Sunday, April 29, 2012

Casshan and Me

If the eight Spider-Man entries weren't a clue (and the next one of those is imminent), I've been on a bit of a nostalgia kick for the last couple of years. Some psychologist could probably come up with a theory about a need to try and make sense of my childhood, which wasn't typical, by revisiting the most significant entertainment for me at that time. I'm not really sure, but I do find it interesting to look back at these movies, TV shows or comics and see what impact they might have had on me as a writer.

The character Casshan (or Casshern) was first introduced to Japanese audiences in a 1970s anime series, but that wasn't the version I saw. In 1993, the story was reimagined as a four-part limited series called Casshan: Robot Hunter. The Sci-Fi Channel edited this series into a two-hour film and showed it on their "Saturday Anime" feature, a weekly treat that introduced a whole generation of American kids to the very different kind of cartoons that got made on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I tuned into Saturday Anime often, but it was always mixed in with the more traditional cartoons I was into at the time. I'd usually flip back and forth when one went to commerical, but Casshan was the first one that really held my attention. I was about 11 or 12 and had never seen an animated story with this level of intense action and drama. It absolutely blew me away. It starred an android in a dorky/awesome outfit whose preferred combat move was a karate chop that could split a robot in half. He also had a robot dog that could breathe fire. What more could a kid ask for? My mother happened to walk in during a scene where Casshan shouted "Damn you!" to his nemesis, the Black King (Android BK-1). She expressed her surprise and I indignantly replied, "Mom, this isn't for kids."

Rewatching it so many years later was an emotional experience. That distinctive style of late 80s/early 90s anime feels iconic at this point and I even kept the cheesy English dubbing on because that was what I remembered. I was able to recall how magical this was for me as a child, but as an adult it's clear it's not quite a masterpiece. The storyline lifts shamlessly from Terminator, Star Wars and a little bit of Mega Man. Characterization is barely given any thought. The boobilicious outfit worn by Casshan's love interest is ridiculously impractical for a war zone. The environmentalist elements of the story make less sense the more you think about them - why would the Black King resort to using nuclear weapons if he's so concerned about preserving the planet?

However, those are the comments of a movie buff with thousands of films under his belt. Sometimes I feel like my younger self's reaction is the one that deserves more attention. Indeed there are moments of real drama within this two hours and the ending is grandiose and moving in a fashion that only anime can pull off. My firsthand knowledge of how powerful this film can be for a child gives it a special kind of value that can't be compromised by any standard cinematic/storytelling flaws.

The character has been revisited a few times now, first in 2004 with a bonkers live-action adaptation simply called Casshern. Then in 2008, a depressing and SUPER angsty reboot called Casshern: Sins discarded most of the canon. Seriously, I'm talking dangerous, potentially toxic Kingdom Hearts levels of emo. It didn't speak to me the way the original did, but it might for some kid out there who could stumble upon it...

Right around this time, I also got my first look at other anime shows out there, including Teknoman (which will probably gets its own entry after I rewatch that). A couple of years later came the one-two punch of Dragon Ball Z and Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue. After that, there was no going back. But my fondness for anime, and perhaps for animation in general, can be traced right back to Casshan. Who says cartoons rot your brain?

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