Moody stuff from this reboot of the 1973* anime; a bleak, quiet series that still has a steady stream of battles but which divided fans upon release.
I know that changing the tone (and also canonical story elements) with a reboot can be risky, but without having seen the original, I basically accepted the anime ‘as is’, though I could see the influence of the past on the character design for sure.
But it’s time to get to the premise – which is, the overpowered robot Casshern wanders a wasteland that is falling further into ruin, a ruin that he created, but cannot remember. On top of this, nearly everyone wants to kill him because they believe it will save them from the relentless decay.
It’s a grim story full of desperate folks, shown in shadow or washed out colours, contrasted by the brightness of a few key characters, mostly Ringo. I was pretty much enchanted, which is an odd word perhaps, considering what I’ve just described, but I was hooked by the visuals and also the need for Casshern to succeed, to make things better.
Earlier in the review, I mentioned that there were a lot of battles but it’s not precisely an action-heavy series. In addition to the destruction of many, many robots, the anime features an equal or higher share of silences, wandering, or characters facing off with their stares as much as anything else. It’s dramatic, and that drama is matched by the direction or at least, shot composition, with all the extreme close-ups being fish-eyed, and plenty of silhouette shots too.
More, the drama continues via the stylised, at times samurai-like combat, which ranges from ‘single slash’ to ‘slow-motion-acrobatic’. I think it’s very much about maintaining the graceful aesthetic that the slender characters posses. On a vaguely related not, it’s interesting that Lyuze has less of the ‘70s vibe of others, and more a 2000s ‘urban’ costume.
Time to switch to dot points, I think:
- Staying with the action sequences a moment, many are quick, to show Casshern’s dominance, but the first struggle against Dio is great, it had the most tension for me – more so than their final encounter.
- Luna is a pretty great villain, an extremely selfish thing that operates almost on reactionary whim, which makes her a fantastic false prophet in a way.
- Ringo is almost unbearably bright and cute – and thus very welcome, a very necessary character that brings balance, I reckon.
- One of my favourite characters is Dune, but I have a bit of trivia instead of a note about the character. I found it interesting that same voice actor is behind both Dune and Akoes – but more so, it is the criminally underrated Yūto Nakano, whom I instantly recognised as ‘Ginko’ from Mushi-Shi.
- Sometimes the sharp, ‘snapping’ approach to the ruin (for robots) made me wonder whether Land of the Lustrous and their shattering crystals were accidentally foreshadowed here, which was fun.
- Character design was a real stand out for me across the series – there’s the extreme grace of the key robots like Casshern, Dio, Leda and Lyuze etc, but the ‘redshirt’ robots are far blockier, far more 70s but in a different way. Sometimes, I got a Code Geass feel too, especially due to the prominence of triangles, and with some of the more insectoid looks.
- There’s an episode for Lyuze that’s kinda odd, but I think I see mostly what it was going for with her internal struggle.
- Across the whole of Casshern Sins, the episodic wandering half feels like it contains more of my favourite moments, like those with singer Janice or Margo the painter perhaps.
- Because it’s ultimately a dystopian show, there’s that loss of ‘humanity’ which turns the desperate into the animalistic, and really adds to the bleakness. However, when I think about contrasting scenes with bright, more vivid colours (often featuring flowers and general cuteness) these moments are often undercut by the menace of fear – my worry for Ringo or other innocents.
- And further, there’s a fantastically melancholy soundtrack, which is beautiful but has a similar function to underscore the threat of the ruin, the transient nature of everything in Casshern’s world.
- Transience is definitely a key theme, and how different characters deal with that knowledge, whether it’s a more gentle approach like Ohji or a more pitiful – and probably contemptible one – like with Leda.
To finish at last, I want to mention the ending – because Casshern Sins is definitely about robots fighting, but it’s also a redemption quest that doesn’t quite work out the way I was expecting, which was great.
There are a few ‘final’ fights in those last episodes but the real climax is actually Casshern’s promise to Luna, which I won’t spoil, but it’s an extremely satisfying close to the anime’s theme, even if it isn’t an all-guns blazing conclusion.
* One day I’d like to compare the two eras, especially because I think it’ll be a stark contrast.
[Turns out I have more than one post in mind for Casshern Sins, so I’ll link it here but it’s mostly because I took too many screencaps (as usual!). In the post, I’ll go over a few things I mention here, I think, like the ‘shatter effect’ and some of the combat or small things I didn’t include here.]