So here we are. The final entry (so far) in the Casshern franchise.
One of the reasons I set out to cover the Casshern saga is because it’s an anime property that as a whole doesn’t really have a huge number of fans in the west and I thought that was a bit of a shame considering I think every installment is well worth checking out. Sins however has somewhat of a cult following and seems to have been picking up more fans in recent years. It’s certainly the most well known of all of the entries produced, largely in part to it being a relatively recent show compared to the 70’s and 90’s productions.
From the very beginning of Sins first episode you know the show will not give a dedicated Casshern fan anything close to what they expect. For one thing, Braiking Boss is not the central antagonist anymore (a staple of the franchise until now). Eventually recurring bad guys do present themselves but instead the early episodes focus on Casshern’s wanderings through a wasteland devastated by a terrible plague upon robots and humans alike known as “the ruin”. It makes robots rot and waste away at a hugely accelerated rate, rusting from within until they simply crumble to dust. Little to no humans seem to have survived at all.
Because Casshern’s body is pristine and completely untouched by the ruin, a rumour among the robots of the wasteland has surfaced. It is said that by killing him and devouring his body that a robot can become immortal. In an early episode Casshern asks a robot challenging him to a fight if he really believes such a stupid rumour to which the robot replies “Not really, but then not trying to save my life when I perhaps could have done something about it is too wretched to even contemplate”.
In the 1973 show the majority of robots trying to destroy our hero were sent by Braiking Boss to stop the only thing standing in the way of his domination of the world. In this show most of them simply fight out of desperation and a scant hope of survival. Made worse for the titular hero is the fact that he doesn’t even want to fight and certainly doesn’t want to kill, in fact often he would rather die himself. However every single time, whether he wants to or not, somehow he emerges victorious. His body seems to act almost of its own accord, shifting into a sort of self defence mode with superhuman combat skills which no other robotic being seems to be able to survive. He has no memory of why he was created or how he can fight so well, everything about his past is a mystery.
Sins can be a bleak and depressing show in places and it is the constant rumination about life and death, the worth of life and trying to hold on to it or find meaning and value in it that makes it a show that is definitely NOT for everyone. When it’s not waxing philosophical it can also be extremely grim.
For example In episode 2 Casshern meets a friendly group of robots who have resigned themselves to the fate of the ruin in a small town and are rather sadly, waiting for the inevitable. There’s even a sweet robot couple who seem strangely human and are in love with each other. As the ruin sets in they become more and more scared and desperate until all of a sudden Casshern is confronted by a whole town full of wild eyed robots hungry for one thing…..his blood. This episode is extremely unsettling. Seeing previously sweet and innocent characters become akin to monsters isn’t easy to watch.
The series has a small cast of characters. Friender, Casshern’s robot canine companion (in this continuity not created for this purpose) joins him a few episodes in and he is accompanied on most of his journey by a haunted and beautiful young woman called Lyuze.
Lyuze confronts Casshern with the intention of killing him for the murder of her sister and a girl called Luna. Fans will recognise this as the name of the character who was Casshern/Tetsuya’s childhood friend and constant companion throughout the original show. Here however, the pair have no such connection. Luna’s murder according to Lyuze triggered the ruin and so Casshern by proxy is responsible for destroying the world as we know it. Of course he has no memory of any of this but based on the destruction and trail of dead robots wherever he goes he doesn’t doubt that she’s telling the truth.
There’s also a young robot girl called Ringo and her guardian, a man named Ohji who Lyuze and Casshern cross paths with more than a few times. Many of the most peaceful and beautiful moments of the series are about the way she sees things, with the sort of wonder and awe that only children can. While many moments with Casshern and Lyuze venture into some very dark territory, Ringo always seems incorruptible despite also having to bear witness to a catalogue of horrors.
While Braiking appears briefly at the beginning he doesn’t really become a recurring character in the series until quite a way in and the series keeps his role in everything quite mysterious until very close to the end.
It’s difficult to say too much more character wise without spoilers. Leda and Dio would seem to be the main antagonists of the series, the designs of their outfit and abilities mirror Casshern’s own. Could they have been created by the same hand as him?
There are some great one off characters and some who only show up a couple of times. I particularly like Janice the songstress (whose haunting songs give the inhabitants of the wasteland hope) and Dune, a decaying and insane robot, who was once Luna’s bodyguard kept alive by a hunger for revenge.
Sins is an apt title for the show. Casshern’s soul is weighed down by them and Lyuze following close behind him wherever he goes is a painful reminder of his nature. A creature not robot nor human seemingly created with the sole purpose of death and destruction, caught in an endless cycle of violence.
Can he find any sort of redemption? Was he really responsible for the ruin? Who created him and why? These are all questions the series eventually addresses, and I think the answers are pretty satisfying and worth sticking around for. Some people may find the show a bit meandering but most of what it does is with purpose. It is however a show that rewards the patient. On a first viewing it may seem like some episodes don’t move things along plot wise, however there’s always a few things happening in each one that do. Some of them are subtle and in the background but they’re there.
An unusual storytelling technique the show uses is that it often (but not in every episode) shows a pre-credit sequence of Casshern’s confrontation with Luna that led to her murder. Each episode that features it we see more of the same scene, filling in a little bit more of the details each time. It’s a clever technique and one that definitely creates a sense of intrigue.
Story wise Sins comes out on top when stacked against its previous anime counterparts (though with the OVA only being a few episodes long I guess you can’t really compare those two). Aesthetically parts of the show are eye popping to look at. The fights are beautifully animated and when Casshern’s mouthguard raises and his eyes light up you know you’re in for an incredibly detailed, fast paced ballet of death and cybernetic carnage that’s fluid and often awe inspiring.
The show also uses colour in artistic ways, you wouldn’t know it from the early episodes which have a dull palette (likely to reflect the post apocalyptic wasteland and set the dark tone early on) but as the series progresses it’s is a kaleidoscope of colour, often framing key scenes in unusual ways.
Part of the appeal of Casshern Sins for me lies in the way it subverts different conventions of the saga and that it’s so different to the entries that went before. I’m glad I watched all the shows in production order as by the time I got to this one I felt I appreciated it more for what it did so differently compared to the others. That being said if it’s the only Casshern show you choose to watch you’re not missing anything other than the context of the different elements of the show compared to previous series.
If you’re a sensitive person like myself who often empathises with fictional characters you might want to have a few tissues to hand as well. The show has its fair share of emotional moments. Maybe that’s just me though. Director Shigeyasu Yamauchi and the animation staff imbue each character with so much humanity and expression in their faces at times that it’s hard not to feel for them.
In summary: If stories about robots with philosophical tendencies are your thing and you don’t mind a slower pace then you’ll get a lot of out of it. There’s enough good action scenes for people who want that out of a show, however don’t expect an action packed thrill ride, it’s a thoughtful, often quiet and poignant series. For me it’s a tie between this and the original 1973 show for my favourite iteration of Casshern. Having said that though, if you only check out the 1993 OVA for its beautiful animation and Yasuomi Umetsu character design you still should.
If you haven’t read the review of the original series please check it out as it’s one of my favourite articles.
Availability on disc: The US has both DVD and Blu Ray editions of Casshern Sins on Funimation’s video label while the UK currently only has a DVD set from Manga Entertainment. There was a “Part 1” Blu Ray release of the first half of the series but sadly they never released the second one to my knowledge. I guess it wasn’t a big seller for them so they canned it.
Well that’s it for our journey throughout the history of Casshern. I hope you enjoyed this series of retrospectives and that it might encourage you to watch some of the shows or the movie. Please feel to comment on this article below, I love hearing from people who read the blog and I appreciate any feedback!