[Synopsis]: Bereft of his memories and blessed with an invincible body, Casshern (Furuya Toru) awakens to a bleak and desolate world gripped by a cataclysmic atmosphere known as The Ruin. Almost all of humanity has died off and the countless robots that inhabit the planet rust and disintegrate with each passing day. Unaware of what has happened, Casshern is shocked when he is told that he is responsible for The Ruin and the murder of Luna – the Sun Named Moon and source of all life and hope. Tormented and pursued by innumerable robots that want him dead, Casshern begins his journey in the hopes that he can come to understand himself, his past deeds and perhaps even halt the devastation racking the world.
Despite it’s length and initially episodic, narrative approach, Casshern Sins presents a relatively small cast with an overarching focus placed upon Casshern as well as his allies and enemies. Much of the first half of the show is filled with Casshern’s encounters with various other robots and humans – learning about them, their world, and what little he can about himself. The overarching plot is slow to arrive but these exchanges and characters lay the groundwork for what the show is all about and serve great thematic purpose despite some of them being less memorable than others.
Of course, it’s important to explain Casshern as a character before going any further because his characteristics are integral to the show’s story as well as its subtext. Thrust into a world obliterated by years of decay where he is scorned at every turn because of a past he has no recollection of, Casshern presents an innocent and anguished protagonist. He wanders almost aimlessly from encounter to encounter, trying to discern the world for himself and why people do what they do in a manner that very compellingly reflects upon his amnesia. He’s desperate to understand.
Isolated by his pristine form and regenerative body, he is further set apart from the shambling, rust-ridden populace of the world. His combat prowess is immense and almost all of his fights are one-sided in his favor but this works just fine for the show – despite the properties of his body, he never really feels invincible. Psychologically, he’s very disconnected from his own thoughts. More than just being confused – he’s very foreign to himself. He feels strange in his own body and often can’t tell what he’s thinking, much less what he should think. This internal dissonance is an interesting place from which he develops through his interactions with other people as he learns from them and their perspectives on life. He’s certainly a very strong ‘memory-loss’ character for all of these reasons as their portrayal is exceedingly detailed.
Not every member of the core supporting cast is as engaging as the next but those closest to Casshern, namely Lyuze and Ringo, are quite compelling to watch. Lyuze despises Casshern because he brought about the death of her sister as well as Luna whom she protected. Ready to enact her revenge, she is disheartened and furious to discover that he has no memories of his actions and thus cannot atone for his sins in her eyes. Stilling her hand, she watches as he develops and grows. Though her character investigation comes later than it should, her dynamic with Casshern is fascinating as she is forced to reconcile with the fact that, while he is responsible for the death of her sister and the state of the world, that he is no longer that person. Moreover, his actions and thoughts are sympathetic and endearing and she has to question herself as to whether or not she is betraying her ideals and her sister by sparing or befriending him. Can she live with herself? Meanwhile, Ringo childishly embodies much of Casshern Sins’ hope and incorruptibility.
Casshern Sins’ visuals are certainly a major strength of the show – it’s fight animation and choreography often flashy and exciting. Given Casshern’s one-sided, hand-to-hand combat style, many of the action sequences unfold in a similar way but their execution and context are ultimately always different. This difference along with their wonderful animation is enough to keep them engaging but their typical procession will grow tiresome for some viewers. The character designs are great and while some of the episodic, supporting characters don’t stand out all that well in a narrative-sense, visually they are quite distinct and interesting.
The last point to touch upon is the show’s gorgeous settings and backdrops. I love how the the robots and the environment rust, chip away, and disintegrate into the atmosphere in an ever-present flurry of metallic shrapnel. It’s a very cool effect and really slams home the idea that the world is running down and decaying. Great apocalyptic visuals. The settings are surprisingly diverse given how grim and desolate the early episodes look.
Casshern Sins is able to appear colorful and even lively at times despite the narrative implications surrounding them and you never truly lose the sense that the world is ending. The juxtaposition of brighter colors in flashbacks to the world we grow familiar with accentuates the devastation of The Ruin well. Wastelands of fragmented sapphire, scrap metal towers, and flower-filled chasms where robots are left to die paint vivid and atmospheric surroundings in an interesting balance between beauty and desolation.
From its first few minutes, Casshern Sins starts off in an engaging manner. It opens on a bleak, apocalyptic setting with an impressive action sequence and a compelling mystery – who is Casshern? How did the world become like this? And what is the truth of what happened? The rest of the episode does well in establishing the contemplative and sorrowful tone of the show through the interactions of Casshern, Lyuze, and Ringo while setting it up for the journey to follow. The subsequent episodes primarily detail Casshern’s travels and the people he meets as he discovers what the world has become and searches for the truth his past. These episodes address the major themes of the show and play an important role in developing Casshern while gradually shedding light on his backstory and the greater plot ahead.
In this post-apocalyptic world, the presence of rumors and varying accounts really adds to the atmosphere of society having broken down. Devouring Casshern will grant the robot immortality. Killing him will end The Ruin. Luna is dead. Luna is alive. These beliefs give an air of desperation to the cast – they believe whatever they need to in order to get by. A robot who fights to convey her feelings. A robot that wants to paint the city in his color and leave a lasting impression of himself behind. A robot that wants to build a tower and show everyone that their world can still be beautiful. These characters are interesting because of what they believe in and how they cope with their looming demise. Because of The Ruin, everybody is on the brink of rusting apart and expiring and this influences the cast in a lot of ways. The world is filled with meaningless battles fought by robots who have long since given up on life – they hunt Casshern, kill humans, and fall into whatever belief best suits them simply because they are desperate to survive.
Inarguably, the most important part of Casshern Sins is its themes. The way Casshern develops and the characterization of the people he meets are vital to what the show wants to discuss. Casshern Sins, in the broadest sense, is about confronting death. In a run down world where everybody possesses the sense that they could wither away at any moment, there are a number of psychological implications and the show explores these extensively. The Ruin has wiped out a culture of people that thought themselves immortal – robots have never had to confront mortality before and the implications of this along with that of immortality, of life’s value, and its meaning are all incredibly important to the show’s narrative as well as its characters.
In encountering these ideas, Casshern himself learns how he should live and what he should do and his characterization and the themes of the show continuously feed into each other in a compelling exchange of ideals. The idea of death giving life meaning is especially present. Because the themes of life and death are so ubiquitous within the show, it can sometimes feel like it dwells overly long on the ideas presented and it certainly has the potential to bore some viewers. The first half of the show is about exploring the devastation of the world and finding out who Casshern is through the lens of his various encounters. The second half dismisses these episodic elements in exchange for doubling down on Casshern Sins‘ themes and focuses more on the overarching plot of stopping The Ruin. The show is a very slow, contemplative burn and some episodes stand alone better than others however the show certainly arrives at an enjoyable – if not a little vague, ending.
The soundtrack was great and really reinforced the various tones exhibited by the relationships of the characters and their bleak environment. The music ranges from grand and dramatic to heartfelt and melancholic and presents a number of very distinct and memorable melodies. The music was a considerably strong point of the show and if I were to cite my sole critique of it, I would say that it lacked variety and often relied on a choice few songs instead of utilizing a more diverse approach. That being said, the songs are so strong and atmospherically relevant that this doesn’t detract that much from the show.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Perhaps what I was most surprised about by the show was in how it honed its story into a more direct format in its latter half. The initial episodes of the show somewhat promise an episodic journey full of colorful and eccentric individuals however Casshern Sins‘ later episodes actually turn its attention in on itself and explores Casshern, Lyuze, and the other more central cast members. This approach was very interesting because it allowed each of those characters a length of time to change and develop before ultimately hammering away at the finer points of the themes they present.
It’s a little vague how certain people like Braiking Boss play into the narrative at times and certain plot elements are left to themselves in awkward fashion but Casshern’s journey is very provocative none the less. The show’s exceedingly slow pacing and heavy-handed exploration of a single, thematic topic, definitely means it’s not for everyone and it often demands a bit of patience and interpretive legwork from its viewers.
I gave Casshern Sins a 7 because it presented a remarkably strong, thematic journey in addition to a very interesting narrative full of great world building and settings. The show offered a number of rather unique characters, had exhilarating animation sequences, and a wonderful soundtrack to tie everything together. The show’s intense focus on certain thematic principles sometimes led to the dialogue recycling itself and a few plot points were left dangling in places but the narrative as a whole was quite entertaining. A pretty solid show.
As I’ve said in above sections, Casshern Sins asks for a bit of patience from its viewer as it slowly and purposefully unfolds. Given its heavy emphasis on its theme of confronting death, the story can sometimes drag if you aren’t invested in the episode at hand. Casshern Sins has great fight scenes and if you find the first episode’s engaging and wouldn’t mind 24 more episodes of the same style, then you won’t be disappointed. Casshern Sins is a great food for thought show and anybody looking for somebody to stretch their interpretive muscles would do well to pick it up for that reason.