Post-apocalyptic wasteland. Been there, done that, many times already on Blu-ray. We've seen the world ravaged by plague, where anarchy rules in 'Doomsday,' an equally anarchistic battle for resources in the classic 'The Road Warrior,' and gotten two fairly large releases this year alone, with the action-oriented 'The Book of Eli' matching wits with the more survival-based (and thematically polar opposite) 'The Road.' This isn't even counting the countless zombie apocalypses (particularly 'Resident Evil: Extinction' and 'Zombieland'), or weather based (ahem, Roland Emmerich, ahem) tales of the end of mankind.
'Casshern Sins' feels very much like it has been influenced by the cinematic tales of desolation that became popular from the mid '70's on, after the original anime series, 'Neo Human Casshern' ended. It takes many genre staples, and applies the to the existing template (which was also adapted to a live action flim called 'Casshern'), vastly altering the original vision, offering a more adult take on the downfall of humanity by their own doing.
"There's no place for hope among this ruin!"
Many, many years ago, after a robotic rebellion, a savior was summoned to end the suffering and death on both sides. Luna (also dubbed "the sun which is named the moon") was mankind's only chance...until she was assassinated, by order of the robotic leader, Braiking Boss (no relation). Her death brought about a plague known as "The Ruin," which poisoned the skies, killing humans, and creating decay and rust, leading to death, in robotic forms, as well. Her killer, known as Casshern, awakes in a land already driven to the point of worldwide doom, with few plants, few humans, and few spare parts left for robots to repair themselves with. But with him comes hope. Hope that the robots can consume him, and defeat "The Ruin," becoming immortal, like robots used to be so long ago. Great, wake up after all those years, and you find yourself on everyone's dinner menu.
Casshern has no knowledge of what happened, and cannot comprehend what he is at first. Is he human, or robotic? If he's a robot, why hasn't "The Ruin" affected him, and if he's human, how is he still alive? As the amnesic warrior travels the land searching for answers, fending off robotic hordes seeking to devour his entire being, he brings both hope and despair to those he encounters, changing the world permanently. The question is, is Casshern making the world better, or worse?
Casshern (pronounced like cash-hern), our main character, is far from relatable. He looks like a streamlined version of Mega Man X (Super Nintendo, represent!), fights like a demon straight out of hell, and has as little humanity and heart as a creature can, even facing apocalypse. Living with the guilt and blame of destroying the entire world, his very existence is quite the puzzle to watch unfold, as his past is slowly revealed to him (and us), and we learn that everything may not be as it seems.
Think about Neo from 'The Matrix,' if you would, when thinking about Casshern. The characters (and plots) share too many similarities to be ignored. Both are considered the new saviors by those around them, though through different means. They're strangers, anomalies in the system, searching for meaning and truth. They're stuck between the war fought by humans and their rebellious robotic creations, and can singlehandedly end the skirmish, though restoring the world may seem impossible even for those so immensely powerful. Boasting unlimited potential, but also facing the equally (though oppositely) powerful shades of their strength, both Neo and Casshern realize their lives are meaningless, considering the change they can create through their sacrifices.
The world of 'Casshern Sins' is also one hell of a character. The extreme decay, of both locations and their inhabitants, create such a desolate, nightmarish state that what few shreds of hope get exaggerated and turned into such powerful legends that survivors base their entire lives on finding salvation through rumor. Robots and humans alike wander, seeking some way to reverse the events that destroyed the world so thoroughly, caused by greed, hate, and industrialization. Yes, this story is steeped in message, though not preachy or blatantly whiny about it.
The first twelve episodes of 'Casshern Sins' introduce us to the world, the violence, constant sense of death, and destruction populating the world, with a heavy focus on frantic fight sequences and desperate actions by the dying in the first large arc of episodes, before focusing more on the random strange people who have found ways to survive and help others, in their own special ways. The rapid fire pace found in the first eight episodes disappears as the latter four meander, seemingly cursed to do so forever, like Longinus...only without as many good stories to tell.
'Casshern Sins: Part One' is tough to judge, as it is an incomplete story arc, but it presents some great material to think over and debate, concerning humanity as a whole. The character of Casshern may be completely unreachable, due to the immense burden placed on his shoulders, and the seemingly impossible to escape bounty on his head due to legends of his link to curing the world. The characters around him, though, are what make 'Casshern Sins' a truly engaging watch, as we see the scheming of his former compatriots, equally impervious and dangerous assassins, the bright shining stars of the children still filled with hope, despite being surrounded by death, and those eagerly anticipating their inevitable doom. Sure, there are some annoyances (like a character named Sophita who only refers to herself in the third person, or the fact that Casshern's popped collar is the only bit of clothing that sustains damage, and always repairs itself like it were magic), and many viewers may give up on the show, due to the way it changes pace and theme without notice, but these first twelve episodes are a great set up, giving us a fully realized world, solid characters, and a deep, branching story arc that is sure to pay off in the second half of the series.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Casshern Sins: Part One' arrives on Blu-ray across two discs (a BD50 housing the first nine episodes, and a BD25 holding the final three and the supplement package), that are Region A locked. There is a single pre-menu trailer on each disc ('Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and 'Eden of the East'), which have to be skipped through the top menu button (next chapter is disabled).
The first twelve episodes of 'Casshern Sins' are presented with an AVC MPEG-4 (1080p, 1.78:1) codec that has an interesting look to it. One could take this release, and argue artistic intent in order to explain some of the video's shortcomings, but it's also easy to point out specific technical issues that could have been the cause for the situations.
Stacked up to some previous anime series, 'Casshern Sins' looks absolutely stunning. The picture is often quite dark and dreary, so don't expect to get shiny reds, greens, and yellows, rather various shades of white, grey, blue, and black. There is great detail in backgrounds, plainly visible without strain, though characters obviously aren't too intricate, due to the strain that would be on animation. The coolest part of the video is the attention paid to the show, as in one particular instance, a fight scene extends over a long period of time, and as such, the entire picture darkens, along with the sky, so subtly that it's beyond awesome. It's little things that make this one a pleasure to watch.
The problems with the video are fairly consistent, from episode to episode, and between discs, so they aren't likely to be caused by too much content on a disc creating artifacts (honestly, artifacting is nill). Banding is only lightly present here and there, not a major distraction like it has been in the past. Whites are a bit noisy, as are skin tones, but this is a minor gripe, one of the few that are hit or miss, not consistent. Colors and lines have a slight blur to them, which creates a fairly interesting (in a good way) appearance, but it could be chalked up to digital manipulation, or natural aesthetics. The biggest problem here is edge enhancement. It's in such great amount that it's impossible to miss, regardless of how long one watches this show, be it a minute or an hour. Characters constantly have a grey or blue outline around them that is fairly thick, up close or at a distance, sometimes outlining colors inside a character design. It's fairly difficult to miss.
"Seems to me like someone's starting to get curious about the talking human!"
'Casshern Sins: Part One' is given two audio options: the English dub, the default for the set, in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, or the authentic Japanese track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 with optional English subtitles.
English (4.5/5) - The default track on this release is an absolute stunner. From solid, powerful bass elements that pop up occasionally, to literal tons of surround use permeating every episode, this mix is active as all get out. Localized effects are spread throughout the room, and find themselves coming in to play quite often, while range doesn't have a single bit of restriction, offering some beaming highs to match the bellowing low ends. Fight scenes have characters or items rippling through the room with superb movement and great volume spikes, and since the first half of this set has plenty of those, fans are in for a treat. Dialogue doesn't stray from the front channel, but it's perfectly clear and concise. Actually, listening to the dialogue in the show can be quite fun, as characters all have some varying level of digitization to them, due to the robotic nature of the majority of the characters, creating some truly creepy moments when machines speak in unison. This mix has plenty of off moments, but that's because there are many scenes purely meant as character builders, rather than non-stop action, but the ability to go from 0 to 10 in no time flat is easily handled here.
Japanese (3/5) - The Japanese option is obviously less spread out than the dub, but can it hold its own? By comparison, it's pedestrian at most, but on its own, it's fairly enjoyable. Bass levels dip dramatically, while the expansive spreads filling the room in action sequences is dramatically dampened. The score sounds just as solid as it did before, and dialogue is still quite clear, even if it misses a bit of the punch found in the dub (part of this may be the cause of the recordings, with more subdued voices in this version). As much as I hate to say this, I preferred listening to this show in English, due to the sheer amounts of hell unleashed throughout the room, while this natural track doesn't disappoint, it doesn't compare by any means.
'Casshern Sins: Part One' is a solid opening to an anime series, creating a methodically crafted world full of interesting characters and themes. Action hounds may find their appetites sated with the first disc in this release, though the last four episodes take a turn in a different direction, focusing more on the varying people, rather than delving deeper into Casshern and his troubled, forgotten past. FUNimation has done a very good job with this release, with good, though troubled video, awesome audio, and a tiny handful of extras for fans. The series will either hook or alienate a viewer fairly fast, due to its structure, so it's a risky blind buy. Rent or borrow it first and see if you like the way the show progresses before committing to it for the long haul, but at least give it a shot.