It is a world where evil organizations kidnap people and transform them into cybernetic weapons against their will. It is a world where demonic entities lurk in the shadows, ready to possess and consume human souls at the slightest sign of weakness. It is the world of Cyborg 009 vs. Devilman, directed by Joe Kawagoe and featuring animation by Bee Media and Actas. A throwdown several decades in the making, this three-episode OAV series pits two legendary manga franchises against one another in a fight to the death: Shotaro Ishinomori’s 1964 science fiction action epic Cyborg 009 and Go Nagai’s 1972 action/horror series, Devilman. These dark heroes butt heads when each mistakes the other for a new, unknown enemy.
Can demon and cyborg set
aside their differences long enough to exterminate a common threat? Or will they tear each other to pieces first?
As superhero team-ups go, Cyborg 009 vs. Devilman is a solid effort. The story is little more than an excuse to throw the two factions into conflict, but the production design, animation, and action choreography are excellent. If I have one complaint, it’s that I wish the series were longer. Although each of the three OAVs clocks in at 30 minutes, the series feels like it’s over in a flash. This is unfortunate because the worlds of Cyborg 009 and Devilman mesh together seamlessly.
I never expected the science fiction trappings of laser pistol-wielding cyborgs to dovetail with the elements of dark fantasy and horror that define demonic possession, but combining Ishinomori’s creations with Nagai’s creations is like mixing chocolate with peanut butter. The depiction of Akira Fudo/Devilman is especially compelling. This version of Go Nagai’s quintessential anti-hero incorporates elements from both the manga and the 1972 TV anime, and the resulting fusion is a visual treat. This series also does an excellent job emphasizing the team dynamic among 009 and his compatriots. If you’re already a fan of either or both series, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
However, Cyborg 009 vs. Devilman assumes that the audience is already intimately familiar with Devilman and Cyborg 009. This crossover takes place deep within the continuity of both series: after the ultimate confrontation with the Mythos cyborgs and after Devilman’s battle with Jinmen. Both of these are climactic, series-defining moments in their respective manga, but even diligent fans may not be familiar with these chronologies, because neither Devilman nor Cyborg 009 are readily available in English language formats.
The localization of each series has been a bumpy road: Comixology currently publishes 10 volumes (out of a total of 36) of the Cyborg 009 manga, while Glenn Danzig’s Verotik label published three chapters of the Shin Devilman manga way back in 1995. The Devilman: The Birth and Demon Bird Sirene OAVs were released on VHS by U.S. Renditions and on DVD by Manga Entertainment, and the 2002 Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier TV series was released on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, but all of these releases are either incomplete, out of print, or both. Aside from Cyborg 009 vs. Devilman, the most accessible English language iterations of either series are Discotek’s release of the 1972 Devilman TV series, Tokyo Shock’s release of the 2004 live-action Devilman film, and FUNimation’s release of the 009 Re:Cyborg film from 2012, but none of these are an ideal starting point.
At the time of this writing, Cyborg 009 vs. Devilman is available via streaming on Netflix both in an English dubbed format and in the original Japanese with English, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish subtitles. It’s a treat for veteran fans, but in terms of being an entry point for otaku who are unfamiliar with the woes of cyborg soldiers or the troubles of a human capable of binding a demon to his will, it’s like tossing newbies into the ocean and telling them to sink or swim.