He-man, Transformers, Thundercats, Ninja Turtles... just a short list of cartoons I remember fondly from my youth that in recent years have been remade for the current generation to enjoy. The trend of recycling animation ideas isn't restricted to the west however. Japan is also guilty of rummaging through its back catalogue for modern day anime inspiration. One such example is Casshern Sins, which I am reviewing today. The series is a reimagining of a seventies cartoon show about a noble cyborg who protects mankind from the wicked robotic forces of the villainous Braiking Boss. I'm not familiar with the original show, but I decided to pick up this DVD set as I recognized the lead character from his appearance in the excellent Tatsunoko vs Capcom video game for the Wii.
The interesting thing about Casshern Sins is that the title character isn't fighting to save the world, but is actually responsible for its downfall. Set in a futuristic world were sentient machines outnumber humans; the cybernetic Casshern is ordered by robot leader Braiking Boss to assassinate a mysterious girl named Luna. Heralded as mankind's salvation, Luna is blessed with the power to grant eternal life, which Braiking Boss fears could eventually lead to humans dominating the robot race. When Casshern murders Luna it unleashes a blight upon the land referred to as the Ruin. For reasons unknown the atmosphere has turned corrosive condemning all robots to a slow death as their components gradually begin to rust away.
When the series begins we see Casshern roaming the post apocalyptic wasteland his actions have helped to create. We soon learn that eradicating Luna has robbed him of his memories and also cursed him with immortality. In stark contrast to the decaying robots he meets along his journey, Casshern's body remains pristine. He seems unaffected by the effects of the Ruin and is even able to regenerate from life threatening injuries within a matter of seconds. Rumors have began to circulate that feasting on Casshern's flesh will spare you from succumbing to the Ruin, resulting in the amnesiac protagonist getting pursued by desperate automatons trying to stave off the advances of the Grim Reaper.
Casshern Sins runs for twenty-four episodes and this first volume contains the first dozen chapters of the series. This set's contents deal mostly with episodic tales were Casshern wrestles with his guilt as he comes across the world's inhabitants who desperately cling onto what little remains of their lives. During this journey we see how Casshern meets his canine companion Friender, clashes with a female robot who's only joy in life is killing others and an encounter with a factory worker who wants to complete the tower she is constructing by using Casshern's body for spare parts. Other highlights include an escort mission were Casshern protects a singer traveling to a stage for her final performance and a touching tale about a malfunctioning android girl who tends to a flower garden situated in a robot graveyard.
One of the show's highlights would have to be the visuals, which despite being stylish play homage to the look of the original series (particularly the cartoony designs of the mechanical henchmen Casshern destroys on a regular basis.) Speaking of destruction, the action scenes do a good job of showcasing the lead character's impressive acrobatic skills. After watching a few battles I did however begin to tire of Casshern's overuse of a pirouetting roundhouse kick to dispatch foes. Adding a few more combat moves to his repertoire would have enhanced the fighting choreography considerably.
As far as characters go Casshern isn't easy to like given that he spends a large chunk of the series moping about the disaster he has caused and how, when threatened, he goes into a frenzy that causes him to harm innocents as well as the bad guys after his blood. If he didn't dress in an all white garb I would accuse him of being an emo. Thankfully the supporting cast is more amiable than the lead. Casshern regularly crosses paths with a mechanic named Ohji who takes care of a bubbly girl called Ringo. Her upbeat demeanor helps to counteract the depressing vibes emanating from the main star. The show's antagonist, named Dio, is also an interesting character who sings about holy divers and is obsessed with proving that he is a better warrior than Casshern (before anyone writes in, yes the first part of that sentence is a joke.)
Despite my jabs at the likeability of the main character, I do think this first part of the Casshern reboot deserves four stars. I'm not sure that the average anime viewer will echo my sentiments though as the slow pacing will put many off. Fans of the original show may also not approve of the more dark and gritty tone the creators have gone with, which has little semblance to the seventies cartoon. The main story, which is an exploration into how people deal with their impending mortality, isn't as deep as it purports to be, but I found it captivating all the same. It's not a series I would rewatch regularly though. Much as I admire the series the bleakness of the narrative can make Casshern Sins a hard slog to get through.