Casshan: Robot Hunter Anime Review
US Release By
four episodes, 105 minutes total
1993-08-21 - 1994-02-21
In the distant future, humanity is on the verge of extinction; enslaved by an army of robots known as Neoroids, who were originally built to protect the environment. Under the leadership of BK1 (Black King), who has decided the best way to protect the earth is to eliminate humanity altogether, the Neoroids have taken over most of the planet and forced the surviving populace into slave labor to run their factories and processing plants. But even with the last human resistance armies facing the threat of being overrun, one hope remains: Casshan, a human-cyborg hybrid specifically created to defeat the robot menace and assassinate Black King. With his phenomenal combat powers and an iron will, Casshan has inspired the masses to rise up against their mechanical oppressors. But is Casshan really the savior of humanity or merely a symbol made to keep them fighting for a lost cause?
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Casshan has all the adventure themes necessary in an old-school post-apocalyptic thriller: A grim future, a mysterious warrior with the potential to save humanity, a feisty, scantily-clad love interest for him who occasionally gets her clothing shredded, and a overwhelming army led by a Hitler-wannabe hell-bent on cleansing the planet. Unfortunately, despite a well-presented setting and a lot of potential, the execution is a mixed bag. Casshan himself just isn't very interesting, his love interest it a typical tolken female warrior, and the evil robots are kind of silly apart from the (rather broad) villain Black King; the coolest character turns out to be the hero's robotic dog. Also problematic is a general lack of continuity between episodes, and even the action scenes are only average--just hordes of disorganized robots with the occasional "boss." It's also disappointing that the series doesn't do more with its ruined, robot-ruled setting.
In total, Casshan is a slightly-above-average anime post-apocalyptic thriller, with nothing really special about it. It's fun and should please fans of the genre, and there's plenty of nostalgia for old-school anime fans, but it's a shame that it doesn't do more with all the potential.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Casshan is a real old-school thriller in the post-apocalyptic anime department. It's got all the adventure themes we find so often in that genre: A grim, post-apocalyptic future, a mysterious warrior with the potential to save humanity, a feisty, scantily-clad love interest for him who occasionally gets her clothing shredded, and a overwhelming army led by a Hitler-wannabe hell-bent on cleansing the planet. The setting is presented very well and this had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it doesn't really live up to it, and suffers from a lot of serious problems that prevent it from being as good as it could have been.
Our hero is a mixed bag. He's got a semi-cool backstory that is slowly explained as the series progresses, which does a good job of adding to the mystery of his background. He also has to deal with some serious moral conflicts, many of which stem from the fact that he was created by the same person who originally designed the Neoroids and had to give up a lot of his humanity to get his powers. But when it comes to his actual powers, well, they just aren't that interesting. He can destroy robots with martial arts moves, deflect blows with his very resilient armor, and fly with a jetpack. That's about it. A wider array of weapons and tools would have really helped. And, get this: our hero is actually solar powered, meaning he has to recharge his power suit from the sun every once in a while. Really? He needs sunlight to keep fighting? That's kind of a big weakness for the ultimate weapon. I guess it's not as bad as being battery powered or needing to be plugged into a wall, but still, even in a series with heavy environmental themes, that's kind of hard to accept.
In fact, I found Casshan's robotic dog to be a lot more entertaining, as he can shred robots with teeth and claws, breathe fire, and transform into a jet. He's basically Mega Man's dog Rush on steroids. Even with no dialog, I'd say he was the best character among the good guys, and I often found myself wishing the story was about him.
The Neoroids themselves are kind of silly. They display a lot of human emotions and left me wondering what was the point of programming them to laugh, brag, and shout "hail Black King" to drive home the point at the end of a statement. Still, that at least kept them distinctive, and they are fairly well animated. I also kind of liked Black King. He isn't particularly creative, but is intimidating and fanatical enough to fill his role. He most certainly looks and talks the part of a despotic tyrant convinced his actions are good for the world.
Another notable thing is the wide variety of themes used in the show: Environmentalism, drama, sci-fi, action, and moral conflict to name a few. Although there isn't enough time for all these to be given full attention, they actually mix together pretty well. Also, it seems some parts of the story have some memorably classic inspiration. One episode, where the Neoroids attempt to use slave labor to build a rail bridge while the humans try to sabotage it as a train passes through, had to have been inspired by the film "Bridge over the River Kwai". Also, at one point Black King listens to his prime directives given to him by his creator, which sound a lot like Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics. Casshan uses these themes without seeming as though they are flat-out ripping off the source material, and it really helps give the series a classic feel.
The voice acting in the dub is quite good, and overall I liked the animation. Clearly this series had a limited budget, but it gets the job done all the same. There are a wide variety of robot troopers, all of which look appropriately menacing, and the backgrounds are nicely done as well. The character animation is also solid, while vehicles and ships are both highly detailed.
However, this series suffers from two major flaws, which are simply impossible to ignore. The biggest one is the lack of continuity between episodes. At 105 minutes total, there really would not have been a problem with the overall length if this was a full movie. Instead, it's four OAV episodes strung together and filled with events that have little effect on the final, climactic battle. At least one episode has no real effect on the final outcome of the series at all. The episodes themselves are all individually pretty good, and this might not be a major issue in a 20-episode TV series, but in a short series like this, there just isn't time for that kind of filler.
Another issue is the action scenes. They aren't really that bad, but to unequivocally call them good feels like an overstatement. They mostly consist of Casshan plowing through hordes of enemies with his fists and feet, and then taking on a slightly more powerful "boss" character that is defeated with a little more effort. It never really felt like he was being seriously challenged and I can't remember the tide of battle ever seeming as though it was going against him. It also doesn't help that the Neoroid strategy of fighting him is something along the lines of "Well, that robot didn't work, let's try this one." There doesn't seem to be any real tactics involved; just keep sending out slightly upgraded troops and hope for the best.
Then there is the issue with the locales. Most of the series takes place in isolated desert and green plains environments, which don't really show off the style and grim setting of a world in ruins. I've seen that problem in a lot of live-action films where they don't have the budget to create more interesting sets, but animated shows don't have that excuse. Having more of the series take place in ruined cities and ancient landmarks would have really helped. Fortunately, it isn't a total loss. There are a few settings that contribute to the atmosphere very nicely, such as a slave-labor-run factory and Black King's castle, which is appropriately dark and foreboding.
One last thing to mention is the support characters, or, more accurately, the lack of them. Other than Casshan's love interest, Luna, who is about as typical as token female supporting warriors come, there really aren't any support characters on the human side, save for some admiral in charge of the human resistance who only gets a few scenes. Some better support characters to aid Casshan in his quest would have really improved the series overall.
To sum up, Casshan is a slightly-above-average anime post-apocalyptic thriller, with nothing really special about it. It's a fun series with enough value to please just about any fan of post-apocalyptic sci-fi settings, but it will probably leave them wanting more For me, it's an entertaining show with a lot of nostalgic value and an old-school feel, but not much else. It really is a shame, since better action scenes and more of a focus on the central plot would have made this an underrated classic. Instead, it's just a decent addition to the post-apocalyptic anime genre.
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Most obvious similar picks are the high-budget Casshern: Sins, which has the same basic set-up but a substantially different story and style, and the original Neo-Human Casshern TV series from the '70s, on which this is based. Kikkaider is a relatively similar classic remake that's somewhere between Casshan and Astroboy, and Cyborg 009 is also an old-school remake, but with more James Bond; both of those, notably, have old-school-style visuals, while Casshan is updated to a relatively modern look. Some well-known post-apocalyptic anime are the various Fist of the North Star incarnations and the two M.D. Geist movies, all of which, however, are more about gore than action and characters.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a 1973 anime TV series called Neo-Human Casshern (新造人間キャシャーン). That series has not been released in the US as of this writing. In addition to this OVA series (which in Japanese was simply titled "Casshan" - キャシャーン), the original series also inspired a live-action film called Casshern, released in 2004, and an anime re-envisioning of the original series called Casshern Sins, released in 2008; both of those newer incarnations are available in the US, the former from Paramount and the latter from Funimation.
This OVA adaptation is a somewhat altered retelling of the story in the original TV series. The live action film tells a considerably different story with the same basic premise, while the plot of Casshern: Sins has very little to do with any of the other versions apart from post-apocalyptic robots and the look of the title character.
In the original Streamline release of this series the four episodes were edited together into a "movie." The later ADV releases both have the series in proper, uncut, four-episode format, although the earlier of their DVDs does not have the Japanese audio track, just an English dub (it was presumably in the same boat as several other titles they picked up the license for after Streamline went out of business, said licenses not including the rights to a subtitled release).
On the title: Phonetically, the title is Kyashaan, which Streamline chose to romanize as Casshan for this series; ADV stuck with the same spelling when they picked up the license, along with the "Robot Hunter" addition. The live-action movie, however, was titled CASSHERN (even in Japan the title was written in latin characters), and presumably as a result Casshern Sins stuck with that spelling. Neither is technically more correct than the other, although I think most native English speakers would say Casshan sounds better.
US DVD Review
ADV's original release (the cover has both Casshan and Black King in full color) includes the full series with English stereo audio. The Special Edition released not long afterward (the cover has an orange-lit Casshan, alone) adds a Japanese stereo audio track and subtitles.
Some time after ADV went out of business, Eastern Star released the entire series on bilingual DVD; their release doesn't list any special features.
Notes on the objectionable content for parents.
Violence: 3 - Mostly just robot destruction, but there are some brutal human deaths.
Nudity: 2 - One scene where the female lead gets her clothing ripped up. Big surprise.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing significant.
Language: 0 - No strong language.
Most recently available in North America on DVD from Eastern Star on bilingual DVD. Prior to that, was available from the late ADV; their first release was dub-only, followed relatively quickly by a special edition that included a Japanese audio track and subtitles; both are currently out of print. Note also that the special edition was apparently mislabeled "volume 2" by ADV, causing some confusion; both ADV DVDs have the same content on a single volume. Was originally available on dubbed VHS edited together into a "movie" from Streamline, way back in the mid-'90s.
Amazon has used copies of all of the above listed, but at last check the special edition that includes the subtitled version was very expensive: Casshan: Robot Hunter (Special Edition), Casshan - Robot Hunter, Casshan: Robot Hunter [VHS].