Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Mylene Hoffman, better known as 009-1, super-secret cyborg agent for the Western bloc, is a very busy woman. When she isn't dealing with attempted retribution for violent agent-business past, she's dealing with her own mixed feelings for a possible double-agent. That is but a prelude to the real test of her powers however. Sympathetic Soviet scientist Dr. Green has grown weary of exploiting his young mutant charges, and now that his facility faces destruction due to the secrets he allowed Agent Ironheart to escape with, he's decided to strike a blow for the freedom of all mutants, the exploited of the East and the refugees from the West's mutant extermination policy. Having had her own brushes with the brutality directed against innocent mutants, and having grown close to the tykes at Dr. Green's facility, 009-1 is more than sympathetic to his cause. But is he really acting for the best? And what of Loki, who is cooperating with Green? 009-1 is determined to unravel everything, even if it means inviting the wrath of her own Agency.
This adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori's futuristic take on James-Bond-ish tales of Cold War derring-do feels very much like an attempt to take those outrageous adventures and do them right, to portray the humanity and moral compromise that they so glibly gloss over. It's an admirable goal, and its successes are largely in the execution of that goal. Its failures, on the other hand, are in how poorly aspects of the original work have aged, coupled with a certain ham-handedness on the part of the director and a lack of conviction in the dark truths it attempts to espouse.
The epic and spectacular combine, with reasonable aplomb, with the personal in the telling of 009-1's exploits. The double-agent episode is designed to present Mylene's romantic vulnerability, while her compassion—usually tucked safely behind a mask of cold-blooded professionalism—becomes her primary motivating factor during the three-episode mutant story. The revenge episode, like the best of the series' episodes, details the moral and emotional costs of being an agent in a ruthless world of kill-or-be-killed espionage, ending on a nicely downbeat note that effectively demonstrates the unpleasant side-effects of the professionalism that 009-1 affects. And no matter how personal things get, the action roots of the series are never forgotten, as slick, fluid fights explode in forests, on train-tops, even on the moon. Buildings are leveled in a blaze of tank fire, bombs blow bases into plummeting piles of rubble, and agents go hand-to-hand in expertly choreographed martial-arts bouts that are more likely to end in a brutal execution than a shounen-styled triumph of justice. With strengths like these, no one can blame the series' creators for the obvious faithfulness with which they present Ishinomori's work, even if agent 009-1's persistent optimism never quite makes comfortable bedfellows with the effects of the heartless acts she performs (both become less convincing for the existence of the other).
But in this case, faithfulness is a two-edged sword, cutting the series' positive qualities with it a load of '60s baggage that hasn't aged well. Exaggerated hair, button eyes, weird noses, and dated clothes and cars aren't a problem (the character designs are charming—and sexy—in their own way, though in some of the fan-service shots 009-1 has, as Sir Mix-a-Lot would say, too much back). That 009-1 beds nearly every man she meets and that men's brains turn to sperm at the mere sight of a naked woman indicate that mini-mini-skirts and the Cold War weren't the only 60s relics that Ishinomori projected into the future; he also projected forward some of the decade's less savory sexual mores, something that may not sit well with the post-AIDS generation (though to be fair, maybe cyborgs don't get VD). He also retains the gadget excess of the Bond films. Escape from sticky situations often depends more on flying shoe needles or booby guns than on cleverness or skill. Knowing that freedom is but a gadget away is not conducive to suspense, and nothing ruins a tense action scene like bouts of laughter whenever the main character busts out her "artillery," something that the hilarious counter-measures dreamed up by the opposition (iron brassieres?) do nothing to abate.
The retro intent of the animation's creators extends beyond simply preserving Ishinomori's creative vision, Naoyuki Konno also directs in an attempt to evoke the era's spy films. Psychedelic opening and closing visuals help in that exercise, as do the sufficiently old-fashioned musical themes that accompany them. Other stylistic choices, while certainly appropriate, only evoke the bad. Telegraphing each sexual encounter (or "sexy" scene) with slinky saxophone music is simply crude, and whatever logic it was that allowed the inclusion of an abomination like the use of a gushing volcano as a visual euphemism for a sexual act (regardless of how common a cinematic device it was in the spy films of yore) defies comprehension.
ADV's presentation of the series includes bios of the 009 ladies who didn't appear in the show, a short behind-the-scenes feature, and a dub that has the same solid quality that ADV seems to breed in all of its English adaptations. Performances in the dub are smooth, with an emphasis on having fun with accents and camping it up. Little emoting is required, so it's rarely an issue, though when required it can be decidedly unconvincing—especially with one-shot characters. The script sticks close to the subtitles where plot-points are concerned, taking far more liberties with incidental or personal exchanges.
With its annoying directorial decisions and goofy sci-fi elements meshing uneasily with darker story elements, 009-1 sometimes measures up rather poorly against other spy fiction. All malefaction can't be laid at the feet of modern interpretation or the vagaries of time, however. Like its lead, 009-1 is fundamentally lacking in the deep, bitter cynicism that informs the very best of Cold War spy fiction. No matter how hard it tries to add gravity and ambiguity to the glitz of glossy spy films, its ultimate outlook is too positive and its action/adventure structure too light for the darkness it summons to be anything but phony and half-hearted. It is fun, though.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : C-
+ Tempers colorful, over-the-top spy action with serious undertones and little emotional touches.
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