“Ruin is the salvation of man and machine.”
Deceptively complex themes hide beneath a flamboyant exterior of fast action fight scenes and fancy shot compositions. The director, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, who has a propensity for psychological studies and aesthetic stylishness, uses Casshern Sins as an opportunity to deconstruct death and hope in a visually arresting way.
The first episode establishes the premise with a satisfying level of badassery. In the distant future, Robots have evolved sentience, and can feel emotions like humans can. A global “Ruin”—with a capital R, implying that it’s more than an action—was prompted when Casshern, a highly skilled and gaudily dressed fighter, “killed the Sun named Moon.” Now both humans and robots are on the brink of extinction.
The robots hadn’t appreciated their lives until death became a reality for them. Having been immortal up until the Ruin, being confronted with the realization that their existence would soon end terrifies them. For some, particularly the humanoid robots, this fear is quelled by love, community bonds, or passionately engaging in an interest. For others, this fear is expressed violently through random acts of desperation and senseless cruelty.
Everyone except Casshern is affected by the Ruin. As the bodies of the other robots quickly deteriorate, Casshern’s body remains new, and regenerates when it’s damaged. There’s a rumor that the one who “devours” Casshern will become immortal. Consequently, when many robots encounter Casshere and learn of his identity, they have no qualms with abandoning their “humanity” to seize an opportunity to regain their immortality.
By the halfway point of this series, listening to bleak soliloquies on death and hope—but mostly hopelessness—became mildly taxing. To be fair, the trepidation expressed by these robots is understandable when we consider how new of an experience death is for them. Humans have had over 200,000 years to develop coping and denial mechanisms for death anxiety. On this level, it’s not difficult to feel some pity for the robots.
There’s the occasional melodrama and sentimentality, which is effectively scored with slow strings or an acoustic guitar. You can see the emotional chords that they’re trying to pull, but it doesn’t take much effort to go along with it if you withhold cynicism. The action scenes are scored more aggressively, often utilizing tremolo strings or heavy horns like those heard in 90s era historical-action films. Sometimes there’s no score at all, and the scene is simply textured with the sounds of wind, rain, or debris.
The overall style is retro by modern standards, which is to be expected from a director who’s been in the anime industry since the 80s. Unfortunately, this old school style is accompanied by some unflattering old school stereotypes that may annoy some viewers. The one unambiguously black character is a lustful degenerate, and the leading female characters are either manipulative or easily love struck. Even Ringo, an overly cute loli robot who looks like a 4-year-old, fawns over Casshern when she first meets him.
Casshern Sins has brilliant ideas and beautiful animation that are hampered by some repetition, occasional missteps in characterization, and what some might consider plot holes. The faults aren’t enough to Ruin the viewing experience, but they do hold it back from being the psychological masterpiece that it could have been. With all that said, I still recommend this series if you’re looking for something dark and thoughtful to watch.