May 3, 2015

Cybersix, episode 1 "Mysterious Shadow"

NOTE: Based on the first few episodes, the lead character of the series appears to be genderfluid, presenting and identifying as male while a civilian, and as female while a vigilante. Out of respect for this, we're going to do our best to use "they/them" pronouns when discussing the character overall, only using "he" or "she" pronouns when specifically focusing on those individual sides of their life. The show itself hasn't really explained the situation in these first few episodes, but should it offer an alternative explanation or preference as we get further in, we'll adjust accordingly. And as both of us are cis-gendered males, if anyone out there with more experience than us in genderfluid identity or portrayals feels that we're doing this incorrectly, we absolutely welcome your comments below and look forward to any input you'd like to offer.

In the city night, monstrous, brutish figures with superhuman strength, Fixed Ideas, snatch up two men from the treasury office, an engraver and a printer. As the Fixed Ideas converge at the docks, they're being observed from the shadows by a figure we'll come to know as Cybersix, a woman in a sleek black suit, cape, and wide-brimmed fedora.

At a high school the next day, Adrian Seidelman, a bookish new literature teacher, is being shown to class when he passes the room of Lucas Amato, a bawdy, brawny biology teacher sharing a laugh with his students during a sex ed course. Lucas catches a disapproving look from Adrian, but the younger teacher moves on and during an English lesson, Adrian rebuffs the romantic advances of a young woman. A gang of her friends vow revenge, but when they corner Adrian in an alley, Lucas chases them off and offers the younger teacher a cup of joe. While chatting, and dodging Lucas' cheers at the game on the diner tv, Adrian spots a newspaper article about the missing treasury men and ducks out.

As Lucas heads home for the night, he sees one of the Fixed Ideas burst through a door, Cybersix whipping through the air on his tail. Lucas races after, fascinated, and catches up just as Cybersix takes the monster down and looms over his body. Seeing Lucas, she tells him to stay away, then flies off into the night. Lucas is about to follow, but the Fixed Idea's body vanishes in a green flash of light, leaving behind clothes and a vial of green fluid. As Cybersix watches him leave, her arm suddenly spasms in a painful electric shock. She also spots another Fixed Idea on Lucas' tail.

At his apartment, Lucas tries to examine the vial of fluid, but drops of it eat through his floor like acid. Cybersix is suddenly at his window. She asks for the vial, but he refuses to turn it over without getting answers, even as she has more spasms and warns him of danger. The other Fixed Idea bursts in, tossing Lucas aside and roaring at Cybersix for killing "Brother!" She fights him off, but is weakened by spasms, and a tackle from Lucas sends all three falling out a window. Cybersix kicks Lucas to safety, and she crashes with the Fixed Idea into an alley. His body also flashes into a vial, which she drinks, restoring her strength. She takes off before Lucas can see her again, but a henchman finds the empty vial and clothes of the Fixed Idea.

At a warehouse on the docks, a Fixed Idea roughs the engraver and printer into making counterfeit cash, while the henchman contacts his boss, a mysterious, long-faced man in a castle wound with sparking cables, surrounded in his lab by tubes filled with sleeping, monstrous creatures. He gets a report of the situation and sends his son, Jose, to take care of any problems. Jose marches to the scene, an insidious, scowling child dictator in nefariously high-waisted shorts, and starts tossing Lucas' apartment with his Fixed Ideas. They find the acid hole, but nothing else.

Lucas runs events by Adrian at the diner, even producing the green vial. Adrian grows cold, telling him to put it away before rushing out the door, a flustered Lucas on his tail. Adrian argues the woman may be dangerous and that Lucas should give her the vial, but Lucas thinks she's in trouble and want to know more first. They find the tossed apartment, and Adrian again says, "Give her the vial," before storming out the door.

Adrian rushes into his apartment, blaming himself for Lucas' involvement. He starts stripping away his clothes, reworking their hair, trying to convince themself they don't need a friend right now, but as she zips up the suit of Cybersix and soars out the window, she admits she needs to help Lucas as he helped her.

Jose and his Fixed Ideas are keeping watch as they see Cybersix fly into Lucas' apartment. She warns him of the danger, and as the villains pound through the door, Lucas finally gives her the vial. Cybersix stares Jose down and defiantly raises her sleeve, revealing "CYBER 6" tattooed on her arm. Jose blanches, recognizing it, and orders the Fixed Ideas to attack. It's a rough fight, and despite getting a few jabs of his own in, Lucas is knocked out. Cybersix goes to the window, dangling the vial to lure the Fixed Ideas out and cutting most of them down on the rooftops.

Jose rushes back to the factory and is leading the remaining Fixed Ideas into loading what cash they can on a getaway truck. Cybersix sneaks in, frees the kidnapped treasury men, and starts taking out one Fixed Idea after another. It's a big fight as the place starts going up in flames, and Jose has some initial trouble driving away because his feet won't reach the pedals. When he finally pulls out, he almost runs smack into the car of Lucas, drawn here by the flames, and the villains fly off a dock into the water. Jose swims to the surface, but the entire shipment of cash has been lost.

Cybersix checks on a dazed Lucas. He asks who she is and if he'll see her again, but she gives no answer before disappearing into the night.

The man in his castle fumes as he receives a report from Jose, but he's stunned to hear of Cybersix and that she's alive. As he looks out a window into the flickering lightning of a coming storm, we cut to Cybersix atop a building, staring defiantly into the roaring sky. "You can come after me, but I won't run."


Cybersix is a show I've been peripherally aware of for a while now, but didn't know much of what it was about aside from seeing some images of the Carmen Sandiego doppelganger lead, and hearing that it was popular overseas, especially among my Canadian friends. When it hit Hulu a couple years back, I did watch and was impressed by the first few episodes, but didn't go much further, tucking it on the backburner in the hopes of maybe covering it here as a Showcase. In the time since, we've finally had a DVD set released, and with some welcome urging from a friend who's a fan (*waves!*), we're finally slipping the show in!

Now typically, we won't cover a show when it ties into a longer-running franchise, such as the Planet of the Apes shows, or Logan's Run, or the first Robocop cartoon, or some others where, while there is only a single season of televised programming, going beyond that into the movies, books, or comics they're tied to would extend a project beyond qualifying for a run here. There's a few exceptions - as you'll also see with our next Showcase - and while Cybersix is indeed adapted from a fairly long-running Italian comic serial running from 1992 to 1999 (113 12-page strips, collected and continued into 45 96-page books, ultimately compiled into 12 volumes), none of this material has ever been released in English. It's popular all over Europe and South America, but despite this being a Japanese animated production aimed at breaking into the US market, the comics have never been made available in either of those two countries. I'm not sure what the story is behind that, if it's just rights issues or something, and both Argentinian-born creators, artist Carlos Megila and writer Carlos Trillo, have sadly passed in recent years. Hopefully the DVD commentaries will clear some of this up when I give them a listen at the end of the show, but until then, the only part of the comic we'll be covering later is a portion of the first volume which was unofficially translated by fans online. There apparently wasn't enough interest to continue, but I'll be curious to get at least a little comparison in there between the show and its source. There was also a live-action show in Argentinia, but it only ran 7 episodes before being cancelled, and I haven't found any of them online outside a couple clips. It looks like it could be either horrendous or amazing.

So yeah, as with Starhunter, we're deciding to wiggle the rules of the Showcase a bit and let this one in. If additional material does become available down the road, we'll definitely cover it in some fashion. But until then, let's get started with the animated series!

One aspect I do know about this show is that it's produced by the Japanese anime studio TMS Entertainment, specifically a branch of animators who frequently contributed to US toons like Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Visionaries: Knight of the Magical Light, Duck Tales, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, the Little Nemo film, and dozens of others. Most notably, they did significant work for the animated adaptations of DC Comics, beginning with Batman: The Animated Series, and continuing all the way up to some of the more recent direct-to-dvd films. Given their long history and familiarity with the US toon market, Cybersix seems to have been produced (in conjunction with French-Canadian company NOA, also of Batman TAS) as an attempt to crack into that market in a way they had more direct control over instead of just being animation-for-hire. Suffice it to say, they did not succeed, as despite the show's popularity in non-English markets, barely anyone in the US has ever heard of it and those animators are back to doing all their superhero animation for-hire.

The opening sequence is a testament to just how much love and care these animators are pouring into this show, with an exquisite montage of our cast, gothic criminal types, and trippy scifi monsters intercut with Cybersix dashing across rooftops as she takes on a gang of goons. It definitely builds on the creators' experience working on Batman TAS, mixed with the sharp fluidity of anime at its best, and design choices (which I'll get to more in a bit) which are unconventional to US eyes, but definitely speak to the origins in European and South American comics. Add to that the soaring anthem "Deep In My Heart" by Canadian jazz singer Coral Egan, and you've got a winner of an opening for me.

Shockingly, unlike many other shows, the animation quality doesn't suddenly take a nosedive once we get into the episode proper. No, there isn't the same level of gloss and detail all the time, and a couple of shots are a bit more basic, but there's still a beautiful fluidity to the animation, with sharply composed shots, pounding, whipping action sequences, and so many little moments of character business which give things life. One of my favorites is the scene where Adrian storms out of the cafe and Lucas shoots up to follow. Instead of just sailing out the door or the directors cutting there, Lucas fumbles for his jacket, digs around until he comes up with a couple of bucks, plops them on the table, then can't resist grabbing one more slice of pizza before then making his way out, all while juggling the glowing green vile. If nothing else, this level of animation is the highlight of the episode, to the point where it's mesmerizing at times. I'm really curious if this is a standard they'll be able to maintain over the whole run.

As for the designs, as I said, they're a bit... unconventional. Not so much the costumes or the world, nor even most characters. Adrian has the look of the bookish young teacher, Lucas the open-hearted stud, Jose the wormy, evil kid, but there's an intriguing exaggeration to them which really makes them stand out. The only part that isn't working for me very well is hair. Not just body hair, which is portrayed with thick, interspersed bricks which make brawny limbs and the back of Jose's head look like macaroni craft projects, but many of the actual heads of hair have the odd plop of a bird who died with its wings still droopily aloft, whose carcass has been fluffed by sitting in a windswept field for a couple of days. Really, it's just the hair I don't like. Adrian/Cyber 6's eyes without whites is a nice echo of Tintin, the facepaint/masks/whatever it is on the goons' faces gives a bit of Ultimate Warrior skronk to their otherwise token muscle roles. And at the heart of it all, you get the sleek swoop of Cyber 6's design, which is stunning both at rest and in action. The closest series I can think in terms of design is Jackie Chan Adventures, but as that came just one year later, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it was in some way influenced by this series.

On the story side of things, I have to admit I find the writing weak. There is a good story in there, of this hidden struggle between a mysterious figure and rampaging monsters, with a hunky teacher stumbling into the midst of it while also forging a connection with a new, enigmatic co-worker. On paper, it's a fine introduction to the show, as it sets the stage, shows some of how Cybersix operates in terms of her need to feed off of vials which the monsters magically become (that bit's a bit random), and layers in some intriguing mysteries, like who the mysterious overlord is in a castle wrapped in vines of sparking power cables, or just who Adrian/Cybersix is. I like all of this stuff, but the way it's delivered feels very clumsy and choppy. Animate them as beautifully as you want, it doesn't make up for scenes just yanking from one to another without any narrative flow, or Adrian and Lucas building their bond largely off screen, or the plot of why the monsters are after whoever they're capturing in the beginning being lost along the way. The dialogue is also a struggle at times, and just none of it flows or feels natural in any way. The voice acting from Ocean Group, famed for many an anime dub, is solid all around, but their delivery is still fighting to make those lines work at times. And we've hit scores of bad teen slang in our years at the Showcase, so here's some more:

"Chill, dude! You kissed off the Scream Queen!"

"Gonna tag you [like?] dis dat bing bango!"

"Hey, 3-D at eleven!"

I think that's what they said. The DVD sadly lacks subtitles.

Poking around the credits, it looks like the majority of the writers (with the exception of one who went on to be lead writer of Ed, Edd, 'n Eddy) have only ever worked in dub scripts for Ocean, with many having also contributed to Transformers: Armada. The writer of this episode, Andrew D. Hammell, has ZERO other credits online, meaning he may likely even be a pseudonym for someone slipping in some non-union work. I'm not sure if these writers are actually scripting the show or are just doing the dubs, as the only other name in that department is producer Koji Takeuchi who's given story credit on over half the episodes. Again, this is his only writing credit with all his other work being producer and/or key animator for numerous TMS shows. The feeling I'm getting is they just never brought in an actual writer for the show. The Japanese animators seemed to hold up this comic as a thing they could do something with, the French side at NOA or Ocean had some people who could take care of the dialogue, and they just decided to stick with that. I haven't read the comic yet to see how closely things stick to it, but what seems to be the lack of an actual writer is really showing in the clanks and stumbles the animation is doing its best to pizzaz around. The best example is the girl who brazenly sends her teacher a love note in the middle of class, and the gang of thugs who decide to beat on said teacher for spurning the note. What is this? Why is any of this happening? I don't understand why this is a part of the story.

But again, I don't dislike the underlying story itself. It's basic enough that we're still able to follow it, and the central figure of Adrian/Cyber 6 is indeed intriguing. As said in the note above, we don't yet get an explanation for their gender shifts, if this is an actual identity representation or if one persona or the other is just an assumed disguise, nor how the whole "cyber" aspect figures in. I do know from seeing some art from the comic what their biological gender is, but that's not the definer in a situation like this, and I like how the show holds back from saying either way, using a character and face model that easily slides between the two without taking the easy route of an androgynous neutral. Honestly, the only part I'll nitpick is their fingernails. Adrian's are short and trimmed, but as soon as he enters the apartment and they shed that persona's clothing, the nails are suddenly long, pointed, and polished pink. It's such a little thing to feel thrown off by, but there's literally no explanation, and it almost suggests some form of actual "cyber" metamorphosis. Otherwise, I love how much they get by with just changing posture, cut of clothes, the flip of dead bird hair wings, and some lipstick, showing a striking contrast between the two identities without throwing out the full model sheet.

And it is still a very bold and interesting spin on the civilian/vigilante identity dynamic, especially for a show 16 years old at this point, with both sides having very distinct parts in their life, and a potential mutual dynamic built around their dual relationship with Lucas. Even the end credits milk this, as footage - I'm guessing from an upcoming episode - of Lucas and Cybersix pulling into a deep, passionate, mysterious, early 90s Showtime kiss is playing out directly underneath a sequence of Lucas and Adrian hanging out on a bridge together. There are so many wrong ways this entire relationship can be executed, but I appreciate the steady approach they're taking so far, and will give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Suffice it to say, I'm very, very curious.

As for the villains, Jose is a lot of fun as basically the twin brother of Baby Doll from Batman TAS (yep, TMS did that episode), tauntingly ordering around his hulking musclemen and whining at every foil to his plans. We don't yet know much about the main big-bad in his castle of monster tubes and cyber pasts, but his head is certainly a striking profile with its deeply sloped mouth and spear of a nose.

Swooping back to a low point, I really hate the music. The bookend title pieces are great, and there's one decent bit which has an atmospheric clanging reminiscent of Eric Serra's scores, but the majority of the soundtrack feels both cheap and overblown, with too many midi flourishes kicking in at inappropriate times. There's so few saving graces for me in terms of music that I almost want to pitch the whole thing and ask them to start fresh.

Overall, I am mixed on the episode. The story is fine, but the way it's told could be much cleaner. The writing is hard to follow and it drops us right in the middle of things with no real chance to catch our breaths before we're dragged along on dead bird hair wings. But given how beautifully animated that ride actually is, I'm more than down for seeing where the rest of this series goes. Just wish I had some kind of magical isolating mute to make that score go away.


During our time here together on the Showcase, Noel and I have tended to explore properties that were more from my era (late 70s/80s) than his (late 80s/90s). So even in those instances when I didn't have any personal experience with something, I was usually at least familiar with it. Cybersix marks the first time, at least that I can recall, where I know absolutely zilch about a Showcase going in. The title evokes images of a team of computer age crime fighters. Perhaps a square jawed leader, a spunky female hacker, a nerd, psychic twins, and maybe a smart-ass robot. Am I close? Let's find out.

Aaaaand, no. No I'm not. I'm going to admit right up front that I spent the bulk of this episode wondering if I'd missed some key detail or piece of information while I was multi-tasking my way through a bowl of Oops! All Berries (those things are loud, ya know). Stuff happened and I felt as if I was supposed to know why, but I didn't. I was enjoying it, but I felt hopelessly lost. It really wasn't until the last few minutes that I realized the backstory is being revealed in bites, and I like it, as it puts us in the shoes of co-lead and potential love interest Lucas Amato. There's nothing worse than being ahead of the characters and having to wait for them to catch up. Better to discover right alongside them.

So, first impressions. Like any shallow male, I'll go ahead and start with looks. The animation here is excellent. I lack the ani-vocab to describe it, but it's purtty, and the style itself is very unique. It's not quite anime in the way a noob like me imagines it, yet I'd stop short of calling it overtly Westernized. Squint and it's aesthetically reminiscent of something like Batman: The Animated Series, but the difference is in the details. My only complaint would be the extreme exaggeration of something like Lucas' arm hair, which looks more like a bunch of Cheetos. I mean, I like Cheetos, just not bristling all over the burly forearms of animated characters.

The voice acting is serviceable and fits the characters well. Cybersix sounds like an ├╝ber-mysterioso crime... I don't know what she's actually fighting just yet, Adrian uptight and uncomfortable, Lucas like a loveable lunk, and Jose a maniacal kid. As for the music, the busy stuff is pretty forgettable, but the opening and closing themes are notable for sounding-at least to my ears-very "Animeish". Up until now the toons we've reviewed here have had driving, go get 'em type theme songs. The songs here are sort of, I don't know, mushy. Rainbows and unicorns type stuff. Not anything that's going on my iPod anytime soon, and yet it fits the tone of the series, which like the animation is not exactly anime, but also not quite Western.

As for the characters, Cybersix may be the star, but the standouts for me are Lucas and Jose. The affable Lucas makes for a good counterpart to the awkward and standoffish Adrian, and a good potential love interest for the mysterious Cybersix. And Jose is a hoot, goose-stepping and yelling his way through scenes like a mini tyrant. I also quite liked Adrian because he is clearly uncomfortable with any type of meaningful social interaction (understandable considering he's concealing a secret), and that makes for an effective counterpart to the outgoing Lucas. The big unknown is Von Reichter, who we only get brief glimpses of here. He's the Big Bad, but may very well find the rug pulled out from under him by the diminutive Jose.

So far, color me intrigued. There's mystery here, a little will they/won't they, stylish action, and some fun characters. It's quite different than anything I've ever watched on a regular basis, but that's all the more reason for me to be excited to see where it all goes, which I am.

If you'd like to watch along with us, the entirety of Cybersix is available on DVD, thanks to Discotek Media.


Tony Williams said...

I think that's what they said. The DVD sadly lacks subtitles.

Grrr. This is all-too often the case with these releases. Even G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe--two high profile mainstream series--lack them. Very irksome, not to mention quite disrespectful to the hearing impaired.

Add to that the soaring anthem "Deep In My Heart" by Canadian jazz singer Coral Egan, and you've got a winner of an opening for me.

I certainly think it fits the tone of the show, but I prefer my themes to inspire me to fight evil, where as this one makes me want to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond and buy some sandalwood candles.

Overall, I am mixed on the episode. The story is fine, but the way it's told could be much cleaner. The writing is hard to follow and it drops us right in the middle of things with no real chance to catch our breaths before we're dragged along on dead bird hair wings. But given how beautifully animated that ride actually is, I'm more than down for seeing where the rest of this series goes.

Pilot episodes are notoriously clunky, so I'm curious to see if this next one smoothes some of that out, or if it was more a product of important details being lost in the translation.

Uldihaa said...

I'm very interested in this series. I really like the art-style (and I grew up with Robotech, so the hair didn't even make me blink ^_^).

So is this first episode an example of in media res, or 'let's skip the boring stuff'? I guess only time will tell.

NoelCT said...

Stuff happened and I felt as if I was supposed to know why, but I didn't.

I honestly completely missed that the kidnapped dudes were treasury men ordered to make counterfeit cash until watching it a second time for the synopsis.

Very irksome, not to mention quite disrespectful to the hearing impaired.

Agreed, it's surprising to me how many releases were lacking in any form of subtitle or CC tracks. Noticed Captain Power didn't have one either.

I certainly think it fits the tone of the show, but I prefer my themes to inspire me to fight evil, where as this one makes me want to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond and buy some sandalwood candles.

Boo, Tony. :p I like how soaring and hopeful it is, in contrast to the dark atmosphere of the show, and think it fit that final shot of declaring she won't run.

Pilot episodes are notoriously clunky, so I'm curious to see if this next one smoothes some of that out, or if it was more a product of important details being lost in the translation.

We'll see. Ep 2 is the only other one I've seen before, so I'm curious how it'll hold up to what I remember. I do know Andrew D. Hammell is back on scripting duties.

About the script, I completely forgot to point out one of the other examples of clunky writing that bugged me. Adrian and Lucas are at the diner:

Adrian: Give her the vial.

Lucas: I don't want to give her the vial.

Cut to the goons tossing Lucas' apartment. Cut to Adrian and Lucas walking into the building.

Adrian: Give her the vial.

Lucas: I don't want to give her the vial.

Cut to the goons leaving the apartment, back to Adrian and Lucas heading toward the apartment.

Adrian: Give her the vial.

Lucas: I don't want to give her the vial.

They find the apartment.

Adrian: Give her the vial.

These cutaways offer so many opportunities for little moments furthering the characters, developing their bond and dynamic as new friends, but instead keep hammering the same basic, obvious points over and over again. There's just no flow or depth to the conversations.

NoelCT said...

I've always understood "in media res" to mean we're cutting in at literally the middle of a story or scene. While we are beyond the point of Cybersix's still unrevealed origin, I don't know that I'd call this episode "in media res" as a whole. We open on the episode's crime being initiated, they're already being followed by Cybersix, but the episode is also about Adrian beginning his teaching job and meeting Lucas for the first time, and this is where Cybersix first shows herself, revealing to the villains who's opposing them. So while elements are definitely in media res, this is also very much a first episode in that it acts as an initiating point for the dynamics which the series is likely going to build around.

The pointiness of anime hair, even at its most hedgehoggy, still has a certain flow to it. These styles are such blocky clumps! XD

As always, thanks for the comment, Uldihaa. :)

Strannik said...

I remember watching this show back when it aired on Fox Kids, and not really liking it. I mean, even back then, I thought the animation was great, but everything else...The fact that I was still struggling with English made me miss all the bad dialogue, but the plot (what I could understand of it, anyway) seemed at once obtuse and cliche. I think I decided I'd rather watch the Magician instead.

I was willing to chalk up my dissatisfaction with Cybersix on my limited English skills, but this post isn't exactly convincing me to reconsider my first impression.

Strannik said...

Boo, Tony. :p I like how soaring and hopeful it is, in contrast to the dark atmosphere of the show, and think it fit that final shot of declaring she won't run.

I have to agree with Noel on this one, Tony

Tony Williams said...

and think it fit that final shot of declaring she won't run.

It would've fit better backed by some synthesizer and a soaring rock chorus.

I have to agree with Noel on this one, Tony

What...I...Don't make me pull out the Pole Position theme song.

Tony Williams said...

I just finished watching the 2nd episode and let me just say... stay tuned.

Tony Williams said...

As always, thanks for the comment, Uldihaa. :)

Ditto that.