Anime Spotlight: 009-1 Volume 1 To be Released by ADV Films June 19th
009-1 could fairly be called "Fembot: The Anime." The titular sexy cyborg spy is clad in a micro-skirted body suit/one piece. Armed with retro-future gadgetry, she runs and guns through cold European castles, dodging attack helicopters and the like. Furthermore, her distinctive modification is that her breasts sport built-in machine guns. As trashy as that particular armament sounds, the series at least tries to handle it with style. This is a Shotaro Ishinomori based work rather than a Go Nagai one, so the gimmick is treated with a modicum of taste. For example, when she shreds her top opening fire during the introductory credits, the act is captured in silhouette. The spy-versus spy conflict, armed with ray guns and knee missiles, serves as brilliantly fun throw back action. Its the Avengers meet Lupin III mini-action-movie episodes should thrill anyone who doesn't mind old-school Bond sexism or touches of excess. Parachuting out of an exploding space shuttle being the most notable guilty of this later concern. Shotaro Ishinomori is best known for his cyborg creations, including the superhero Kamen Rider, the dichromatic hippie cyborg Kikaider and the team of international (generally stereotypically selected) fugitives featured in Cyborg 009. While the name suggests a connection to his previous classic , beyond the presence of even more cyborgs, his later work, 009-1 is not significantly tied to the events or themes of Cyborg 009. 009-1's distinction was that it served as Ishinomori's adult-male oriented seinen title. It's cyborgs for the Spike TV demographic. In place of heshin change sequences and other rituals, or robot dinosaurs and bugs, there's Mylene Hoffman. Also known as 009-1, she serves as a secret agent for the Western Bloc in their conflict with the Eastern Bloc. In the noir tradition, the character might have some buried decency, but more often plays the role of the heartless woman. She's more likely to engender lust than love, and likely to greet sentimentality by a bullet's intimate contact.
009-1 is effective in its balance of action and atmosphere. It knows when it rotate moody or location shorts with action set pieces, and springs enough traps and duels to maintain a forceful level of physicality. As interesting as the situations are, the series shines in establishing why Mylene is a woman whose opponents wind up dead. The on-screen movement demonstrate an athleticism as she sprints, twists mid-air, and hurricane kick foes. This delivers on action-star ability to create a spectacle by breaking the bounds of believability. Yes, this is anime, but it still feels impressive that she can pull off the stunt. While not necessarily a gory series, it is brutal. If someone get a kicked or shot, the vocal reaction as well as the blood conveys the damage. A particular guttural that follows a kick is as disturbing as any on-screen fracture. The West Bloc/East Bloc conflict is decidedly cold war. In the modern information age, how often do you see a scientist kidnapping story? The first four episodes include two. Despite the super-technology, this is clearly not informed by a computer security mindset, and unmistakably not Ghost in the Shell. There is recognition that this isn't the most relevant, up to date subject matter, but 009-1 embraces it all the same. Following that concern, it embraces the contradictions. It might be cold war antagonism rather than modern asymmetric warfare, but the conflicts are small rather than the machinations of super powers. In terms of entertainment value, which could easily be more important than exactly how current the series might be, it is that is smart without being superior. The glibness suggested by its wacky gadgetry ensures that there are no airs of self importance, without detracting from consequences that do suggest a seriousness to the work. Though 009-1 isn't even boarding the same train as le Carre or Greene, it does benefit from an amoral grayness, which boosts the simmering emotional core to all of the characters tied into this monumental counterproductive system. Neither side is playing the white hats in this conflict, and even Mylene is pulled into working with her state's extermination programs. The anime feeds this amorality by evoking real, generally historic, tragedies (the Challenger explosion, the Rein of Terror) in with its action. What is dramatically compelling is how it reacts against the premise of the East/West conflict. Despite the appearance of grand politics and secret conspiracies, the majority of the troubles have boiled down to buried anger. The episodic nature is too quick for slow burn revelation, but it does bring everything down to very personal, very understandable levels. Not only is Mylene the most visible character, the anime makes it a point to flaunt her, starting with her introduction in which she, clad only in a light sheet, walks to a window in a post-coital moment. At anime's most course, she poses as a prostitute to sleep with a rather homely female officer from the Eastern Bloc. By the time a later chase scene starts introducing every cut with a chest bounce, if you aren't taking the work too seriously, it is hard to stifle giddy laugher at the plain audacity.
The anime does calm down after its first episode, enjoying what it can do with the character in her context rather than just putting T&A on screen. It has fun with putting Mylene into slinky outfits, mod suits and sculpted hair. When it jets her to an island resort, it is quicker to outfit her in period elegance than undress her for the beach. Similarly, it seems to like being cagey about these matters, showing off Mylene's cleavage reflected in a wine glass. This is clever and attractive, but there is also an element of misogyny in leering at the beautiful dangerous woman. The fearful/lustful handling of the character isn't exactly the most enlightened way of dealing with the subject matter. As a 2006 Aniplex production 009-1 is as crisply animated as any modern work, but it is chiefly novel in the sense of something that was old becoming new again. There is plenty of energy in the red blooded, traditional kiss kiss, bang bang dynamic of men, women and guns, especially as it compares to the fetishized sexuality common in current anime. Given the nature of the fact that it is looking back for inspiration, there is also plenty of potential for an audience to take issue with the anime. The grounds for rejecting the work might be the very male take on female characters. With an adherence to design a step away from Tezuka's, such as a man whose hawkish features are given literally hawkish proportions, the rejection could caused by an aesthetic reaction. Or it could simply be a distaste for what is retro. Most anime is decidedly not for all audience, but 009-1 is bound to be more divisive and more narrow-cast than most.
The recently reviewed Flatland The Film will be screening Saturday May 12, 2007 at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden, Connecticut as part of the New Haven Underground Film Festival. The filmmaker, Ladd Ehlinger, will be attending and doing a Q&A session afterwards. For more information, see here and the NHUFF site.