Review for 009-1: Volume 3
The sixties style spy action comes to an early end in this third volume of 009-1. I've barely had time enough to get acquainted with the show and its characters, but it certainly has worked some magic on me, invoking a nostalgia for those spy shows and movies of old. If you remember the Connery Bonds, shows like The Men From U.N.C.L.E., The Saint, The Prisoner, and all those other concept action dramas that had thrills, spills, and a psychedelic sensibility, then you'll probably find your nostalgia buttons being pushed too. For a fan of such shows, a mere 12-episode run (13 with the bonus ep) almost seems criminally short. But here I am, praising the show before I've even seen the conclusion. I'll be back in a couple of hours.
It was director Naoyuki Konno, who a couple of years ago went about adapting a 1960's Cold War spy manga into anime form. Shotaro Ishinomori created 009-1 back in 1967 (not to be confused with the same author's Cyborg 009 from 1963), a manga series about secret agents fighting the Cold War. But this is a world where the Cold War never ended, the West Bloc clandestinely fights the East Bloc 140 years on, and the secret agents are cyborgs. The West has the elite 009 group of female agents, combating the evil designs of the East. I've imported the Region 1 ADV releases, as the UK discs are getting scarce now. This final volume has the 4 concluding broadcast episodes, as well as the DVD exclusive bonus episode, inserted logically into the series run rather than tacked on as an afterthought.
Mission 9: Revenge
It's a particularly troublesome mission when Mylene has to confront an East Bloc spy with cybernetically concealed weaponry. He's stolen vital information, but fortunately for Mylene, he has a sentimental streak. His dying words are cryptic though, 'Goodbye Billy'. Mylene has to take some time off to recover from her injuries, and get her own cybernetics repaired, and she takes the time for a well-deserved vacation. The enemy hasn't finished with her though, and are tailing her, looking for an opportunity. Having her car tyres burst in the middle of nowhere would seem to be such a chance, but a holidaying family rescues Mylene. Norman is taking his wife Kay, and son Tony to meet his twin brother Dexter for the first time. It's something of a pilgrimage to the land of his childhood, and he invites Mylene to join them.
Mission Extra: Rhythm And Blues
When Mylene wakes up to some sultry jazz music, and an attractive male companion, it seems like the end to a perfect evening. Except the man announces that he knows who she is, and that he has implanted a bomb in her body. If she moves, he pushes the button, and when the record player hits the right note of discord, the bomb will explode anyway. Mylene's mission was a simple one to smoke out a double agent, but she's gone and made the worst mistake an agent can make, she's fallen in love with the target.
Mission 10: Reverse Explosion
Mylene Hoffman has been assigned to the same East Bloc facility that her mentor Ironheart investigated as his final mission. It's the human research lab run by Dr Green, looking at the military potential of mutants, and Mylene is there undercover looking after the mutant children, trying to find out any sensitive information that the West can use, as it too is considering joining the mutant arms race. All that is forgotten though, when a nuclear explosion occurs on the moon, supposedly impossible given the arms treaty. As tensions between East and West rise, a ransom demand arrives on the desks of both leaders, acquiesce to their demands, or the terrorist group responsible will use their Reverse Explosion device to detonate another nuke at random. But someone has noticed that at the moment of the attack, mutant children in the facility, and in a far off distant corner of the Amazon, were behaving very strangely.
Mission 11: Exodus
The East Bloc military attacks the facility, targeting the children, ordering the staff to leave, but Mylene has gone off mission, and has decided of her own volition to protect the children. Not that they need much protecting, as they have an escape route of their own, and they also have the aid of the surprisingly sympathetic Dr Green, and his confederate Nelkovski. Only Nelkovski is actually someone Mylene is already familiar with. Dr Green knows of one place that the children will be safe, the moon, and Mylene covers their escape, although she winds up a prisoner of the East.
Mission 12: Daybreak
With the fate of the world in the balance, all of the 009 agents have been ordered to hunt down the Reverse Explosion system, and following her previous disobedience of direct orders, have been warned that Mylene is a traitor. But Mylene has figured it out, and if she is going to prevent a nuclear holocaust, she has to get to the moon.
009-1 gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, NTSC of course, as befits a Region 1 disc. The transfer is clear and sharp, and I didn't notice any immediate flaws, beyond those that usually present themselves on anime DVDs, minor aliasing and the like. It's a curious blend of old and new for the anime, in all respects really, but also with the visuals. The character designs are very much of the period of the manga, stylistically appropriate to the 1960's, and a far remove from the character designs that are more prevalent today. That means a simpler design ethic, less detail in the faces and fewer nuances in the animation. You'll also find plenty of funky camera angles, as befits a 1960s spy show. But the world designs are detailed, the animation is energetic and fluid, and CGI is used to its usual fine effect in bolstering the 2D animation. In that respect it's very much a modern anime show. It's worth mentioning the costume designs, as this isn't a show where characters wear just one costume throughout, and Mylene has a large and stylish wardrobe to hand.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. It being an action led show, the temptation would be to opt for the Surround track, but while the main cast was solid enough, I did raise my eyebrows at some rather clichéd Eastern European accents. My preference as always was for the Japanese track, and the stereo manages to keep up with the bullets, lasers and explosions well enough. Taku Iwasaki provides the music, and it's a suitable accompaniment for a techy, futuristic spy series. However I do feel that his best James Bond riff can be heard in the soundtrack for Read or Die.
009-1: Volume 2 comes in an Amaray style Case, and the disc gets the usual animated menus and jacket picture. The disc autoplays with skippable trailers for Newtype USA and Anime Network.
The extras are light again, with a 4-minute behind the scenes documentary looking at Bringing 009-1 To Life in a series of clips and soundbites.
11 pages of artwork and text constitute the biographies for all of the 9 Number Agents, including the ones who aren't fleshed out in the series.
You get the clean credits again.
Trailers on the disc for other ADV shows include Le Chevalier D'Eon, Red Garden, Gantz, Madlax, Air Gear and Innocent Venus.
In the Amaray case, you'll find a 16-page booklet, 009-1 Secret Instruction Report: Volume 3. There's a run down of the main characters in the show, as well as the characters you'll encounter in each of the episodes. There's also a fair bit of space given over to focus on the three-episode finale of the show. Naturally you don't want to read the booklet prior to watching the episodes. You'll also find some staff interviews, there is one with composer Taku Iwasaki, and one with executive producer Akira Onodera. This is a nice detailed booklet, and well worth a read as it supports the episodes well.
With the final three episodes in this volume constituting one, almost feature length spy story, 009-1 certainly goes out with a bang. And with that bang constituting East vs. West superpower brinkmanship, the threat of nuclear Armageddon, a mastermind enacting his ultimate plan, an evil doctor experimenting on genetic mutants, a secret base or two, spy versus spy, rogue agents, and an explosive climax on the moon, it has to be said that 009-1 mixes up all the necessary ingredients of a proper Cold War spy movie. It's the sort of series that ticks all of my nostalgia boxes, and I certainly found much to appreciate and enjoy, both in this volume, and in the series as a whole. But I do have one or two reservations.
The biggest problem is that 009-1 is just too good for its runtime. It has a compelling back-story, interesting characters, a truly intriguing alternate future world, and some really quite smart writing and engaging stories to tell. It has to do this in just a 13-episode run, and although I'm sure it can be done, and has been done by other shows, 009-1 just can't do it. Something has to give, and that's the overarching story and the characters. For the first 10 episodes, it really concentrates on the short story form, with 009-1's missions taken as single, episodic stories. Background developments to the main story do occur, little bits of the world do get coloured in, but really the focus is on the episode at hand, and developing the characters therein. Given that Mylene Hoffman is usually the only character that carries over from episode to episode, that leaves the show pretty thin on character development, and one of the more fascinating aspects of the show, the 009 group, its members, and how they work is mostly neglected.
The first episode on the disc is typical of the run, following one of Mylene's missions as she has to deal with an East Bloc spy with a lethal response, and then has to face someone who wants revenge, and is willing to sacrifice his life to do so. His life in this case means job, family, a normal existence. It's often the case with these episodes that Mylene's viewpoint of the world is tested, and her experiences as an agent contribute to a gradual disillusionment. That would be the constant thread that runs through the episodes if nothing else. The Bonus Episode is the ultimate, if atypical example of that, in that it's the one episode that shows Mylene losing her professional detachment and poise, when she becomes emotionally involved with her target. What happens in the episode is perhaps the ultimate disillusionment, but what makes it different is that in this one episode, her emotions are on the surface, rather than hidden.
The conclusion takes place over three episodes, and is a proper, James Bond style, spy epic send-off for the series, and it does transpire that some of the early developments in the show do lead on to the conclusion. I have to say though, that the one big twist in the finale was telegraphed early enough on for it to be expected, and even a little disappointing at its predictability.
009-1 is certainly great fun, especially if you are nostalgic for those spy shows of yesteryear. But that very nostalgic taint effectively limits the show, with its episodic structure not really quite at home in the 21st Century. It's great stuff if you care about Mylene Hoffman, and Mylene Hoffman alone, as her character is at the heart of the show, gets the most development, and whose story arc is completed satisfactorily. But the richness and diversity of the show is lost to the short runtime. 009-1 is really a show that could have used 24 episodes to properly develop the world and the ancillary characters. It could also have used a greater degree of continuity between its episodes to accomplish more of the same. But there is enough here in terms of the central character, the world design, and the thought that has gone into the scripts and the animation, to warrant more than a few re-watches. 009-1 is really good stuff, but it could have been so much better.