The story of nine people kidnapped by a nefarious terrorist organization and transformed into living weapons, the original CYBORG 009 was an indictment of the Cold War arms race as well as being one of the first sentai (or transforming hero) team action stories written in manga.
I had a chance to interview the two writers of the upcoming comic F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp, recently. We talked about their desires for the new series and the elements of CYBORG 009 that they really want to bring to the forefront again....
Anime Vice: Doing this CYBORG 009 project sounds like a real passion project for you guys. What are the differences between doing an established property like this as opposed to an original intellectual property? Are the pressures different? Is there more pressure on yourselves to do well?
F.J. DESANTO: There are pressures inherent in both areas. When creating something new, the pressure is to do something that an audience will embrace. You can shape the destiny. There’s a excitement to world building but a pressure to make sure it doesn’t fall flat on its face. With an established property like this, you are given a strong foundation to build from, but you have to be careful with how you use it. In the end, we as the writers are responsible.
With this particular project, you tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself as a writer simply because the property has such a legacy that looms large over everything you do. I’ve worked on STAR WARS and STAR TREK comics, but this is a completely different thing because we’re introducing CYBORG 009 to a new audience. We are striving to remain as respectful to Ishinomori’s original creation as possible. We want this to be more like BATMAN BEGINS and not the DRAGONBALL Z live-action feature.
BRADLEY CRAMP: There’s definitely pressure to not disappoint those who are already fans of CYBORG 009. But we’ve also been tasked with bringing in some fresh ideas and a new take that will help this book really resonate with today’s audiences and find a whole new group of fans for Cyborg 009. For me it’s been fun to delve into the incredible world that Ishinomori created and to be able to have that help inform what FJ and I are attempting to do with this new book. At the end of the day, it’s about telling a great story that still retains the heart and soul of the original source material – which, after all, is what made Ishinomori’s creation so special in the first place.
AV: In conversations we’ve had on website, and on our show The Vice Pit, we discussed the differences between Japanese superheros and Western style ones, and that a central tenet of Japanese heroics is fulfilling the idea of “justice” rather than coming out of an idea like “vengeance” which is central to a character like Batman.
With this in mind, what are some themes of your upcoming adaptation that you feel should resonate? How much of a “Japanese” flair will be given to the motivations of the characters?
FJ: I think you’ll see that motivations of the characters in this book are exactly the same as those in the original manga.. Based on what has happened to them, there is a sense of justice within the team. We’ve actually tried to enhance that in this book, especially when it comes to Joe. They want to use their powers to help make the world a better place. While they are motivated for personal reasons, it certainly doesn’t fall into “vengeance” territory. I think that’s what makes the property so special and fun.
BC: To FJ’s point, one of the things that I find so intriguing about the cyborg team is that they are not driven by vengeance (like so many heroes these days), but rather this deep sense of justice that’s brought them together in their effort to fight against Black Ghost. The cyborgs are noble and honorable, but not in some overly-dealistic fashion that might not connect with Western audiences. For each of the characters, we’ve focused on having their primary motivations stay essentially true to Ishinomori’s original intent.
AV: The first real experience I had with CYBORG 009 was the modern anime adaptation back in 2001. One of my favorite episodes involved them fighting robots who mistakenly believed they were reincarnations of Greek gods.
Any favorite episodes or chapters of the original manga you’d like people to check out? What really resonated with you?
BC: There are so many great moments and scenes! Some of my personal favorites include the “Man Eating Mansion” (book 2, chapter 10), "Vietnam Story" (Pt 4, books 4 & 5), and "Underground Empire, Yomi" (just to name a few).
As we’ve been putting the story together we’ve tried as much as possible to reference specific moments and scenes from the original manga books - - things that die-hard fans will be able to recall. There’s one beautiful moment in particular from "Underground Empire" that I just had to include somewhere in the story FJ and I are writing, so I can’t wait for fans to see how we’ve been able to incorporate some of these “legacy moments” in the new book.
AV: Speaking of "legacy moments" there was a lot about the nature of the arms race and the Cold War in Ishinomori's original tale. In this modern climate of warfare, fear of losing personal liberties and combating terrorism are on people's minds a lot more. Will the new story address the way that war has changed?
BC: Yes, to a certain extent the new book will address how the nature of warfare has changed in our modern era. Certainly, from a modern perspective, we've had to confront the issue of terrorism and loss of personal liberties head-on in a post-September 11th country, yet much of the world has been struggling with these issues for a long time - - in some cases for generations.
Contained within Ishinomori's original books is the idea that war is a natural state of mankind that is perpetuated by Black Ghost in order to gain power and control. While we want to avoid making any direct political statements, the idea is certainly there that if a nation or rogue terrorist group wanted to, they could utilize Black Ghost's cybernetic warriors to conduct all manner of nefarious deeds. So, in as many ways that warfare has changed over the years, it has remained fundamentally the same in many respects.
AV: In the same mode of things changing; the characters' ethnicities play a major role in what CYBORG 009 is about. Are there going to be any adjustments to their background to fit in a modern context?
FJ: What’s amazing about this property is how LITTLE we’ve had to change. I would venture to say we have changed next to nothing in terms of their backgrounds, but have fully embraced their unique traits. We did expand on Joe’s background a bit just to enhance the character as the focal point of the story - - to raise the stakes - - but we didn’t alter or delete anything in terms of who these characters and what their motivations are.
I think any true fan will understand what we’ve done here and any new fan will easily be able to pick this book up and enter the world without any difficulty. The genius of Ishinomori is that he has created something that can exist in any era and can speak to any generation.
AV: How has it been working with Archaia on this project? Would they (or you) be interested in adapting/rebooting other major manga works? *cough cough* DEVILMAN *cough cough*
FJ: Archaia has been amazing to work with on this. One of these reasons I brought this project to them, and them alone, was because I knew the level of attention and desire for quality matched that of Ishinomori. The team there cares about every aspect of the book from start to finish and they are supportive, enthusiastic, and always have new ideas that will make the project a step above. I think everyone would be interested in adapting more manga works - - I know I am!
AV: What's one thing you want to communicate to a anime/manga fan who has never picked up CYBORG 009 before?
FJ: Our intention is to communicate to every kind of fan. We want to bring Ishinomori’s heart and soul to the masses which is why we are doing this book. It’s his vision of people from different walks of life coming together to combat evil, his spirit of co-oporation and positivity that we hope to spread with this book.
Beyond that, we want to show anyone who has never read CYBORG 009 before that this is one of the cornerstones of manga that is filled with great characters and amazing action that can appeal to a wide new generation of readers.
Sam Weller is a writer and actor who's scribed for shows like FIRST EDITION, GEEK THERAPY, and most recently BATGIRL: SPOILED. He also really likes anime. To know what is going to happen next, follow@cravesam