Reviewby Theron Martin,
Cyborg 009 Call of Justice
The secret organization Black Ghost once kidnapped individuals from around the world and turned them into super-powered cyborgs for their own nefarious purposes. The nine Zero-Zero Series cyborgs – mentalist baby Ivan Whisky (001), flier Jet Link (002), sensory specialist Françoise Arnoul (003), antipersonnel specialist Albert Heinrich (004), strongman Geronimo Jr. (005), firebreather Chang Changku (006), shapechanger Sir Great Britain (007), underwater specialist Pyunma (008), and speedster Joe Shimamura (009) – eventually rebelled and, under the leadership of their creator Dr. Gilmore (who was duped into thinking that they were willing participants), defeated Black Ghost. Over the half-century since then they have occasionally stepped back onto the scene to help out in major crises but otherwise strive for a peaceful, incognito retirement. That all changes when reporter Lucy Davenport tracks them down to a remote Texas ranch because of something that her now-dead father, who knew Dr. Gilmore, discovered. That puts them squarely in the sights of the Blessed, a cabal of long-lived superhumans who have secretly influenced humanity from the shadows since time immemorial. Certain members of the Blessed are up to something dastardly which could endanger much of humanity, so the Zero-Zero cyborgs soon find themselves unavoidably fighting the Blessed for humanity's sake.
Cyborg 009 is one the most enduring of all modern Japanese entertainment franchises, with its original manga dating to 1964 and a number of anime and game productions scattered over the more than half-century since that time. The most recent effort, 2016's Call of Justice, is a three movie series that Netflix has broken up into 12 episodes and is now listing as an “original Netflix production.” It is also the second 3D CG production of the franchise.
Not familiar with the franchise at all? No worries! The series was clearly designed to be accessible to newcomers, as it spends big chunks of its first episode establishing the Zero-Zero series cyborgs, their basic origins, personalities, and powers, and the roles that they have played over the years in major public events, so any veteran anime, American comic book, or sci fi fan should be sufficiently up to speed before the first episode is over. (The series never delves into who any of these characters were before they became cyborgs, but such backgrounds are never relevant to the story, either.) A flashback at the beginning shows the ultimate defeat of Black Ghost, so the main enemies faced here – the Blessed – are an entirely new foe, too, one seemingly unconnected to anything that the cyborgs have faced before.
In a meta sense the story here is a very generic one. There's an Illuminati-type cabal of super-powered individuals who might as well be call mutants who have been in the background for centuries, but only in the 2010s do their machinations finally directly cross paths with the cyborgs. (The Blessed have clearly been aware of the cyborgs for some time now, but apparently their actions never interfered with their plans.) Not all of the Blessed are hostile, but the ones that do oppose the cyborgs are dangerous enough that it often requires a combined effort from the whole team to defeat them. Naturally many of the Blessed look down on everyone else – the cyborgs in particular! – and have their own ideas about “saving” humanity that involve killing most of them off and putting the rest under their direct control. In other words, utterly standard super-hero fare, with the only significant twists being that the leader of the Blessed wants to recruit one of the Zero-Zero Series because of his special powers and that another takes an interest in a heretofore-unseen dimension to another one's powers. The only twist for longtime franchise fans is that the cyborgs are peacefully retired and living in Texas.
The personalities of the cyborgs are very much in line with traditional portrayals of the characters, and all of them are very straightforward. That means that noble-minded Joe is the star and Françoise, the only female member, is both the heart of the team and largely a noncombatant; she does finally get her turn to be an action star in the final episode, though it feels more like a “hey, we have to have her do something besides just coordinate” call than a real attempt to show her as physically capable. The amount of attention the others get varies, with 005 and 006 practically being afterthoughts most of the time and 008 only getting to shine in one episode where he has to protect their ship, the Dolphin, while it's underwater.
What distinguishes the series, both for better and worse, are the visuals. Gone are the heavily caricatured character designs based on the original manga; these versions all look like actual people, except perhaps for Professor Gilmore. The characters no long wear reddish tunics or boxy metallic bodies with skirts but instead articulated, metallic suits of armor heavily reminiscent of (and doubtlessly influenced by) the live-action version of Marvel Comics' Iron Man. Françoise's hair is back to being a lighter blond after having a more orange hue in some previous adaptations, and her overall appearance is tweaked a little more for sex appeal even though she is shown in battle armor for nearly the entire series. The two main Guardian agents are perfect physical specimens in skintight suits also reminiscent of American super hero comics; in fact, the whole visual style gives that impression at least as much as an actual anime impression, which will also no doubt help make it more accessible to non-otaku Western viewers. Armored suit designs, meanwhile, are very standard. In a tech sense the motor bike that Françoise uses in the last episode and the Dolphin are the most impressive mechanical designs.
The actual animation effort is a co-production between Oriental Light and Magic and relative newcomer Studio.MD. (They have some additional projects coming up but this is their first lead effort.) It is not top-tier CG work; it is not even remotely close to being in the same league as GANTZ:O, for instance, and hitting Netflix at about the same time is definitely unfortunate of it. The CG is not even on the same level as Ajin or Knights of Sidonia, as while its characters have some similar stiffness in movements, the latter two don't have some of the really awkward incidences of depicting collateral damage or some of the painfully artificial-looking setting depictions. The look isn't totally deplorable, as the series does do a pretty good job with depth in its modeling and has some really cool-looking scenes, especially the ones where Joe is using his Accelerator power to progress through environments where everything else looks like a statue (think of how Quicksilver is depicted in the X-Men: Days of Future Past movie) or the flashy power displays when Ivan uses his powers to the max. Still, if you don't have at least a tolerance for what currently passes for cheaper CG then this series definitely isn't for you.
The soundtrack for the series is standard action-adventure fare: competent, but nothing exceptional. The opener and closer are both performed by Japanese pop/rock band Monkey Majik and both opener “A.I am Human” and closer “Is This Love” are strong, fitting numbers. The latter is also notable for its visuals consisting of panels from the original manga.
Bang Zoom! Entertainment's English dub is also a solid one. Most roles are well-cast, with the only borderline choice being Kirk Thornton's rendition of 006. (This character also sounds annoying in Japanese, though.) At least some effort is also made with suitable accents where appropriate and the script doesn't stray far. On the Japanese side, no apparent effort was made to cast those who had voiced previous installments in the franchise; only one seiyuu carries over from a previous title, and he voiced a different role in that one. That further suggests that this was intended more as an open-access reboot.
Overall, Call of Justice isn't a bad series; in fact, it's actually a capable mix of nostalgia and more modern style, one which won't turn younger viewers off with out-of-date aesthetics but yet still bears enough resemblance to earlier material to invoke that sense of nostalgia. It just doesn't do a whole lot to distinguish itself.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Mixes nostalgia and modern style well, some cool individual scenes, accessible to newcomers.
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