New entries to older series can sometimes be a tough thing to sell. For new viewers, it may bring unease and questions of whether the previous entries are necessary to watch, and depending on the popularity and age of the show, it’s possible there might not be any easily accessible ways to watch them. Meanwhile, older fans will compare it to the previous works and may not enjoy it unless it’s similar enough. At the very least, you can expect a new entry to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor or carry a similar tone. Casshern Sins doesn’t follow that rhetoric. I mean, there are definitely some similarities, but it’s a much different show than its predecessor. It was marketed as a reboot and it feels like it. I’m honestly not sure that I’ve seen a show rebranded in such a way before.
It began with the 1973 anime series Casshan, or Neo-Human Casshern. It follows a young man who volunteers to be turned into a neo-cyborg named Casshern in order to fight back against the rebellious robot army that’s threatening to overtake the world.
While the story of the titular hero fighting robots has its mix of fun action and serious moments, the anime as a whole is pure 70s goodness. I seriously mean that; there’s a robot dog that breathes fire and turns into a giant spaceship, and an intro song that’s just a man singing the character’s name over and over again while explaining what he does in the series. (which is finding robots and attacking them with his kicks and punches).
This is all compounded with bright designs and other outlandish plot elements. Neo-Human Casshern is exactly what you’d expect from a superhero series.
Other Works Based on Casshern
Aside from the original series, there was a four-episode OVA series in 1993 called Robot Hunter Casshern. Although it was a reboot that utilized similar stories and characters, it was most notable for having a much darker tone.
This is evident immediately from the change in color. The original series’ bright colors are toned down and replaced with a more pale-centric palette. There are still plenty of robots with colorful exteriors, but none of them have the same ‘pop’ in their designs in comparison to the original series.
Even if they did, I don’t believe it’d change much. The plot was also remade into a darker tale. The first 15 minutes in the first episode show the remnants of humanity living as a slave labor force. They’re barely given anything to eat and they’re whipped, wounded, and killed regularly.
The only reason they continue on is because of their belief that Casshern, who at the time is seen as more of a heroic myth than an actual person, will save them all and stop the robot forces. While he does eventually show up and has a wonderful introduction as he takes bullets and flamethrowers head on, it’s very obvious that it feels wholly different from the previous series.
Even with the incredible fight scenes, the overall tone isn’t exciting. It conveys a very bleak feeling that strongly contrasts with the original. That being said, all of the other works in the series seem to focus on the gloominess.
A live-action film would be released in 2004. There’s familiar characters and robots present in a certain capacity, but it follows its own story with a loose base in comparison to the original.
If I had to find a way to describe it, however, I’d likely say it greatly represents action films during that time. It’s supported by an edgy story and character designs, while in the fight scenes almost everything on screen is CGI and there’s rock music playing in the background. And of course, there’s an insane use of camera cuts.
It’s arguably not the most recommended media to introduce yourself to the series, but I wouldn’t call it terrible. It can certainly still be enjoyed.
The series would see a new development in 2008 with Casshern Sins. Whereas the 1993 OVA retold the original series, Casshern Sins serves as a total reboot. It shares many of the same characters, but their relationships with each other and the roles they play are different.
While the series is known for being based in settings wrought with despair, there’s always a strong sense of hope. There’s an expectation that Casshern will be the ray of hope needed to stand in defiance of the overwhelming robot forces.
Perhaps that’s what makes the reboot stand out the most. The hope remains, but it feels more faltering since the despair is turned up to eleven. It’s the darkest portrayal in the franchise, but it manages to do so without being edgy or too violent. Casshern Sins’ strength is that it focused more on its characters, what motivates them, and what sins they’ve committed.
How Casshern Sins Is Different
While the previous entries to the series involve a man who becomes Casshern to stop an impending force of robots, Casshern Sins begins with the character waking up in a decaying post apocalyptic world.
He has no recollection of who he is or what’s happening, but some robots believe that devouring him will grant them immortality and many blame him for bringing about ‘The Ruin’ that started with Luna’s death. Casshern travels through the world as he tries to figure out his place and responsibility within it.
Even his role as a hero is questionable as you quickly learn he was a subordinate of Braiking Boss ordered to assassinate Luna. It’s a stark contrast to the original series where Braiking Boss was the primary antagonist and constantly at odds with Casshern, while Luna was an ally of Casshern.
Although the show is pretty episodic with the characters he meets, there’s an overarching plot. I will admit that it can at times feel spread thin across its 24 episodes, but I also feel that the show benefits from its slow burn.
This world and his past is a mystery that slowly unravels. Thankfully, the show manages to avoid being too repetitive.
That being said, it’s important to talk about the action scenes. The action is…strange. It attempts to infer brutal fight scenes with tremendous kicks and hands going through chests, but it just keeps cutting to zoom-ins of the impacts or debris hitting the ground.
While the older series used similar shots, it doesn’t feel as repetitive as it does in Casshern Sins.
Casshern is a superhero series, and it’s normal to expect cool action scenes. At first, it almost feels cheap as it cuts from our hero preparing his attack and then cuts to show the aftermath. My first thought was that it’s meant to save budget (which likely might still be a reason for it). But you come to realize that this is intentional for a different reason.
Action isn’t the most important part of Casshern Sins. A big theme of the series is life and death, and it manages to show that well enough by humanizing the robots. There are those that travel in search of salvation and show fear of decaying in this world.
The latter also results in desperate dying robots that want to kill and devour Casshern. Some believe that consuming Casshern will grant them eternal life. Others aren’t as sure, but they have nothing else left to lose, anyway.
We see this within the action scenes themselves as well. Chunks of robot armor fall off and crack. Robots cry out in pain and tell him to stop because they don’t want to die. Even a particularly violent scene of him ripping out wires is deliberately framed as if he is him ripping out someone’s insides.
There is no glory in the action. Casshern isn’t simply destroying robot enemies, he’s murdering them. There’s no heroism in his actions. Although it’s for his survival, you’re always aware that he’s killing his opponents.
Once you realize this, the show actually becomes pretty enjoyable. And it’s not as if the rest of the show doesn’t support it. The music has a wonderfully vintage feeling to it that manages to evoke classic anime while also matching the bleakness of the plot.
Even if the setting is a desolate and barren wasteland, the visuals and character designs are a wonderful standout. They manage to stand out as main characters, but blend in enough that you don’t question their place in the world. Their hair and colors might resemble protagonists from Yu-Gi-Oh!, but they don’t stick out like a sore thumb.
The strongest part of the show is arguably its theme. But the theme’s greatest support is its characters. Each has their own outlook on the status of the world and life, and a few have their own sins they must accept.
The Characters of This Hopeless World
As the titular character, Casshern is the first character to look at. As an amnesiac who blames himself (as does everybody else) for causing the ruin, Casshern is terribly burdened by his own sins. He eventually decides to do his best to stop the ruin and save the weak.
This isn’t a quick transition of course, as he struggles with his own rage and depression, but he slowly develops through meeting various allies and enemies.
One of these allies is Ringo. Although she could be best described as an innocent and naïve robot child, it’s thanks to those qualities that she becomes important to Casshern. Her innocence is something rare within the world, and it represents something that Casshern wants to protect.
Likewise, even as she sees Casshern’s murderous rage firsthand, she continues to support him.
Another of his allies is Lyuze, who actually wants to kill him for a majority of the series. After her sister fell to the ruin, she placed the blame solely on Casshern and devotes herself to one day fulfilling her vengeance by killing him. As events transpire and she sees Casshern’s genuine wish to help people, she begins to question what her own purpose in life is.
Although they don’t have any dialogue, I’d be remiss to not mention Friender, the robotic canine that Casshern meets. While not as versatile as his original series counterpart, he remains a valuable ally of Casshern.
An important enemy to focus on is Dio. Created at the same time as Casshern, he’s always been envious of his power and has seemingly lived on just to one day defeat him to heal his wounded pride.
On top of being a motivator for some events in the show, his inclusion is a unique contrast to Casshern. And yet in the end, like many characters, he finds himself accepting and satisfied with his sins.
And the last and final character is of course Luna. While her apparent demise is what starts the events of the show, it’s her contrasting symbolism of life and death along with Casshern that shapes everything. It’s because of the twisted views she gains for mortality after that Casshern accepts his role in the world as Death.
Is It Worth Watching?
I remember watching the show on the Toonami block of Adult Swim. It had a decent dub for the North American release and I was interested in it as soon as I found out it was animated by Madhouse.
It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Somehow it manages to capture the bleakness of the post apocalyptic world alongside characters with incredible color palettes.
Outside of the unique color usage, the character designs themselves are a standout. Many characters have slender bodies, big hair, and piercing eyes. Obviously everybody looks human, but somehow…just barely.
That’s mostly due to how characters are drawn. Typically, they’ll have exaggerated features, especially with particular angled shots. And in Casshern Sins, there’s plenty of angled shots.
I’m not sure I’ve watched a series that featured so many varying shots. It’s a deliberate choice that cements the series as something incredibly different. It’s also one aspect that seems to prove that most of the design choices in the series were deliberate.
It certainly isn’t for everyone. Even being aware of the show’s themes, I understand if some get bored. It has strong support from its characters and visuals, but it’s extremely slow. I’d recommend giving the first few episodes a watch to see if you jive with the general feel.
If you’re interested in giving the show a watch, you can find it exclusively on Funimation, available with both a Japanese and English dub. The latter will require a subscription to watch, though. Rightstuf has the Blu-ray release of the series as well. If you’re interested in seeing the original in all of its 70s glory, you can watch it on VRV with a premium subscription to HIDIVE.