Saturday, July 24, 2010

Anime review: 009-1

In an alternate future, the Cold War has lasted for 140 years. The Eastern block and Western block constantly run intelligence and assassination missions against one another, sustaining a false peace without revealing this to the general public. 009-1, one of the West's top agents and a cyborg, is sent on a number of missions to counter the actions of the Eastern agents.

The series' major story arc is almost exclusively focused on 009-1. The story explains events from her past as well as her present day missions and in the end 009-1 is a well fleshed-out character that most viewers can understand and sympathize with. That said, each episode is delivered as a distinctly separate narrative and there is little else bridging the gaps until the last few episodes. Upon that point in the narrative, the story really picks up and certain characters and events from earlier on return for important roles.

In the same style as Cyborg 009, 009-1 gives specific roles of expertise to the various 009 agents. 009-4 is a weapons expert, hiding napalm canisters, rockets and spare pistols within her metal appendages. 009-7 is a master of disguise as well as a source of some cleverly planned humor. 009-3 has the ability to magnify her vision and pick up on far away targets. 009-1 can pick up on faint sounds and can run at impressive speeds, allowing her to dodge bullets and outmaneuver her opponents. She also hides two guns within her chest, and though the point behind this was to make her character seem both more lethal and sexy, it feels ridiculously corny and seems better fit for an Austin Powers-style parody work.

The main characters are entertaining and rounded out well-enough, even if there are only a select few of them, and the recurring characters are intriguing as well. As for the one-shot appearance characters, however, there's something left to be desired. The English dub voice actors are a mixed bag, performing either very well or rather poorly, and ultimately leave a fairly neutral effect on the series. Vic Mignona lends his talents to the character of Egg, James Grant and Gray Haddock play a convincing Number Zero and Loki respectively, and Alice Fulks carries the show very well in voicing 009-1 (aka Mylene Hoffman). Some of the Western intelligence committee members sound rather goofy, as do about half of the guest characters.

There are a few episodes that stand out as notably weaker than the rest. "Invitation from an Old Castle" feels very cheesy in a Scooby-Doo mystery style than the James Bond-inspired espionage solidified within the first few episodes. "Port" delivers a bit of a clever twist upon its conclusion, but the buildup takes a nauseatingly long amount of time, the characters see minimal development, and the events don't significantly affect the overarching story in any way.

The art style is very well done and a noticeable improvement on the groundwork laid out by Cyborg 009. There is something a bit unusual about the cartoony animation and the adult storyline, however, as the two seem to conflict. There is a decent-sized helping of vulgar language included, as well as prominent sexual overtones in regards to the 009 agent's appearance. It's obvious that creator Shotaro Ishinomori and director Naoyuki Konno wanted to make the series as flashy and fun as possible, though some episodes end on particularly darker notes than others. Similarly, the cartoony look of the characters often distracts the more serious moments in 009-1. The lighting effects are very impressive and the overall detail in the animation is better than decent, which together complement the art style quite well. The soundtrack is, like much of the rest of the series, an obvious nod to James Bond and other spy films of the 1960s and 1970s. Jazz variations carry the events along, with loud and upbeat pieces during gunfights and chase scenes while more mellow pieces accompany 009-1's musings and more intimate scenes.

009-1 may not have a great deal of depth to it, but it certainly is entertaining. The characters play off each other in clever dynamics, though many of the guest characters could have benefitted from further development. 009-1 is a quick watch at twelve episodes long and is easy enough to jump into as the major plot focus doesn't really come into play until very late in the series. The finale delivers both a few phenomenal plot twists as well as some confusing wrap-up that will undoubtedly leave some viewers unsatisfied. All in all this is an anime that provides a quick action fix, but viewers shouldn't expect a mind-blowing experience.

My rating: 7.5 (out of 10)

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