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"009-1" Volume 1: The Cold War Is Back

Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of such popular titles as Cyborg 009 and Android Kikaider, is a legend in the manga world; his mentor was none other than Osamu Tezuka. This latest anime, 009-1, is an adaptation of his manga, which first premiered in the Shukan Manga Action magazine in 1967. The work was targeted towards younger men, a first for Ishinomori. The Shukan Manga Action magazine also ran works like Lupin the Third and Lone Wolf and Cub. Because of this new forum, Ishinomori was able to create something quite unique, and it has now resulted in a quite unique anime.

There are many types of heroines, but most lack one thing or another. They don’t have brains, a level head, or sometimes simply skill. Not many are worthy of being called true heroines. But Mylene Hoffman, code name 009-1, has it all. She is a member of the all-female “Nine Number Group,” one of ten groups in the “Zero Zero Organization.” It’s set in a Cold War world, but in a distant future. The arms race hasn’t ended, and the Western and Eastern factions duel to obtain the latest technology and weapons of mass destruction. But this war is a quiet one, fought in secret, it seems, between intelligence agencies.

This setting is very interesting, mixing the retro-modern with new technologies, including cyborgs. Nuclear warheads are still a threat, while ray guns are used next to Remington sniper rifles. The colors are most striking: muted, never bold, showing the murkiness of the situation, and keeping with the 1960s costume and character design. Mylene is voluptuous and curvy, keeping with Ishinomori’s typical female design. She is a cyborg but has such a soft femininity that it is easy to forget her metal attributes. She does, however, have what the DVD’s booklet calls “9mm bust machine guns,” which are exactly what they sound like. But before you think this is some Austin Powers spin off, let me assure you, the director handles her rat-tat-attribute nicely. She only uses her unmentionables once this volume (not including the opening), and not once does it become cheesy or overdone. That is the glory of this series: its ability to maintain the 1960s chill spy overtone without becoming cliché.

The episodes are standalones, without a major story arc appearing quite yet, although there are hints of an arc developing in “Mission 2: Holy Night.” There, the “Mutant Disposal Squad” has orders to eliminate a little child, with 009-1 coming along to confirm the kill. We see the Eastern Bloc taking some seeming mutants to study and experiment on, but the Western Bloc seems intent on simply eliminating their future potential, whether it be for evil or good, as the mutants possess great powers. Mylene, caught in the middle of this battle to destroy a little girl, seems to understand the conflict. As she says, “Supernatural powers… are they a power which will impede humanity’s future, and thus should be abhorred?” That is the most striking thing about our main character: her ability to remain level headed and neutral. It seems as though we won’t see her develop as a character much. She is who she is, and is confident in that. However, the world around her will change, and this hint of a story arc may be where it leads. It is refreshing to have such a well-developed lead character.

The art and character design in this series is amazing. The character designer Naoyuki Konno, who has worked on Cyborg 009 and Humanoid Kikaider: The Animation, has gracefully captured Ishinomori’s characters as well as the essence of the times. Even the other “9” number agents capture the style of the 1960s spy genre along with the cyborg attributes. Much like Cyborg 009, the other agents have modified abilities that mesh with their natural abilities. For example Mia Connery, code name 009-7, has the ability to transform into any person, and Vanessa Ibert, code name 009-3, has the ability to connect with electronic devices. This makes each cyborg unique, and instead of some un-feeling machine, they become living breathing creatures, which is something fans of Isninomori can appreciate.

The voice acting in 009-1 is good. Almost everyone has that cool, calm, secret-agent type of voice, which marries nicely with the visuals. The accents highlight the Eastern vs. Western blocs, and Mylene especially has the perfect voice: quiet, confident, cool, and seductive.

The DVD has quite a nice collection of extras, more than the standard opening/closing sequences. There is an interview with the Japanese director and staff, and the text features “How the Manga Became an Anime” and “Weapons and Gadgets,” which highlight the various retro and futuristic technologies to be found in the series.

I love this series. It gives me the spy story kind of feeling that only a Cold War can provide. Secret agencies vying for intelligence take the stage, allowing the characters, especially that of title agent 009-1, to shine.

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