As promised this is the second of four articles about the various different iterations of the Casshern anime franchise. This time we’ll be taking a look at the second animated version from 1993. An OVA (Original Video Animation) series and the first Casshern anime to be released in the united states and England. In Japan it was known simply as Casshern with no subtitle but “Robot Hunter” was added to the English language release title.
So how does it differ from the original series? Well obviously being made twenty years later means that the art and animation are more polished than the 70’s version. Yasuomi Umetsu provided the character designs and I think they suit the Casshern universe quite well. Umetsu’s character designs may be familiar to you if you’ve seen the controversial Kite or Mezzo Forte. He also provided designs for another modernised Tatsunoko OVA that he made a year after this one, the 1994 Gatchaman OVA which fans should definitely check out. His CV is pretty prestigious having also worked on such gems as Megazone 23 and Robot Carnival.
The updated mechanical design is great too. I particularly like how almost all of the expendable robot types Braiking Boss commanded in the original have a modern counterpart in this new version that look much sleeker while keeping the key parts of the original design like the shape, colour scheme and weapons. Braiking himself hasn’t changed a great deal however now he has evil looking needle-like teeth and some kind of visor or lens over one of his eyes.
Casshern’s design is quite similar though gone are his effeminate eyes that were a staple of Amano’s previous character design, he looks more masculine in this version. Friender looks more fierce but his design is a bit bulkier than he was originally. I didn’t talk much about Braiking’s lieutenants in the previous review but in the 73 anime he had three of them: Akubon, Barashin and Sakagure. All of their designs were a bit silly looking and not very threatening. Now Akubon definitely looks much more evil, Sakagure has been replaced by a scantily clad female lieutenant called Sagria (possibly his female parallel universe equivalent) and Barashin looks kind of the same but a little more nicely designed.
Luna is deliberately much sexier in this version (Umetsu is quite well known for making hentai and anime with sexual content after all so anyone familiar with his work will likely not be too surprised by this).
The story setup is similar but with quite a few differences. The original show had events unfold in sequence and began before the android BK-1 became Braiking Boss and before Tetsuya became Casshern. Here it begins with all these events having already happened and the world already battling Andro Force’s evil robots (it’s said to be three years since the invasion begun). Instead of androids this time round they’re called “Neoroids”. Casshern is a legend, some don’t even believe that he exists.
Luna is a freedom fighter who battles Andro Force and infiltrates one of their bases early in the first episode. She has been looking all over the world for Tetsuya (it’s revealed quite early on that he was her boyfriend before the war broke out). This is an interesting difference that probably says a lot about how Casshern’s fanbase had grown up in the years between the first show airing and this one being made. While it was clear that Luna loved Tetsuya in the 70’s show it was never definitively stated that they had ever been in any kind of relationship other than being close friends. When Casshern first appears traversing the landscape with Friender he wears a cloak and wrap around his head concealing his identity. The two meet but he denies that he’s Tetsuya, giving her the old adage of “The man you knew died some time ago” that all fans who’ve seen at least one “hero back from the dead” story will recognise.
Soon after she’s captured by Akubon and is about to be publicly executed when Casshern turns up to save her, eliminating any doubt she had of his identity. That’s a very brief summary of the first episode. From there Luna helps other freedom fighters mass produce her MF gun to turn the tides of the war and Casshern battles his way towards a final confrontation with Braiking Boss.
Because this OVA is only four episodes long and runs for less than two hours it doesn’t have a lot of time to tell a story like the original TV series did. Before I watched it I expected it to be a kind of “brief look into the universe” kind of approach where all the major characters appear and there’s some action and story but not everything’s wrapped up. Except this OVA doesn’t do that at all. It actually tries to tell a complete story in four episodes. Because of this the story isn’t completely cohesive and I expect there will be some newcomers who didn’t watch the original who may not enjoy it as much. Elements of the plot regarding Braiking Boss being programmed with “Rules” by Dr Azuma and having some sort of remnant of Azuma’s consciousness within him are interesting but not very well explained (or possibly not very well translated in the official release, I’m not sure). It seems in this OVA Braiking did not go crazy and is actually completely sane but his way of thinking on Azuma’s rules is perhaps a little skewed to serve his own personal views. Kind of like some religious extremist or cultist who commits acts of violence to suit his own interpretation of a religious text. This time around instead of eradicating humans he wants to preserve the natural world and take control away from them because he believes they are needlessly damaging their own environment, something Azuma seemingly believed in himself.
While Tetsuya/Casshern had his demons in the original show he is portrayed as much more troubled here. He has doubts about his ability to win the fight, seemingly about whether everything is worth saving and even wonders how long his humanity will last. In one unsettling scene he tells Luna that there’s no way of knowing how long it will be until his human memories fade (effectively erasing his entire identity) and even tells her his fears that he may end up one day becoming another tyrant like Braiking.
I think one of the OVA’s strengths lies in the portrayal of the relationship between Tetsuya and Luna and the fact that their doomed romance in this version really does feel quite genuinely sad and is not overly melodramatic. Though the 1973 version had some nice moments between the two characters the fact this OVA is aimed at an adult audience gives it more of an ability to explore this in greater detail.
The final episode isn’t as satisfying as it could be. Without giving too much away after the final fight against Braiking events take a rather surreal turn when compared to the original’s much more realistic and natural ending. Also while the final showdown between Braiking and Casshern is nicely done it doesn’t really have a great deal of tension in this reviewer’s humble opinion.
Though the art is beautiful and the animation is much more modern the production values aren’t as good as some anime of the 1990’s. There are a couple of scenes (usually during Casshern’s air acrobatics) where the frames are animated with a kind of slow motion effect that purposefully misses frames of animation to create an impression of speed) it’s not clear if this was a purely artistic choice or whether it was to save money but it does feel a little cheap at times. Usually though the show as a whole looks quite nice, some good detail when Casshern is cleaving robots in two or kicking and punching right through them. All of his special abilities from the original series are retained and well realised.
There are some nice nods to the original series and it even directly re-uses some shots from the show such as an updated version of a sequence from the 73 version’s end credits that shows Andro Force soldiers marching down a city street from the perspective of a sewer grate, likely indicating someone hiding in terror from the robotic menace.
The music score has a dramatic and melancholic theme that’s used to good effect. Usually in moments where Casshern is reflecting on the past and the beginning of Andro Force’s invasion or romantic interludes with Luna. While I enjoy the score a lot the opening and ending themes aren’t anything to write home about. Interestingly enough there is a moment in the opening sequence where Casshern walks in front of collapsing skyscrapers falling behind him while covered in a shroud that echoes a scene with Kenshiro in the 1986 Fist Of The North Star movie.
So would I recommend the 1993 Casshern anime? it’s an interesting watch for sure and I’d say a lot of people who haven’t seen the original will enjoy it though I think it works better as a companion piece to the 1973 version for people who are already fans. Comparing some of the differences between the two is quite fun.
Despite a lot of attempts to modernise it one very old school aspect they kept was the narrator saying at the end of every episode “If Casshern can’t do it who will?” i guess that familiarity of hearing that in every episode was obviously a fondly remembered aspect of the original show for many Japanese fans.
Judging by its many positive reviews online from people who seem to be only familiar with this version I guess it has a decent fanbase. Like many old school OVAs it has a fair few flaws but if you like science fiction, particularly of the post apocalyptic type and you just want to watch a short little series with some good ideas and nice art you could certainly do a lot worse than this one.
Availability on DVD: Currently there is a DVD release from both Discotek (US) and Manga Video (UK) both include a subtitled and dubbed version. The UK release is a strange beast in that it contains a dubbed only “movie edit” (Which was how the OVA was first released in the US) and also a subbed version on a separate disc featuring the original 4 episode edit as it was released in Japan. The UK disc has a commentary by Johnathan Clements, a well known critic in British anime fandom and the co-author of the anime encyclopedia and is well worth a listen. Where a British and an american release exists I usually try to compare both but I was unable to in the case of this series because for some reason the Discotek disc won’t work on my multi region player. 80% of my anime collection are imported US DVDs but for some reason this one refuses to work, I own tons of Discotek’s other releases so no idea why this one is an issue. So…long story short I wasn’t able to compare the two due to this issue.
Note: Screencaps were taken from an HD TV screening. At the moment there is no commercially available English language Blu Ray release I know of.