Monday, June 8, 2015

Casshan Ep2: Stake Victory On The Moonlight

My general take on Casshan (1973-1974), as a series, based on Casshan, Episode 2, Stake Victory On The Moonlight, is that Casshan lacks some of the general likability of Tatsunoko's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974) characters. Casshan is now a newly built man and whilst his humanity is intended to shine through in a manner suggesting it is suppressed or buried the intent of the writers comes off a little uneven or confused.

Is it too clichéd or derivative? Some might say it even apes ideas from an earlier series called Kamen Rider (1971-1973). But for a whole host of reasons Casshan, the tragic anti-hero, doesn't quite sit right in this early going. Perhaps the general dynamics of the series begin to click moving forward, but for now it's all just a little more awkward than anything you'll find on Science Ninja Team Gatchaman or Battle Of The Planets (1978).

As far as kiddie-driven entertainment we get a good number of exploding robots. If those robots aren't exploding it's not Casshan. Andro Force, Buraiking Boss' army, isn't all that impressive in design either, yet it has certainly had its impact on anime and the ongoing franchise of Casshan.

In this second installment we learn a few new things about Casshan and the mythology surrounding the series. Casshan's affixed yellow, crescent-shaped, solar panel feature is also a siphon for sunlight. It harnesses solar power to give Casshan sight, the ability to fight and, generally speaking, life. Though an invincible being he still has his weaknesses. It would be a terrible thing if the good guy couldn't go down in a fight now and again. If he was the perfect being all the time would there be any bad guys at all to challenge him?

There are, of course, those waist-mounted pulsar propulsion guns that are terrifically fun. They double as both flight packs and weapons as we will discover.

In Casshan's debut, we witnessed the transformation of Tetsuya Azuma into Casshan. We also experienced the death of his dog Lucky and his rebirth in the form of robot hunting defender Friender. Friender was Casshan's answer to the transmuting Phoenix of Gatchaman. Friender is able to miraculously convert or transform into a a jet, submarine, tank or cycle. But here, in Casshan, it's a little harder to buy the transmute of a robot dog into these vehicles versus the more credible Cessna transmute into a G-1 Sonic Jet in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Though that was a stretch, they definitely make a bigger leap in Casshan.

This episode makes another big jump by witnessing Casshan's father, Kotaro Azuma, take Casshan's mother and magically house her inside a robotic swan dubbed Swanee. In some ways this foreshadows other similar concepts in anime such as the immersion of Yui Ikari within Evangelion Unit 01 in Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996) by Studio Gainax. Though, here, the mother, Midori Azuma, is still alive inside the swan robot. This is by no means artificial intelligence.

Apart from problems with narrative grace, Casshan lacks much of the absolutely note perfect concepts and characters that worked so seamlessly in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. The ensemble formula of Gatchaman seemed to allow for a more interesting dynamic than the single superhero hero model. Even in comics I was always much more of an X-Men and Fantastic Four guy than a Spider-Man lover.

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman's invading aliens seem to have a broader appeal than the premise established by Casshan of androids run amok. Certainly the concept is plausible a la The Terminator and other films that have taken the concept and developed it with a greater maturity, but here it's pretty rough.

There is no question Tatsunoko is attempting to make the character and his emotional connections work, but they can only go so far with the premise and really lack the time to explore it properly. It's also a children's cartoon from the 1970s. Tatsunoko is indeed shooting for more mature themes at points beyond the innocence and naiveté, but thus far Casshan is certainly no Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.

So what are my problems with Casshan? First, the character, despite efforts to subject him to his humanity, comes across a little too cold. So far the balance just isn't quite right. The character design is also limited. He never goes native in civilian garb. He's always in that white outfit complete with the solar visor. The characters in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman stepped away from their mission and their superhero status to literally save the world to become like us and even let their hair down. They dealt with real human issues and connected with other people with real problems. It was very easy to connect with those characters and believe they could live in your world. Casshan feels a little otherworldly, a little stiff despite overtures to coax us into feeling his humanity. He's newly built but still feels, but then he's not quite human and the messaging sometimes feels at odds.

The story, too, is far less compelling and far less believable than Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. While Casshan centers around a family in the early going, it is the group of orphans in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman that feels more like an authentic family. Though a group of ninja assassins these young people connect rather naturally throughout the series. Casshan simply never comes out of that bloody costume. Visually, that can be a bit of a bore.

Even Casshan's father comes off a bit too bizarre in his willing to sacrifice the family in the name of survival. Midori is now a holographic projection immersed within Swannee's programming. How does that happen? She communicates in a kind of pre-R2-D2 era Princess Leia hologram projection. Could George Lucas have been watching? And now Kotaro's son is a newly built man or robot. Whatever it takes to keep the family together I suppose.

And, of course, a doomed robot never misses an opportunity to explode. They are definitely the Spectran Goons of the series.

There is no question the creators were making efforts to create a premise where more was at stake. Clearly the hope here is to witness a son sacrificing his life to save humanity only to then ultimately rediscover what it means to be human. In many ways, such a concept works as a kind of immature precursor to the likes of Ghost In The Shell's stories or Robocop in exploring tales of identity. In Casshan these themes exist, but given the restrictions relegated to our heroes of the day, the series will likely remain underdeveloped and merely touched upon.

No comments: