Cyborg 009: The Long Road to an Ending
Although the late Shotaro Ishinomori is best-known for his involvement in kicking off the tokusatsu genre with Kamen Rider, his affinity for science fiction began with the manga series known as Cyborg 009.
Credited with giving Japan its first team of super-powered heroes, as well as being an early example of a super-team consisting of a diverse and multinational cast, Cyborg 009 debuted in Weekly Shonen King in July 1964.
The series’ premise? During the Cold War, nine humans are kidnapped by the terrorist organization known as “Black Ghost”, and are forcibly converted into cyborg soldiers as the first phase of the organization’s ultimate plan: to instigate the next World War by providing these weapons of destruction to buyers from various nations.
However, these nine cyborgs rebel from Black Ghost and escape, choosing to fight for their freedom and defending the rest of the world. Accompanying them is the regretful scientist Isaac Gilmore who engineers their rebellion, aiming to repent for his involvement with the organization and to act as the cyborgs’ mentor.
For those new to the series or who need a reminder of who’s who, the 00 cyborg team includes the following:
001 (Ivan Whisky)– A Russian infant given telepathic and telekinetic powers via surgeries and enhancements performed on his brain.
002 (Jet Link)– An American street delinquent given the ability to fly, as well as to accelerate to speeds up to Mach 5.
003 (Francoise Arnoul)– A French ballerina given the abilities of enhanced sight and hearing.
004 (Albert Heinrich)– An East German truck driver who was turned into a living weapon arsenal with a machine gun hand and numerous other implements.
005 (Geronimo Junior)– A Native American man from Arizona who is endowed with super-strength.
006 (Chang Changku)– A Chinese pig farmer who is given the ability of breathing fire hot enough to melt rock.
007 (“Great Britain”)– A British stage actor who is subjected to cybernetic experiments that leave him capable of shapeshifting.
008 (Pyunma)– A Kenyan resistance fighter who is given enhanced lungs and the ability to breathe underwater.
009 (Joe Shimamura)– The main character, which the “009” in the title refers to. A former delinquent of mixed heritage: half-Japanese and descendent from a father of unspecified ethnicity. His most notable power is his acceleration.
Despite the effort of developing a multinational crew, Ishinori falls prey to the ever-relevant problem of “values dissonance”—particularly in the depiction of specific races in character design. This is most evident with 008, although 005 and 006 have also garnered notice and debate over the stereotypes that were utilized for them. Yet when analyzing the characters’ interactions, in the face of unfortunate implications that specific character designs may carry, all nine members of the team support each other and are as capable and competent as one another.
Some readers are also unhappy with the fact that 003 is not much of a fighter, having powers that are very unremarkable compared to the rest of the team. This is likely why some of the more modern adaptations attempt to increase her powers or give her more to do, so that she can more easily appear at the same level as her male teammates. But while her combat prowess may not be stellar, her emotional strength and mental fortitude make up the difference. Even with her hate for fighting, the French ballerina still does what is needed and ultimately refuses to give up.
Though there are some shortcomings in Ishinori’s choice of casting, he never fails to neglect an opportunity to develop his precious cyborg squad. This is particularly true of Cyborg 009, Joe Shimamura. At the time when the manga was published, having a biracial protagonist seemed to subvert the expectations of having a fully Japanese hero. While Japanese anime characters generally have brightly-colored hair and eyes nowadays, these features are viewed as stylistic choices to make the characters stand out. In contrast, 009’s visibly chestnut-brown hair is more than a simple cosmetic exclamation point; it is a symbol of Joe’s mixed heritage and adds an intricate characterization to an individual that is otherwise the standard hero squad leader. Joe’s hair color is addressed in the series and indeed makes his teammates wonder if he’s really Japanese. Having the ability to read minds, 001 explains Joe’s situation:
He was born to a Japanese mother, and a father whose nationality has yet to be discovered. Soon after his birth, Joe’s mother passed away- landing Joe in a string of orphanages. When he was old enough to seek employment, the state drove him out of the orphanage system. Searching for work, struggling to survive, Joe faced the cruelty of a Japan unaccepting of his mixed ethnicity. This turned Joe into an aggressive youth. Consumed with anger and spurned by his nation, he wound up in the juvenile justice system.
Joe is terrified and taken aback by having his past outed to everyone, but the rest of the team insists that he should not be ashamed of it. They remind him that they’re all in this mission together.
From their backstories, each of his teammates were either outcasts or caught up in unfortunate circumstances themselves: 003 happened to be an innocent girl in the wrong place at the wrong time when Black Ghost abducted her; 001 was subject to human experimentation by his father; 002 was a gang leader who accidentally murdered another in a switchblade fight gone awry; 004 experienced the death of his fiancée and was severely injured when he attempted to flee East Berlin; 005 refused to be exploited by the men who wanted to make a mockery of his culture, instead accepting a job offer from a shady organization that he believed could actually help him out; 006 attempted suicide in the harsh, post-Great Leap Forward climate that left his farm in ruins; 007 was an alcoholic whose career was in ruin; and 008 experienced colonizers attempting to sell him and his people into a slave trade and found himself saved by the very men who’d use him as their next cyborg experiment.
While the nationality of 009’s father is never revealed within the manga, the popular theory is that Ishinomori was most likely implying that the man could have been a soldier of the US army. This would have played on the fact that Joe was born into the post-WWII time period, adding to the reason why he was ostracized by Japanese society. True or not, it’s this kind of speculation that adds depth to the cast, and it’s this precise depth that blessed and cursed Ishinori’s journey in finishing this beloved series.
The series quickly managed to spawn two animated films, with Yugo Serikawa’s Cyborg 009 (1966) and its sequel Cyborg 009: Monster Wars (1967). Both of these films were very loose adaptations of the early manga and included multiple changes, including one that Ishinomori had to reluctantly (yet temporarily) mirror in the manga in at least two stories: 007 was changed from being a middle-aged man to a young boy, as Serikawa and the production team felt that children would need a character that they could easily relate to.
Other changes included the removal of 009’s mixed ancestry, as well as turning him into a racer (rather than a delinquent on the run). The other character designs were also altered, removing the scarves from all uniforms except for the ones worn by 009 and 003, and changing up the color schemes for a few team members. 009 was the only character given a clear-cut backstory, while 003 could only mention that the Black Ghost organization laid waste to her country and killed her parents.
A 26-episode black-and-white animated series would later run through 1968—also directed by Serikawa. It carried over the changes from the films and played loosely with the manga’s story, adapting certain things while including plenty of new original plots: Episode 16 dealt with the fallout from WWII, atomic bombs, and the fear of another nuclear war, and the final episode involved a creepy “Devil Doll” that was responsible for furthering the sins of humanity.
As a result of these ’60s adaptations, the other cyborgs received minimal screen-time and development, leaving little room for viewers to get to know them. 009 got to do most as the hero, while 003, 007, and 006 hung around most as his teammates. 003 provided the role of the love interest who had to be bailed out of danger, 006 was the older comic relief, and 007 was the mischievous child and sidekick-type. 001, 002, 004, 005, and 008 appeared sporadically through the ’68 series, and had barely any characterization in the films. The ’68 series attempted to include the missing team members more throughout its later episodes, but by the end, it seemed to be too little too late.
Over a decade later, the series received a second TV adaptation, this time spanning 50 episodes and in full color. The screen-time was also a little more balanced for the team as each member received one or two focus episodes, and the character designs more closely resembled those of the manga, save for 009 becoming a blond (although his delinquent past and mixed ancestry were now retained). This series would be followed by 1980’s Cyborg 009: The Legend of the Super Galaxy, which saw the team take a trip into outer space to thwart an evil emperor’s plan to gain control of the universe. Although all these adaptations took liberties with the story and characters, Ishinomori did help oversee their development and provided concept art.
The franchise extended into video games, particularly when a side-scroller for the MEGA-CD platform was released in 1993. It adapted moments from the mid-60s run of the manga while featuring the voice actors from the 1979 anime series.
In most recent adaptations, the 51-episode Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier ran through 2001-2002 with the aim of providing a contemporary update to the series that would run closest to the manga’s intent. Various stories were updated to adjust to the changes made in the 21st century, while a plot element of having the first four cyborgs frozen in the ’60s was introduced in order for some backstories to be retained—particularly 004’s origin involving a divided Germany. Production IG later re-imagined the series for their 2012 film 009 RE: Cyborg, and the American comic publisher Archaia Entertainment released a graphic novel that provided another modern retelling of the early manga storyline.
Unfortunately, while the Cyborg 009 franchise found success overseas in European countries and in Latin America, each attempt to bring it to the USA was not as successful: The Legend of the Super Galaxy received an obscure dub in 1988 and was relegated to the bargain bins in either its full version or a 92-minute edited copy; the Cyborg Soldier version of the series premiered on Cartoon Network in 2003, but was eventually pulled from the Toonami block, put off to their late-night Adult Swim block, and did not even get the chance to finish its entire run; as far as the manga goes, only volumes 1-10 were released by Tokyopop (in a translation of iffy quality) and they sat on the license until it expired; and while Archaia’s graphic novel attempted to re-ignite interest in the series, a change-over in management at Ishimori Productions has seemingly put a hold on any plans for a sequel or further development of the reboot.
A live-action film adaptation has been considered since 2006, but as it has been constantly put off, it remains to be seen if the plans for this adaptation will still go through.
A Story Left Hanging
The manga ran through several different magazines throughout its publication history, occasionally stopping and resuming when Ishinomori would take a hiatus. Sadly, after the last hiatus in 1992, the manga became saddled with the fact that it would remain unfinished. Ishinomori’s death in January 1998 cut short the plans for a final chapter that he had hoped to publish at the turn of the millennium: “Conclusion: God’s War”.
It would take until April 2012 for his son, actor Jo Onodera, to adapt his drafts for the arc into their intended manga format. Onodera had previously published the story as a 3-volume light novel series, which had been another wish of his father. The manga adaptation wrapped up earlier this year to mixed reception and debate over whether or not it was a satisfactory conclusion and if it stayed true to Ishinomori’s intent.
For the rest of this article, I aim to focus on the different versions of Conclusion: God’s War, as well as the earlier intended ending points for the series which include two incomplete stories that paved the way for the concept of the final arc. The prototype attempts at the story all share similarities with the final product in their questioning of religion and the exploration of the duality of humanity.
Warning: These sections contain spoilers for later chapters of the manga.
The Underground Empire of Yomi (1967, in Kodansha’s “Weekly Shonen Magazine”)
Before the aforementioned God’s War, The Underground Empire of Yomi (translated as “Hades” in some editions) was the arc with which Ishinomori originally intended to wrap up the series.
In the final chapter titled “From Here to Eternity” (inspired after the 1954 film, and mistranslated as “From Surface to Deep Freeze” in Tokyopop’s edition), 009 is left stranded up in space in a final battle with the leader of Black Ghost. After defeating the enemy, in spite of the claims that the organization would never truly die, he is rescued by his teammate 002—the only one who can travel into space to retrieve him.
Unfortunately, the final chapter undergoes a bittersweet mood reversal: 002 reveals that although he intended to save 009, his fuel is depleted and they are unable to get back to Earth safely. Instead, they will have to settle on dying together as teammates from beginning to end. Against 009’s pleas for 002 to save himself, the two are shown burning up in atmospheric re-entry with 002 asking the haunting line:
The two dying heroes are witnessed as a shooting star by a pair of children, a clear reference to Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope. With their sacrifice, the two cyborgs become a sign of hope for a new generation. While the young boy wishes for a toy gun, his elder sister reveals that she wished for world peace and an end to all suffering, dreaming of a better tomorrow.
Well, that would have been the ending right there. However, Ishinomori soon found himself swamped with an outcry of angered and passionate letters in reaction to the arc’s end. With pleas such as “Please continue 009!” and “Bring Joe back!”, Ishinomori wound up convinced to continue the manga due to the fans’ reaction and the popularity. The deaths of 009 and 002 were retconned in the following Monster Island arc, with 009 explaining that the two were saved by 001 teleporting them to safety.
Yet in spite of the continuation, there are those that still consider this arc as the iconic ending to Cyborg 009, and some adaptations opt to leave the story off on this note; Tokyopop’s U.S. release of the manga stopped the translation at this point, the MEGA-CD game ended here, and the 2001 anime also ended its main storyline at the Yomi arc, all of which had some variation of the sequence.
Regardless, Ishinomori penned a few more arcs to please his contemporary fans, but was struck by an idea for a story that would cover the cyborgs’ most dire and final battle.
Angel (1969, in Akita Shoten’s “Adventure King”)
In this attempt at “the last Cyborg 009 story”, 009 and 007 happen upon what seems to be a wounded Yeti while on a skiing excursion. To their surprise, they soon find that the Yeti is able to speak, pleading for the heroes to save him from an “angel“. After he dies, the two are attacked by a pack of more Yeti. In the midst of the confusion, the mysterious angel makes his presence known, setting the stage for the epic final arc.
After the incident, they embark on an investigation to explain the behavior of the Yeti. During their search, 009 and 007 are caught off-guard by a follow-up attack from the angels and find that their powers are suddenly disabled. The two manage to escape and gather the whole team to ponder about the true identity of their enemy, wondering if it might in fact be God. As they go back to investigate, they are confronted by two angels who are the first to ask questions: “Who are you?” and “Why do you desire to fight against us?”, as they make note of the cyborgs’ unnatural humanity.
009 pulls no punches in turn, asking the angels if they’re the cyborgs’ allies or enemies, and if God had sent them. The angels cryptically state that they do not know of a “God”, but it is they who created humans and have come to redo humanity as it has become evil. The cyborgs are warned to not oppose them or intervene, or they will show no mercy.
In a further twist, the cyborgs learn that the Yeti were humans forcibly transformed by the angels. They also learn that the first one that 007 and 009 encountered was killed for trying to warn humanity of the angels’ plans. As the team regroups in an attempt to understand their new enemy, 007 refuses to believe that the angels could be from God for God would not be so cruel as to inflict such a fate on humanity. However, the team skeptic, 002, quickly cites the stories of “Sodom and Gomorrah” and the Great Flood in his rebuttal, claiming that God is cruel and wouldn’t care about killing humans if it was deemed necessary. He then states his theory of the angels:
“God is a name we invented ourselves. However, I have a feeling that it’s true. We may not have created them. Maybe they’re our creators, instead. So to let us live or to kill us, it’s up to them to decide. Just like us humans, we raise chickens and pigs just to kill them later and use them for as food for ourselves.”
He goes on to point out that the angels had spoken of a “Harvest”, and their aim to redo humanity. 007 remains defiant, refusing to let the angels win. In his stance, humanity may in fact be corrupt, but they deserve the right to live. In turn, 004 equates the angels to the Black Ghost organization in their aim to destroy humanity and modify it to their liking. He takes a scientific stance on their new enemy, believing that the angels are living beings equal to them and may be an ancient race that has returned from another planet.
But despite all these theories and the questioning of “Who came first, God or humanity?”, the team members all agree that they are no match for the powers of the angels. 009 comes to the conclusion that they must fight to prove that humanity deserves a second chance:
“Resisting ‘God’, opposing his will… it would be like telling him that human beings deserve to live! That even though we have become evil, we want to improve thanks to this resolution! That all of mankind isn’t the child of a seed of evil! That we reject categorically that everything we know could be brought to a ruin! All of us will stand for this purpose!”
As mysterious flying saucers attack all the nations of the world and start killing humans, the team realizes that their battle has officially begun. 003 then states that 001 will be able to give them all new abilities to fight the angels.
Unfortunately, the arc cuts off on this revelation. Ishinomori revealed in a footnote that he needed a bit of a break in order to figure out how to properly plot out the rest of the storyline. Describing the Angel arc as the “last, long, and violent” battle of the cyborgs, he figured a hiatus would give him what he needed to make it stand out as truly interesting. The series was then dropped from Adventure King after June 1969.
Battle with the Gods (1969-1970, Mushi’s “COM”)
The serialization resumed in COM in October 1969. With this next run, Ishinomori attempted to rewrite Angel and start off at a second attempt at the final storyline. Titled “Battle with the Gods”, the story played with the theme of the darkness that exists in humans’ hearts and the most shameful desires and temptations that lurk in their id—ones that may come into conflict with who they strive to be.
Unfortunately for Ishinomori, and readers who were hoping for a conclusion, it was not to happen with this installment. The story ran into complications in the magazine, which were exacerbated by angered fan letters and criticism. Having come off working on Fantasy World Jun, Ishinomori employed an experimental type of story-telling in parts of the arc, arranging the panels in unconventional ways and telling parts of the story through flashbacks. To the frustration of the fans in question, they felt that this method made the story too incomprehensible and something very unlike Cyborg 009. As the arc has yet to garner even a fan translation, what follows is an attempt at summarizing this “take 2”.
As the cyborgs attempt to go on with their individual lives at the start of the arc, they wind up dragged into strange incidents that occur around them. Flying saucers identical to the ones in the Angel arc can be seen cryptically advancing through the skies throughout the entire story. The presence of Moai imagery is also apparent and becomes a motif that Ishinomori revisits for his concept notes on God’s War.
The team is brought together by their circumstances: 009 and 003 are alerted to the deaths of archaeologists that had occurred during their recent trip; 004 returns to the team after being pursued by a group of men in black; 009 must drag 008 out of a suicidal despair he holds at the death of a lover; and a mind-controlled 005 and 002 arrive to attack the rest of the cyborgs, leaving 009 to fight the two and break the spell.
Shortly after this, the cyborgs wind up experiencing a flash of memories that expose how they’ve given in to their dark sides. The panels for each sequence are arranged in an anachronic and backwards method of storytelling, or with some sequences starting off separately and then coming to meet in the middle of the page. The chaotic nature of these sequences illustrate the inner turmoil that each team member has undergone.
In the most notable and controversial set of panels: 009 and 003 are taken back to a time when they gave in to their desire for sex, with 003 pleading “I want to have your children!”. The two strip off their clothing and begin to make love. Although the two would normally put aside their feelings for each other to focus on battling for the good of the world, they succumb to their innate desire to live as normal humans do: throwing aside their duties for a brief moment to focus on pleasuring each other, rather than doing what is best for the good of the team.
It was this very sequence that drew the most upset in the fan letters, with the opinion being that Ishinomori had tarnished the purity of 009 and 003 by sexualizing the two. Perhaps for some, it was the very thought of the two having sex in what they’d thought to be an all-ages manga that ruined the image. It may have also been that the sex scene came too soon, or was seen as sinful and the result of the darkness in their hearts was uncharacteristic of those embodying justice and righteousness. Whatever the case, the idea of them having sex didn’t settle very well with the fans.
The next shocking swerve in the plot comes when Dr. Gilmore suffers a heart attack and the team is shocked by his supposed death. 001 then explains to the others that the flashbacks they experienced, along with the recent events, were an attack on their minds instigated by these “Gods”. He then states that he will be able to upgrade their powers in order to battle the Gods and that they must all undergo a journey of the heart to find their true selves; that they must evolve in power and spirit in order to truly work together as the unit of “Esper Cyborgs” that can stand against the present threat. Without their mentor figure, the team tries to find themselves and figure out who they are in order to succeed in the final fight.
The arc ends with a cliffhanger: a series of flying saucers advancing towards a snow-covered village as shown in Angel.
Due to the heated fan-mail and the continued trouble with the arc, Ishinomori put the manga on hiatus. He attempted to write Battle with the Gods as a light novel in February 1973, but even that version wound up incomplete and has been out of print, making original copies a hard-to-find item.
The manga resumed through short arcs in the mid to late 1970s, pointedly ignoring the developments in Battle with the Gods. The series was officially revived in 1979 to go along with the second anime adaptation. Despite this, Ishinomori was still not ready to attempt the final arc and continued writing other stories for the manga. The serialization stopped and resumed throughout the ’80s, with one final one-shot coming in 1992 as a special New Years’ feature for the newspaper Sankei Shimbun.
Development of “Conclusion: God’s War” (1997-1998)
In late 1997, Ishinomori began his third attempt at the final storyline. Perhaps he felt that the third time would be the charm and that he could bring Cyborg 009 to an ending that would satisfy the fans and himself. It has been stated that one of his wishes in this time period was to bring the series to a conclusion that “would be achieved at any cost”.
Although he was in poor health at the time, he began writing down various chapter drafts and notes that encompassed approximately 21 journals. He also had a rough draft of a manuscript for the arc and intended to write the storyline as both a light novel series and as a 10-volume manga. For Ishinomori, the year 2000 felt like the right year to revive Cyborg 009 for its last grand outing. The manga was planned to be serialized in Comic Alpha and would arrive simultaneously with the light novel edition. The full title he drafted was “2012 009 Conclusion: God’s War”, playing off the concept of 2012 being the year that humanity would end.
In the drafts for this arc, Ishinomori introduced a retcon that placed the cyborg soldiers’ origin in the year 2005 (to allot for a 21st century telling). Some elements, such as 004’s backstory involving the Berlin Wall, would thus be discarded and replaced with new elements. The conceit of the arc was that the cyborg soldiers from the early manga were fictionalized versions of the “real” characters from an alternate universe, who had their stories telepathically broadcast to Ishinomori via 001.
He also drew conceptual artwork for the plot, in which 008 could be glimpsed with an updated design that removed the blackface appearance that he’d had for most of the manga’s publication history (with an update to his look having started as early as the 1992 one-shot). The cyborgs would also wear new blue uniforms, trading in the old red look that they had worn for so many decades.
From what is known of the plot, it combined elements from both Angel and Battle with the Gods, with the cyborgs having to unlock their full potential in order to stand a chance against the Gods. The Moai imagery, the angels’ attempts to mentally break the team, and 001’s intervention were all key points reprised from the earlier iterations of the arc.
Unfortunately, Ishinomori proved unable to fulfill any of these dreams, passing away of heart failure on January 28, 1998, just three days after his 60th birthday. Jo Onodera wished to carry his father’s wish through, but found that the manuscript was far from a final copy. In addition, it was left with incomplete chapters and he came to find that the outline and plot notes detailed in the journals were vague or unclear in some places. The struggle to finish his father’s work began there.
The journals have been seen at limited times in the years since, one such time being at an exhibition in Odaiba in 2009. Kadokawa had also transcribed and compiled the plot notes in a limited-edition book in 1998 as a special item for fans who had bought Ishinomori’s complete works. As only a few fans have been privy to these notes, little to none of the content has been publicly announced, and any details will be left for a future article in the event that they become more widely known.
Before Jo Onodera attempted to complete the story as the novel and manga, he tried his hand at co-writing a script for an animated adaptation in 2002.
Conclusion: God’s War: OVA edition (2002, Japan Vistec/TV Tokyo)
Although the 2001 anime adaptation of Cyborg 009 appeared to wrap up with the Yomi arc, there were three more episodes left to air. These comprised of Onodera and Shinsuke Onishi’s attempt at presenting the final arc through anime first. However, due to the aforementioned varying stages of completion in the manuscript and notes, the anime version of the arc is a heavily abridged deal that makes use of whatever plot points were most clear.
Titled Conclusion: God’s War: Prologue, this adaptation ends on a cliffhanger that many find to be confusing and unsatisfactory. The cliffhanger was likely due to there being no actual ending written and the writers wanting to preserve the concept of an open ending, or possibly due to the anime series fulfilling its episode order; thus, the plot was only given enough room to develop for three episodes. Due to the abrupt break in continuity and lack of explanation for how 009 and 002 survived the end of episode 48, fans debate over whether or not to actually count the arc as an actual part of the 2001 anime.
In the OVA storyline, an animated version of Shotaro Ishinomori is visited by his manga creation, Dr. Gilmore, who lets him know that he and the other characters of Cyborg 009 are in fact real, living people in an alternate universe.
Dr. Gilmore urges Ishinomori to write an ending for their situation as the world will be plagued with disaster, and it’s Ishinomori’s job to inform readers of the events that will occur in the future. The story continues with 001 falling into a deep sleep after receiving premonitions of the disasters, while the other cyborgs are busy with their own lives; 003 starts to receive strange visions; 009 embarks on an expedition with the archaeologist Dr. Kagariya and his daughter Hisui; and Hisui is soon possessed by a Moai statue, taking on the persona of Queen Himiko of the Yayoi people, and sets about brainwashing the population of Japan.
Meanwhile, the cyborgs wind up experiencing a psychic assault, a courtesy of a mysterious angel-like figure who exposes their vulnerabilities in an attempt to break them. The memories that the cyborgs experience are somewhat softened compared to the ones seen in Battle with the Gods. For instance, 009 and 003 are not depicted having sex but instead have their own sequences relating to their weaknesses: 009 fears being out of control with his powers, while 003 hides away in fear of the horrible visions of the apocalypse that continue to run through her head.
009 and 003 meet up afterwards as tension in the world rises and 003 confesses to having premonitions of what’s to come. The entire team, with the exception of 001, regroup to await the onslaught of the “Gods”- which arise in the form of a pack of oni. Despite the cyborgs initially appearing to have the upper hand, they are left injured and defeated. As 009 urges the others to not give up, 001 contacts him in a timely intervention.
001 reminds the team that it is not their bodies that support them, but their heart and strong will. He proceeds to evolve his teammates’ powers to the next level, granting them the ability to fight back against the next pack of oni. 001 also reveals that he has acquired a new ability on his own: to astral-project himself and be there with the rest of the team, if only in spirit. They have now become “Cyborg Super Soldiers”.
A floating Moai-themed island rises up into the sky, becoming the site of the team’s final stand. 001 teleports the other eight to the island where they learn that their ultimate enemy is Himiko. As Dr. Gilmore explains to Ishinomori that the war may be related to humans’ fate, and that the team will fight to the end, 009 and his teammates charge forward, ready to fight Himiko and the other entities that wish to end humanity.
After this OVA, it takes another four years for Onodera to start work on the next attempt at God’s War, suggesting that there was some reconsideration of how to handle the plot. However, it is believed that the parts of the memos that were adapted in the OVA stay closest to Ishinomori’s intent—other than the Gods being replaced by Himiko as the main adversary.
Conclusion: God’s War: The Light Novel (2006, 2012, Kadokawa Shoten)
The first volume of God’s War was released on December 19, 2006, covering the situations of Cyborgs 001 through 004. Onodera was assisted by Shinsuke Onishi in writing 003’s chapter. However, the light novel series was put on hiatus, perhaps due to more difficulty in trying to figure out how to adapt the rest of the plot and to fill in the blanks that Ishinomori had left behind.
The novel series resumed on September 25, 2012 with the release of the second volume, which covered the situations of Cyborgs 005 through 009. Due to 007’s chapter only making it as far as its title in the original drafts, it was one of the stories that was entirely Onodera’s concept. He also admitted to increasing the drama and re-interpreting elements that he found to be vague or lacking. This garnered criticism and controversy with readers of the light novel who felt it cheapened 009’s purity to place him in a sexual situation with Hisui. In the most vocal opinions, the real Joe would have saved his first time for Francoise and would not let himself be lead astray by any other woman.
Aside from the revisiting of the Moai, the spaceships, and the angel/God elements, the light novel and manga also include the plot thread involving 008’s deceased lover from Battle with the Gods.
Before the release of the second and third light novels, the manga incarnation of this same story commenced in Shogakukan’s online feature Club Sunday. The plot elements and twist ending discussed in the next section are generally the same as the novel series, other than some softening that was done to scenes that described violent content.
The light novel version also features prologue and epilogue segments describing Ishinomori’s failing health, another detail that was found to be rather morbid in the way it attempted to juxtapose the reality of the author’s death alongside the adaptation of his final story.
Conclusion: God’s War: The Manga (2012-2014, in Shogakukan’s “Club Sunday”)
The Club Sunday manga officially began on April 13, 2012, with the prologue “The Fluttering of Angels”. The manga was illustrated by two former assistants of Ishinomori: Masato Hayase for the first nine chapters, and Sugar Sato for the remainder.
Differing from the prologue in the light novel and OVA, 001 contacts Ishinomori first. He lets the author know that his death is imminent, that his manga was based on the telepathic suggestions sent to him, and that his mission is to complete the cyborg soldiers’ story. 001 also lets Ishinomori know a little something else: he totally got the cyborgs’ real names wrong, and the infant boy we all know as “Ivan Whisky” is in actuality “Ivan Torsky“.
Dr. Gilmore then approaches Ishinomori, letting him know that 001’s powers have sent him back in time to inform the author of their plight: The world appears to be on the verge of an apocalypse and it’s up to him to grant them a “Happy ending”. However, Gilmore leaves without explaining further, leaving Ishinomori to pick up his pen and decide on the title of his story: “2012 009 Conclusion: God’s War”.
During the years 2011 and 2012, the cyborg soldiers go their separate ways after defeating Black Ghost, returning to their home countries and attempting to move on with their lives. However, each team member winds up caught in some sort of incident that hints at various deities being real. These Gods have come to destroy humanity as they deem people have grown corrupt. Meanwhile, 001 has had premonitions of the apocalypse while living with Dr. Gilmore. The team members regroup, realizing that the end of the world is drawing near.
As cyborgs 002 through 009 attempt to defend Tokyo from an onslaught of demons, they are quickly overpowered and mutilated by the creatures, leaving 001 to teleport them away so Dr. Gilmore can perform emergency upgrades. This encountered criticism and mixed reactions from readers who were shocked by the sudden emphasis on gore, particularly 003 having her eyes ripped out and 002 being gruesomely bisected by a demonic alligator.
As with Battle with the Gods and the God’s War OVA, the next phase of the story deals with the cyborgs falling to their darkest temptations. With 001 having to bail them all out again and remind them of their true purpose, the cyborgs are made to evolve to their highest levels and unlock their hidden powers, gaining the abilities of telepathy and teleportation to become “PSI-borgs“. However, with Dr. Gilmore going missing and 008 seemingly betraying the team to side with the Gods, another plot twist soon shakes the story up.
In the cyborgs’ ultimate battle, even with their new power enhancements they are helpless against the Gods, leaving each of them to be slaughtered or sacrificed. 006 experiences the most graphic death, via his body exploding due to snakes being forced down his nostrils and throat. 008 and 004 sacrifice themselves to buy their friends some more time, with 008 revealing that his betrayal was a ruse. Giant versions of Jesus and Buddha finish off 007, 005, and 002, killing off Dr. Gilmore as well. The ultimate being known as the “God of Gods” then rises as the seemingly final boss.
001, 009, and 003 are the last three team members left standing and debate over what to do. 001 has learned the origin of Earth: Once, there was a universe of light parallel to this one, where everyone lived in peace. However, due to the corruption of one planet from dark spirits, the god of that universe known as “The Child of Light” was forced to merge the forces of light and darkness together. This imperfect, corrupted planet shifted universes and became known as “Earth”. 001 believes that the origin of humans’ beliefs in Heaven may come from this universe.
001 then explains that all living creatures on this planet thus have two souls, one of good and one of evil. When a being dies, their purified soul is returned to its correct universe, while the corrupted half lingers in space-time as something akin to a demonic force or ghost. The spaceships that the team has seen throughout the arc are actually surveillance vessels that came from the other universe, and the mythical creatures seen through the arc were banished from their original home world and stranded on Earth. And to drive home the point of corruption, the “Gods” the team is fighting are in fact demons that have taken on that imagery.
Knowing that they cannot fight the Gods or truly win against them, the remaining three cyborgs opt to die off with the Earth. 001 is the first to vanish, sacrificing himself to cross over to the universe of light. 009 then asks 003 of what she’d like to be, in the event that they would meet again in another life. Her answer? “Your bride.”
As the two share their last moments together, the destruction of Earth continues. However, within the next few pages, we see what appears to be a new Earth springing into existence; this one depicted in full color rather than grayscale. The year is given as a vague “201x”. As spaceships make their way past the planet, the depictions of life glimpsed suggest a much more peaceful and happier existence.
Somewhere on a beach near Tokyo, Dr. Gilmore and Shotaro Ishinomori laugh and converse together, as the latter man doodles the former on his sketchpad. Meanwhile, we can see some familiar-looking people enjoying their time together at the beach. They recognize two friends in the distance, and rush to greet them:
Joe and Francoise are together as a happy couple, and fully human. Their teammates have also been granted humanity. No longer being cyborgs, the group is now at peace and the “happy ending” that Dr. Gilmore asked for appears to have finally come true.
However, this ending has also been debated over its implications and if it can be truly seen as happy or something more bittersweet. Some take it as the team having been reincarnated as human beings sometime in the distant future, with all given a second chance and now able to experience the type of lives that Black Ghost had denied them. But another interpretation, based off that explanation of the “world of light”, may suggest that this new Earth (and the other universe it was reborn in) is more akin to the afterlife or some sort of nirvana that the 00 team have ascended to from their sacrifices. Their restored humanity would simply be due to them now existing in their purest states. In either scenario, the team members all appear to recognize one another and are living a peaceful existence.
A notable change between versions involves 001/Ivan being present with the rest of the team in the light novel’s epilogue, while the manga does not depict him at the beach. This led to some misconceptions and speculation among fans that he was reborn as Joe and Francoise’s child.
The final page of the manga adaptation does depict a small glowing fetus surrounded by light. This ties back to the darkness and light present in humanity, something that is made a point throughout the arc and in its prototypes, as well as in Ivan’s explanation of the Earth’s origin. This fetus, the “child of light”, is used as a motif for rebirth; a hope for a new beginning and a better future.
With the final arc having been completed, the question remains: What comes next for Cyborg 009 now that its end has been published?
It has been over a decade since the last animated adaptation, aside from 009 RE: Cyborg– which itself took inspiration from the Angel arc. Kazuhiko Shimamoto, the author behind the ’90s reboot of Ishinomori’s Skull Man, had also written and drawn a one-shot based off of Angel, which also included a flashback to The Underground Empire of Yomi. The flashback puts special focus on how 002 was willing to sacrifice himself for 009’s sake, leaving 009 to conclude that humanity has the capability to do as much good as evil. Sacrifice also carries through to this finale with 003 and 009 being ready to give up their lives and have a say in their fate.
Even if the God’s War manga is counted as canon in wrapping up the series, the mixed feelings on its execution still remain, along with the question of why the concept apparently had to be punched up to be so much more violent. Although Ishinomori had described the last battle as being a “violent” one and had included the infamous 009/003 sex sequence that had upset fans, there is the sentiment from some that this take on the ending felt needlessly edgy in execution. And then, there is the matter of the bittersweet ending and whatever it might truly mean.
Perhaps for the longer-term fans, the issue lies more with the execution of the violent elements in God’s War; the violence seemed purely for the sake of shock value as the cartoonish nature of some of the cyborgs’ mutilations made those moments uncomfortable and awkward. Or it could also be that fans were not expecting the main characters to undergo such humiliating and graphic torture to push the plot forward. The specific mutilations that each cyborg experienced were reportedly not in the drafts and were more embellishments made to raise the stakes and emphasize this being the final story.
There is also the matter of 009 and 003 surrendering and letting themselves die in order to “win” the battle and achieve peace. Some readers felt that this was a betrayal of stronger-willed characters that would have insisted upon fighting to the end and confronting the “God of Gods”, while others felt that perhaps it was truly their only option left; that to truly beat the Gods, they had to lie down and sacrifice themselves. And yet, with the new Earth appearing to be a parallel one to ours, there is the dark interpretation and suggestion that humanity is still suffering; that only by sacrifice and each being making its way to the correct “world of light”, humanity can be reborn as something better than it was before—on a world superior to our own.
Sadly, it is hard to say how Ishinomori would have exactly handled some matters, given that he has been gone for well over a decade now. The concept notes that were used for all three takes on God’s War still currently remain out of reach, and even then, considering the commentary about his penchant for vagueness in his notes, how much knowledge would we gain from them? It is still a curiosity to ponder.
Whatever the case, the long and convoluted development history of the Cyborg 009 finale has also come to a close—for now, anyway. As the source material continues to inspire new interpretations at present, aspiring authors and studios may feel the temptation to try their hand at another spin on this classic manga, perhaps even another take on the cyborgs’ last stand.
Cyborg 009: The Complete Book (1964-1992). Media Factory, 2001. Print.
Cyborg 009: Volumes 11-12 (Shotaro World Anthology edition). Media Factory, 1999. Print.
Conclusion: God’s War: Prologue. Avex, 2002. DVD.
Conclusion: God’s War: Volumes 1-3 (Light Novel). Kadokawa Shoten, 2012. Print.
Conclusion: God’s War: Volumes 1-5. Shogakukan, 2012-2014. Print.
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