Saturday, December 3, 2011


009-1 is a 13-episode, alternate-history, sci-fi, spy/espionage anime based on the manga of the same name by influential manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori. (Creator of such manga as Cyborg 009 [the title of this show is actually an allusion to Cyborg 009] and such TV shows as Kamen Rider). Think James Bond as an anime with a protagonist who’s a cross between 007 himself, Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever, and Cameron the “good” female terminator from The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The first thing you need to know about this series is that its artwork is a much older style, dating from the 60s or earlier. For some reason (and I asked around, I’m not the only person that gets this impression) this makes it seem like the show is for a much younger audience. IT IS NOT. This is most definitely a show for an older audience. I’ll get to that later, though. Just keep this in mind.

So, the show takes place in the future of an alternate timeline where the cold war never ended, and almost the entire world, with very few exceptions, has become part of either the “western block” or the “eastern block”. Technology is far more advanced, with retro-future ray guns, and cybernetic enhancements of secret agents being common. Also, there are mutants, but it really sucks to be them. In the western block, they’re just killed as soon as possible. But that’s kind compared to what the eastern block does to them. (They're hunted, captured, and then subjected to horrible experiments until they die in an attempt to weaponize mutant powers for the glory of the eastern block.)

Anyway, the main protagonist is 9-1 (that’s a code name, much like 007, but it’s shorter than her real name, so I’m just going to use it instead), the top agent of the special secret agent team 009. The formula isn’t all that radical. She goes and does your average super-spy stuff: assassinating enemy agents and double-agents, stealing vital information from deep inside enemy territory, protecting VIPs, etc. Maybe this is why I really hadn’t heard much good about it. Everything I’d heard was pretty much, “meh, it’s okay but not great.” I figured I’d give it a try anyway, and I have to say I was rather surprised. While I will grant that the story itself isn’t anything to write home about, it’s executed surprisingly well. 9-1 is a well thought-out and relatable protagonist; the stories are interesting, if far from groundbreaking; the actions scenes are fast but not rushed; and while this may be a more personal preference than anything, I really like the visual style of the setting: part retro, part retro-future, part its own unique style.

Really, though, when it comes down to it, what really carries the show is the characterization. Like I said, 9-1 is very interesting, and even though she doesn’t show much emotion externally, you can still tell that there’s a lot more going on underneath than she lets show. The minor characters, both 1-shot and recurring, are interesting and have their own motivations which are, for the most part, believable.

The format is kinda funny, because it’s mostly episodic, but every episode is either loosely connected into a main story arc, or provides background information on 9-1 and lets us know more about who she is and how she got to where she is. And half of those episodes also loosely tie into the story arc. I seriously have never seen such a coherent story made from such seemingly disparate stories.

The show does have its flaws. Like I said, the individual stories are fairly average and, while interesting and well-told, aren’t quite well-told enough to escape being considered derivative story-telling. I do have to give it a pass on this part, though, because the original manga is from the 60s, so it’s possible that these kinds of stories were fresh 50+ years ago. Also, aside from the agents from the two blocs, there was a third spy agency called “Golden Bat”. They’re a bit of a mercenary agency with their own goals, and they make several appearances, but they never really amounted to anything. They would show up, try to get in on what’s going down, maybe spill some info, and then get killed. That’s it. I kept expecting them to do something cool or be the masterminds behind some heinous conquer-the-world plot, but it never happened. I kind of would have liked to have seen them developed a bit more. Or at least be shown as halfway competent. As is, I wonder why in the world anyone would join up with them, seeing as your only real job advancement opportunities would be “wait for the guy ahead of you to die, then get killed yourself the next day because this organization IS FREAKING WORTHLESS!”

You should keep in mind, that this show is not for kids whatsoever. I mean it. Don't let your kids watch it, and if you have issues with objectionable content, you probably shouldn't watch it yourself, either. 9-1 is a lot like James Bond is some ways, and not just because she’s a super-spy; she gets around, if you know what I mean. The big difference is that while Bond seduces and sleeps with a lot of women because he views women as objects, 9-1 sleeps around a lot because, for her, seduction is a part of the job. This leads to quite a few scenes where she’s only barely covered by a sheet held up over her chest, having just slept with a man (and in one case, a woman) who wants to kill her, and most of the time tries to do so right then. In fact, that’s how the series starts. I almost stopped watching right then, but decided to give it a full episode to show me that there was more to the show than that. It proved itself to have more than just fanservice, but it took two episodes. Oh, and did I mention that one of her cybernetic enhancements is that her breasts are machine guns? ... Yeah. There's not much I can add to that. I'm sure there's a joke there somewhere but...

Oh, there’s violence too. It’s not a whole lot more than you’d see in some other anime. (For example, I’d say Fullmetal Alchemist is bloodier, but not by much.) There’s one episode where it shows one woman crushed between two giant cogs and a man sliced in half. And then there’s all of the secret agents killing each other at close range with machine and ray guns. In short: lots of people die and not usually in pleasant ways, so there is that to watch out for as well.

Bottom Line: Still, overall, despite its few flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and I would suggest it to anyone interested in a spy anime that has just the right touch of noir. I would also make sure to let them know ahead of time that there are content issues.

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