Aeons ago the Big Bang gave birth to the universe. Some believe the cosmic energy behind that event is somewhere out there in space. Scientist Dr. Cosmo (voiced by Jouji Yanami) has dubbed it the Vortex. He theorizes that if mankind can find a way to harness the Vortex they could control the universe but his trusted colleague Dr. Gilmore (Ichiro Nagai), famed creator of the Cyborg 00 team of superheroes, remains skeptical. Since defeating their arch-enemy Black Ghost, the cyborgs have returned to civilian lives but are summoned again when psychic super-baby 001 (Fuyumi Shiraishi) detects a threat to planet Earth in the form of an alien entity called Zoa (Toru Ohira).
Japanese athlete Joe Shimamura (Kazuhiko Inoue) a.k.a. Cyborg 009, flying cyborg 002 (Keichi Noda), French telepath 003 (Kazuko Sugiyama), nihilistic German 004 (Keaton Yamada) who hides an arsenal of weapons inside his body, super-strong Native American 005 (Banjou Ginga), fire-breathing Chinese chef 006 (Sanji Hase), wise-cracking master of disguise 007 (Kaneta Kimotsuki) and African deep sea diver 008 (Kazuyuki Sogabe) intercept an incoming UFO. On board they find the dead remnants of an alien world ravaged by Zoa and the sole survivor, childlike alien Saba (Noriko Obara). He begs the 00 team to rescue his father, a brilliant scientist held captive by Zoa who aims to use his knowledge to unlock the secrets of the Vortex. Before the heroes can act one of Zoa's powerful warriors abducts 001 and Dr. Cosmo. So the cyborgs and their alien ally embark on an epic space journey to save the universe.
According to anime experts Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy in The Anime Encyclopedia, the presence of Star Wars comic scribe Jeff Sagal among the screenwriting team led to Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy being deviously hyped in Japan as coming from the writer behind Star Wars (1977). In reality this was the third feature film spun off from an established anime franchise created by legendary writer and manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori. Most Japanese know Ishinomori as the godfather of Japanese superheroes through such live action classics as Kamen Rider (1971), Henshin Ninja Arashi (1972) and Go Ranger (1975) the television series that eventually spawned the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (1994), though he dabbled extensively in animation too. Cyborg 009 was his most enduring success in that field, marrying aspects of Osamu Tezuka's seminal Astro Boy (1963) with the James Bond movies though also prefiguring concepts featured in The Six Million Dollar Man and X-Men. The first film, titled simply Cyborg 009, appeared in 1966 followed by the sequel Cyborg 009: Kaiju War (1967) and two television series in 1968 and 1979. More recently we have had the feature length reboot Re: Cyborg 009 (2013) which scored a theatrical release in the UK yet was sadly derided by critics.
Sporting a lavish running time of just over two hours the 1980 theatrical film was released to mark Ishinomori's twenty-fifth anniversary as a manga artist. Much as Moonraker (1979) sent the other 007 into space the animators behind Legend of the Galaxy sought to compete with then-recent Hollywood science fiction blockbusters and produce the grandest Cyborg 009 adventure yet. They certainly deliver in terms of spectacle. Opening with nothing less than the birth of the universe in a swirl of planets and stars, the film mixes science, philosophy and, er, sentimental love songs into a stirring space adventure. There are giant monsters, laser gun battles, huge Ken Adams-style quasi-futuristic bases, space dog-fights a la Star Wars and a trippy star-gate sequence modelled on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) only with a funky disco score that probably hadn't occurred to Stanley Kubrick. Yet the film is a product of an era when while Japanese animation was nearing its creative peak, American distribution of such fare was at a low. Hence some drastic re-editing has evidently removed big chunks of plot while the lacklustre English dub features truly cringe-worthy attempts at various ethnic accents. Caricatured Chinaman 006 and 007 with his disappearing-reappearing Irish accent come off worst. In fact, despite his cool fire-breathing ability, 006 spends a lot more time cooking dim sum ("Old Chinese proverb say man not fight on empty stomach!").
The script is laden with pseudo-scientific gobbledegook and corny drama, such as the soap opera love story between 009 an 003, but has an interesting melancholy streak. Unlike more triumphalist American superheroes, Ishinomori draws his cyborgs as tragic characters with each hero haunted by a tragic past and deeply conflicted about existing as fighting machines. On their travels the team find another planet ravaged by Zoa from whence there comes a plea for help from imprisoned purple Princess Tamara (Hiroko Suzuki) and her weird space puppy. Her love triangle with 009 is abruptly curtailed thanks to haphazard editing in the English version. Though the resulting twist involving the origin of Zoa and the heroic death of one of the 00 cyborgs retain their impact the tampered climax is borderline incomprehensible. For the most part though this remains a poetic cut above your average juvenile space opera.