" thing.
Staff & Cast
English Dub Cast
009: Joshua Seth
002: Sparky Allen
003: Dorothy Melendrez (Good old Kaoru!)
004: Jim Taggert
005: David Umansky
006: Steve Kramer
007: Michael Sorich
008: Mario L. Patrenella
Dr. Gilmore: Sy Prescott