Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Casshan Ep1: An Immortal Challenger

"He abandoned the only life he had. And now he's been reborn as an immortal. He destroys the iron evil. Who will do it if not Casshan?"

-Opening of Casshan-

On my quest to unearth all that is Battle Of The Planets (1978), the adapted stateside version of Tatsunoko's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974), it seemed a good opportunity to look at Tatsunoko's Casshan (1973-1974), which also spawned something of a small cottage industry inside Japan.

Like the original property Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Tatsunoko's Casshan was yet another original property, not based upon a manga like so many anime.

Casshan is also known as Casshern and Neo-Human Casshern. The latter title refers to the combination of the primary protagonist of the series, human Tetsuya Azuma, with an invincible body and taking the name Casshan assigned to him by his father.

Yes, Tetsuya Azuma was his son who volunteered to be transformed to save humanity from a raging invasion of androids transformed accidentally by the hand of Casshan's scientist father coupled with an electrical storm. Tetsuya's father, Kotaru Azuma, intended to help mankind by building androids to clean up one of Japan's greatest thematic concerns in science fiction, pollution - See director Yoshimitsu Banno's Godzilla Vs. Hedora (1971). Next to radiation, pollution is one of the great evils of man, and also the result of man like radiation.

Thus this new human Casshan is the great work of a collaboration between father and son, a bond held with great respect in Japan.

The foundation for this story has since spawned a four episode OVA (1993; the final episode animated by Studio Gainax), a loosely adapted live action film (2004), which actually looks quite strange given the character's predicament, and a rebooted series dubbed Casshern Sins (2008-2009), the latter produced by Tatsunoko and animated by Studio Madhouse. The thirty-five (35) episode series begins with Casshan, Episode 1, An Immortal Challenger.

The first story in the series tends to feel slightly dated, but the animation is still generally solid thanks to writer/founder of Tatsunoko Tatsuo Yoshida.

In general my initial introduction to Casshan was not as overwhelmingly positive as my experience with Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. The material simply doesn't hold up as well. The writing attempts to build a layer of emotional depth given the protagonist's transformation but it feels a little awkward and rushed. Tetsuya essentially dies to save his family becoming Casshan the robot or android hunter. There is great pain and suffering by his mother, Midori (a name also given to a character in the popular early era Gaiking covered here) over the loss of his humanity despite the fact it feels like he is the same young man but now in a suit he can never remove a la Robocop. His father too grieves over the decision. Yet, unfortunately, the creators really don't spend the required time on building this emotional connection. Even the father's decision to transform his son essentially killing him seems awfully quick.

This portion of the story is lacking significantly in properly developing a sympathetic hero. It fails to capitalize adequately on the tragic nature of Casshan's fate, one he willingly shoulders and accepts upon himself. The creators want to mine that territory but are definitely holding back given the parameters of the audience. It would have been nice to see them push further at the emotional core of Casshan.

Tatsunoko's hero is indeed an unforgettably character designed good guy dressed in white, similar to Mark from Battle Of The Planets. This is a traditionally approached series where the heroes wear white whilst battling the hordes of Tatsunoko villainy.

When Casshan is eventually brought to life, there is a bit of sci-fi hocus pocus, not that much different I suppose than the transmute achieved by G-Force on Battle Of The Planets, and then wah-lah Testuya is gone and Casshan is born. Unlike the costume transformation and the sell of that concept in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman it never quite works on an emotional level but Tatsunoko is indeed reaching for a depth and a humanity not often witnessed in animation in the early 1970s particularly for a kid's show.

Ultimately Tetsuya's best friend, a dog named Lucky, is also killed and a robot hunting dog is created called Friender. Friender is really quite something because not only is he a very powerful robot hunter he can also transform into a jet and other transporting mecha.

These outlandish leaps seem a little hard to swallow, but then as a kid I believed the Phoenix could alter itself molecularly into the fiery Phoenix and back. So is it really that hard to buy? Or am I just getting old? Casshan simply doesn't quite make the jumps in a credible fashion I'm afraid.

Casshan joins forces with another character also introduced in the first episode, a beautiful girl named Luna Kozuki. The fifteen year old girl was saved by Tetsuya's dog originally. Lucky was killed (clearly not so lucky) protecting her from the android army built by the lead villain and antagonist Buraiking Boss, a robot that came to life as a result of electricity in family Azuma's castle. From there Buraiking Boss began building his own army of machines.

Casshan has a decent sci-fi premise and a good cast of characters, but lacks some of the charms and basic logic of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and definitely some of the warmth of Battle Of The Planets at least based on the premise and set up here.

Casshan is a newly built man or not exactly human and as a result it even feels a touch robotic at times. It's also not nearly as grounded in real world moments as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and its American counterpart. The aforementioned group of youngsters from those series brought the space saga down to Earth and accessible. Casshan feels just a bit out there with its far out newly built man premise. I mean Steve Austin still felt real even after he became the Six Million Dollar Man.

Well, Casshan was a kid's show and perhaps a considerable amount of rope should be given and it's early, but the series has just thirty-five episodes to completely explore the character and concepts. In the end, will it succeed in delivering a classic series like Tatsunoko's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman that still stands the test of time? Will it build on its mythology in a credible fashion? This is all to be determined. The opening entry does end on a cliffhanger as Casshan's parents are abducted by the androids and heads to the rescue. Stay tuned true believers to find out.

Actually, really not so lucky.


El Vox said...

Never saw the series, I have the OVA, I guess, which is probably a couple of them smashed together to make a movie. I just taped mine off the SF channel. I thought it was okay or really above average. I do think like you said, you just have to go with certain concepts, perhaps because it's an early anime it's a bit naive or not as fleshed out with some of the story, but then when compared to American super heroes it's about the same. They are given an origin and just go on from there--good vs. evil prevails. Also as you said I think it's made for a younger audience. All in all though it's worthwhile, if you enjoy earlier anime.

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I agree with your assessments there El Vox.

The OVA is an update and perhaps the storylines were reused for the new animation.

But I agree there is a naïve streak here but clearly the intention is for the kiddies. Cheers.