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 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.

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Wolf Children

6711A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories, but it’s less familiar for the story to extend beyond their relationship and tell the story of their children, detailing the hardships of raising “half breeds” in a prejudiced society adverse to the unordinary.

On the surface, such a premise may seem absurd, but Wolf Children works thanks to the decision of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda to take a fantasy story and package it as a coming-of-age drama. There’s a lot of wonderful humor to be found in this film, but the characters and their experiences are taken completely seriously.

Hana is the quintessential altruistic mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and her children. When she has time to herself, she spends it idly and alone. There’s a niceness and a sadness to this. It’s nice how helping others seems to be her biggest motivator, but it’s sad since she does so little for herself. Perhaps providing for her family is enough?

Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame, are opposites of each other. Yuki, the girl, is rambunctious and loud, and Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more girly, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the more fun character, more screen time is spent on her, and, as a result, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels abrupt and overdramatic.

Visually, Wolf Children is very clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and they’re animated with generous inbetweening. Character designs are neither cartoony or realistic; they’re a mix of the two, leaning more toward realistic. Background characters are in 3D with cel shading, and the background art is detailed but understated. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings.

Wolf Children seems to aspire to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. While it doesn’t quite reach this level, it comes very-very close. There are some aspects of Wolf Children that could be nitpicked, and some aspects that could even be considered troublesome, but the overall experience of this film remains a powerful one that lasts long after the ending credits have rolled.

Anne no Nikki

qnLXtGsAuIIlH6pASsAq9aJcqG1In case you’re one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t already know of Anne Frank, she was a young Jewish writer—born 10 years before the start of World War II—who was forced to live in a cramped hiding area with her family to avoid persecution by the Nazis. During her stay there, she documented her life in a now famous diary, which has since been adapted into movies, plays, and even an anime.

Anne no Nikki was brought to my attention by a fellow MAL user. I was surprised to hear that an anime of Anne Frank’s diary had been made—by Madhouse, nonetheless, one of my favorite studios. I’d known about Anne Frank’s story for awhile, but I avoided it because I feared it might be too depressing for me to handle. However, as a Madhouse fanboy, curiosity regarding this version got the best of me, and I relented and watched it.

As expected, this movie was difficult to watch, and often stressful. Even the peaceful moments had a melancholic undertone that keeps you from feeling completely happy about anything. The presence of the Nazis encroaching the lives of Anne and her family is always felt even when they’re not seen.

On the visual front, the animation—which wasn’t rotoscoped—was outstanding. Character movements were nicely detailed, and most inbetween frames were done on twos resulting in a fluidity not common in the typical anime. The character designs matched their real life counterparts, and the soundtrack beautifully complimented the imagery. A lot of care was put into this production.

The characters had realistic and subdued personalities, and little was exaggerated or played up for dramatic effect. I appreciated the subtlety of the directing, but the sedate pacing may be trying for less patient viewers. It’s not a perfect movie, and there’s an occasional tinge of melodrama, but its heart more than compensates for its flaws.

Texhnolyze

roT0fQITexhnolyze is a show about heavy breathing, grunting, and a pissing contest between a group of gun and sword wielding alpha males in suits who speak in bad mob movie cliches. If you force your imagination enough, you may be able to find something deep in the recesses of this art, but the same could be done if you stared long enough at the textures on a rusty frying pan.

There’s a subplot about “texhnolyzation”, a procedure to repair or upgrade a person using technologies such as mechanical limbs. The transhumanist ideas herein, which have potential, are unfortunately enveloped in a lot of empty atmosphere. Most scenes are comprised of long shots of nothing, sound effects that were ran through one too many flange filters, and cryptic dialog that’s just later reiterated in dull exposition.

The tone is reminiscent of the cheap drawings an angry teenager would sketch up after being sent to his room for cursing out his mother. There’s hardly any diversity among the characters; they all share the same stern facial expression, and communicate by either mumbling or shouting.

Episodes 19 – 22, though still reliant on exposition, are admittedly fascinating as they focus on the aforementioned subplot. With that said, I’m not entirely sure the ending was worth sitting through the preceding 6 hours of tedium. If this show had been around 10 episodes instead of 22, it could have been good, maybe even great.