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.

Mardock Scramble: The First Compression

26215l“I wish I was dead.”

These are the opening words of Mardock Scramble, spoken by 15-year old prostitute Rune Balot, that set the despondent and existential tone for the rest of the series.

The story is set in Mardock City, a futuristic world where the skyline is filled with skyscrapers, cars glide on fluorescent green roads, and everything sparkles like champagne. It’s a stunning place to look at, but it’s also a savage place where cruelty and crime are often left unpunished.

Homicide has become so rampant that the government has authorized a controversial procedure to resurrect victims so that they can testify against their assailants. Many concepts in the series are unusual, and perhaps implausible, but they’re presented with such assertiveness that it’s easy to suspend disbelief.

The main plotline, which is essentially about Rune’s revenge, is likely just a catalyst for weightier themes. There are some fantastical action sequences, but the series feels more like a psychological character study than an action series. Arguably, the most intriguing thing about Mardock Scramble are the deep conversations between the characters. A wide range of topics are covered such as the nature of memories and regret, free will, finding purpose in life, and rebirth.

There’s a lot of hidden symbolism to keep your mind busy if you choose to look for it. Several egg references appear throughout the story. The doctor who performs the resurrection procedure is named Dr. Easter. “Scramble” is, of course, one of the ways in which eggs are cooked. And one of the main characters is named “Oeufcoque”, which is French for “soft-boiled egg.” What all these egg references mean, I’m not sure.

Mardock Scramble is different from the typical anime. The physical features of the characters are naturalistic rather than exaggerated, and their personalities are introspective rather than frantic. It has an electronic and ambient music soundtrack that’s devoid of catchy pop rock singing or guitar riffs. There aren’t any slapstick gags or spit takes. And there isn’t a high school classroom in sight.

If you like science-fiction, fantasy, stylish art, and good animation, and don’t have a problem with scenes featuring graphic violence, mental or physical abuse, and nudity, you should watch Mardock Scramble. If you haven’t read the synopsis yet, don’t. Avoid the trailers, too. The less you know going in, the more surprised you’ll be.

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.