Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga spy series from the late ’60s is making a comeback thanks to Naoyuki Kanno (Kikaider, Cyborg 009). The director/character designer has taken the concept of the original 009-1 series and expanded it to introduce a new generation of fans to Ishinomori’s work. Set 140 years into the Cold War, the Eastern and Western blocs find themselves balancing peace on a razor-thin line while intelligence agencies from both sides do battle in a covert war. Using character designs from the Cyborg 009 series and storylines inspired by the spy movies of the 60′s era, 009-1 (pronounced Zero Zero Nine One) introduces Agent Mylene Hoffman, better known by her codename: 009-1, as the super-secret agent who always gets the job done. 009-1: Volume 1 from ADV Films brings action and intrigue back to the screen as Mylene demonstrates that brains and brawn can come in one beautiful package.
Audio: English 5.1 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English, Signs-Only
Extras: Clean Opening and Closing, Interview with Director and Staff, How the Manga became an Anime, Weapons and Gadgets, ADV Previews
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Imagine a world where the Cold War still rages on. Technological advancements often find their non-lethal nature being used for military weapons, double -agents pass information and loyalties around like candy on Halloween, and only the best-of-the-best survive in this dangerous world. Pacifists and arms races have managed to create a tense peace as each side tries to find the next great weapon to bring the opposition into submission. Mylene Hoffman works for the Western Bloc’s Zero Zero Organization, which runs intelligence missions not unlike the CIA of America or MI5 of England. Part of the elite Nine Number group, an all-female unit at Zero Zero, 009-1 finds herself running missions she may not always like but does anyway because that’s her job.
Episode one finds Mylene and three other Nine Number agents infiltrating the Eastern Bloc in an attempt to help Dr. Zond Soyuz defect to the Western Bloc along with his newest discovery. However, the Eastern Bloc isn’t going to give up the scientist willingly when the doctor’s discovery of a new energy source could be used as a weapon. A nuclear disarmament treaty is going to be signed on the moon, giving these four girls only a small window of opportunity to find Soyuz and get out of the East. Yet, this isn’t going to be an easy job, because Director Ludmila Schnidler and Deputy Director Ivan Godnov of the Eastern Intelligence S Area currently hold Dr. Soyuz in an undisclosed location. Mylene goes undercover at a bordello and manages to seduce Ludmila into giving her the location of the good doctor. Using the secret information, the four spies break into the castle imprisioning Dr. Soyuz only to find themselves surrounded by guards. The girls manage to escape from the trap, but they still need to catch up to Ivan Godnov, who has taken the doctor with him. Time before the treaty signing is running out.
Mylene’s next mission is a bit of a different job for an intelligence agent. A mutant girl has been found in the West and, under the Genetic Mutation Extermination Law, she must be killed in order to protect the public. A disposal team led by Double Gomez is on the job to capture and kill the mutant before she becomes another possible guinea pig for Dr. Dark Green and the Eastern Bloc’s Supernatural Research Facility. Mylene’s well-earned Christmas break is interrupted for an emergency mission to confirm the kill and disposal of the girl by accompanying the Disposal Squad on their hunt. Double Gomez hates the idea of having a baby-sitter join the troops. The squad surrounds the hideout of the child and her parents before opening fire in a shoot-now-and-ask-questions-later move. The parents die instantly in the hail of gunfire, but the little girl manages to escape. Mylene is a tad displeased with the methods being used against orders, but still offers assistance by pointing out the escape hatch the mutant girl ducked into. The disposal squad follows down a long tunnel and into the woods to catch their target with Mylene close behind in case the girl dangerous; the last agent to chase after her died.
Episode three places Agent 009-1 back in the middle of the action as she takes on an assassin with a contract to kill her. Number Zero calls Mylene into his office to discuss an important matter: Eastern Bloc has hired an assassin to kill one of their agents. The agent was aware of the contract on his head and it was decided to let him play decoy, giving the Western Bloc agents a chance to catch the assassin before the contract could be fulfilled. However, the assassin was still successful and wounded one of the agents who managed to confront him after the kill. Egg is a professional sniper who promises to fulfill his contract within two weeks of acceptance. He’s also a bit of an eccentric assassin who follows a strict set of rules. Egg makes his kills using one bullet from an old rifle, he always aims for the head, and he never attacks a target at night. Egg has become a legend because of his strict rules. Mylene is wary of those who prefer to only follow one style of killing, but Number Zero’s discussion of the assassin has a purpose: 009-1 is the next on his hit list and only one week remains for the contract to be fulfilled. Mylene thanks her boss for the words of warning and preps for how to take down Egg before he gets the chance to kill her.
Mylene picks a resort island, Arnoul, to visit during its off-season, giving her a better chance of catching Egg in the act. A tropical land with mountains, forests, and long beaches, the resort is the perfect place foer her to relax and draw out her would-be killer. Mylene takes a chance by going down to the beach to tease her target into taking a shot. Egg manages to miss Mylene’s head, but it does give 009-1 a chance to see him in action. The game of cat-and-mouse has begun.
The final episode brings together three intelligence agents from each of the two sides to visit the castle of The Phantom. The Phantom has kidnapped Dr. Satonaka along with his newest research data in order to offer it to both agencies as a greeting to do further business. Claiming to be a member of Golden Bat, the Phantom has hidden the doctor somewhere in the haunted castle and the first agent to find him by following the rules gets the information. Naturally, neither side is going to give up the chance to gain Dr. Satonaka and his research data. However, the game turns deadly very quickly as Freya from Eastern Bloc meets a crushing fate while trying to start the treasure hunt early. Trying to find the scientist and his research data may cost the agents their lives if they’re not careful.
009-1 plays around in the spy genre while also taking some serious stabs at issues just as relevant today as they were during the Cold War era. Mylene’s 60′s-inspired wardrobe and personality drawing from Sean Connery’s approach to James Bond creates a character with a cool attitude, cunning wit, and the sexual appeal to seduce those who have information 009-1 may need. Mylene kicks ass and does it with style. The only draw back is that non-heavy-action-based-missions can move a tad slow, leaving you a bit bored with episodes like the mutant girl and the haunted castle. Character designs are one of the shining points of this series with Naoyuki Kanno doing a great job capturing Shotaro Ishinomori’s original style. The series also likes to pay homage some of its inspirations, including James Bond, general ’60s spy movies, and recent action films. One of the 009 agents gives a nod to Sean Connery’s spy role directly with the name Mia Connery and the agent number of 009-7. The third episode is titled “Hard Boiled” and also pays plenty of tribute to John Woo’s Hong Kong action film, right down to Woo’s trademark use of flying doves. And there are still more obvious things to notice and enjoy in addition to the visual fanservice. Mylene understands how she looks in her tight little agent uniform despite never really acknowledging it, but to watch intelligence director Number Zero ogle her while they discuss things is simply classic. The production staff was having a lot of fun putting 009-1 together.
The Japanese cast can be a tad mixed for the first volume. Yumiko Shaku takes a few episodes to master Mylene Hoffman’s demeanor towards life and her line of work. Yet by episode three she’s really fallen into a good groove on how to approach the character. Most of the supporting characters come off well enough for their scenes, but larger roles, like Keiji Fujiwara’s Egg, sometimes take a few scenes to fall into the perfect match for their character. The English production from ADV’s own Houston studio matches director Charles Campbell and writer George Manley together to capture the feel of the series. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the ball seems to have been dropped a few times. Direction isn’t too bad for emotion typically, but some dull casting choices and poor accents can drag the English dub into the below-average range far too often. The script takes a harder hit, keeping somewhat accurate, but with inserted cheesy dialogue and unneeded swearing in what is possibly a poor attempt to capture the dialogue from the 60′s era. (That or someone thinks they are just that clever and funny.) Overall I found myself frowning more than wanting to continue through with the English production’s take on the characters. Alice Fulks manages to capture early on the right feel playing Mylene Hoffman, but this is the only notable shine amongst the poor and average performances.
009-1: Volume 1 packs some good action together with the sexy body of Mylene Hoffman. Slower episodes aside, the series has the possibility of being a great series to follow as long as the action stays on high. The video is very clean and colorful with the anamorphic presentation. The subtitle tracks also show no errors as one should always hope for. The DVD extras for the first volume are heavy, with textless opening and closing credits, interviews with the Japanese director and staff, a story of how the anime series came to be, and some lineart of the weapons used in 009-1. ADV Films has also taken the Japanese insert booklet that came with the R2 DVD’s and translated it for English-speaking fans to enjoy. It’s really a nice bonus which stands out among other show releases. The DVD cover art is based on the Japanese poster art used to promote the series in Japan. It isn’t a bad choice, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing the R2 cover art in the booklet or as a reversible cover. The show’s logo remains untouched in the show and is only slightly modified for the US artwork needs (DVD cover, booklet, etc.). 009-1: Volume 1 has recieved some good treatment for fans of the Japanese series. With only thirteen episodes—twelve aired on TV and one exclusive to the DVD release—the show doesn’t have a lot of time to waste, so hopefully the series will jump back into the well-done action of episodes one and three when Volume 2 (including Artbox version) is released.