Casshern Sins is a 24-episode series produced in 2008 by Tatsunoko productions and animated by studio Madhouse. Set in an alternate continuity from its 1973 predecessor Neo-human Casshan, it follows the android Casshern as he wanders a ruined landscape in search of atonement, self-identity, and a purpose for his existence.
Casshern Sins is immediately notable for its grand and abstract atmosphere. It opens in a room of dimly-lit red, as a mind-controlled Casshern assassinates the world’s protector goddess, Luna. As a consequence, the land becomes an apocalyptic desert. Humans scarcely exist, and the main inhabitants of the world, the robots, are crumbling one by one, their bodies turning into dust at any moment without warning. Casshern and his allies wander through this barren world, sometimes meeting interesting individuals or communities in one-off vignettes, and sometimes being swept up in larger plotlines from recurring antagonists. Throughout the series, the main characters talk about grand and abstract motivations such as eternity, perfection, power, atonement, among others. Unfortunately, it can be hard to keep track of how the show explores these themes. It doesn’t help that the rules of the world (whether the setting is literal or fairy-tale like, whether characters can enlist supernatural phenomena to help reach their goals) are revealed slowly and almost in a contradictory manner. This makes it difficult to understand how (or even whether) the characters are working to achieve their goals. Without this link between the characters’ motivations and actions, the show is less able to explore its themes and and instead feels more like a series of talking heads stating their motivations over and over again.
Although I grew apathetic from the main plot’s inaccessibility, I found the vignettes quite compelling. Casshern Sins finds beauty in mortality, as seen in the struggles of the communities and individuals against the Ruin. We have a twisted yet sympathetic robot who can only express herself through her saber, treasuring the time she has left before the Ruin claims her (albeit by taking lives of other robots). We have individuals daring to defy the Ruin by building legacies to outlast them—be it a bell, a song, or painting a town white—even if their creations will one day succumb to entropy. We have community of robots seemingly resigned to their fate, but upon hearing rumors that devouring Casshern may grant them eternal life, they swarm Casshern with their survival instincts rekindled. Ultimately, these flawed robots are sympathetic, their struggles capturing our own when confronted with mortality. Some lash out in despair, some seek to leave a legacy to give their existence meaning, some turn to a higher authority for hope and salvation, and some simply accept the life they’ve lived. Who is right? Casshern Sins doesn’t seem to judge. Rather than choose perfection in eternity—which it equates with stagnation—it sees beauty in the ephemeral.
The visuals do well in supporting the show’s tone. The colour design is a subdued monochrome, capturing the bleak atmosphere of the apocalyptic landscape, and contrasting with the lush yellows, blues, and greens of the oases and the flashbacks. The fight scenes use a variety of camera angles, showing the brutality of the era and are generally a treat to watch.
All in all, Casshern Sins is a show whose narrative demands the viewers to pay attention, figure out what is going on, and reflect on its messages. If you’re in the mood for such a show, Casshern Sins can be a rewarding watch.
Casshern Sins is available for free legal streaming on Funimation. All images from this article were taken from Funimation’s YouTube channel, in accordance with fair use for the purposes of criticism. All copyrights belong to their respective owners.