Pyunma, aka 008 and The Mermaid (Merman in Tokyopop edition), is a African man who was helping some of his kinsman in Kenya escape being sold into slavery, before his subsequent modification into a cyborg.
He is notable for being one of the first African characters in manga, although his design included the infamous 'blackface' stereotype which remained for subsequent releases up until his redesign in the 1980 movie "Legend of the Super Galaxy".
Pyunma is a young African man with a light-colored, shaved buzz-cut hairstyle. Throughout the majority of his early manga appearances, he is rendered in the blackface style and appears with pitch black skin and oversized white lips in Ishinomori's colored artwork, along with a lighter-colored nose. His design was slightly tweaked in 1980, to give him larger irises and a pair of smaller lips in the middle of the white area of his face, perhaps with the intent of making it look like a beard. However, this instead created the unusual effect of making him look like he had two sets of lips.
By the time of "Emergency Simulation 1992", he is depicted in a much less caricatured style, and is given brown skin and dark grayish-black hair. A 1996 color image by Ishinomori briefly had reverted him to a pitch-black coloration and a grey nose, though the 1997 concept art for "GOD'S WAR" showed a much more realistically designed Pyunma with dark brown skin and hair.
More modern artwork related to the manga (drawn by the assistants Masato Hayase and Sugar Sato) tends to give the character an appearance much like his incarnation in the 2001 "Cyborg Soldier" series, with similar facial features and his hair being blond. However, there is some variation, with his nose sometimes appearing as a small button shape like in his old look, or his hair sometimes being colored as black.
After a battle against a Black Ghost robot that culminated in most of his body being destroyed in "The Underground Empire of Yomi", his head and brain were salvaged and he was given a new body that included silver scales all over it. As Yomi had been initially intended to be the final arc, this detail was not referred back to when the series abruptly resumed, and was eventually entirely forgotten by 1979's "Barefoot Zanzibar", which depicted Pyunma without the scales and a more humanoid body (although some would reconcile this with theorizing that Dr. Gilmore gave him yet another upgrade).
Personality and RelationshipsEdit
008 is a serious individual who strongly disagrees with prejudice of any kind, whether against his race or people who aren't of the social norm. He highly values education, seeing it as a necessity for all people.
Pyunma takes pride in his heritage and his village, and refuses to give in to people who try to control his country or village. He was at first upset that most of his body was changed with fish scales after being seriously injured, but learned to live with it as he was still alive and could help others with his enhanced abilities.
In later stories, he can be seen as a poaching surveillance officer, investigating cases through different countries, as Ishinomori had still yet to settle on the exact homeland for him.
Note: This refers to events in the "Battle with the Gods" storyline, which could be considered apocryphal due to its unfinished state
While in pursuit of okapi poachers in the Congo, he discovered that the poacher was a beautiful native woman from a nearby village, who believed that she could cure her father's illness with the animals' hearts. In getting to know the woman more, he taught her about the ignorance behind native superstitions, and showed that her father could be cured by modern medicine. She grew to understand the importance of science, and the two had started to fall in love.
Unfortunately, this romance ended tragically when she learned he was a cyborg and was thus infertile, unable to give her children. The huntress committed suicide by drowning, feeling it a sin to love a cyborg. Her death lead to Pyunma despairing and wishing that there were a way for Dr. Gilmore to undo his cybernetic enhancements so that he could live as a normal human man.
Though the two rarely openly interact, their most significant and wordless interaction had come within a flashback sequence in "Battle with the Gods" where Pyunma was shown depressed while Jet blasted a radio and danced, refusing to listen to Pyunma yelling at him to turn it off. This lead to him going by the rocks and ocean to sulk. This event, among others, was given as an example by Ivan of the team's weaknesses, with Pyunma's being depression while Jet was foolish.
The two also briefly cooperated to go hunt for ingredients for Chang's restaurant in "The Diary of Chang Changku's Struggling Restaurant", with Jet flying Pyunma off so he could go find sharks to take the fins off of (but non-fatally).
Out of the other cyborgs on the team, there have been at least two significant interactions between Pyunma and Albert within the publication history.
In both instances, Pyunma is the one depressed and in despair, first over his scaled upgrade and further loss of humanity and the second referring to the death of the huntress in Battle with the Gods.
Albert, being older and acting as a mentor with advice, manages to convince him of the good that his body can do as a cyborg.
In the other (apocryphal) scenario, he bluntly tells Pyunma that there is no way for him to return to being a normal human, equating their cybernetic conversions to being the same situation as prosthetic limbs. Instead, he urges Pyunma to understand that the girl he had loved was not truly the one for him, as she would have accepted him and realized that "A body is only a container for the spirit".
Abilities and PowersEdit
Pyunma has cybernetic implants in his body, which allow him to travel through and breathe underwater. His body is also able to survive depths of up to 10,000 meters. He also has propellers in his feet, which allow him to move at high speeds in the water. After a battle with Black Ghost ended with Pyunma getting severely injured, Professor Gilmore enhanced his cybernetics even further by giving him a scaly silver-armored body which allows him to move faster in the water.
As a freedom fighter for his country, Pyunma has battle experience that the other cyborgs lack; able to combat and effectively uses a rifle against enemies whether it is Black Ghost or poachers.
In Battle with the Gods, he describes his body as containing plastic pipes and lead cylinders, offering another hint of how he was remodeled.
As told in the prologue, Pyunma was originally among several African villagers about to be sold into slavery, however, he managed to break his chains and escape. When it looked like the slave traders were about to kill him, a Black Ghost agent killed the men. Pyunma was grateful for being rescued, but quickly learned that he fell into a trap and was taken away to be converted into a cyborg. By the time 009 was completed, he and the other cyborgs escaped from Black Ghost while utilizing their abilities.
008 usually appeared whenever the team needed a frogman in the battle against Black Ghost. After the battle with the Mythos Cyborgs, 008 went back to his village, once calling Joe and Francoise over when a Golden Lion was attacking his village. He continued to fight off poachers over the course of the team's retirement, up until he was attacked by a robot crocodile from Black Ghost that wound up destroying most of his body.
009 managed to rush Pyunma's remains to Dr. Gilmore, where Gilmore gave him a new body with scales of silver fish. 008 at first was dismayed at his new body, but 004 came by and compared 008's body to his own metallic body, telling Pyunma that he should take pride in his body as he could use it to save people. With his confidence back, Pyunma thanks Gilmore for the new body and continues the fight against Black Ghost and other subsequent enemies.
- As revealed in "Cyborg 009 a la cult", the names of Kilimanjaro, Savanna, and Sambo were also considered for 008. "Sambo" appears to derive from the book Little Black Sambo, while Kilimanjaro and Savanna would relate to places in Africa. The Sambo name would be re-used for a character in Genma Taisen, who would later also be redesigned (as well as renamed to "Sonny Lynx") to avoid racial stereotypes.
- The reading of his name is up for some debate, as it is theorized that Ishinomori may have intended it to be Puma, based off of the wild cat species. While this may be inaccurate to African culture, as the puma is native to South America, this reading of the name does appear in Toei's simple English scripts for the 1979 series and Legend of the Super Galaxy (to the point of the name being used in foreign dubs of the film). It also appears on a letter addressed to 008 in the 1979 series. The katakana is also nearly identical to that of "puma", save for the "n" character, which may have been from difficulty in rendering the loanword into Japanese. However, the official English notation used by IshimoriPro these days would be "Pyunma".
- In a coincidence noted by some fans, Cyborg 008's upgraded form loosely resembles the costume of the DC Comics superhero Aquaman. Another coincidence in the DC universe is an African-American incarnation of Aqualad named Kaldur'ahm that debuted in the short-lived "Young Justice" TV series and was introduced in the comics around the same time. Aside from his hydrokinesis, the animated version of Kaldur'ahm exhibits certain character traits similar to the 2001 version of 008, down to the facial features, tactical thinking, and the blond buzz cut hair style.
Some believe it is possible that Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti may have had influence from 008, otherwise it is seen as an amusing coincidence by fans of the series. In contrast, the comic incarnation of Kaldur (who also goes by his human name of "Jackson Hyde") sports black dreadlocked hair.
- More modern incarnations have done away with the anachronistic slavery backstory, and have him portrayed as a guerilla fighter as he was depicted as in later manga chapters. In the 2001 anime, he hails from the fictional country of the Muamba Republic, while the Archaia adaptation places him as being from the Ivory Coast. When it came to the 1979 series, the Animage articles previewing it had confirmed the slavery backstory was intact, though it never came up as a point in the actual series.
- Pyunma's point of origin was not decided for the longest time in publication of the manga, with it only being revealed as "Kenya" in "Emergency Simulation 1992" and having been debated over as being Kenya or Tanzania by fans. Despite that, most modern official materials still list his homeplace as simply "Africa". It has also long been a point of discussion among fans that Pyunma's backstory as given in the prologue would be anachronistic with Kenya, as it was independent by 1964. This may be due to Ishinomori not having researched or decided upon the exact country.
- While an exact age is not set for him in the manga, his 1979 series age of 21 is often utilized as a placeholder.
One of the most controversial aspects of Cyborg 008 would be his early blackface design. This aspect of his character persisted through the manga up until its hiatus in the mid 1980s, and generally makes modern fans of Ishinomori's work feel uncomfortable due to the implications. The blackface design of Pyunma was also carried over to the early animated film adaptations, as well as the 1968 and 1979 series. It can also still be seen in merchandise and artwork related to the manga and classic depictions of characters, although other merchandise tends to use his 2001 redesign.
While the 1960s films gave him brown skin, his skin and lips were depicted as purple in the 1979 series, which can further draw controversy as the 1979 adaptation depicts other black characters in far less caricatured designs and with brown skin. This also occurs in later installments of the manga through 1979-1981, where guest characters in Africa are drawn more normalized. As mentioned in "Appearance", Pyunma's design was slightly tweaked during this period to give him a pair of smaller lips, but the result gave him a bizarre "double lips" impression, due to him still being colored as pitch black with a raised white lower section to his face (the original location of the lips). "The People Drifting Between Space and Time" appears to have ignored this tweak.
Jeff Segal, the author of the Star Wars comic, helped oversee the screenplay for the 1980 film and had advised that Pyunma receive a redesign, noting that the character design reflected the unfortunate stereotypes of black men in the western world and that if the film was to be exported overseas, the character should be redesigned. Pyunma's new look was modeled after the actor Sidney Poitier, although the character's skin color wound up appearing more as a dark gray in the actual film than any shade of brown. This change encountered some controversy and resistance from fans, due to the cultural dissonance in Japan (see below) as well as the fact that drastic changes in character design tended to be met with such backlash.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances in his early appearances, which included this design and the inaccuracy in his origin, 008's character had been considered revolutionary for the time in manga, for being a black superhero and for being treated as equal in the team and not depicted with unflattering personality stereotypes (Marvel Comics' Black Panther, the first black Western superhero, would not debut for another 3 years). Over the course of the manga, Ishinomori also became inspired by tales of African resistance, and had opted to go with a more "freedom fighter" portrayal of Pyunma, seemingly casting aside the anachronistic slavery and colonization implications of his origin.
Complicating this would be that some templates of classic anime and manga are noted to be rooted firmly from American animation of the 1930s. This was the style in which Osamu Tezuka, who idolized Walt Disney, founded the modern manga industry on and traces of this style still exist in modern times. (Ex. Big oval eyes). Unfortunately, this also meant that cartoons that are now considered of poor taste, such as the infamous Censored 11, were also used as examples for character design.
Due to Japan's isolationist nature as well, the blackface stereotype would not have had the same stigma as it would have had in the West and the general populace would have been unaware of the racial discrimination implications. Media historians familiar with the history of anime and manga know that some manga artists, despite their art, are not inherently racist, although these factors must always be taken into account. Ishinomori himself was stated to be an open-minded individual who embarked on a world trip to develop research for his manga projects in the early 1960s, and his later depictions of other races in manga series are noted to be less problematic in design, particularly in more realistically-drawn manga or in the more mature oriented series like 009-1.
The blackface design would be discarded with the Emergency Simulation 1992 one-shot, and a redesign for Pyunma was devised for the final arc, Conclusion GOD's WAR. The 2001 series and later media have further re-imagined him. Incarnations such as 009 RE: Cyborg and the Archaia graphic novel have also accordingly redesigned 005 and 006, to also remove stereotypes.