Like my Simoun post, I am going to do this post in the form of a spoiler-free review followed by a spoilerific summation of how I felt on the series. Expect to see a lot of posts in this formula, since I like it.
Casshern Sins is not for everyone. The show pretty much moves at one pace, and that pace is ‘slow’. There is a lot of silence, introspection, and philosophical dialog. Ordinarily, this would make one assume the show is pretentious (especially since it has a lot of similarities to Texhnolyze), but it really isn’t. Casshern has a very simple plot, very simple dialog, and is easy to understand, so people looking for a mind-blower won’t find it here. The plot and messages of Casshern Sins are much more along the lines of Kino’s Journey or Mushi-shi. However, just like action fans will be turned off by the slow pace, fans of more quiet, contemplative anime might be turned off by the fact that there is at least one fight scene per episode and they can at times be lengthy. So the niche here is kind of small, requiring that you like a good variety of styles. I happen to fall into that niche.
Like most good shows, Casshern is amazing in a number of areas and wouldn’t be the same without any of them. The soundtrack, voice acting, animation, directing, fights, dialog, art – everything aligns just right to create a show that is just about perfect for what it is. I’ll be getting into detail on that now.
Casshern Sins has a very powerful and gripping soundtrack composed by Kaoru Wada (Princess Tutu, Tekkaman Blade, To Heart). The songs are all symphonic, ranging from minimalist and pretty to towering and sinister. The loud songs are very intensely dramatic and dark to the point that some (like the first track Sins) sound outright evil. (Interestingly, that song sounds like the symphonic version of an Opeth song.) The calmer songs are usually very airy and often acoustic-guitar driven. They definitely evoke images of Casshern’s world where you’ve heard them in the background. While either type is great, I prefer the calm songs if only because the more dramatic ones would go better with the show.
There is something very mysterious but also very charming about these calmer songs. They bring a sense of wonder mixed with familiarity. It’s a sense like seeing something totally new, but so enthralling that it feels like home. The ultimate song that captures this feeling is ‘Memory Past’ which is the song that usually played whenever Casshern met someone new and learned their story. The closest real musical comparison I have for this OST is the music in Phendrana Drifts in Metroid Prime which has always been some of my favorite composition. In the context of the series, all of the songs work superbly well to add ten extra layers of tone onto the already tone-tacular series. The music is notable straight from episode 1, which I guess it’d have to be to make me go and find the OST.
In addition to the OST, there has been a Best Theme Collection from this series. The show has one opening theme (Aoi Hana by color bottle) and 3 endings (Reason by KANA, Aoi Kage by Otoya Kichiemon, and Hikari to Kage by Kuno Shinji), the second of which is only used for one episode. The best theme collection has the op and main eds in TV size, several instrumental versions of Aoi Kage, two original tracks by Wada Kaoru, two important vocal insert songs from te series (Sky and A Path by Nami Miyahara who voices Lyuze), and finally, both the original Tatakae! Casshan! theme and a new, heavy version of the song by Otoya Kichiemon.
I personally didn’t care much for the 2 main eds, but I found myself completely unable to skip the op for even one episode. It is easily one of my favorite opening songs in a while. Aoi Kage and the modern Tatakae! Casshan! are both awesome because they manage to play heavy metal acoustics. Anything that can do that is automatically awesome. The old-school Tatakae! Casshan! is the ultimate great touch for lovers of old-school tatsunoko songs. However, great as that all is, Sky and A Path were the real reasons I was interested in this release. These songs made episode 8 of the show amazing and reappear at many great moments later in the show. Both are extemely pretty and wonderful, and Nami Miyahara’s English is excellent (evidently she studied English in Australia).
It’s worth making the statement that Casshern Sins has some of the coolest sound effects ever. The effects during fights are visceral, intense, and completely full of impact. Care was taken to make the sound effects just right and give every hit that needed extra edge. I’m thinking that they made a lot of the effects in the studio, seeing as there were very organic sounds of like pots breaking or the creak of metal. It’s pretty rare I think these days for so much craft to go into sound effects in anime, so it’s pretty notable when it does.
As far as voice acting goes, this show amassed a royal fuckton of talent. Being as there were so many minor characters, a lot of voices were required, and Madhouse didn’t skip out on giving every single character a standout voice. For starters, Casshern himself is voiced by Tohru Furuya (certainly most notable as freaking Amuro Ray, as well as Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya, and Yamcha) which is a very interesting performance. The voice of Casshern is certainly unique, sounding strong but never stern, and in pain but never really weak. The voice adds a lot of mystery to the character, sounding like the robot he is, who doens’t quite understand emotion even though he seems to feel it. The best part though is his wails in agony which are used frequently when Casshern’s body self-repairs. That dude’s wails are frightening.
Nami Miyahara plays Lyuze with the perfect mixture of resolve, confusion, rage, and love. Like Casshern, hers is a very distinct voice. Yuko Minaguchi (Videl – Dragonball, Yawara, Akiko – Kanon) does a completely superb job as Ringo. She should be cast as every single little kid in anime. I’ve never heard a kid voice that managed to sound young and yet in no way annoying. Best kid voice ever. ‘Cho‘ reprises his role as every old man in anime, lol. Akiko Yajime (Diva – Blood+, Shin-chan, Relena Peacecraft, Kuu – Haibane – damn that’s range) brings her mysterious voice to Luna which tricks you with it’s very regal sound until you start to see another side… well that’s a spoiler. Kenji Utsumi (Shenlong – DBZ, Zodd – Berserk, Lt. Armstrong – FMA) is Braiking Boss who he played in the old version of the show as well, bringing a nostalgia factor.
Toshiyuki Morikawa (Who is in everything. His list is totally nuts.) is awesome as Dio. He plays the perfect rival character. His voice has a darkness to it, but not like an evil bad-dude, more like a man driven by dark purposes but full of resolve, which Dio is. Mami Koyama (Lunch – Dragonball – yes, most of the cast worked on Dragonball, Balalaika – Black Lagoon) brings the thunder as Leda who is convincingly evil and conceited, but also has an inner emotional side. Some of my favorite minor character performances include Mami Koyama’s second roll as Lizbell in episode 7 (which is interestng because Koyama is Tohru Furuya’s ex-wife, which when you think about it makes certain scenes very awkward), Tomoko Akiya whose performance as Sophita is borderline creepy and very fun, and Taeka Kawata who plays Nico, the little girl whose brain has been fried.
Casshern Sins is animated by Madhouse. The dudes who brought you (alphabetically) Black Lagoon, Boogiepop Phantom, Death Note, Dennou Coil, Gunslinger Girl, Nana, everything Satoshi Kon, Texhnolyze, Trigun, and X, just to name a few. If you’ve seen none of those, I’ll just say it – they have incredibly high production quality and have been around forever. To give you an idea of how high their budget is, the first half of Casshern Sins aired simultaneously with three other Madhouse shows, the second half with one, all of which had unfaltering high-quality animation throughout. There is pretty much no other studio who can do something like that. So it really comes as no surprise when I say that Casshern Sins has incredibly beautiful animation.
The most instantly and consistently notable thing about Casshern’s art is the luscious backgrounds. The background art is almost incomparably beautiful – almost. Probably only one show matches up to it, it being Mushi-shi, which is why it’s no surprise that Yoshihiko Umakoshi was the art director and character designer for both series (a dual job he’s done for Zipang, Street Fighter Alpha, and Boys Over Flowers, none of which I’ve seen. He also did it for Air Master which doesn’t matter because that show is fugly, probably thanks to budget.) I’ve actually watched an interview with this guy on one of the Mushi-shi DVDs and while he is very boring to listen to, I do remember him saying that he was a perfectionist and would always stress that there be boatloads of detail in the backgrounds, which I guess he’s still up to.
Casshern’s art is almost always barren, lifeless, and cold. The world of Casshern faces ruin (basically, apocalypse) and so there is little life to be found. The landscape is jagged and covered in large mountains, hills, valleys, craters, and deserts of sand and snow. Remnants of civilization can be found, some cold cities have buildings that still tower while others have fallen apart and buildings have become decrepit husks. Some places have become so dry and ruined that the ground has actually crystallized and cracks under every step. Occasionally, though, there are places of lush, brimming life to be found. Secret gardens surviving in caves or wellsprings and oceans. There is definitely a sense of mystery to the world that you can find anything if you look around enough. And, as a character in one episode teaches Casshern, every place in this world is beautiful. As a big fan of dystopic art, I found myself completely enraptured in these wastelands as much as I was mystified by the lush outcropping of life in unexpected places.
Umakoshi’s character designs are drop-dead gorgeous. It takes skills to make a masked superhero with a big red C on his chest and ornamental horns on his helmet fit into a dark, somber setting. But, somehow, he’s done it. Casshern looks like a badass but also looks like he fits into the setting. He is supposed to be a beautiful person, and it’s certainly visible in his design. All of the characters are very tall and lanky, almost like CLAMP designs, but have an added sharpness to them and are actually consistent. I can easily call them some of the best character designs I’ve seen in anime.
What’s most impressive, though, is that a definitive 70s style remains ingrained into the designs. Every one has absurdly big hair and their facial features are very old-school. However, these elements have been perfectly crafted so that the designs still look modern and not ridiculous as they often do when new shows try to use old style. The robots especially represent the old school with their very basic designs, but they have a bloodthirstiness about their designs that makes it unsurprising when they are killing machines. Overall, I’d say my favorite designs from the series were definitely Lyuze and Luna.
Naturally, since this is Madhouse, there are also plenty of exemplary animation techniques. Unfortunately, ANN doesn’t have any animators listed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hiroyuki Imaishi‘s (director of Gurren Lagann and animator of all those wacky scenes in shows like FLCL, Mahoromatic, and even FullMetal Alchemist) name ended up on that list since his trademark over-the-top and hyperactive style is used in many of the fights. The show features a lot of ‘sketchy lines‘ and badass shadow effects. The fight scenes often contain mind-blowing animation tricks that will make people who notice these things cream a huge load.
I think that series director and storyboarder Shigeyasu Yamauchi probably had the biggest impact on the way this series turned out. As you can see on his ANN page, he directed a bunch of the Dragon Ball/Z and Saint Seiya movies and had involvement with their main series (and going by their ANN pages, he would have had experience with nearly all of this show’s seiyuu during those times). The experience with those series can be seen heavily in the fight scenes. When Casshern and Dio fight, nearly every strike rockets someone into a wall which explodes just as the other fighter shoots at them like a bullet for the next blow. There are several scenes where the ground around Dio craters under the sheer fluctuation of his power. Yamauchi definitely wanted to bring the scope and intensity of a DBZ fight to this series, which is something I personally have always wanted to see done in a serious anime. It is made a thousand times better by the huge budget of the show which allows the fights to look amazing, cool, and fluid.
Yamauchi definitely has a great sense of dramatic cinematography. Every shot is carefully composed to look as cool as possible, with characters nearly always in some kind of dramatic pose and the light hitting them just right. This is taken to an almost hilarious extent in some of Casshern’s fights against robot armies because he will literally attack them by kind of jumping at them, striking an epic pose, and somehow causing them to explode. Lighting is impeccable and the use of color is very important. Most of the show has a sort of blue and grey hue to it, but when other colors appear they are striking and noticeable against the backdrop of blue. Overall, I think Yamauchi just does a splendid job and probably had a lot of fun with it.
The overall plot in Casshern Sins is so simple that I could detail the whole thing thoroughly in a small paragraph (but I won’t for spoilers’ sake.) The show’s focus is more on the themes that drive the series and the characters representing or interacting with those themes. That said, while the plot is simple, it is very well-presented and interesting, making it a great driving force for the action and themes.
All of the show’s themes relate directly to the conflict between life and death. The dark, barren world of Casshern is on it’s way to ruin and death is ever-present. Every person is directly grappling with death and the end of the world, and those who don’t die just from the ruin usually die at the hands of other robots, especially if they try to attack Casshern. There are few characters who survive their own episode, much less the whole show.
What Casshern, who is immortal, learns in his travels through the dying world is how death effects different people (usually robots). Most of the world desperately clings to life. The strong robots fight and kill each other constantly to steal each other’s parts and try to prolong their lives. The weak search for any means of survival, clinging to little hopes or loosing to despair. Some merely accept the ruin as pleasantly as they can, but more often than not they will turn from this mindset at the slightest sight of hope – namely, the supposed immortality that one will gain if they devour Casshern.
However, not everyone is desperately clinging to life. Casshern encounters some robots and humans who aspire to something without the fear of death. Some teach him that the world is beautiful even in ruin, that there is hope in the world, or that they can live forever in the things that they leave behind. Casshern’s conflict becomes whether or not eternal life is justified or death necessary. He is torn between the sadness of death and the liveliness brought out by it’s presence.
The themes of each episode are interesting and deep, sometimes moving, and more so as they culminate into the over-arching theme. Casshern, as a stark contrast to the world around him that he desperately tries to understand, makes for the perfect receptacle to these themes.
Casshern Sins features surprisingly complex main characters in light of it’s simplistic plot and usually episodic nature. Casshern himself starts off as basically a blank slate with no memories and only knowledge as far as he learns from others. As he experiences the world, he has to weigh his experiences against each other to figure out his own beliefs. His character is kept interesting by the conflicting ideas he develops in relation to those experiences.
Lyuze’s conflict is between her desire to kill Casshern because of him ruining the world, effectively killing her sister, and her growing care for him and changing perception of the world. Casshern’s first companion, Friender, has some pretty great development considering that he is a robot dog who cannot speak. Friender’s emotions are represented through actions, and in those actions we see how he slowly transitions from hating Casshern to trusting him and eventually both protecting him and keeping him under control.
Without spoiling, the villains, Leda and Dio, have their own interesting development. Dio has dreamed of nothing but killing Casshern, while Leda is using dio to try and make the world her own. Each of them is thoroughly explored and developed. Luna, Oji, and Braiking Boss are also great characters with a lot of development, but those are spoilers.
There are a whole plethora of minor characters, most of whom appear just for one episode. Every one of these characters feels alive – they don’t merely expunge their beliefs onto Casshern, but show him the way that they live (or, of course, die) through their actions. Characters come in all variety of personality, shape, and size. (inside joke) Casshern could be said to have the best pseudo-harem since Ginko from Musi-shi.
Casshern Sins is episodic much in the same sense as Cowboy Bebop. The chains of episodic parts are broken up by plot-related episodes, the major characters get their own introspective episodes, and the last group of episodes form the conclusion. There were a couple of less-than-amazing episodes (I remember finding 15 and 16 a bit boring and 21 is kind of ill-done but the next episode justifies it) but otherwise, every episode was great.
All of the plot episodes were superb, especially whenever Casshern and Dio fought, which was always quite epic. Besides the wonderful climactic episodes, I pretty much had 4 favorites. Episode 7, where a woman in a high tower teaches Casshern about the beauty of this ruined world – Episode 8, where a woman wants to spread hope through her song – Episode 12, where a man tries to paint his city his color so that the world will remember him – and Episode 18, and excellent cuckoo nest episode into Lyuze’s psyche.
As I stated in the beginning, Casshern Sins is definitely not for everyone. If you like all kinds of anime regardless of genre and are easily interested in something without it having to be fast-paced, Casshern may be for you. If you’ve always wished that the philosophical plots of pretentious anime would mix with the good fun and awesome fights of shounen action, Casshern may be for you. However, if slowness leaves you bored or action leaves you disinterested, you’ll want to stay away. For me, the show was everything I could have wanted and filled a niche that I’ve long waited for an anime to fill.
MY THOUGHTS (SPOILERS)
I didn’t expect to like Casshern Sins nearly as much as I did after the first 2 episodes. It was captivating – I felt a strong connection to the world and characters. You can see my post on episode 7 as to why it was one of my favorites in the show. My favorite single-episode character was probably Sophita, who was some high-level moe. Cute, bloodthirsty, and creepy.
Episode 18, dude. Lyuze’s most shocking moment is easily when she pretty much lets some guy take advantage of her, but before anything happens she carves him open, shooting his blood everywhere. It was a pretty WTF moment and also I think a very character-defining one.
I didn’t expect to love all of the characters so much, especially Leda who I felt very sympathetic toward by the end. Braiking Boss = fuckwin. Luna was a coward, but her DFC makes up for it. LOVED the ending as a whole, Ringo turned out mad cute at the end < 3
The show’s plot meant a lot to me. I go by the mindset that life is meant to be lived, not survived, and I’d rather enjoy my time to the fullest than try to prolong it. Of course, I also use this as an excuse to live an unhealthy lifestyle, lol. I think that Casshern purposefully wanted to make a perfectly relatable world and disguise it as a fantasy for the sake of the story and to enhance the interactiveness by taking off connection to real-world relations, which was a great strategy.
Casshern Sins is definitely a favorite for me. Hoping hard for blu-ray release. Episodes I must rewatch: 4, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 18, 19, 22-24