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Helen McCarthy on Cyborg 009
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A cabal of the rich and powerful, bent on profiting from war and destruction, is experimenting on humans. Nine captives are turned into superweapons, each with his or her special powers. To avoid destroying the world – the only place they can make a profit – the evil masterminds of the Black Ghost organisation intend to take the war into space. The intention is that the cyborg warriors should deliver even more wealth, power and control to their masters.

The cyborgs, however, have other plans. Led by the ninth recruit, Japanese teenager Joe Shimamura, they escape and turn themselves into a fighting force for their own freedom and revenge on their captors. But life as a cybernetically enhanced superteam has problems that Joe and his companions, ranging from a Russian superkid to a French ballet babe, from a gentle Native American to an alcoholic British master of disguise, haven’t even begun to imagine.

Repackaging the conspiracy theories of spy sagas like James Bond, and predating The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s U.S debut, Cyborg 009 is part of an international entertainment trend for adventures locating homegrown heroes in a wider, more cosmopolitan world. Cold War suspicion of foreigners was tempered by the idea of comradeship in common cause.

It was also the first of Ishinomori’s team shows, which would eventually lead to the global dominion of Mighty Morphin’ PowerRangers. Yet Cyborg 009 is much more rewarding than candy-coloured kiddy fare. With a dark political backstory and a complex dynamic of gifted misfits yearning for normality, the manga offered endless story possibilities from hard science fiction to speculation on the paranormal.

Audience demand for anime and science fiction grew after Astro Boy and 8 Man hit Japan’s small screens in 1963. It’s no surprise that Ishinomori’s story was animated – in fact the biggest surprise is the delay getting it onto TV. Two theatrical features in 1966 and 1967 preceded the launch of the first TV series on 5th April 1968.

Despite the popularity of the manga, which ran until 1981 across a number of magazines, the TV series lasted just 26 episodes. A new series in 1979 ran for 50 episodes and was followed by a third animated feature. Millennial nostalgia delivered a 51-episode series in 2001, and in October 2012 Kenji Kamiyama directed another animated feature, 009 RE: Cyborg, with a new manga for backup.

Ishinomori never planned on any of this. He originally wanted to end the story with volume ten of the manga. Conveniently, this is where the Comixology English release stops, so you can read the manga as he intended. Ongoing demand from a readership that embraced readers of Tezuka’s experimental magazine Com and girls’ comics as well as scifi fanboys led to its continuation. 009 RE: Cyborg’s limited release in the UK brings global dominion a little closer.

Director Kenji Kamiyama will be appearing at the BFI South Bank on 4th April to introduce the film of 009 RE: Cyborg, and in Glasgow at the GFT on the 6th.

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