Old becomes new again on Manga Island as the cold war era manga “Cyborg 009” rockets its way to the future on Manga Island. This classic manga has been given new life in its release by Tokyopop. Although classic manga hasn’t really caught on as well as some of the slicker, newer releases that fill most shelves in larger bookstores, I have to applaud Tokyopop for taking the chance and releasing manga like “Cyborg 009.” I was drawn into Shotaro Ishinomori and his iconic cyborgs at an early age, after seeing some illustrations in an “Epic Illustrated” magazine. I was drawn to the illustrations and how stylized and different they seemed from Marvel and DC (indy comics were much too mature for me and not readily available in convenience stores like other comics) books I read the time. In fact, other than “Speed Racer,” I would say that this early exposure to Ishinomori’s style is part of what lead me to my stay on Manga Island. Although Ishinomori has left us, he left a fantastic legacy that has been passed on to successive generations of manga-ka and animators.
Ishinomori’s style in “Cyborg 009” definitely shows his tutelage under Tezuka. In fact the more I stay on Manga Island the more I see the influence Tezuka had on the manga of the time and how far reaching his influence has extended to what we read today. Ishinomori was no slouch as a creator. He created some of the most beloved icons of Japanese pop culture, including Kamen Rider, the original Sentai Ranger show (“Himitsu Sentai Go-Ranger”), Kikkaider and many others. He also created another of my favorites in the Tokyopop publishing roster “The Skull Man.” As one of the most prolific manga-ka, and live action screenplay writers (including the violent live action “Kikkaider” and the original story for the Katsuhiro Otomo vehicle, “Harmegeddon”) he was creating until his death in 1998. He was even responsible for a manga based on the popular “Legend of Zelda” series.
“Cyborg 009’s” story revolves around a team of escaped cyborg test subjects and their struggles to escape from the warmonger and profiteer, the Black Ghost. The cyborgs were built to escalate the arms race for Black Ghost and to pit countries against each other to line his pockets and secure his place as shadowy ruler of the world. Black Ghost realizes that the nuclear war would doom the earth and develops a plan to use cyborgs to take the arms race into space. The Black Ghost has been kidnapping top scientists and forcing them to work for him by threats, coercion or promises of power. When his plan backfires and Cyborg 009 (the Half Japanese delinquent) escapes with cyborgs 001-008 and one of the scientists who was forced to work for the Black Ghost, the race for survival and fight to save mankind begins.
“Cyborg 0009’s” 10 volumes span the globe as the adventure expands beyond the island hideout the team occupies in the beginning. As the Black Ghost continues to send new cyborgs at the prototypes, they make their way to Vietnam, below the earth’s crust, and into space for the final conflict. There is even a section that hearkens to Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor manga, showing Ishinomori’s respect and love for the works of his mentor. With each chapter, Ishinomori ramps up the action in the story line, and he also adds more and more depth to each of the prototype cyborgs. Whether it is bringing 008 back to his roots in jungle settings or adding a love interest for 009, you can see that Ishinomori cared for these characters and wanted to bring them give them extra dimension, enabling the reader to empathize and care for the characters as much as he did. Even his villains are not always altogether evil, as seen in the tragic polar opposite 010 twins who can never even tough one another due to their charges polarity. Equally tragic is the monstrous 011, whose brain is trapped in a monstrosity of a body, promised to be returned to his family only if he kills or captures the 00 prototypes. As monstrous as some of these villains are, Ishinomori’s gifted writing allows us to empathize with certain villains and see that not all evil action have clear cut reasons behind them.
Ishinomori’s very cartoony style is often a sharp contrast to the very serious themes and tone of his story of warmongering, life, love lost and the search for the cyborg team’s place in the world. Each of the Cyborgs has a tale of loss that has led them to where they are. From the Cyborg 002’s gang days in New York (complete with his intro dancing as if in West Side Story), the sad story of Cyborg 001 and his advanced brain placed in a baby’s body, and the loss of Cyborg 004’s fiancé in a wreck that put him into the Cyborg program. Cyborg 009’s tough street life, growing up as an orphan and a half breed toughened him and ad s to his angst, as despite his heroism, his cyborg body and the company he keeps makes him an outcast everywhere but around the 00 team. Despite the serious tone of the story, Ishinomori often employs many of the cartoony tricks seen in older anime, influenced more by the early Disney shorts such as Steamboat Willie than the feature films such as Snow White. I enjoy these moments of levity, the distorted grins, stretched “what the?” looks from surprised characters, and the occasional pratfall or “jump in the air out of surprise or anger” are all part of what makes classic Tezuka style manga such as this stand out from the dead serious manga of today. Ishinomori’s pliable, kinetic characters move and flow in an unreal but appealing and comforting way to me. They appear to be able to do any acrobatic move or feat of daring on a whim.
Although it is hard to sell old school manga to many new fans looking for the next new, slick shojo or bishonen adventure, classics such as “Cyborg 009” should definitely have a place in manga enthusiasts’ collections. The stories of struggle and daring feats of heroism told in the pages of this classic work (and seen in the new anime series put out by Geneon) are the foundations that modern manga built off of. I have to applaud Tokyopop for expanding their manga line to include classics such as this, even if it doesn’t make the most money for them. It is neat to be able to buy older manga and see what the scene was like for different generations of manga fans. Even if it is just for nostalgia and interest in what came before, I recommend picking up “Cyborg 009.” Give it a spin and dig on the 60’s stories, cool cyborg uniforms and truly original characters, I think that you might be convinced to stay on this retro area of Manga Island.
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.