Review for 009 Re:Cyborg Collector's Edition
It was February 2013 that Anime Limited, a.k.a. All The Anime announced that they had licensed 009 Re:Cyborg as their first anime feature film release. It’s been a long and rocky road to the point where we finally see the retail copies of the film, and given Anime Limited’s openness about the process of licensing, preparing and releasing anime on home media, a public one too. It was the process of recording the English soundtrack for the film that ate up most of the time, for which Anime Limited commissioned an NYAV Post dub. In these matters, getting it right is more important than getting it out fast, as anyone who’s bought a Sentai disc can attest to. But, an originally projected January 2014 release date slipped, and slipped again to July of this year, and just for luck, it slipped again to September. I don’t think it’s physically possible for it to be delayed any further. Anyway, the first film announced by Anime Limited becomes something like the eighth anime feature film released by Anime Limited.
It’s a film that I have been looking forward to with no little anticipation as well. The 009 Re:Cyborg story is adapted from Shotaro Ishinomori’s 1964 Cyborg 009 manga. He also created the 009-1 manga in 1967, no relation to this story, but also about cyborgs in an alternate future world where the Cold War never ended, and whose anime adaptation I reviewed a few years back. What tantalised me about 009 Re:Cyborg was the director at its helm, Kenji Kamiyama, a man who gives good cyborg and very good cyberpunk off the back of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Eden of the East. I really wanted to see what he would make of Cyborg 009, updating it for modern sensibilities.
I received only the check discs for the Collector’s Edition, and can’t comment on the packaging or the accoutrements that come with the discs. On the Blu-ray disc, you get just the film, in either 2D or 3D, with no extras. If you’re wondering at that, it’s because the film is effectively on here twice, once for 2D, and once for 3D, and depending on how it’s encoded (as it has to have two versions, one for either eye in 3D) the film might actually be on here three times. The first DVD disc has the film in SD format, with a smattering of extras including the prologue. The second DVD disc has these extras repeated, joining the rest of the extra features. Due to a lack of suitable equipment, left eye dominance, and a philosophical objection to the 3D format, in that order, I watched only the 2D version of the film.
The spectre of terrorism is spreading across the world again, with skyscrapers the targets of mass bombings, punishments for humanity’s hubris. When mass murder strikes the centre of Shanghai, it inspires another true believer to take similar action in Tokyo. Joe Shimamura is a high school student that has also heard ‘His Voice’, a pseudo-biblical lament at mankind’s self-absorption, urging followers to return humanity to a simpler state of being. But the fact is that Joe Shimamura is no simple high school student, he’s actually a cyborg, one of the 00 series, but one who has to have his memory erased regularly to explain his eternally youthful appearance.
In the face of the global threat, the 00 series has been reactivated, to once again defend humanity, and that means finding Joe Shimamura and restoring his memories. But it turns out that the first thing they have to do is prevent him from becoming one of the terrorists that they are trying to stop. But stopping Shimamura doesn’t stop the attack, and given its nature, it becomes clear that this is more than just terrorism, this is a global conspiracy involving governments and corporations. As Dr Gilmore gathers his group of cyborgs once more, it now seems that they’re not all working on the same side. For one thing, 002, Jet Link doesn’t return, and in fact he now works for the NSA, one of the groups that are under suspicion. And even with his memories restored, can they really trust Shimamura, who has heard ‘His Voice’?
009 Re:Cyborg gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, and as mentioned, I watched the 2D version only. It’s a 3D cel-shaded CGI animation, and it really does come across well. The character animation is almost as accessible as traditional 2D animation, certainly a lot better than the recent Knights of Sidonia release, and I was only hit by the anime equivalent of the uncanny valley once or twice during the run-time. The CG animation allows for smooth and detailed motion, very much appreciated during the film’s many action sequences, and it also allows for far greater detail in backgrounds, and what in live action would be termed production design and costumes. Certainly Francoise’s fishnet stockings at the start of the film would be impossible in traditional anime. The transfer itself is pretty good, bringing across the detail, the vibrancy of the animation to good effect. The only drawback would be the prevalence of digital banding, which is here to a greater degree than I have come to expect from Anime Limited releases.
The images in this review have been kindly supplied by Anime Limited.
You have the choice of DTS-HD MA 5.1 English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles. The film sounds spectacular, making full use of the surround soundstage to bring out the best in the action sequences, and in something of a Kamiyama trademark, the film starts with a helicopter flying overhead. The audio quality is to be expected given the Skywalker Sound credits, but this really is a quality audio track, both in English and Japanese. You also get a Kenji Kawai score to the film. The subtitles are good, accurately timed, although one or two typos do appear, and on one occasion I was prompted to go back, reread a subtitle as it just didn’t flow well. I actually switched to the dub at that point to better understand what the character was saying. Speaking of the dub, I tried a few minutes of it, and it sounded pretty good, albeit with the proviso that given that the 00 cyborgs are a multinational team, there are a fair few accents here, and your mileage may vary as to how authentic they sound.
You get both Madman and All the Anime logos when you insert the discs. The Blu-ray boots up to an animated menu, from where you can set up the audio, select a scene, or either play the 2D or 3D version.
The first DVD disc offers the film again, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, in native PAL format, running 4% shorter to 99:35 as a result. You have the choice between DD 5.1 English and Japanese with optional English subtitles. From what I sampled of the film, it’s a decent, clear transfer, and the audio quality is good enough.
It presents its contents with a static menu, and it’s here that you’ll find the first of the extra features. You get 2 Teasers running to 3:22 in total, 2 trailers running to 2:17, and 18 Promo Videos and Commercials running to 11:35.
Of most interest is the Special Prologue (9:01) which is more of a featurette on the 009 creator, Shotaro Ishinomori, and the genesis of the story back in the early sixties.
The second DVD disc repeats these extras, but the bulk of the content is in the Behind the Scenes portion.
Re:Animation lasts 10:38 and Kenji Kamiyama explains why he chose to make the film in 3D CGI as opposed to traditional ‘cel’ animation. You also get an interview with some of the animators and a look at how they made the magic happen.
Re:Sound lasts 23:16 and is in two parts, first an interview with composer Kenji Kawai with some behind the scenes footage of the recording process, and this then segues into a Skywalker Sound featurette, with director Kenji Kamiyama paying a visit to California and Skywalker Ranch.
There is an in-depth 18:29 interview with the director that goes into more detail about what he hoped to achieve in making the film.
The 3D Preview at Ishinomaki lasts 11:17, and takes us to the stage event prior to the film’s 3D premiere, as well as taking a quick look at the Shotaro Ishinomori museum.
Finally on this disc, there is the Premium Screening at Shinjuku Wald 9, which offers another stage event, although there’s something of a difference as it sees the animators on stage, armed with laptops, taking the audience through the animation techniques involved in creating a 3D CGI cel-shaded movie. It’s more than just a Powerpoint presentation. This lasts 23:16.
Fight Club, The Matrix, Iron Man... All films which I was strongly reminded of while I was watching 009 Re:Cyborg. There’s being inspired by films, but then there is echoing scenes from other films almost directly, and 009 Re:Cyborg tends towards the latter. You never want to be distracted by “Where did I see that before?” when watching any film. It happens a little too often in this one.
There’s also that thin line between a director doing what he’s best at, and a director rehashing old glories. You’d think that when it comes to cyberpunk, cyborgs, and conspiracy theories, that Kenji Kamiyama would be the first choice on any list, given how well he excelled at all three when it came to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and how brilliantly the cyberpunk conspiracy thriller Eden of the East panned out, but with 009 Re:Cyborg, he’s gone all Shyamalan, beating the same drum, but losing the rhythm. There’s another scene, where the 00 cyborgs are consulting with Dr Gilmore, trying to make sense of the terrorist threat and how to handle it, and suddenly I had double vision (and not because of the 3D), with Gilmore, the cyborgs and His Voice transposed with Aramaki, Section 9, and The Laughing Man.
Perhaps it’s the incongruity of updating a very 1960s manga series to a modern setting. They’ve updated the character designs in every way possible, but the telepathic and teleporting baby is always going to look weird and hard to reconcile as anything other than a purely comic element. You can’t take Ivan Whiskey seriously, and I was constantly put in mind of Koenma in Yu Yu Hakusho. And while the X-Men wisely ditched the yellow Spandex for cooler black uniforms when they went to the big screen, once the cyborgs don their trademark red uniforms and streaming yellow, 4th Doctor length scarves, again it’s impossible to take seriously. And that is detrimental in a film about global terrorism, mass destruction and potential genocide. It’s as if Christopher Nolan made the Dark Knight trilogy, but kept the Adam West costume and Batmobile for Christian Bale’s Batman.
Once again, I feel that Kenji Kamiyama isn’t saying anything new in this film that he hasn’t said before, and with much greater subtlety and effect in his earlier works. The ‘corporations are bad’, and ‘US Government is evil’, and ‘they all conspire to profit off the misery of humanity’ shtick is delivered clumsily, and really quite obviously in this film. What might be new territory for him would be the religious element to the film, the terrorists inspired by ‘His Voice’ to undo the works of mankind’s hubris, and restart humanity anew. The Tower of Babel allegory is immediately apparent, and the film moves in a very interesting direction once the evidence of supernatural involvement is revealed. The problem is that there is no closure at all in this regard. You get the questions, but you get no answers. 009 Re:Cyborg is a film that very much ends, hanging on the hopes of a sequel. Until such a sequel is made, there just won’t be any intellectual satisfaction with this film.
So what’s to appreciate about 009 Re:Cyborg? Its one saving grace is that it is a spectacular action movie, summer blockbuster material. Check your brain at the door, your preconceptions about plot and characterisation, and just revel in the brilliantly choreographed, wonderfully directed action sequences, whether it’s fistfights, martial arts, aerial ‘stunts’, gun battles, Iron Man style dogfights, or bullet time slow motion, this film has it all. And it has someone escaping an atomic explosion, in a far more effective, and dramatic a way than when Indy’s fridge got nuked. Just in terms of the visual extravagance, 009 Re:Cyborg is a fist-pumping Hell Yeah! But in every other respect, I hope that Kenji Kamiyama shifts to a completely different genre for his next project, as his cyberpunk sensibilities are beginning to go stale.