Anne no Nikki

46771lOn June 12th, 1929, about ten-years before the start of World War II, Annelies Marie Frank was born to parents Otto and Edith Frank in Frankfurt, Germany. Rendered stateless by the Nazis in 1941, and without any means to flee the country, Anne and her family were forced into confinement for two-years in a cramped attic to avoid persecution. While staying there, Anne documented her life in a now famous diary, which has since been adapted into movies, plays, and even an anime.

It was surprising to learn that an anime of Anne Frank’s diary had been made—by Madhouse, no less, one of my favorite studios. I’d known about Anne’s story for a while, but I avoided it because I feared that it might be too depressing for me to handle. Regardless, my curiosity for this especially unique adaptation eventually got the best of me, and I relented.

As expected, this story was difficult to watch. Even seemingly peaceful moments are underpinned by anxiety and melancholy that keeps you from ever feeling at ease. The presence of the Nazis encroaching the lives of Anne and her family are always felt even when they’re not seen. And Anne and her family weren’t the only victims of this time. There were countless other families and individuals across central-Europe who were made to endure similar struggles. It all ultimately begs the questions: Why did this have to happen? How could such paranoid hatred develop?

A lot of care was put into the production of Anne no Nikki. The character designs matched their real-life counterparts, and the animation was often inbetweened on twos, resulting in a lifelike fluidity atypical of anime animation. The soundtrack was minimalist, lightly enhancing the atmosphere of particular moments without being a distraction.

Furthermore, I appreciated the subtlety of the directing. People are portrayed as historical figures rather than as characters. A naturalistic approach is taken that resists the temptation to exaggerate for the sake of dramatic effect. The sedate pacing might be trying for less patient viewers, but a more energetic portrayal wouldn’t have rung true to the actual events that this adaptation drew from.

If I had to dig deep for a flaw, I’d say that there was an occasional tinge of sentimentality, which, considering the strong emotions that were already present, didn’t feel necessary. Despite this, the heart and salient moral lesson that Anne no Nikki paints more than compensates for any apparent flaws.

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Casshern Sins

347549-casshern_sins02“Ruin is the salvation of man and machine.” 

Beneath the flamboyant exterior of fast action fight scenes and fancy shot compositions are some deceptively complex themes. The director, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, who has a propensity for stylish psychological studies, uses Casshern Sins as an opportunity to deconstruct death and hope. 

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 their interests. 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, I was able to feel some pity for the robots. 

There’s some sentimentality and melodrama that’s usually, but effectively, scored with slow strings or an acoustic guitar. You can see the emotional chords that they’re trying to pull, but it’s not too hard to go along with it. 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 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 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.