Immortality has been a dream of man for as long as he has walked the Earth. For some, immortality means having an indestructible, ageless body. For others, it means living through the memories of others, or having their exploits retold in song and splendor. In the case of a robot with a penchant for chopping other robots in half named Casshern, all three apply, though he might not always like the result, especially when it’s in the form of a 1990s OVA.
In the 90s, the animation studio Tatsunoko Pro went about reviving some of its most popular franchises from its early years. Without a doubt the most well-known remake among English-speaking fans was Tekkaman Blade, a TV series based loosely on the classic series Tekkaman the Space Knight, as it managed to find its way into syndication under the name Teknoman. The second most famous remake however was an OVA based on another classic, Neo-Human Casshern, about a man who is transformed permanently into an android in order to stop a massive robot revolt from conquering the world. Called simply Casshern, this update would be released in English as Casshan: Robot Hunter, and would air on the Sci-Fi Channel’s anime block, alongside movies and other anime such as Akira and Project A-Ko.
There are two things I want to make clear at this point. First, while I gave that nice history lesson there, I did not grow up with Cable and thus was not a part of that segment of anime fans who grew up on the Sci-Fi Network’s anime showings. Second, at the time the OVA came out there was no official romanized spelling for “Kyashaan,” and so they decided to go with “Casshan” at the time. Nowadays however, it’s officially spelled as “Casshern,” and in conforming with this standardization and for consistency’s sake, I am going to refer to the OVA in this review as Casshern OVA or Robot Hunter.
What is immediately apparent about Casshern OVA is that it is all flash and little to no substance. The story is there, and just like its source material it’s about a human robot fighting against the odds and punching holes in bigger, burlier robots, but it lacks sufficient amounts of connective tissue between scenes and between individual episodes which results in a bare sense of story coherency at best. Its purpose and goal is to look nice and pretty, and it succeeds in that regard, but only if you like the character designs, animation styles, pacing, and direction that embodies 90s anime aesthetics to the fullest extent. Even the fanservice is distinctly 90s-style! Not only can you can instantly tell when it was made, but the extent to which Casshern OVA is a product of its time is made all the more evident when you compare it to the ultra-stylized 2009 remake, Casshern SINS.
To those fans who grew up with 90s anime, it may just be “the way anime looks,” but for younger fans the look of Robot Hunter can be very, very different from today’s action series such as Black Lagoon. To sum up the 90s “serious action” aesthetic, it’s comprised of this exaggerated realism which permeates everything, but especially the male characters and their angular musculature, as well as the female characters and their sculpted curves. It’s the direct descendant of the 80s OVA aesthetic, which sought to give a sense of three-dimensionality to character designs.
I can only picture the staff responsible for Casshern OVA getting all excited and going, “The old Casshern is a classic, but it’s kind of dated now. That’s why we gotta make it right! We gotta make this thing timeless!” Despite (or perhaps because of) their best efforts, Casshern OVA ends up being more dated than even its 70s predecessor and its child-like sense of drama and wonder.
At the very least, it has the awesome Casshern Introduction Speech.
Throwing away his only life,
Reborn in an invincible body,
Here to obliterate the Demons of Iron,
If Casshern won’t do it, who will?
Bonus Assignment: Compare and contrast all three Casshern Openings and tell me what you think of each one.