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009 Re: Cyborg
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by Jay Seaver

"Classic manga/anime becomes a contemporary technothriller."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Cyborg 009" has been popping up on my radar occasionally during the past year, first as a "classic manga you haven't read" interesting for being a Japanese take on American-style superheroes, then with a recent American comic miniseries coming out. If this new animated version is any indication, I should remedy this gap in my sci-fi fandom, as "009 Re: Cyborg" is a smart, exciting technothriller filled with big action and cool ideas.

Skyscrapers are falling to suicide bombers all around the world, with the latest attack coming in Shanghai. Joe Shinamura (voice of Hiroshi Kamiya), a lonely high-school kid in Tokyo, is planning the next, just as "His Voice" commands. At least, that is, until Geronimo Jr. (voice of Hisao Egawa) and Françoise Arnoul (voice of Houko Kuwashima), two cyborg operatives for the Gilmore Foundation, give him the jolt he needs to remember that he is one of them, Cyborg 009, and there's no time to waste because the attacks are escalating.

Cyborg 009 was created in the 1960s and has undergone a number of evolutions since then, especially when being adapted to animation, but the basics have mostly stayed the same: A team of nine cyborgs from around the world with varying superpowers, 009 as the field leader, with battles against foes who threaten the entire world. This iteration is spearheaded by writer/director Kenji Kamiyama, who among other things ran the "Stand Alone Complex" and "Solid State Society" versions of Ghost in the Shell, and he plays it as a high-tech thriller set in the present day with the cyborgs operating in a world of spies and modern technological warfare. It's not an entirely grim setting nor completely grounded by a long shot, but it's one where the terror attacks have real stakes and shadowy conspiracies make sense even if it's also one where a motley crew with sci-fi weapons implanted in their bodies can fight evil in jaunty red outfits with long scarves.

Which they do, in action scenes that can hit swashbuckling and horrifying notes without seeming contradictory (one sequence literally has Joe swinging on a rope to catch a falling Françoise while cruise missiles pound the building behind them). The action is very well-staged, especially considering that Joe's main power - an "accelerator" that allows him to move at extremely high speeds - is one that can often be a tough sell. Instead, what's going on is clear, fast-paced, and not so bloody as to sour the audience on enjoying big, often military-style action.

The story providing the framework for that action is more than a bit out-there even by the standards of a movie with these heroes - the opening allusion to Biblical Tower of Babel is not the mere pretense that anime films will often use to enhance their apparent sophistication - but it's told with a straight-enough face to come across as cool instead of ridiculous. Nine superheroes turn out to be enough to juggle that a couple disappear and it's actually a bit of a relief, story-wise, and there's still not a whole lot of room for personal subplots that are referred to but not exactly fleshed out (prior knowledge is not required, but doesn't seem like it would hurt) or getting in-depth with the villains. The finale is satisfying even if it does leave some things vague.

Technically and style-wise, this looks fairly nice: Kamiyama and his design team don't mess too much with character designs that have stood the test of time, finding a good place between cartooning and mild exaggeration while making them fit into a sleek, modern-looking world. The 2D-styled elements fit in nicely with the more obviously digital ones, and the colors pop. Voice acting isn't bad at all, and the music by Kenji Kawai adds to the atmosphere without becoming intrusive.

"009 Re: Cyborg" will probably get an American release that mainly (if not exclusively) targets the knowledgeable anime/manga fan, which is a bit of a shame; as much as that might have been its sole audience a few years ago, the crowds that are eating "Iron Man" movies up would probably have a great time with this. The property may be almost fifty years old, but it and its potential audience seem to be ready for each other now.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25417&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/05/13 13:30:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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