Despite being a remake to a kitschy 70’s anime “classic,” Casshern Sins begins promisingly. In the first few episodes, the creators lay out a post-apocalyptic setting that manages to feel both unabashedly retro and grimly bleak at the same time. The resulting mix of camp and angst is weirdly intriguing, especially when the solid supporting characters and mysterious titular protagonist are factored in.
Sadly, Casshern Sins fails to live up to its initial promise due to its unfocused overarching narrative. Rather than develop any core theme in the early to middle stages, the series meanders among flavor-of-the-week plots and half-hearted attempts at a main story. After countless thematically tangential episodes, the anime barely has room to resolve its main plotline and is forced to squeeze a half-hearted conclusion into the final few episodes. The final episodes seem to assert that death is needed to make life worth living. However, the distracted narrative and conflicting themes beforehand causes this moralizing to feel hollow and unconvincing by the time the creators decide to tack it to the end. At the end of the series, Casshern Sins doesn’t feel like it was ever actually about anything, and this is perhaps its greatest flaw.
The anime’s plot is further diluted by lame fight scenes that lack context or relevance. In many occasions, a group of mooks will simply appear in the middle of an episode to suicidally impale themselves on Casshern’s foot. These scenes appear to have been inserted to please the action junkies, but the problem is that Casshern Sins tries to be something more than just another shounen action show. By mixing mindless action with serious science-fiction, the anime fails to appeal to fans of either.
Still, in spite of all these weaknesses, the series is not without merit. Casshern Sins’ main strengths lie not in the actual meat of the plot, but in the assorted one-shot episodes that pepper the overarching narrative. While they disrupt the flow of the actual story, many of the disjointed plotlines are well-written enough to be entertaining in their own right. Granted, not all of the self-contained stories are good, but others are genuinely compelling. This alone prevents Sins’ story from being an outright failure.
Fortunately, Casshern Sins has an excellent idea of what it wants to look like, if not what it wants to be about. Put simply, the style of the series' dystopian setting is wonderful. Casshern Sins uses carefully chosen color schemes and crisp animation all to great effect, and the final visual package is one of the most impressive I've seen this year. A particularly impressive aspect of the visual package is the dramatic use of light in just about every scene. It's not Makoto Shinkai obsessive, but the shadows drawn across the hero's face do a lot to darken the mood.
Voice acting as a whole is uneven. The protagonist’s seiyuu is so hideously terrible that I genuinely wondered if he was trying to sound wooden on purpose, while some of the supporting roles turn in excellent work. On the other hand, the background music is almost universally excellent. The music grimly underscores the anime’s bleak mood without ever becoming a distraction. The soundtrack’s one flaw is its frequent repetition, but this never becomes too much of a problem.
In addition to the haphazard plot and the hamfisted ending, the creators botch the characterization on nearly every major player in the show. Casshern himself is the most egregious example; his deadpan voice acting, terrible dialogue and unconvincing development combine to form one of the most ineffective protagonists that I've ever seen. Dio and Leda, the two main villains, are almost as bad; not only are their motivations left woefully unexplained, they're just flat-out boring characters.
Fortunately, some of the supporting characters fare better; Lluyze in particular is a welcome exception to the bad characterization. Casshern Sins dedicates an entire episode to dissecting her psyche in a weird and decidedly Freudian fashion, and the result is arguably the highlight of the show. Sadly, she is a comparatively minor character and simply can't carry the show on her own.
Overall, I enjoyed myself as I was watching and in particular liked the one-shot episodes, which at times evoke the amazing work done in Kino's Journey. However, the turgid overarching narrative, the bad characters and the incompetent ending make me wonder if these scattered episodes were enough to make the series actually worth my time.
In a dark future, the world is in ruin and everything is slowly crumbling away into dust. Humanity is almost extinct, while robots desperately seek out new parts to replace their rusting bodies. Their only hope for survival is to devour the one known as Casshern… or so they believe. Meanwhile, Casshern himself has lost all memory of his past. Why are these robots attacking him? Did he really kill the one known as Luna; the Sun that was called Moon? And why is he, alone, unaffected and undamaged by the ruin?