Casshern SINS is the story of an amnesiac robot named Casshern who lives in a post-apocalyptic world where even robots, once known for their ability to live forever, are now faced with the spectre of death as their bodies rot away due to a “disease” known as the Ruin. The only immortal left is Casshern himself, whose desire for pacifism runs contrary to his incredible, at times uncontrollable abilities as a literal killing machine. When Casshern discovers that he is somehow responsible for the Ruin, he sets off to find the truth, his journey taking him around the wasted planet, seeing for himself how others cope with life and death.
Casshern SINS is a remake and re-envisioning of Neo-Human Casshern, a 1970s anime about a man who is permanently transformed into a robot to fight a robot rebellion led by the evil Braiking Boss. As you might have noticed from the basic plot summary above, the two series are nothing alike, and the 1990s remake and 2000s live-action movie do not fare any better. There are very few shows, especially popular ones, that are comparable to Casshern SINS, and it leaves an important question that I’m going to try to answer: How should one approach Casshern SINS?
Casshern SINS is an intellectual anime. That is not to say that the anime requires a high level of intelligence to watch or that it’s somehow better than anime that aren’t intellectual, but the storytelling in Casshern SINS is highly unusual. Unlike most other anime, it is less about telling the emotional stories and more about conveying metaphors and allegories.
Characters in Casshern SINS are not fleshed out individuals with wide ranges of emotions who are made to feel in some sense “realistic.” Instead, the characters act as set-pieces in a greater story, like pieces of a puzzle, like the characters in a biblical parable or an old fable. While the two are nothing alike, Casshern SINS and its approach to characters is similar to that of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in the way it boils down characters to their basic essence and then moves them forward to see where they will go. Casshern is a conflicted berserker. Ringo is an innocent young girl. Braiking Boss is an Ex-King Former Boss. Friender is a ferocious canine companion, albeit a robotic one. They do not go much beyond their basic identities in order to tell their versions of the Prodigal Son or the Tortoise and the Hare. Characters highlighted in each episode also follow a similar pattern. You have the parable of the Singer, the parable of the Painter, the parable of the Sentry. And of course, there’s a lesson included in each one, a lesson which Casshern takes to heart, similar to Tetsurou in Galaxy Express 999 or Kino in Kino’s Journey.
And also similar to 999 or Kino, Casshern SINS slowly constructs a world of its own in which to tell its stories. There’s no clear indication that the planet is even Earth, and so all you can do is follow Casshern himself along and learn about the world in which the story takes place at the same pace he does.
The visual style of Casshern SINS lends itself tremendously to the way the story is constructed, or perhaps I should say that the story and visuals go hand in hand. The artwork and character designs are very expressive and wild, but somehow it all comes together in a very subdued manner, even when Casshern is chopping some poor robot’s head clean off. In terms of animation, the show basically has two modes: talking heads and beautifully animated and choreographed fight scenes, and while it’s clear that monetary limitations necessitated this format, the animators and directors did a very good job working with it. For this reason, backgrounds and general scene design in Casshern SINS are incredible, to say the least. Almost every background can be taken by itself as a work of art, often abstract, often expressionistic, but always lending a unique flavor to the world it is meant to portray. If the characters are going to stand still and ask each other questions, they’re going to do so with plenty of visual information to go around.
Casshern SINS is clearly an ambitious work, and in being so ambitious it also may have some trouble finding its target audience. It barely resembles its source material, and while it can be very abstract it is not entirely so, which may leave those who would prefer it to be even more ambitious and daring disappointed, while those who do not take well to its fine-art approach may also reject it. Still, I feel that the way in which Casshern SINS tries to incorporate so many aspects of art and storytelling is also what makes it stand out from much of the crowd.