“Ruin is the salvation of man and machine.”
Beneath the flamboyant exterior of fast action fight scenes and fancy shot compositions are some deceptively introspective conversations and themes. The director of this series, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, also headed Kimi no Iru Machi, which stylishly explored the psychology of love. In Casshern Sins the central themes are 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 emotion 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 life until they knew that they’d die. Having been immortal up until the Ruin, knowing 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—so to speak—to seize an opportunity to regain their immortality.
By the halfway point, listening to bleak soliloquies on death, hope, and hopelessness became mildly taxing. To an extent, this is forgivable considering that death is a new experience for the robots. For beings abruptly faced with inevitable annihilation, a persistent trepidation is a natural reaction. Humans, despite experiencing death for around 200,000 years, still widely suffer from denial and death anxiety.
The sentimentality and melodrama are usually complemented with slow strings or an acoustic guitar. The action scenes are scored more aggressively, often utilizing tremolo strings or heavy horns like those heard in 90s historical-action. Sometimes there’s no score at all, and the scene is simply textured with the ambient sounds of wind, rain, or debris.
The overall style is retro by 2016 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 empathetic viewers. The one prominently featured 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 repetition, occasional missteps in characterization, and some massive 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.