Kick, Attack, Contemplate Your Existence: Casshern SINS

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.

More Than Enough: Otakon 2008

I went to Otakon with one purpose in mind: to go see JAM Project. Everything else on my priorities list could be postponed or sacrificed as long as I would be able to not turn away, and not show my tears, because I have the power of love to take back tomorrow. I am glad to say that not only did I see JAM Project, but the overall experience of Otakon 2008 has made it one of the best times o my life. It’s a culmination of various parts of a long weekend which turned out to be all too short.

I arrived Thursday afternoon by train along with a number of friends who I’ve known for some varying numbers of years. The first pleasant surprise was the hotel itself. We had taken two rooms in the Radisson, and found the rooms to be spacious, far more spacious than the place we stayed at last year. This was very fortunate, as it meant sleep would be comfortable and not the hassle it usually is at a con. We were later joined by kransom and astrange of welcome datacomp, two happening guys, one of whom is currently on a plane to Japan.

Actually, scratch that. My first pleasant surprise was on the train watching episodes of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. I can’t believe how good that show is.

Thursday night was spent sitting back and playing Smash Bros Brawl with friends in the hotel room. The character choices among everyone were quite diverse, and this became a mainstay of practically every day we were there. As is always the case, Smash is simply a great way to unwind during conventions. kransom also showed me a copy of Patrick Macias‘ new book, Otaku in USA. The book is in Japanese, but it doesn’t seem to be a difficult read so I may pick it up at some point.

Friday morning, I went to the dealer’s room. While browsing DVDs, a dealer asked me what I was looking for, to which I responded, “Something for JAM Project to sign.” Luckily, a female dealer standing nearby pointed me out to a Gravion + Gravion Zwei combined thinpack that she was selling. She mentioned to me that the only reason she was here in the dealer’s room was so that she could be at Otakon to see JAM Project. To the kind woman who helped me out, I thank you, whoever you are. Other than that, I also accomplished another major objective that day.

(I also got an Eureka Seven poster.)

My first sighting of JAM Project was at the opening ceremony for Otakon, though I arrived pretty much just as they were leaving. I was there to see the Madhouse-produced opening animation, which basically involved Otakon’s two lackluster mascots fighting every anime character ever on their way to the convention center. Could have been worse, could have gone without it, the result was that I applaud their desire to celebrate their 10th anniversary with something big.

The JAM Project concert was to be held at the 1st Mariner Arena, a few blocks away from the convention center. After a bit of hassle, I managed to find a place in line with Sub from Subatomic Brainfreeze, and his friends, who I’ve met in the past thanks to a mutual friend of ours. There, we spent time enjoying the wonder and prestige of Sasaki Isao English renditions of Maginzer Z themes, who teaches us that, although humans can fight for good, give it all they’ve got, men are weak and they’re flesh and blood. Mazinger, however, is not. I could not think of a better way to pass the time.

At 7:00 we walked inside, me carrying a glowstick which I accidentally snapped. Sitting only a few rows away from the stage got me feeling anxious as I chatted it up a little with the people around me. Smoke began to fill the stage as I realized I was without my DS and could not participate in the inevitable pictochat. This only made me more anxious, as I knew it was almost upon us, the Japanese Animesong Musicians Project, albeit minus a few members I would like to have seen.

I am not a concert-goer, but I do not think any concert will ever top this one again. JAM Project are the masters of keeping the crowd excited with both their choice of music and musical style, and their sheer stage presence. JAM Project introduced themselves in English. You had the Lover of Amateur Rock Music Yoshiki Fukuyama , the Only Female There Masami Okui, the Youngest Member of JAM Project Hiroshi Kitadani aka Dani, the Most POWERFUL Member of JAM Project Masaaki Endoh (said while flexing his bicep), and the Leader Hironobu Kageyama. With an introduction like that, greatness was inevitable.

Their set included a large number of their combined efforts, such as Nageki no Rosario, Hagane no Messiah, and Breakout, as well as individual songs for which they were famous, which included Chala Head Chala, We Are!, Rinbu Revolution, Angel Voice, and Yuushaoh Tanjou! Knowing I had plans for karaoke the next day, I sang my heart out anyway, actively trying to destroy my throat as I yelled GOLDION HANMAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH. Totally worth it.

Especially impressive during the concert was Ms. Okui, who without Rica around had to sing twice as many lines as she normally would. Not only that, but Okui sounded better than I’ve ever heard her sing before. Usually her live voice is different from her studio voice, but on this night the two were one in the same. This, of course, is not to say that the others were anything less than outstanding. You could tell they enjoy their careers, and have a genuine love for anime music.

They finished off the main concert with GONG, then followed up with an encore comprised of Soul Taker and SKILL. I really couldn’t have asked for anything more, besides the presence of the God of Anime Songs Ichirou Mizuki! Sadly, my “Mizuki” chant did not work. By the way, that’s how I think Kageyama would have introduced him.

After the concert, a woman walked by with a sign saying,”Give your message to JAM Project!” All I could do was close my eyes and smile while clapping. I then gave a deep bow to them to show my gratitude. I hope you see it, JAM Project.

With the concert over, this was already the best con ever. I could have gone home that evening and been totally satisfied. Fortunately, the weekend was not over. After greeting Erin from Ninja Consultant (she asked me what I thought of the concert and my first response was to pump my fists), I ended up eating dinner with a mighty group indeed, perhaps the mightiest ensemble in all of Baltimore that evening had JAM Project not been around. This group consisted of myself, astrange and kransom, Mike Toole (whose panel I attended earlier in the day), ricequeen, Daryl Surat, and Gerald Rathkolb. It was an enjoyable dinner at a humble chain-like mexican food restaurant, where we discussed various anime-related topics. Kingdoms fell at our feet, while my ears continued to ring from being too close to the speakers during the concert.

The social aspect of the convention, which I was concerned about prior to attending, turned out to not be a problem, and was in fact one of the most enjoyable aspects of Otakon. While I ate with some anime titans of the internet on Friday, I ate with a different group of people every night that I was in Baltimore. Thursday night, I enjoyed extremely delicious Brazilian buffet at Fogo de Chão with my close friends from New York and college in Pittsburgh. There, while chowing down on lambchop, leg of lamb, pork sausage, garlic beef, filet mignon, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon, etc (I tried to eat as wide a variety as I could), I talked to a waiter from Brazil. He mentioned his fondness for Saint Seiya and Evangelion.

Fogo de Chão is very pricey, so I wouldn’t recommend it as “con food” but as a place to enjoy the company of others while stuffing one’s face with protein-based brilliance, it is worth checking out.

Saturday evening, I ate with the internet. It was a Vegeta-mongling good time.

Afterwards, I ran to attend karaoke, where I gave a poor performance of Disarm Dreamer. There, along with astrange and kransom, I sat down and had a grand old time with wildarmsheero, Link, Omo, Anna, among others. You’ll forgive me if I forgot all of your names, but you were many. I sang along with a number of tunes, including Pegasus Fantasy, English and Japanese Pokemon themes, and SKILL, and tried my hardest to do my Souther impression for wildarmsheero. Watch out for it on his site. I was surprised to find someone singing the ending theme to the Sega Saturn racing game, Sonic R. I salute you as well. Unfortunately I did not have time to sing Minna Daisuki from Shugo Chara, which I had also planned.

While signing up for karaoke, one of the people working there asked me where I got my badge (see all the way up top), to which I said I made it myself. As he looked closer at my badge he suddenly said, “I read your blog!” Thank you, SSJSquall. You made my day in a day full of things which can make days with little difficulty.

On the same day was the JAM Project Q&A, which was a good time for all. There were many highlights to the whole session, but the absolute best was when Masami did an incredible Mizuki impression. Very few things in life will ever top Masami going, “[Mazinger] ZEEEET!” but one of them might be Fukuyama’s sheer antics. This guy is a joker through and through.

Sadly, I missed the Katsura panel because it interfered with the JAM Project autograph session, but I managed to attend the Maruyama/Madhouse panel, which is always a treat. I also sat in for the Fansubbers and Industry panel, which was informative if disappointingly peaceful. John Sirabella, head of Mediablasters, was a blast with his crotchety-yet-informative ways. I wanted to ask how buying region 2 dvds directly affects the region 1 industry if at all, but I was cut off. Maybe next year.

As for the JAM Project autograph session itself, I got to shake hands with them. As Kageyama signed my Gravion box, I pointed and said, “Sparking!” to which he responded in kind. After my friends and I all got our swag autographed, we got together in the dealer’s room to do a Whoa Bundy, the second Whoa Bundy of the day.

I also saw two incredible cosplays during the convention. First was a girl cosplaying as Rosalie from Rose of Versailles. Her outfit was this bright pastel blue, perfect for a shoujo character, and it was as if she stepped out of the pages of Riyoko Ikeda’s work. Second was a cosplay of Billy Mitchell, the first man to ever conquer Pac-Man. I failed to check if he had a bottle of Rickey’s Hot Sauce in hand.

At the train station, I saw Erin and Noah from Ninja Consultant, and wildarmsheero. Along with the friends who I came with, we had a good conversation to wind down the convention, and one of my friends read my blog for the first time. I hope it’s as frightening for you as I think it is.

There are two main lessons I took away from Otakon 2008. First is that on the internet it can become very easy to caricaturize those you talk to, to focus on only one aspect of their character and personality. In real life, we can get along without necessarily needing to debate or to try and make things “interesting.” Those things will come in time.

Second is that, according to Kageyama, this was one GAY 2008.

(It actually says 9 Aug 2008)