009-1 Vol. 1

I've mentioned in the pages of The Anime Review in the past my love of James Bond, though I'm pretty keen on spy thrillers of all sorts. Nevertheless, I was hesitant when I heard about 009-1. It's a show set in a world where the Cold War never ended, where East and West still keep secrets from one another and use all sorts of espionage to accomplish their ends. Sounds great, right?  Except that the lead's a female cyborg with machine guns installed...um...well, you figure out where. That was what I got from the press releases. Now that it's arrived, I can say that 009-1 looks thoroughly modern yet completely retro while balancing sexiness, action, and style without being at all obsessed with guns in people's bosoms. The key disappointment is that the show lacks heart and character development.  Can style see us through instead?

Mylene Hoffman is 009-1 (pronounced "Double Oh Nine One" in both the Japanese and English versions). We know little about her, except that she works for the West and is trusted with highly secret (and dangerous) missions on a regular basis. Sometimes she works with a team, but often she's alone. At times, she's simply an observer making sure things go right; in other situations, she's the assassin. From mission to mission, one can never be certain what 009-1 will face next. Nevertheless, Mylene Hoffman is always beautiful, always deadly, and always more than you can handle. If Golgo 13 were to have a gorgeous feminine doppelganger with more spunk, 009-1 is it.

009-1 Volume 1 is always easy on the eyes. Its color palate is warm and crisp even in its darkest moments, and the visuals are fun to watch because they reflect an earlier time of anime storytelling. If you've ever seen Cyborg 009, you've seen similar designs, since the author of both original manga is Shotaro Ishinomori. Fans of Lupin III will be particularly at home, since the masculine characters often share its stick-thin character designs. And while it's still TV animation, there are some great moments to be seen here. Moreover, while this show has moments of fan service and sexual content, most of it is tastefully done. One sex scene, for example, isn't shown at all but implied through a series of cutaways that would have been clear in any 1960s film. It's a well-made show.

But I have to admit that, during the first two episodes, I wasn't particularly thrilled with the show, though. Part of it is a problem that lasts throughout the disc -- there's not enough fun to be had.  Yes, there are car chases and beautiful women and spy intrigues, but often it feels like no one enjoys any of it. One thing you knew about Bond, he liked his job. But Mylene really had little character, which is reflected in her voice acting. In the Japanese, her voice sounds soft and slightly disaffected; it sounds right to me for a world-weary spy, but I don't know if Japanese listeners would feel the same way. I do understand the inflections on the English dub, however, and there Mylene just appears dull and lifeless. For once, I could tell that the sound techs were really striving for a similar feel, but it just didn't work in my opinion. But it's not just Mylene's voice; it's everything else about the show that says we should be enjoying ourselves more. Aren't kidnapped scientists and exploding shuttles and doublecrosses supposed to be entertaining? I mean, you give me retro kitsch and I'm good with it. Flash Gordon (1980), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow...this is my idea of a good time. And 009-1 looks for all the world like it's going to get it right, but we don't know enough about the titular character to get too worked up about it.

But you shouldn't give up on it for a few reasons. The fourth episode, a strange one about a mad scientist and a haunted castle, is entertaining in its own right. But episode three, "Hard-Boiled," is excellent and worth the disc on its own. It's the story of a hitman who has his own style who's gotten a contract on Mylene. She's assigned to kill him, and as they meet on a hideaway property off the coast, a cat-and-mouse game ensues. Both are professional killers stymied when their opponent foils their every attempt. They attempt each other's demise by day and meet at night for dinner, drinks, and perhaps something more...this episode is the first one to really give Mylene the chance to shine in an adventure by herself, and her nemesis is a good match. It's playful, exciting, and even gives us indirect character insights. If the whole show were like this, I'd give it an A+. As such, one episode isn't enough to give that great a grade, but seeing that the last two episodes show improvement, I have hopes for the rest of the series.

009-1 is a curiousity that sounds and feels quite a bit different from many other shows on the market. I really liked the style but found myself hoping that it would capture my attention more than it did. I got more impressed as it went on, and I'd certainly plop in the second disc if I had it available to me. Go into the show expecting that it will take itself more seriously than perhaps it should, knowing that it is episodic and that each episode has its own strengths and weaknesses. Break out the champagne and a few Sinatra albums, a copy of Dr. No, and you'll be in the right mood.

009-1 -- violence, strong profanity, brief nudity/sexual situations -- B