Review – Cybersix: The Complete Series DVD

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The recent DVD release of Cybersix has been getting very little buzz online. Since I haven’t been able to find any reviews and the Cybersix comic scanlations I worked on with a couple of other people have proven so popular over the years (they’re here, stop asking), I felt it was only appropriate to write my own review of the set.

Co-produced by TMS and NOA in 1999, Cybersix is an enigma at nearly every level. How is it that an Argentinian comic which was never published in English or Japanese became the basis for an ambitious project between Canada and Japan? How did something so niche and adult become a lavish animated production targeting a broad international audience? How is it that the whole thing fell apart after gaining such astonishing momentum? Nuggets of behind-the-scenes information have been dropped over the years by the writers as well as lead producer Herve Bedard, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a completely clear picture of the situation. Just as mysterious is the fact that up until now, this series has never received any kind of English-language release on DVD. While there was a release in France many years ago, this new release care of Discotek easily surpasses it in every technical regard. We may not know all of the circumstances behind Cybersix‘s production, but at least now we can enjoy the final product with a pretty stellar presentation.

Packaging: Cybersix: The Complete Series is a two-disc DVD set in a standard amaray case. Despite having numerous pieces of official artwork available that would’ve made for fetching enough covers, Discotek opted to rework a screenshot from the opening credits featuring a closeup of Cybersix in profile with a small glimpse of the city of Meridiana below. The result is elegant and clean, showcasing the blue and black shadows and background stone architecture which are integral to the show’s visual construction. In essence, it brings attention to everything that makes the show work, while avoiding any unnecessary text on the front apart from the logo in the lower right corner. The official logo has been ditched in favour of white text in a much more minimalist san-serif font. This was a very good move, as the official green-and-black logo would’ve looked terrible (not to mention dated) against just about any background. The same logo is replicated onto the art of each disc along with their respective episode listings and some very slick looking artwork of Adrian and Cybersix that follows the same colour scheme as the cover. The back of the cover contains a description of the series, along with all special features and specifications listed in a readable fashion.

The release lacks any slipcover or insert, which is par for the course for a small distributor like Discotek, but the cohesive graphic design more than makes up for it. One small blemish in the overall package is that the cradle holding the second disc is white instead of black, which really sticks out. Regardless, Cybersix: The Complete Series is a very well-designed package that should grab the attention of fans and the uninitiated alike.

Packaging Grade: A-

Menu: The menus on each disc use the same dichotomous artwork of Adrian and Cybersix as the disc art, with Adrian on disc 1 and Cybersix on disc 2, each appearing in profile rendered in blue and black. The episodes are listed with commentary links clearly located under their respective episodes, with the show’s opening theme playing on loop in the background. I usually prefer minimalist disc menus to be silent, but the opening theme to this show is so mesmerizing and catchy that I can’t possibly complain about having an opportunity to listen to it. The extras are located on disc 2, and while everything was laid out clearly, it took me a minute to find the “extras” link since it was placed at the top of the menu rather than the bottom. Overall, clean-looking layout that’s very easy to navigate.

Menu Grade: B+

Video Quality: With the top talent at one of the world’s most renown animation studios behind every visual element of its production, it’s not much of a stretch to argue that Cybersix is one of the best-looking animated shows ever made for television. Video quality will likely be a primary concern for anyone purchasing this release, and you can rest easy knowing that the presentation is as good as anyone could possibly hope for it to be. All thirteen episodes are spread across two dual-layered DVDs, presented uncut in their original aspect ratio of 4:3. With seven episodes of disc 1 and six episodes on disc 2, the video quality is given more than enough room to breath.

The series was originally animated fully in-house by TMS Studios back in 1999, and while it would be accurate to say that the animation has “held up,” it seems as much of a disservice as saying that the Max Fleischer Superman theatrical shorts have merely “held up.” Cybersix is a visual triumph, faithfully reproducing the unique style of Carlos Meglia’s and Carlos Trillo’s original comic, despite the many challenges it presented. Character designs are slightly streamlined, but almost seem more complex in their expressiveness than in the original. The contrast and shadows which characterized Meridiana in black-and-white are given even more depth and detail through the use of blacks and blues. Despite the usual dark settings, background colours are muted enough for Cybersix’s glistening leather costume to always stand out, with reflections and moonlight sometimes looking outright theatrical in detail. These stylistic choices could easily have been dropped or worked around in order to make production more efficient, but instead they are met head-on and conquered, with the animation staff often going so far as to create new unnecessary challenges for themselves. One of my favourite examples is in the first episode when Lucas falls from a height and crashes into a chicken coop, sending a whole flock of chickens out in a panic. There was just no reason for that at all, but they still made sure to take it that extra mile.

The strongest parts of Cybersix are conveyed through its rich visual language, and the lush and detailed look of the show is replicated almost perfectly on the DVD release. Colours are stable and vibrant, small details are visible in dark shots, and motion is always clear. Lines are mostly clean, although aliasing is still visible on the edges in some shots. I noticed artifacts in only two or three places, namely near the beginning of the first episode and during the shot of the birds flying away in “Blue Birds of Horror.” These cases are incredibly minor and probably just reflect an issue with the original masters. This is the best the show is probably ever going to look, unless they figure out how to properly upconvert early digital animation to higher resolutions, which likely won’t happen.

Video Grade: A

Audio Quality: Cybersix: The Complete Series offers a basic stereo mix, but this is more than enough to convey everything the show has to offer in terms of audio. Action scenes feature excellent sound staging with sound effects carrying lots of punch and directionality. Dialogue is well-balanced and showcases some excellent vocal performances. Cathy Weseluck in particular shows amazing range as both Adrian and Cybersix, and Michael Dobson and Terry Klassen are natural fits as Lucas and Von Richter respectively. Many background and incidental characters don’t fare nearly as well, though. The iconic opening and ending themes have never sounded better, but paint a stark contrast to the often meandering and repetitive background music in the show itself. It isn’t until the final episode that many of these tracks seem to be placed effectively. José’s theme, which becomes monotonous through most prior episodes is somehow injected with new life during one of the final scenes, suggesting a lot of wasted potential in much of the BGM.

Despite these flaws in the original product, the audio has enough life to it to make me wish for a 2.0 PCM mix, even though that would’ve necessitated a third dual-layered DVD and probably driven the cost up too high. While French and Japanese audio tracks exist, they are unfortunately not included. In all likelihood, the materials were not made available.

Audio Grade: A-

Content: Much of Cybersix‘s strength lies in the way it creates intrigue and thematic weight around its unique premise. Cybersix is genetically-engineered super humanoid who disguises herself as Adrian Seidelman, a male literature teacher who has recently transferred to a high school in the South American city of Meridiana. The exact reason she chose this particular disguise is left up-in-the-air in the series, but her main objective is to remain hidden from her creator, the evil (and implied-to-be Nazi) scientist Von Richter who has sent his son José to begin occupying the city. Upon discovering that she is alive, Von Richter begins deploying new experiments from his lab in the nearby rainforest, determined to wipe out the last remaining specimen of his failed “Cyber” series. While it would be ideal for Cybersix to simply remain in her civilian identity, she requires a green chemical produced by Von Richter known as “Sustenance” in order to live. At night, she is forced to don a black leather costume and lurk the streets to stealthily find and kill Von Richter’s other creations and drain them of their Sustenance, forcing her to always stay at arm’s length from her creator.

Her life is defined by this compelling struggle, but viewers can be forgiven for completely losing track of this key motivation as it is not mentioned, or even alluded to, outside of the first and final episodes. On a visual level, many of the show’s most appealing elements are conveyed in a subtle and unspoken fashion that is actually quite unconventional. Adrian falls into a very close relationship with Meridiana High’s biology teacher, Lucas Amato. After stumbling upon a vial of Sustenance, Lucas is drawn drawn into Cybersix’s world and falls in love with her, unaware of her civilian identity. Cybersix’s struggle to process this affection while still maintaining a platonic relationship as Adrian underlies a struggle with humanity as a foreign concept, a theme which is rarely brought up outright, but is still always made implicit. It’s actually kind of amazing that a television series where so much attention is given to subtle nuances has a vital narrative element such as the need for Sustenance completely forgotten throughout the bulk of its run.

The series is largely episodic, following a fairly standard monster-of-the-week format with plots that vary about as much as can be expected with that approach. While the early episodes such as “Data 7 and Julian” and “Terra” are fairly well-rounded, the scripting quickly turns out to be the weakest element of Cybersix, with the worst coming from middle episodes. “The Eye,” which is about as formulaic as a monster plot can get, is probably my least favourite, and the fact that it was apparently a ham-fisted commentary on television “hypnotizing” people lowers my opinion of it even more. Another disappointment is “Fullmoon Fascination,” which gives us a breather from José’s antics in order to focus on Cybersix and Lucas’ relationship, but does so with a werewolf plotline that seems very out-of-place and poorly implemented. While it becomes more apparent later, script problems are present right from the first episode, which involves a subplot where Von Richter and José are trying to start a money counterfeiting operation, a scheme that does not hold up to scrutiny at all.

It isn’t until the final two episodes (which, incidentally, never aired on US television) that the series seems to overcome these problems. “Daylight Devil” is my personal favourite, featuring a fast-paced and streamlined plot with exceptional visuals and a great sense of tension. “The Final Confrontation” manages to play to all the show’s strengths, even featuring extended sequences that rely purely on visual storytelling with no dialogue. These two episodes are so well-done that it almost makes up for the flaws in prior episodes. If it was a sign that the production staff was finally hitting its stride, then it is especially disappointing that we never got a second season.

Even at its worst, the most appealing aspects of the story are carried by the show’s strong visual storytelling. This kind of extreme dissonance in execution is, for better or worse, one of Cybersix‘s most defining characteristics, and tends to be one of the inescapable trappings of an international co-production. But as numerous as these weaknesses might be, they are ultimately overshadowed by the show’s strengths, which are nothing short of technical triumphs. I’m not sure if I would recommend this as a blind buy based on its content, but rest assured that we may very well never see another show as visually rich as this one ever again.

Content Grade: A-

Extras: Cybersix: The Complete Series isn’t exactly robust with extras, but you can tell that the team behind the release made the most of what was available to them. The most satisfying features are the multiple audio commentaries provided by Discotek’s Brady Hartel, who makes them informative and enjoyable to listen to. He interviews lead voice actress Cathy Weseluck on episodes 1 and 13, and provides extensive liner notes in the form of commentary on episodes 4 and 11. The first set of liner notes is an extensively researched account of the production history behind Cybersix, which leaves many holes, but still provides a considerable amount of perspective. The second set of liner notes goes into detail about the differences between the comic and the animated series, describing plot elements that were left unexplained in the series as well as classifying the different creatures in Von Richter’s army. Brady even goes as far as to describe the comic’s somewhat baffling ending, which will sound ridiculous at first blush, but is actually quite in line with the often ludicrous plots that occur later in the comic. I was glad to get this information, since I was always under the assumption that the French release had covered the entire series and that it did not have an actual ending.

Also included is the original short pilot that was used for pitching the series, along with an optional commentary with Brady describing how he obtained it, a gallery of official artwork, textless opening (even though that was textless to begin with), and textless ending. As a special treat, both of those videos include lyric-free versions of the songs with karaoke subtitles. It would’ve been nice to get the fabled full-length versions of those songs included, but it seems that legal complications will ensure that those will never see the light of day.

Extras Grade: B+

Overall, this is a stellar release for a unique show worthy of preservation. One major downside is that since Discotek does not distribute directly to Canada or even through a third party, availability is spotty in the country where most of the series’ existing fans are. Amazon.ca does sporadically have it in stock, but you may need to wait 2-3 weeks for it to ship. Despite this, it’s definitely worth getting your hands on if you’re a fan of the show, or just seriously intrigued by it. I’d like to think that interest in the series would be renewed to the point where a domestic publisher might consider releasing the original comics in English, but I’m not holding my breath on that.

Overall Grade: A-

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3 responses to “Review – Cybersix: The Complete Series DVD

  1. Finally found an in depth review of this box set. your right oddly enough at least in the western world Canada does seem to have the majority of fans, myself included, every American I’ve talked to anyways have never heard of this. I was born in Jan of 93 so by the time this aired it literally changed the way I watch cartoons. The perfect sweet transition spot of growing and learning to appreciate more mature animation was an amazing experience for me I just wish they had a budget to make more content for this intellectual property. I just placed my order from amazon for 35$ including shipping. very much worth that price for a massive chunk of feel good nostalgia. I have never read the comic series before because I could never find an English release retail wise so the fact you translated those also is amazing. thanks for a great review.

    • Thanks menthus! To clarify, I did not do the raw translation work on those scanlations, I wrote the final script. Unfortunately we didn’t get very far, but it will at least give you a taste of the comic. I should point out that it gets kind of ridiculous after volume 1… it even has a storyline where Von Reichter creates a clone of Sherlock Holmes!

      Also, budget was not the reason the show ended early. Listen to the linear note commentary on your DVD to find out more.

  2. Great review. Going through my own copy of the DVDs, I have to say you are totally spot on.

    There is one thing I’d like to mention, that bit in the last paragraph about Discotek not distributing to Canada. Discotek’s own store on their website is happy to ship to Canada, I’ve bought from them direct before and never had a problem. Also Amazon.ca wouldn’t have any copies to sell ever if Discotek didn’t distribute to Canada, it’s just that for some reason Amazon.ca hadn’t received any inventory in time for the release date hence why pre-orders took an extra week or two (grumble grumble). They’re a small company dealing with small print runs of niche content primarily being sold online, and I doubt any of their releases have ever seen the inside of a physical store other then the odd comic book shop or anime boutique. You’re never gonna find their releases in a Wal-Mart or Best Buy, on either side of the border.