Animation and Anime

AICN Anime - Reinventing Robot Smashing With Casshern Sins

Published at: Aug. 20, 2010, 11:57 a.m. CST

Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green

Anime Spotlight: Casshern Sins Parts 1 and 2 (of 2) Released by FUNimation Streaming online

Before and into the early North American boom, there were media watching niches that anime was assumed to fill. "Violent porn" was an accusation leveled against anime, but also a selling point. It was also supposed to be where you went to see sci-fi cartoons in which any object, when exposed to a bright ray, would bulge and explode. Look at the old goof anime guide to physics, and you'll get some indication of what anime used to stand for. Between evolution in the medium, and a North American misreading of what anime typically provides, anime hasn't been contributing much to these sectors lately. Casshern Sins marks a triumphant re-entrance for anime into one of those niches. I'm going to break one of my rules for anime reviewing and compare an experience with a drug I don't use... Between its colors and philosophizing, Casshern Sins is THE anime for pot smoking college kids. How's that for writing to the pull quote? The course of the twenty four episode series is slow and eddying. It moves into ideas, sometimes returning to them, sometimes abandoning them, and all the while evocatively painting a entropy plagued landscape. Audiences in a more sober mental state can certainly enjoy the anime's vision and ambition, but I really think it would play well to a buzz.
Not that it matters much to the viewing experience, but it is noteworthy that Casshern Sins is a revival. After Science Ninja Team Gatchaman , the original, 1973 Neo-Human Casshern was the second anime to exercises Tatsunoko Pro's shifted super hero formula. Young Tetsuya Azuma had his mind put into the Casshern robot body, marked by a white form fitting suit emblazoned with a "C" on its chest, and crown with golden antennae. Azuma's father had developed a race of servant robots. One of these, BK-1 gained consciousness after being struck by lightning, redubbed himself the Braiking Boss (or Black King Boss, depending on translation), and lead a robot revolt that succeeded in enslaving humanity. In their triumph, Braiking Boss' robot Andro Army would transfer Tetsuya's mother's mind to the robot swan Swanee and keep her as a pet. With the help of Luna Kozuki, a girl who inherited the advanced MF Gun from her scientist father, and his dog Lucky, given the fire breathing, jet-transforming Friender robotic replacement body, Casshern took the fight to his metal foes. The white robot brawler, his robo-swan mother and robo-dog companion would probably be best known to current anime fans for their inclusion in the Tatsunoko vs. Capcom fighting game, but it has also been said that the anime had earlier influences on Capcom, with Friender inspiring Megaman's canine companion Rush and Baiking offering a visual framework for Street Fighter boss Bison. In 1993, the anime was updated with four episode OVA Casshan: Robot Hunter. This made it over to the US via Streamline and played ad-nauseum on Sci-Fi channel's anime programming. With character designs from Yasuomi Umetsu (Kite, Megazone 23 Part II, Lily C.A.T.), situation focus, Braiking Boss as a Terminator with a crown, random nudity and plenty of concept babble, it was an anime series very much in keeping with the form of the time. I don't really want to invest much thought in the 2004 live action Casshern, directed by Kazuaki Kiriya and frequently called an extended music video for his wife, Hikaru Utada. In 2008, Tatsunoko revived Casshern with Madhouse, makers of a lot of popular anime, such as Ninja Scroll, Black Lagoon and most of the CLAMP adaptations, and a lot of boundary pushing anime, such as Paprika, the Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Kaiba (regrettably, unlicensed), Denno Coil (regrettably, unlicensed), and Kemonozume (regrettably, unlicensed). There have been some notable counter examples (2006's Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Burned), but over the last decade, anime has had a remarkably solid track record for remakes with the likes of Tetsujin 28, New Getter Robo, Steel Jeeg, Yatterman, Shin Mazinger, and Area 88. Anime being produced by devoted fans, for devoted fans has introduced plenty of flaws to the field, but good remakes might be a positive function of where the industry has gone. While not nostalgia driven, Casshern Sins fits into the line of spirited, imaginative revisitations to anime's classics.
Casshern Sin is rooted in anime history. Look no further than its favorites of old voice cast... Tohru Furuya (Amuro in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Yamcha in Dragon Ball, Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon), Akiko Yajima (Shin in Crayon Shin-chan), Mami Koyama (Kei in Akira, Arale-chan in Dr Slump, Lunch in Dragon Ball, Kycilia Zabi in Gundam, Balalaika in Black Lagoon), Toshiyuki Morikawa (Griffith in Berserk, Tekkaman Blade, Terry The Kid in Ultimate Muscle), Kenji Utsumi (Raoh in Fist of the North Star, Armstrong in Fullmetal Alchemist) and Yuko Minaguchi (Videl in Dragon Ball Z). Though a throw back, the result is far from bound to the past. There's a revival quality to the anime. In details and rendering, Casshern has been updated to fit into the look of the series, but he hasn't been redesigned to the extent the 90's incarnation was. Yet, even though 70's sci-fi super hero uniform clad Casshern looks like he washed up from a 35 year time warp , Sins' intentions don't lie in servicing nostalgia. Relationships are fundamentally shifted. Expected elements are missing. There's no robot swan. Friender is present, but he never breaths fire or transforms into a jet. "Casshern" gets to act as a platform for a new venture. That the character has a history does play into the spirit of Sins, but the legacy is more a justification for an interesting Madhouse work. Similarly the staff brings together veterans. Director Shigeyasu Yamauchi has been attached to plenty of fight anime, and plenty of Toei standards, including a lot of Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya spin-offs and Street Fighter Alpha. Yasuko Kobayashi has a track record for writing comedy, with series like Galaxy Angel and Sgt Frog, with a smattering of other geek bait like Shakugan no Shana and Witchblade, along with Yu-Gi-Oh! The staff arithmetic here would suggest an energetic, self aware throw back. Instead, Casshern Sins offers a creative, spiral through darkness. I don't want to oversell how radical Sins is, but it is clearly unafraid to put its own take on the material, even if that turns out a bit alienating. There's a well regarded (regrettably, unlicensed),manga by Hitoshi Ashinano called Yokohama Shopping Trip. It follows a sunny robot woman running a coffee shop, mostly as she experiences small pleasures. What's crucial, but implicit, is that the manga is set in end times following the collapse of life on Earth. It's just that humanity is experiencing a largely peaceful final moment of mono no aware (sadness for the transience of things). Think the antithesis of Yokohama Shopping Trip's reconciled calm and you'll have picture of Casshern Sins' noisily crumbling world. The anime opens with Casshern assonating Luna. This sounds like standard playbook dark re-imagining, but it rights out with a more Doors/Apocalypse Now thunderclap. As explained by a cloaked figure, emanating Go Nagai style dangerous mania, Casshern has become known as The Man Who Killed the Sun Named Moon. In killing Luna, Casshern has unleashed Ruin on the world, ending the immortality of robots. Few humans remain on the broken landscape, as the crumbling robot population bemoan their final twilight.
This robotic frustration breaks into rage when an unblemished Casshern appears. Beyond the blame, lore has arisen that killing and consuming Casshern will grant the new champion his freedom from Ruin and Casshern’s near immortality. The hooded figure watches as a horde of rusted, semi-humanoid robots chants "Kill Casshern" and mobs the once-hero. Casshern has no real weapons, though his hip mounted booster rockets look like guns to be drawn. He leaps and acrobatically springs over the battle field as if unbound by the same laws of physics ruling the rest of the world. Pristine, white and nimble, he makes for an angelic contrast to the demonic, lumbering masses of oxidized robots attacking. There's a fearful grace as he smashes the metal hulks with fists, feet and knees, but, at the same time, there is a disconcerting trance-detached look in his glowing, baby blue eyes. Highlighted by the static scrambled anime equivalent of the shaky cam, the protagonist becomes even more disturbing as his eyes shift red and he goes into savage survival mode, putting his hands into his foes, ripping and tearing. Here, everything is turned on its head. In earlier incarnations, Casshern was driven by a mission. The character was a forced to be reckoned with in battle, but he was also susceptible to wearing out, especially if denied the necessary solar energy. Sins' amnesiac Casshern sleep walks into and out of the action. He's unstoppable. In addition to decay, he's one of the only irresistible forces left. He's physically whole. Those he encounters frequently comment on how beautiful he is. But, he's also broken; unable to explain why he killed Luna or aware of what purpose he might have following her death. He wonders into the fragile, remaining robots communities and serves as the cursed catalyst needed to tip them into oblivision. When they occur, it's easy to become fixated on Casshern Sins' action scenes. The story and the manner of the characters sell the notion that the fights matter and the deaths matter. These are people clinging to life. They rage and grimace upon impact. Shattered robots try to drag themselves toward Casshern, hoping to destroy him in their final actions. Beyond the desperation, the choreography is impressively involved. The forms and movements of attacks are particular. Casshern dives into robot hordes like an angel of death. There's a character who dances into battle with Monkey King like wuxia movements. And, the anime works this precision into well plotted sequences, quickly tagging through combatants or into a more screeching form of stylization. It all looks outstanding.
As spectacular as the fights are, as tense as it is to see a town of robots transform into murderous zombies, encircle Casshern and know he's about to make the reflexive switch into kill mode, Casshern Sins is not an action driven series. Maybe because the staff was experience and expert enough to break the rules, it is not operating on the same mechanisms as the bulk of other anime. It's not reaching out to the viewers via overused paths. Even if it has the framework for it, Sins is remarkably light on pandering. For example, there is a scene in which a young girl leaps and transforms into an adult woman mid-air. You could almost guarantee that a work of anime would sexualize this, calling attention to her crowing bust and constricting clothes, but Sins does not. The first half of Sins is mostly comprised of one-off allegories concerning Casshern's encounters. It then coalesces into something more cumulative in the latter section. For all the series action, Sins fosters little hope of seeing Casshern rush into battle. Not because he's spineless, angsty post Evangelion protagonist, but because his personally and interactions shade towards the abstract. People he meet have names and identities, but they often might as well be reduced to monikers like Fighter, Singer, Lover or Child. Reinforced by a dream episode and descents into madness, for an anime populated by bulky, clunking robots, Sins has a remarkably immaterial presence. In that haze, the narrative is neither especially dull nor exciting. More significantly, it isn’t involving. Despite its building elements and even some cliff hangers, it never feels like it’s purposefully heading in a direction. It's more content to wander, being pulled by a current towards its destination.
Anime generally aims to create a need, and then fulfill it. A series will build anticipation for the answer to a mystery, the resolution of relationship between character, or the spectacle of seeing two character battle it out. In the case of Sins, even if the series flags mysteries in the character's past and sets up rivals, the anime doesn't adopt the familiar deny and satisfy pattern. At the same time, Casshern Sins' approach to metaphysics is more intelligent than intellectual. Even if I'm not immune to philosophical prompting, especially in anime, I prefer exploration of concrete concepts to metaphysical ones. Though Casshern Sins does occasionally find ways of grounding its characters' world views, loosened by the conceit of robot immortality, there's plenty of room to get fuzzy in the discourse of life and death. Not looking to meditate on the relationship between life and death; not drawn into the mystery behind the wanderings of an amnesiac robot, it’s the presentation of Casshern Sins that elevates the series and fascinates. Casshern Sins is what it is because every episode uses an artfully selected palette to paint a captivating landscapes.
This is an anime that scream for an analysis by someone who can expertly speak to color theory. The evident thoughtfulness behind how backgrounds and textures are rendered is consistent throughout the series. And, the result is that the look projects how Casshern Sins inhabits a point of intersection. As Satoshi Kon movies illustrate, anime is a great medium for blurring. Dream and reality can be laid out in the same plane, as happens in Kons movies, and here. Rusted sci-fi metallic, gothic collapse and natural erosion similarly find adjacent spaces. Watching Casshern walk through a doomed landscape captured in this manner, episode after episode, the visual work is literally amazing. There's a staring at flame quality to watching Casshern Sins. Though you couldn't call its venture through a dire world relaxing, the series wasn't tightly contained either. It had a hypnotizing flicker to it. Because the broken vista it put on display was so transfixing, even if it wasn't terribly exciting or terribly interesting, I watched episode after episode in rapid succession. Specific features did blur. I felt the depiction of the descents of some of the encountered robots was outstanding, and yet, I completely forgot about some of those characters until I resurveyed the series. One glance at the Casshern character makes his retro nature evident. Like other Tatsunoko heroes, such as Speed Racer, Gatchaman or Yatterman, he's a walking time capsule. So, it's surprising that a revival of the character would take place in a somewhat experimental, starkly new anime series. These qualities were supposed to constitute a big slice of what watching anime was supposed to be all about... experiencing something new and different, that could only be found in the medium. Sins fills that need for something distinctive and captivating by virtue of what it is doing visually. You might end up admiring Casshern Sins. You might end up mildly disliking it. But, guaranteed, you will not be able to turn away from the screen.

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  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:01 p.m. CST

    First?

    by Drif

    I always enjoyed Casshern.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:09 p.m. CST

    Is this the same Casshern?

    by The Dark Shite

    The one that they made a live action movie of a few years ago?<p> I'm guessing it is. To be honest, even though I live in Japan, I only know the live action version. That was pretty good though! Cheap in parts (mainly because it probably WAS cheap), but it was pretty cool & the ending was far more expansive than most Hollywood movies. <p> It's been a few years since I saw it, so I may be wrong, but think a better looking "Attack Of The Clones", done on a much smaller budget.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:10 p.m. CST

    Not sure how I feel about this

    by SamBlackChvrch21

    Give me Classic Casshern any day/

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:11 p.m. CST

    Is this the same Casshern?

    by The Dark Shite

    The one that they made a live action movie of a few years ago?<p> I'm guessing it is. To be honest, even though I live in Japan, I only know the live action version. That was pretty good though! Cheap in parts (mainly because it probably WAS cheap), but it was pretty cool & the ending was far more expansive than most Hollywood movies. <p> It's been a few years since I saw it, so I may be wrong, but think a better looking "Attack Of The Clones", done on a much smaller budget.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:13 p.m. CST

    Sorry for the double post.

    by The Dark Shite

    Not quite sure how that happened.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Casshern Sins starts out so well...

    by GodMars

    But in the end it fails to pay off. I truly loved the first half dozen episodes or so, and then felt utterly disappointed by the end of the series.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 12:43 p.m. CST

    GURREN LAGAAN = The ULTIMATE Stoner Anime

    by LaserPants

    I also think it's a beautiful work of art. They try to hide it with spastic comedy from time to time, but as the series progresses, the Cosmic Profundity of it all defines it and makes it one of the best anime of all time. Great, heartbreaking (though also oddly hopeful) ending too. I'm surprised it's not more popular. I think it's brilliant.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 2:51 p.m. CST

    Casshern

    by nicegoogly

    I saw this entire new series. While I agree with Scott Green that it takes a lot of risks that pay off, it really does alienate true Casshern fans. The ending is not a mindboggling as Evangelion, but watching the original TV series and the OVA, this new Casshern is not really the idea they had in mind. He is not quite the hero we want him to be. Also, Gurren Lagaan is great. The animation is great, the story is original and the bittersweet ending does actually feel a bit uplifting. You can finish your part of the fight but the fight will always go on with another hero type of vibe. If you have Netflix, it is on instant view so there is no excuse that an entire anime series costs too damn much to watch. Also, check out Air Gear. Cool series, but funny as hell.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 2:57 p.m. CST

    I prefer the Yasuomi Umetsu version way over SINS

    by Stalkeye

    Great animation,better designs and not to mention a killa theme/intro that gives the OVA the edge.This was my first exposure to Casshern/Casshan which reminded me of Magnus the Robot fighter.SIns couldnt really hold my interest for that long and the ending which i had skipped straight to was kinda lame.<p>the live action movie would have been much better if the story and pacing were tweaked a bit but for what it was, It's worth a rental.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 3:11 p.m. CST

    by Omar B

    I'll check it out, I loved the movie.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 3:22 p.m. CST

    Wait: there really WAS a fan-made Giant Robo sequel??

    by JasonPratt

    I thought that was an urban legend...

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 9:12 p.m. CST

    I wasn't sure about this

    by veritasses

    but maybe I'll check it out...<BR><BR> And btw, I like these short, one off reviews a lot more then the long compilations.

  • Aug. 20, 2010, 9:39 p.m. CST

    Check it out, it's an interesting EMO take on Casshern

    by mistergreen

  • Aug. 21, 2010, 12:56 a.m. CST

    @The Dark Shite

    by Uzala

    It does indeed appear to be yet another reinventing of the Casshern from that live action movie from a few years ago. Scott Green briefly acknowledges it in the column (didn't sound too pleased with it). It all dates back to an anime TV series from the '70s. You can find more info on the character at Wikipedia.

  • Aug. 21, 2010, 5 a.m. CST

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  • Aug. 21, 2010, 10:20 p.m. CST

    Cashhern Sins is depressing from start to finish...

    by Johnno

    And that's not a bad thing. I'm just saying you need to be in the mood for it to get the most from it. I enjoyed it. Gurren Lagaan is also awesome for totally different reasons.

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  • Aug. 22, 2010, 12:37 a.m. CST

    Is this movie a dream ?

    by PTSDPete

    I ask a fucking question here.

  • Aug. 22, 2010, 8:46 a.m. CST

    Don't diss Kaz Kiriya's Casshern.

    by Fist Dirtbox

    Fantastic effort considering the tiny budget. Only snag is the only English translation worth getting is the original JP dvd. UK dvd is a nice transfer but has clunky, overly literal sub-titles, and the US version is butchered down by 25 mins.