One hundred and forty years into the cold war, the Western and Eastern blocs utilize their spies to deal with all manner of issues and tensions.
What They Say
In a world where the Cold War never ended, East and West continue to battle for technological and political supremacy. Mylene Hoffman, field commander of the elite Zero Zero Organization, exists in this world with her eyes open and her body always ready to do battle. She puts the intelligence into "intelligence agent" and her body into "body of evidence"!
009-1 has a pair of very good mixes, though are pretty different as each of them has their own appeal. The Japanese track is done at 224 kbps in stereo though it has a lot of bass to it. Sometimes it's almost overwhelming in how it plays out but it adds a lot of impact to the action sequences and to the music. The English 5.1 mix is done at 448 kbps and has much the same impact but it's spaced out a bit better with sharper clarity overall. Both tracks come across very good here both in terms of providing dialogue placement and overall action effects. While we listened to this primarily in Japanese, we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series was originally released on three discs but this release does it up in a 7/6 format to cover the twelve broadcast episodes and the bonus episode. With lots of varied locations, the series has a great looking visual palette to it that's almost theatrical at times. Colors are great throughout and there is a real slickness to it at times without it being too glossy. The show looks solid in general though there is a bit of aliasing cropping up from time to time during various camera pans. That issue isn’t all that frequent however. Beyond some noticeable noise in a few backgrounds and in some characters because of the color shading, this is a very pleasing transfer overall.
The packaging for 009-1’s complete collection is fitting into the standard mold that FUNimation has been adopting in the last year of two thinpak cases inside a slipcover. The slipcover uses one of the better images from past releases with Mylene up against a worn down wall with the rain falling as you can see some of the city in the background. It has a very good sense of atmosphere to it as well as pushing the sexualized nature and the different kind of character designs that the series employs. The back cover uses the theme from the menu design with the red ribbons cutting across but it uses a slightly light red for the main background which has it all blending a bit too much instead of providing something starker. There’s a couple of good shots from the show used here and a decent summary of the premise. The discs features are clearly listed and the bulk of the bottom is rounded out with the production credits. Unfortunately, the technical specs are put to the underside of the slipcover which is something I don’t care much for.
Inside the slipcover we have the two thinpak releases which look really good. The first volume has a picture of Mylene on the moon in a skintight suit with the Earth rising behind her. It’s a dark but beautiful piece that’s surprisingly haunting. The second volume has a shot of Mylene in her standard outfit as she’s kneeling in some rubble waiting for her next move to happen. It’s darker than the first volume but it’s well balanced by her designs and colors. The back covers uses different dark filtered shots of just Mylene with no real color to her along with the episode titles and numbers and what extras are on each disc. Each cover has a reverse side piece of artwork that’s a two panel spread of Mylene that really makes me want some big full color artbooks.
The menu design is nicely done with an in-show theme as it takes the designs used from the eye-catch with the ribbons going across as its central focus. Set against a dark yellow background, it’s a very stark and distinct backdrop for the menu. The foreground has the silhouettes of several of the 009 agents along the left which adds a bit of sexiness to it, though a less than distinct one since it’s just the black outlines. The navigation is straightforward with the episode numbers and titles along the right as well as the basic submenu navigation. Each disc is identical in layout and everything moves quickly and is easy to access and setup. The discs also correctly read our players’ language presets which is a really big plus in my book.
The only extras included here is the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, which is a disappointment as there were some nice extras in the originals.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
009-1 is based off of Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga from the late sixties and it shows. Like a number of shows that have been animated in the last few years who have their origins in this time period, 009-1 takes the design style of the original and balances it out with the fluidity and style of modern animation. Rather than re-imagining it to today's standards or smoothing out the character designs to what would be considered more common, this feels exactly like it would have been animated back then but with the technology of today. Of course, this particular style is also one that is likely to set off a good number of modern western fans.
Directed by Naoyuki Konno who hasn't handled too many shows in the capacity and with a series composition by Shinsuke Onishi who is also in the same boat, the show is set with a fairly episodic format that strikes a strong resemblance in some ways to Najica Blitz Tactics. In a quasi-alternate near future setting where the world is seemingly split into a Western and Eastern block, it revolves around a young woman codenamed 009-1. Working for the intelligence side of the Western Bloc, she's the super spy agent who along with a few other 009's do the dirty work that needs to be done out there. Her origins are fairly unclear at this point though she does talk about her childhood at one point and how she became what she is now is left unsaid.
As a cyborg, she's naturally competent at the kind of jobs she's assigned though they take an odd turn by providing her with breasts that are actually guns. With a number of gadgets built into her, such as the ability to hear when a bullet is fired with enough time to react, she's also got a nice complement of gadgets along the way including a plasma gun. Others seem to have more diverse abilities within the 009 group including one that can take on the appearance of others. The show isn't too clear on what kind of technology is really in place in the world though as fantastic as it does get at times it still falls within some reasonable bounds of believability for the most part.
The first four storylines that are shown are fairly diverse though somewhat typical of the spy genre. In one episode she has to figure out what a faction of the Easter Bloc's intelligence division is up to as armistice talks are about to be finalized. Another has her going head to head against a very stylish hitman who has her on his list. One rather interesting storyline has her assisting a group within her own military who deal with eliminating and controlling various mutants that crop up in society. Even data retrieval is on her docket as the last episode deals with her having to acquire some high tech secrets that have been taken along with the scientist behind it. There isn't anything terribly original in these story concepts but in their execution it all comes across great.
While it's not style winning out over substance, the style used here is simply beautiful at times. I adore Ishinomori's character designs. Though the men tend to make out badly here in general, the women really do shine in their own way. Long legged, filled with fluidity in movement, even the amount of bounce in the breasts don't seem to get in the way. Combine the character designs with the great location settings and numerous detailed backgrounds and it just comes together in a beautiful way. In the third episode, there's a scene where 009-1 comes out of the water against a sunset that was just stunning to look at. The design choices for the series will likely be difficult for some to deal with though, particularly with the men, since many are practically eyeless and often bald. These "classic" designs stand out because they aren't the norm but they're also very well done.
Though it's essentially an episodic series, 009-1 rather wowed me with its overall presentation. I've grown to love the kinds of character designs that Ishinomori is known for and Naoyuki Kanno captured them perfectly. But even beyond the design is the way the show plays out in its pacing and style. It takes nods from several classic spy films while retaining a very Japanese sensibility to it. With each tale playing out within the confines of a single episode, it doesn't get too detailed and bogged down but rather flows in a free style that may not always be apparent at first. If anything, it's the lack of real predictability in terms of what will happen that keeps it fresh from episode to episode.
The four episodes in this installment are solid across the board though the third one is the weakest. What was most surprising was that we get an episode that really delves into Mylene's background and shows her from the ground up. Generally in spy stories there are some nods to the characters backgrounds and maybe a mention of what motivates them from their younger days but it's rare to see it fleshed out as fully as this. Mylene's past as someone who was escaping from the Eastern bloc with her family is done in tragic style, with her parents and brother being killed. Haunted by the words of freedom from her father, she still agrees to head into the Western Bloc with the agent who was helping them.
Though he warns the young child not to become a spy when she grows older, the opportunity shows itself to her when she's a teenager. Having no family or anyplace to go when she came over, she spent her time in various institutions that took care of her but didn't really foster her. The chance to go into something that would let her be free of those places while also potentially helping to fight for freedom was too strong. What's interesting about the episode is that it plays against a bookend story in the present which takes her back to her past. It's laid out with some of the elder men of the Zero Zero organization talking about how soft hearted she is and whether she's really cut out for the organization. So much is tied together and neatly explained here that Mylene shifts from a cool and neat character to a rather interesting and humanized one.
The other three tales in the volume are all fun and interesting on different levels. The weakest of them is episode seven which revolves around an investigation into how secrets are being moved out of the country. It involves a pair of characters that really don't resonate well and isn't laid out well in terms of its plotting. As it is revealed it becomes more interesting but the gist of it is that it seems to set things up more for episode eight in highlighting Mylene's soft-hearted nature. In fact, that's something that's common across most of these episodes. One story focuses on Ironheart as Mylene has to go to where he's hiding to convince him to give up the secrets that he's acquired during a mission but refused to turn back over to the Western Bloc for debriefing. The negotiations she performs with him is fascinating in that it goes back to an early mission she did with him after she moved into the field. Seeing Mylene as less than smooth and cool as she is now and more confident in herself provides a good evolution for her, though you wonder just how much time has passed between then and now.
Episodes 9-12 + Bonus:
The five episodes here have two standalone episodes and then the three part finale. What was welcome however is that the second standalone episode is a bonus episode that looks to have been a DVD only release. Placed appropriately after episode nine and before the three parter, it provides some hint at how events are being unfolded in that larger storyline. Revolving around a man suspected of being a double agent, Mylene gets close to him, too close at times, and starts to fall for him as his world of music and mellowness infects her. His methods of being a double agent, as well as the reason for it along with a group of similarly minded citizens, isn't unusual but it is well executed. Music is often considered a way to bring peace and they find a nicely creative way of utilizing that here.
The first standalone episode is one that plays well on how deep things can get in this kind of world. After killing an agent that had been hunting after Mylene, she ends up taking a good bit of downtime for repairs and maintenance. Upon her release, she finds herself catching a ride with a family that's heading to the same place. The episode takes us through their family life nicely enough as the father shows Mylene and his family where he and his older brother grew up. The bonds between the two are given a great deal of time here and even if it feels a bit over the top once in awhile, it all comes across earnestly. Based on the opening of the episode and the character designs, it's easy to see where this one is going but it's a fascinating piece as it captivates you along the way. You know what will go down, but you have to wonder exactly when and exactly how it will play out.
As much fun as these standalone episodes are it's the three part storyline that shines the most. The series has kept to shorter stories so far but with this one it really gets to up the scope of things and give it a properly epic feel while still dealing with the characters in their own situations. The concept of this world in a lengthy cold war is one that gives them plenty of material to work with, even if it is at its basic level just a series of short spy thrillers. The trappings of this world are enticing since it gives us an almost nostalgic feel of something that was quite dangerous yet you could almost long for. The difference in this arc is that it uses the previously discussed mutants to great effect. The presence of these "test subjects" has been an interesting addition to the series since it lets them play with something unusual. How would such people fit into the scheme of things, particularly on the political level?
With one side exterminating them outright and the other using them as test subjects, it's just plainly bad to be a mutant. Admittedly, some of this feels quaint as I recall similar stories being done in old X-Men comics back in the early 80's. But the premise is still solid. If mutants could work together in some way, as not all of them would ever be captured or killed and some would definitely find each other, how do you deal with the threat? And even worse, what if those mutants figured out a way to remotely explode nuclear weapons at a time of their choosing if their demands were not met? That even gets topped off by the revelation to the general public that nuclear weapons even exist now as there was a disarmament treaty that outlawed their existence.
The storyline brings in various pieces from earlier episodes and ties them together beautifully. Loki makes a return appearance in which his past is slowly revealed to Mylene. Another story point involving Ironheart's past comes about with the mutant angle as well. There is even a wonderful trip to the moon which occurs after the first explosion happens up there. Who said lunar excursion suits have to be big and bulky? Mylene fills them out quite nicely. Over the course of the three episodes, the story that's woven covers numerous areas of the world and tackles the politics of the two Blocs, recent history, the mutant issue and plenty more. While the overall story is something that feels like it could easily come out of the James Bond franchise, it's one that I would love to see expanded a bit more and given a proper movie treatment.
When I first saw 009-1, I fell in love. It felt like the kind of series that I used to see ages ago but done up as a lengthier series instead of an OVA with really good animation and pacing. Instead of being kept to a short one or two episode OVA run, we got thirteen episode worth of spies, sex and cold war style intrigue. The last few years have had me falling hard for Ishinomori’s character designs and style of storytelling, from Gilgamesh to Skull Man. 009-1 is like those but not, it’s its own creation and it stands out beautifully. There are a lot of different things I like about anime, from cute schoolgirl shows to the swords of samurais and science fiction. But there are precious few shows that play within this genre, so seeing a new one based off of a classic manga and done so very well, it’s just one of the best things I could have hoped for. Which is why this is one of the best hidden gems in the anime market today. Very highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Bonus Episode
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.