Friday, 30 December 2016

#36. Casshern Sins (2008-9)


Director: Shigeyasu Yamauchi
Screenplay: Akatsuki Yamatoya, Natsuko Takahashi, Reiko Yoshida, Takashi Yamada, Tsutomu Kamishiro and Yasuko Kobayashi
Based on the property from Tatsunoko
Voice Cast: Tohru Furuya (as Casshern); Akiko Yajima (as Luna); Cho (as Ohji); Kenji Utsumi (as Braikingboss); Mami Koyama (as Leda); Nami Miyahara (as Lyuze); Toshiyuki Morikawa (as Dio); Yuko Minaguchi (as Ringo); Yuto Nakano (as Dune)

As can be attested to with Western pop culture characters, the longer a franchise lasts, until it becomes an institution, the likelihood is that it'll be reinvented and have multiple variations on the same basic premise over the decades. This is why Batman is both Adam West campiness and Christopher Nolan's gritty realism at the same time. Casshan is a figure which has developed a long lasting existence alongside other famous creations like him from Tatsunoko such as Gatchaman. Ironically Gatchaman years later would have as much of a drastic transformation for a new generation, thought significantly more light hearted, in Gatchaman Crowds (2013), the same to be found here after Casshan, now Casshern in this 2008-9 adaptation, has gone through various forms. Originating as an android superhero who fights robots, he's gone from children's TV, a more adult straight-to-video anime, a divisive as hell live action adaptation, and this melancholic and frankly bleak eulogy about death.


Casshern, a hero in previous versions, is an amnesic wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland he is entirely responsible for, having brought about a "Ruin", a decay which afflicts robots with rusting to death eventually, that has infected the whole world after killing Luna, a saintly messiah figure of eternal life whose name still rings out in the ruined world. Utterly immune from the Ruin himself, and able to heal any wounds inflicted on him, Casshern has to be pushed to recognise his own guilt by Lyuze, a robot woman who is out for revenge against him for her older sister's death, until he decides to go about to help what remains of the world when it's rumoured Luna is somehow still alive. Followed by Friender, a robot dog once the canine friend of the original franchise and now a fellow wanderer, and Ringo and Ohji, a plucky young girl and an older, cynical father figure who Casshern constantly bumps into, Casshern must deal with his responsibilities and the fact that robots, good and bad, believe they will gain immortality if they devour him and that there's the prescence of Leda and Dio to worry about, two androids who look very similar to Casshern himself who have intentions of ruling over the landscape themselves.

Particularly grim material, by the end unrepentantly dark in its theme of accepting death. It's exemplified by a distinct art style where, even if the character designs are outlandish and exaggerated from figures to hairstyles, their appearances contrasts the bleached out wasteland environments fully, the later a seventies or eighties hued nightmare of decaying cityscapes and ruins falling to dust than more modern takes on the genre. The "cartoonish" nature of the characters doesn't soften the blow but makes it worse, seeing countless one-off characters, even if they're robots, accepting death as they slowly rust and fall apart, the rare human being as likely to die and fade away with only flayed hoped left between flesh and metal.


However Casshern Sins suffers from significant problems, two different ones as the twenty four episode series is split into two distinct halves. The first half makes one of the biggest mistakes you find in anime TV series of being episodic without being compelling. In practice it makes sense, Casshern the character our eyepiece to how the world is as it dies, from a robot who desires to paint a ruined city to make it beautiful again, or a woman attempting to build a bell with what little resources there are around her, but like a lot of episode anime, the result are mere paragraphs of ideas not fully formed and not as told as well as they can be, Satoshi Kon's Paranoia Agent (2004) and Masaaki Yuasa's Kaiba (2008) examples of how one-off characters can leave lasting impressions if the scripts for individual episodes avoid clichés and take risks. This problem if confounded by the fact that,  while distinct and exceptional in visual style, everything having a blistered haze of sand and rush including the screen itself, the show does limit its fluidity and tone, which mixes drama with action scenes, by having a lot of static and closed-in moments of characters merely talking, problematic here despite it being common in anime in general when themes of accepting death are repeated far too many times without new depths to it. The music is also poor, never a big fan of anime J-pop and J-rock barring a few great exceptions and here evidence of how it a lot of modern examples don't even have the cheesy fun of their forefathers and mothers to appeal to me; an episode, underdeveloped, about a female singer brining hope to the survivors by performing a concert is marred by a bland, Stars in Their Eyes-like soppy ballad that climaxes it which sadly becomes the reoccurring theme for later moments about hope.


When it reaches the second half, Casshern Sins stays with a continuing narrative where the protagonists come to terms with their lot but the resulting attempts at profundity do feel cliché and confused. It doesn't help that the last anime I covered on the blog was Haibane Renmei (2002), a far more profound and level headed series which explicitly dealt with death and grieving, but Casshern Sins has to struggle with a popular superhero figure - Casshern still a white clad Power Rangers-like figure in appearance, a nemsis in the show always named ' Braikingboss' in full in dialogue, a robot dog - and using it properly to deal with very serious subject matter, something it doesn't succeed with in this particular case as, baring the tone and look, it doesn't take the risk far enough. The sole moment when a better show briefly appears, offering what could've been, is only in episode eighteen, where the most interesting character Lyuze has an entire episode devoted to her having all her issues - revenge for her sister at Casshern combating against her growing romance for him, slowly succumbing to the Ruin herself - meshing together into a psychodramatic episode long dream, the inner child combating against her older self, full-on and quite mesmerising dream logic, and a surprisingly adult moment for the show where she indiscriminately, in a graffiti covered urban street, goes to have sex with a random man who talks to her only to decapitate him mid-coitus when she realising what she's doing. In this one episode, Casshern Sins offers what the premise should've been, a beloved cartoon superhero of yore being introduced into a bold new direction with actual risk in the storytelling involved.

The final result however is not this. Leda and Dio, who present a fascinating dynamic of Leda being both Dio's Lady Macbeth but a figure with a personal tragedy, and Dio more noble then the villain he's first painted at only wanting to beat Casshern, get a flubbed ending when more is necessary. The final episode even manages to confuse its own message, starting off on the right foot with tragedy, with liked characters passing away, only for the reaction to it and how a specific figure finally acts through hurting others is illogical to think about, ultimately leading to a vague open ending that's not particularly interesting. What is a brave idea, like with Gatchaman Crowds, of adaptation a staple figure into such a drastically different work sadly fails because the material isn't as strong as it should be.