9009 Is a Western Anime Gone Berserk

Dec 9, 2022

Anime has been seeping into western culture for some time now, ranging from a specific reference here and there to full-blown homages across television, movies, and games. But at one point in time, it was a fringe interest for a niche audience, primarily spread through the exchange of VHS tapes and internet discussion boards. Anime in the west wouldn’t be where it is now without this early interest, and even now, there’s a sizable amount of nostalgia for this bygone era of scratchy film artifacts and crude voice dubs.

Ballmastrz 9009, a show by frequent Adult Swim contributor Christy Karacas, is a modern-day encapsulation of this time period: featuring vibrant art, dark humor, a surprising cast, and a self-awareness of its inspirations, it’s a testament to just how influential early anime culture was to contemporary artists. It just so happens to be incredibly entertaining as well. With a new special coming in February, it’s worth talking about what exactly makes Ballmastrz 9009 a western anime gone berserk.

Ballmastrz Has a Simple Premise

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Ballmastrz 9009 takes place in the distant future, in a world ravaged by the “Rad Wars.” It’s a typical post-apocalyptic dystopia setting lit up in bright neon lights and dull metallic tones. A deity-like entity known as Crayzar — a pale-yellow, androgynous being with exposed teeth and dark make-up — has created what is known as “The Game” in order to both restore humanity’s potential while providing an escape from a millennium of boredom. As a result, many take their violent tendencies out in The Game instead of the world, hopefully preventing future Rad Wars from ever occurring.

The Game is an amalgamation of roller derby, American football, and gladiatorial combat. Consisting of two teams, each with their own individual ball, the Game is won by launching said ball into the opposing team’s goal and scoring points. The team with the most points wins. There’s just one catch — players on either team can be “killed” and removed from play at any point, incentivizing both teams to kill each other as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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The show follows Gaz Digzby (Natasha Lyonne), one of the best players in The Game, who has unfortunately fallen from grace. Given a second chance by Crazar, she is forced to join The Leptons, a comically-inept team that has yet to win a single match. Should Gaz help them win a single game, she may get a chance to reclaim her former glory.

Ballmastrz Is Hyper-Stylized

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

In an interview with Animation Magazine, series creator Christy Karacas spoke about the series, and its inspirations, with several of them, proudly being worn on Ballmastrz’s sleeves:

“I came across the series One-Punch Man, and it reminded me of how I used to love anime when I was younger, and that I hadn’t watched it for some time . . . I also used to love movies like Rollerball, the whole 1970s dystopian movie genre, so I thought it would be a great idea to do this comedy spoof of the genre.”

Fans of the series will likely notice these inspirations throughout the series, whether in the premise for the show itself or in the parodic references to vintage anime series that any long-time fan will surely get a kick out of. Instead of making it an outright parody, however, Karacas strived to make the series unique. Karacas previously created the equally frenetic and violent Superjail for Adult Swim, and while that series reveled in its high body count, it was decidedly toned down for Ballmastrz:

“My favorite action shows were a big influence, but we didn’t want this series to be too violent . . . So, I was looking at some of the anime from ’80s and ’90s, things like Robotech.”

As a result, we get a show that feels like an ancient anime ripped out from a classic VHS tape, touched up with a modern aesthetic, and then trimmed down to eleven minutes. It’s a delicate balance of character development, plot progression, and stylish action, but the show manages to pull it off in a memorable way.

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Chris Prynoski, a producer for the series, also chimed in, stating that “watching Fist of the North Star and Project A-Ko over and over again” helped immensely in giving the show its signature look.

Ballmastrz Has Genuine Character

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Ballmastrz is more than just to tribute to anime — underneath the flashy art, the mayhem, and the crass jokes, there’s still a genuinely entertaining story to be found. It’s a classic underdog tale, combining the budding friendships formed between Gaz and The Leptons with the gradual inching toward success that makes these types of stories work.

Keeping with the anime motif, each member of The Leptons is unique in their own way, offering an individual talent to help the team succeed: Ace Ambling is the spunky source of morale; Flypp Champion is the limbless, boisterous wielder of the “Umbilicus” technique; Duleena Duneeda is friendly, but has a hair-trigger temper; Leto Otel is an apathetic meat-shield; and lastly, Lulu and Bob are mute, but dedicated to the team. It’s a rag-tag ensemble that sticks out visually with its varied silhouettes and striking orange uniforms.

These characters are made more memorable by the show’s talented cast of voice actors: Adult Swim regulars Dana Snyder and Dave Willis (Aqua Teen Hunger Force) join Jessica DiCicco, Eric Bauza, and Christy Karacas in the main cast, with guest appearances by Ed Asner, Norman Reedus, Cree Summer, and Stephanie Sheh.

All episodes of Ballmastrz 9009 can be watched on HBO Max. The upcoming special, Ballmastrz: Rubicon, will feature animation provided by Studio 4℃, who contributed animation for Memories, The Animatrix, and the Berserk: Golden Age Arc film trilogy.

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