You may know it by its stylish remakes: the 2004 live-action movie Casshern, and Madhouse’s spectacular 2008–9 26-episode anime Casshern Sins (no idea why they’re both romanized as Casshern). Now, thanks to The Skaro Hunting Society, the original 35-episode 1973–4 anime is being subbed (3 eps out as of this writing) and I’m here to recommend it as well as give a bit of history on it (and then hopefully a really old guy will leave a gigantic comment about all the finer points of the production background.)
Gundam fanboys, you’ll be interested to know that the storyboarder and occassional episode director for this series was none other than the one (and thankfully only) Tomino Yoshiyuki, whom as you know also spent the 70s directing robot anime Yuusha Raideen, Zambot 3, Daitarn 3, and then creating the most important and influential anime franchise of all time, Gundam. But Tomino isn’t the only familiar name to be thrown down here.
Casshern was created by Yoshida Tatsuo, one of the founders of Tatsunoko Productions, who died shortly thereafter in 1977. He created many of Tatsunoko’s most enduring series, such as Gatchaman, Yatterman, and Speed Racer.
Director Koyama Takao is mostly a screenwriter, and is probably best known for writing the entirety of Dragonball and Dragonball Z (including 12 movies), as well as Saint Seiya. Knowing this is important to understanding the production of Casshern Sins, as a lot of the staff also worked on Dragon Ball Z, including director Yamauchi Shigeyasu, who worked on Saint Seiya as well (and is currently directing Yumekui Merry, which keeps giving me acid flashbacks to Casshern Sins).
The last recognizable name (to me) is that of the ever-prolific Amano Yoshitaka. Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve definitely seen his work—Amano was the designer for all of the early Final Fantasy games, as well as Vampire Hunter D. There are several OVAs (Angel’s Egg, 1001 Nights), that exist for the sole purpose of bringing his art to life, and his artbooks are easily findable on store shelves in the US. While the nature of being an early 70s anime makes it hard to tell that Amano worked on the designs for Casshan, it’s clear that the series has very attractive designs, and he’s probably to thank for it.
Since I’m sure all this production babble is boring you, I’ll move on, but not before pointing out that Utsumi Kenji, who played series villain Braiking Boss, reprised his role in Casshern Sins and is still very active, recently playing Alex Louise Armstrong in both iterations of FullMetal Alchemist.
Exciting as that history lesson may be (to me), I wouldn’t bother posting if I wasn’t actually enjoying the series, so let’s shift gears to that.
Casshan is a wonderfully violent show full of robot carnage and dramatic confrontations. Tetsuya Azuma is a relatively normal teenage boy who works as an assistant to his father, the world’s leading android researcher and technician. One of his father’s robots gains sentience, calls itself Braiking Boss, and immediately decides that he wants to build a robot army and kill all humans. Conveniently, Tetsuya’s family lives in a huge medieval castle improbably located in Japan, which makes for an imposing base of operations once Braiking Boss takes over.
The robot squad immediately begins exterminating all the humans they can, and no current technology is able to stand up to them. Tetsuya and his father, having retreated to another laboratory located in some Greek-looking ruins (seriously there’s so much European architecture in this show’s Japan it’s uncanny), brainstorm on how to develop a more powerful android to take on the robots.
When Tetsuya’s pet dog is killed by the robot army, they bring him back to life by putting his DNA into that of a robot dog, Friender. After the success of this experiment, Tetsuya begs his father to use that process on him and turn him into the Neo-Human Casshan. His parents are reluctant, but he convinces them that there’s no other way to defeat the robots, and so he sacrifices his humanity in order to save mankind. Thus begins the adventures of Casshan and Friender.
Based on the first three episodes, Casshan is paced much quicker than other anime I’ve seen from this era (a good thing, since my biggest problem with older anime tends to be the pacing). There’s a shitton of action, all of it laden with brutal beatdowns and tons of explosions. Within the span of three episodes, the world has basically become post-apocalyptic and features some nice art of blown-out towns.
Casshan is the kind of series where a lot of bad stuff happens, and “justice” will only prevail after a long, hard struggle. In the second episode, Casshan’s mom is put into the body of a robot swan by his father in order to protect her (how this was accomplished is not even remotely explained, though I’d really like to know). Said robot swan is also Braiking Boss’s pet (he’s yet unaware that there’s a human inside of it), which allows Casshan’s mom to give him reports about the enemy activity.
In episode three, Casshan reunites with his childhood friend Luna, but tries to convince her that he isn’t the former Tetsuya. Part of it is for the usual reason that he doesn’t want to get her involved, but the more interesting reason is that Casshan is ashamed of no longer being human and gets quite emotional upon the realization that he no longer feels hunger or has a sense of taste or smell. It’s pretty obvious that before long, in spite of Casshan’s attempts to leave her behind, Luna will be joining him on his journey equipped with the robot-killing rifle that her father is developing.
Perhaps the most interesting attribute of the series is that there’s actually a level of gravity to the combat. In most series of this nature, it’s hard to feel anything about the fights because we know that the main character is going to win. Casshan doesn’t even pretend that he won’t win, because Casshan is literally immortal. His body takes no damage and he easily overpowers his enemies. However, he has weaknesses—when he runs out of energy (solar-powered) he shuts down, leaving him essentially useless. Friender is often able to act as a back-up in situations where Casshan is incapacitated, but there’s usually something beyond Casshan at stake in the fight, be it human lives or safety. In the first episode, his parents get captured by Braiking Boss because Casshan is too busy fighting hordes of robots. His immortality won’t always get him what he wants.
One of the coolest things about watching this show for me is that it helps to understand the way events play out in its darker, morally grey 2009 successor. For instance, Casshan’s propensity to do a lot of aerial acrobatics and occasionally kill enemies just by striking a pose is carried from the original. The post-apocalyptic visuals are also clearly attributed to the original. Of course, besides that, most things are different, especially Luna, who in no way resembles the creepy psycho-loli of Cashern Sins except in hairstyle.
If you regularly watch and appreciate 70s anime, then I recommend Casshan without question. I’m not ordinarily able to handle 70s anime, but this might already be my favorite. As for those who haven’t tried to watch any anime of this era, this might be a good place to start. Be ready for the crappy audio, occasionally hilarious background loops, and very straightforward storytelling style. (Casshan may spoil you though since it’s a really good-looking show).