IF YOU’RE A NEWCOMER TO ANIME, or, Japanese animation, if you’ve been hearing about it for years and you’ve finally decided to check it out for yourself, you should know going in that it’s not quite like anything you are accustomed to. Anime occupies a unique space in filmed entertainment, with an aesthetic all its own. Things that might seem odd in a live-action movie, or even a western cartoon, are the same things that make anime such a welcoming home—even refuge—to its devoted fan base, which runs the gamut from children to older people who grew-up reading the Japanese comics, or, manga, from which anime sprang.
Nowhere but in anime would you find a team of cyborg heroes whose most powerful member is a psychic baby named Ivan Whiskey.
That’s right, a super baby named Ivan Whiskey. That sort of thing is normal in anime, as is the rotund cyborg chef who breathes fire and occasionally burns his teammates, and the villain who can slap you out of existence by conjuring up a giant, invisible hand.
You’ll be treated to that imaginative weirdness and a whole lot more in Cyborg 009: Call of Justice, originally a trilogy of movies that’s been edited into 12 roughly half-hour episodes for streaming on Netflix.
The Cyborg 009 franchise was created by legendary artist Shotaro Ishinomori as a manga in 1963. Its titular characters are an international team of nine otherwise ordinary people who were given cybernetic powers quite against their will as part of a plot by the evil Black Ghost organization. But after turning the tables on Black Ghost (in a battle we’re shown in flashback early in this series), the team decided to embrace their powers and put them to use for the good of the world.
Call of Justice does a good job of providing this background right off the bat, so that newcomers will have a context for what’s happening. And what’s happening is wild: An ancient group of super humans called the Blessed—who have long been secretly running the world—is hatching a plot that will threaten the lives of billions. The only thing standing in their way, of course, is the Cyborg 009 team, and thus begins a series of spectacular battles with super-powered villains leading to an all-out war in New York City during the final episode.
Along the way there’s intrigue, misunderstanding, questionable motives, and lots of emotion, because anime is big on emotion. It’s reflected in the genre’s music, a mix of moving ballads and exhilarating hero-pop, and also in the writing, which places a heavy emphasis on what characters are feeling at any given moment.
The characters of Cyborg 009 are distinct in both appearance and attitude, so it’s easy to keep track of who’s who. And though the series was originally produced in Japanese, the Netflix version, which is rated TV14, has been dubbed in English (Netflix also allows you to watch it in the original Japanese, with English subtitles). Visually, the series is a feast for the eyes. The 3DCG rendering is simply stunning, especially on a big HD screen.
The beauty of streaming services like Netflix is in the ease and convenience with which you can sample shows and movies. So if you have even an inkling that you might enjoy anime, give Cyborg 009: Call of Justice a shot. If you like it, there’s still an entire world of anime out there just waiting to be discovered.