Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 7th 2007
In a world where the Cold War continues well past the 1990s, Mylene Hoffman, aka 009-1, is an elite cyborg secret agent working for the Western Bloc. Cool-headed, sexy, supremely-skilled, and capable of killing with her chest, Mylene tackles a number of critical tasks for her handler Zero, whether it be working with her fellow female agents to recover a kidnapped scientist and his vital data from Eastern Bloc forces, monitoring the hunt for a dangerous mutant, dealing with a style-conscious hitman who has set his sights on her, or being drawn into a treasure hunt of sorts with other agents in an apparently haunted mansion.
To fully and correctly appreciate 009-1, one must understand a bit about its origins. Based on the late-'60s manga of the same name by legendary manga-ka Shotaro Ishinomori, this late 2006 series carries much of the style and flavor of Ishinomori's other iconic works like Kamen Rider and Kikaider. Although the name was originally intended as a play on words which allowed the “9-1” part to be interpreted in Japanese as “female ninja,” its formalized English translation has instead become a play on Cyborg 009, another of Ishinomori's well-known titles. Indeed, Ishinimori himself once claimed that 009-1 was intended to be a version of Cyborg 009 aimed at older audiences, one where he could do things without the constraints laid on him by making a series intended for youths. That the original series was written during the height of the Cold War is also important to note, for it has a dramatic effect on the setting and structure of the series. The premise used for the anime version – of a Cold War continued to the point where cyborg technology and other advanced weaponry can be thrown into the mix – feels much less contrived when one realizes that it is merely an adaptation used to retain the flow and feel of the subject matter, and keep it as true to the source material as possible, without making it feel dated.
As a result, the series gives off a vibe that an American viewer will interpret more as a cross between classic James Bond and the original Charlie's Angels than a variation on a more philosophical hard sci-fi series like Ghost in the Shell. Although its content can get quite campy (especially in its action-packed first episode), the first four episodes also prove capable of playing things seriously to reach a dramatic or suspenseful goal. Never shy about being sly and sexy, the series emphasizes Mylene's sex appeal by offering healthy and regular doses of fan service, although it leaves the most graphic parts to the imagination. It has no shortage of action and bloody violence, either, although such scenes are more of a flavoring than a focus.
The purely episodic nature of the first four episodes prevents any overall plot from forming; you could watch the episodes out of order and still perfectly understand everything. The only details about the setting which get established along the way are the existence of powerful mutants and that architectural styles have not changed much from the latter half of the 20th century, but stories like these don't require much for complex background. No other recurring characters beyond Mylene and Zero have appeared so far (it would appear that the initial impression that 009-1 regularly works with her fellow female agents is a false one), but fortunately Mylene has enough character of her own to carry the series. Her cool, suave cockiness would give James Bond a run for his money, but unlike Bond she always retains an even head and never lets her flirting or habits get in the way of her business. She may play at times, but she ever remains the professional and has a strong disdain for those who let style interfere with substance. She is not shy about killing people when necessary, either.
Character designs have the same angular, caricatured look that all anime series based on Ishinomori's works have, with younger female “good guy” agents invariably being gorgeous sexpots and the bad guys (whether male or female) usually looking quite ugly; as a general rule, the more expendable the bad guy is, the uglier he or she is. The turn-off designs are the only flaw in what is otherwise a quite good-looking series, however. Fan service is tastefully handled, Mylene gets a wide array of fashion-model outfits to wear, and background art and coloration both hold their own against even the better-looking series out there. The animation is serviceable, and does provide a couple of nice action sequences, but is not as smooth as it could be.
Aside from Mylene, the other star of the series is its musical score. It deftly mixes themes borrowed from '60s and '70s spy/agent shows with more modern rock, jazz, and techno numbers to create a soundtrack whose energetic beats and flowing rhythms do a superb job of setting the mood for the series as a whole and the environment for any given scene. Other series have attempted something like this, but few have succeeded so well. The catchy, hard-rocking opening theme “Destiny Girl,” sung by the husky-voiced Minato and backed by nicely complementing visuals, provides an excellent modern-sounding opening to each episode, while the closer harkens back to the series' period roots with a jazzy, base-heavy theme that could have been ripped off from Charlie's Angels or any of a number of other American cop/agent show from the early-to-mid '70s.
ADV has sometimes been accused of too heavily recycling their main vocal talent in their dubs, but for this one the title role has been handed over to relative newcomer Alice Fulks (she's done only a few minor roles prior to this), with ADV's main talent relegated to guest appearances and minor roles. Ms. Fulks strikes just the right note as Mylene, perfectly capturing her sultry and businesslike sides without overplaying them. Supporting roles are infused with all manner of colorful accents in the English dub, but these are not overdone to the point of caricature and are not out of line for the kind of characters who use them. How many of those performances hit or miss will vary from viewer to viewer, but on the whole it's a solid dub effort. The English script plays around with the wording a fair amount to make it sound smoother, and occasionally adds in an extra line or two, but never does any outlandish changes.
In addition to common Extras like clean opener/closer and a 16-minute director/staff interview, ADV has included two less typical ones on their first disc. One is a collection of profiles of various weapons and gadgets that come up in the first four episodes, the other a text-only “How The Manga Became an Anime” piece which describes the background of the source material and what was done to adapt it into a modern anime series. It's quite an interesting read for those looking for a bit more context.
Because it is clearly aimed at an older and somewhat more sophisticated audience and is heavily defined by its distinctive character design style, 009-1 may not ever achieve the notoriety or appeal that some other notable “girls with guns” agent series have. It lacks the plot development and character depth necessary to be truly engaging, but it looks good (as long as you can deal with the character designs!), has an interesting female lead, and the story vignettes work relatively well in isolation. If an occasional dose of sexy cyborg spy action with a classical flavor appeals to you, then this is one series you should check out.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Musical score, fan service.
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