Watching this was actually a rather nostalgic choice. Not that I have any history with the franchise or its original rendition from the ’70s, but it coincides with a particular instance in my life that changed me (for the better?). We can get to this with time; for now, I’m going to implement a “less is more” approach to writing this entry. Casshern Sins thinks that philosophy is stupid.
A Quick Anecdote
Pop quiz: Which of these anime kickstarted my “anime renaissance” and gave birth to the first “Summer of Anime“?
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- Deadman Wonderland
- Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu
Those prudent would have just clicked the link and scrolled down to the first entry in the list. If you instead took a wild guess and said Deadman Wonderland, then good job! You’re a great guesser. What does this have to do with anything? Personal history!
When Cartoon Network’s Toonami block was relaunched in 2012 as part of the Adult Swim program, it re-introduced itself with two specific series (that I recall): Deadman Wonderland and Casshern Sins. My buddy, who was instrumental in said anime renaissance occurring, got really into Deadman Wonderland specifically and urged me to watch it. Alas, Casshern Sins ended up “the one that got away,” as I never went back to see how it fared despite knowing of its existence. More than nine years later, it finally gets its fair viewing.
“Less is more.” The idea that specific themes or messages are better suited when orchestrated simply and minimally. A lot of old Disney animated films orchestrate this with fairly simplistic storylines and characters, both with almost one-note execution. Cinderella has a girl who wishes for a better life of magic and romance, yet her family circumstances are dreadfully wicked, almost for no discernible reason. It works because it sticks to this core theme and doesn’t overaccentuate itself further than need-be (and it has pretty nice animation).
Where Casshern Sins ends up failing to deliver is in balancing story with meaningful content. Instead, it overextends itself to the point of monotony. Characters end up having nothing to do and certain episodes, especially later on, feel incredibly filler-like. Before getting too deep in that, though, allow me to get something off my chest.
This Is Basically Mega Man (X)
The original Casshern series debuted in 1973; Mega Man was conceived in 1987. It’s entirely possible that the plot to Mega Man and its various elements were inspired by Casshern. And via Google search, I was correct in assuming so!
Casshern Sins, though, is more like Mega Man X, or at least what X wishes to be. A dreary world of destruction and human-robot warfare. A titular hero that has horrible, destructive power but hesitates to use it carelessly. Braiking Boss looks almost identical to Sigma; Casshern looks kind of like X in his Armor of Light set. Veering back into OG Mega Man comparisons, there’s a robot dog companion (Rush/Friender) and a “rival” version of the main hero whose only motivation is to defeat them (Bass/Dio).
This doesn’t really mean much to the general nature of Casshern Sins‘ quality. I just wanted to be a nerd.
Know When to End Things
This, more than anything, is my major criticism of this series: It’s too long. Humanity is on the brink of extinction; robots now have to face “The Ruin,” a mysterious phenomena that renders them mortal. After an undetermined amount of time, robots will wither away, facing “death” for the first time.
Initially, this subject matter is situated beautifully. Through the first five or six episodes, Casshern Sins supplies a healthy amount of angst and gloominess that suits the purpose of its tone and central message. Existentialism—what does it mean to be alive? How does a society spoiled by immortality now face the prospect of an ending? And what of Casshern, a central figure that single-handedly brought The Ruin into existence? A lot of different interesting angles introduced kept the pace consistently refreshing.
Unfortunately, it kept going. And going. And going… and going… Through episode six, I was thoroughly impressed and optimistic about its future; through episode twelve, I bemoaned that I was only halfway through the whole thing. At a certain point, the series simply has nothing left to say. So to fill in the time, they try to do a number of different things.
Repeating the same point ad nauseum. Filler episodes that mean next to nothing in the grand scheme. Giant exposition dumps that Casshern repeats in the form of a question. (Ex: “The world is filled with unchecked privilege.” “Unchecked privilege?”) An episodic formula of “Meet character in the beginning that dies by the end.” Gratuitously corny English singing. Etc.
I would have loved to have seen this be a miniseries, rather than an arbitrary two-cour series that’s stretched out far too long. One can only go so long with the dreariness that this anime supports before it comes across as dull. Characters become too vague in their ambitions, the art direction loses its luster (very muddied), and the story pacing becomes awkward. This is a dictionary definition of a “trainwreck”: all fun in the beginning, only to crash by the end.
Of course, for those who don’t mind a slow(er as it goes) pace and a lot of anxiety-fueled plot devices, this is a pretty solid series. Let me reiterate that I really liked the series when it started. Like, 7-8/10 worthy. Really cool stuff! Unfortunately, for me, it derailed right around the halfway point and rarely gained back that trust I developed at the start. (The final three episodes were fine.)
Technically a trainwreck, but you could do worse! A really intriguing way to turn what’s essentially a Saturday-morning cartoon and re-purpose it into a moody sci-fi drama. Again, I just wish it handled its content in a more streamlined, succinct manner. Goes on for far too long and eventually loses the audience with a lot of uneventful circumstances that could be cut altogether. Also occasionally really funny, which is not what you want from an existential drama (right?).
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.