Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Casshan Ep3: Find Tomorrow In The Ruins

"Although Casshan is still handsome and has abilities that any American comic book hero would envy, he constantly (over) dramatizes the agony of no longer being human and of being separated from his sweetheart, Luna."
-Fred Patten, Less, Or More, than Human?, Newtype USA, March 2003 (p.52).-

And therein lies the rub. The creators, rather than Casshan, over dramatize the proceedings to the point of imbalance. Ironically, that seems awfully human.

Exploding robots/androids continue to propel the action as Andro Force proceeds to lay waste to civilization whilst Casshan does everything in his power to stop them. The latest installment's animation is indeed solid overall for the period from Tatsunoko Production, but story balance seems to plague Casshan in the early going.

Tetsuya and childhood friend, Luna, reunite in Casshan, Episode 3, Find Tomorrow In The Ruins.

In an article dubbed Less, Or More, Than Human?, long time anime writer Fred Patten, author of Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years Of Essays And Reviews, discusses the evolution of the man and machine interface concept that would be popularized within the Ghost In The Shell franchise as first established by manga artist Masamune Shirow (1989-1990) and made even more wildly popular in film (1995) internationally by acclaimed anime director Mamoru Oshii.

In the previous episode's coverage of Casshan, Stake Victory In The Moonlight, the derivative quality inherent in Casshan's ideas were clearly noted, but to be fair, Casshan is genuinely next in a long line of ideas based on the concept of merging man and machine. And Casshan does deliver with flair. Patten notes Cyborg 009, a series franchise that began back in 1964 and has endured in manga and anime form to this day. Production I.G, the group behind Ghost In The Shell, is actually behind yet another adapatation of that classic series upcoming in 2015, with a film that preceded in 2012.

Obviously cinema has also run with the man/machine idea in everything from The Terminator (1984) and Robocop (1987) to Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Ex-Machina (2015) to name just a few.

Tatsunoko even took their own Casshan concept and explored the idea by ultimately transforming Joe from their original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974) into a cyborg for the 52 episode series sequel Gatchaman II (1978-1979). Joe, of course, would be better known stateside as Jason in Battle Of The Planets (1978). See that extensive coverage here. And what exactly was Keyop after all?

So there have been many efforts to infuse a narrative of humanity disrupted by technology in cinema, television and anime. Casshan is not new to the discussion, but rather another voice. Can a cyborg ultimately feel? Blade Runner (1982) and others have explored these stories to wonderful effect. It is an age old and timeless question dramatically cultivated for science fiction that seemingly never tires.

Unfortunately Tetsuya is no longer human and the newly built man that he is, Casshan, admits to Luna he does not know Tetsuya. Casshan pretends that he does not even know his creator and father. But all of this is a ruse to protect Luna. In truth, Casshan, despite his newly acquired technically built self, ultimately still feels.

It's somewhat amusing that Casshan looks less like a newly built man and essentially more like the latest take on the costumed superhero with a twist---a man in white tights. Tatsunoko never shied away from American-inspired costumed heroes and brought something truly original to that universe. It must also be noted that Casshan's faithful sidekick, Friender, essentially a robotic version of a Great Dane also comes complete with a somewhat annoying or grating automated howl whenever it springs into action.

The latest entry sees the writers make efforts to demonstrate confusion within Casshan regarding his identity and his humanity versus his status as a newly built man. Who am I? What am I? It's clear that Casshan is beginning to question all of it. His uncertainty is brought to the fore by his old friend Luna. But the writers don't take that aspect of the series far enough. It is an intriguing element of the series and one not necessarily explored or mined well enough. Adding to the mixed signals is Casshan's ability to shed tears even as a newly built man who is no longer human. He can feel and as a result we the viewers can feel confused about how we feel toward the series.

Casshan is also a subtitled series only on Blu-Ray. There is no English dub, which is fine. But there's something about the inflection of Japanese voice casting, at least here. Sometimes it sounds downright angry when my American ear is looking for softer and more emotional. This is simply a cultural adjustment on our parts.

As the episode continues, we discover Tetsuya does remember who he is, but simply pretends not to recall so that he might spare Luna's feelings. All of his memories of his past life with Luna are intact, but he is now a newly built man who simply must protect her.

Another aspect of the series that is a bit hard to swallow is the transformation of dog friend Friender into any assortment of mecha: a car, a boat, a jet or a drilling vehicle. This aspect of the series comes off a little forced and overly child-driven. It was much easier, and still is, to buy the subtle transformation process of the members of G-Force in Battle Of The Planets. When G-Force transmuted their self-identifying craft into stellar vehicles, at least their was color continuity for all of the vehicles. The red and blue was retained from Mark's plane to G-1, the blue from Jason's car to G-2 and so on. Here the gorgeous design of Friender transforms his blue canine-shaped body into completely different sized and colored mecha. What!? Even if the jet remained blue etc. at least there would be some move toward credibility.

Casshan makes every effort to avoid revealing to Luna that Tetsuya no longer exists as she once knew him. "Tetsuya is dead." But if Casshan has feelings what does it matter? Luna will accept Casshan as Tetsuya.

So Find Tomorrow In The Ruins sees Luna join forces with Casshan. She may not be super human or an inhuman newly built woman, but she possesses the fiercest, most deadly weapon known to androids in the MF Gun, built by her father. Watch out! With Casshan's shooting star kick, flying drill maneuver, fire-breathing sidekick Friender and now Luna at his side, it looks to be all out war against Buraiking Boss and the Andro Force.

Sorry to say, but Casshan doesn't quite reach the heights of the exceptionally stellar Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, at least based on the early going. Casshan suffers mightily under the weight of a generally flawed foundation sad to say. Despite that, the third installment does the best job of creating a fairly sympathetic character in Tetsuya turned Casshan. If you can buy the whole premise this installment does make some headway.

It's easy to see why Casshan never received the series longevity of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. It certainly lacks the first class refinement of the latter success story. I realize I'm unfairly putting an awful weight upon the shoulders of Casshan as a 1970s child entertainment, but kid's entertainment or not, Tatsunoko's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is the true classic of the period. Both reach for complexity, but the latter is smarter, more stylish and more thoughtful with its end results.

Nonetheless, Casshan is still a keeper even for kids today. If they could only read those darn subtitles. Oh well.
Tetsuya clearly robbing the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman wardrobe for those pants.

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