Casshern Sins is one of my absolute favourite shows, but its biggest flaw is one I’ve devoted a lot of time thinking about: The fact that Casshern Sins is two very different shows, divided cleanly into the series’ two halves. What’s also interesting is how little this comparatively massive flaw harms my enjoyment.
There’s honestly no avoiding the fact that Casshern Sins’ thirteenth episode marks its jarring shift. The show’s first half plays like a more fleshed-out Kino’s Journey: A main character or two simply wandering an exceedingly interesting, dying world. Its focus on exploring one multifaceted world and the people in it. In Kino, however, Kino and Hermes effectively explore a different world each episode, with totally different levels of technology, ideas, and even history. While I like Kino, this dilutes my enjoyment of the show, as nothing is fleshed out enough to get me really invested, although everything is just fleshed out enough to make me care for that episode.
But Casshern presents us with one coherent world, and everything is made to explore the single, unified theme of death, and what death means for different people. We meet the human, the artist, the robots accepting death, the leader, the singer, the builder. The list goes on, and we come to understand how everyone sees death. The series is almost iyashikei-like in its portrayal of constant despair, but even then the show is peppered with enough hope to balance the whole affair out. This is of course aided and abetted by the the stellar score that forces your face to the show and forces you to feel the right emotion all the time while still sounding pleasant, and of course the always-unique Umakoshi character designs don’t hurt.
But the problem here? This setup is untenable in the long-run. You can do like Kino, an dkeep it going forever with no advancement, or you can approach a plot-driven climax. And I’m glad that Casshern did the latter. After all, the episodic format is peppered with bits of interesting plot that provide just enough context and flavour to accentuate the wanderings, while also not intruding.
But the way in which it was done practically ruins (no pun intended) the show. While the first half is devoted to those wanderings I’m such a fan of, I guess director Yamauchi just decided he’d had enough. To the plot, full throttle!
And suddenly those wanderings are over, replaced with a plot that tries to explain all the elements of the series that didn’t matter because this was a theme-based show: The narrative elements don’t need explaining when the audience understands that the ideas are more important than the literal explanations. So we end up with Leda being Ringo’s mother and Ringo actually not being impacted by the Ruin and Luna has her powers because of experimentation or some shit. I also remember an egg involved. This whole thing leads to an ending that makes zero sense when looked at literally or narratively, but works beautifully when one considers Casshern as the symbol of death and Luna as the symbol of life. Of course, again, that’s only true thematically, so I’m left to wonder what the point was of abandoning fans of the first half to please people who didn’t like said first half, only to then give those fans an ending inspired by the older way the show addressed issues. I did like the last episode, as it was focused on conflicts with Braiking Boss and Luna that had been in play since the very beginning, as well as providing an emotional conclusion (Though it really needed to be two episodes instead of one), but then of course I did. I also had to make my way through ~10 episodes of inferior material, so whatever.
What would someone who enjoys the politics between Braiking Boss and Luna get out of philosphical musings about the meaning of death? What would someone who enjoys the science of robots and immortality get out of an ending that is purely thematic in its construction and explanation? I hope you understand now what I mean when I say Casshern Sins is two very different shows with shared audiovisual design and characters, though exploring different themes in different ways, with completely different pacing and structure to boot, though it would be fascinating to see if anyone really loves the entire show.
However. That’s never the end of the conversation in my head that goes on whenever I think about Casshern Sins. Let me remind you that I said that this was one of my favourite shows of all time. I bought the French Blu-Rays just to own it, think about it all the time, and write blog posts about it.
Truthfully, Casshern is a fascinating study of how much goodwill you can buy from a viewer based solely on an excellent beginning. Fact is, I would happily go through that second half a thousand times if it meant I could watch that glorious first half 500 times. It’s a series that perfectly explores one theme by relating it to different characters as representations of different elements of said theme. The painter can be used to explore the beauty of life in contrast to death, the builder the impermanence and desperation wrought when faced with death, the robots who accept it and the humans each provide a different perspective. Its wonderful in its execution, though of course I would say that given that I feel that’s the perfect way of setting up a story, and is probably why I enjoy Urobuchi’s characters-as-mouthpieces setup. I love Casshern Sins, and that love means that a critical flaw, instead of making a great show good or a good one average, brings a 10/10 to a 9/10: That love can mitigate almost any flaw if it’s great enough, and it just so happens that Casshern Sins manages that balance perfectly, despite its peculiar two-show syndrome.