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Casshan - Robot Hunter
voice cast: Richard Allen, Stephen Apostalina, Catherine Battistone, Steve Bulen and Ardwright Chamberlain

director: Hiroyuki Fukushima

115 minutes (15) 1993
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
One of anime's more enduring concepts resurfaced recently as beautiful live action movie Casshern. Here, we get the slightly earlier, animated version but there's still much to enjoy, even for non-fans.

Set in the near future when an artificial intelligence, Black King, has led a robot army to near total control of the planet, the series follows resistance fighter Casshan. The son of the scientist responsible for the creation of Black King and half-robot himself, Casshan fights the war on two fronts, struggling to retain his own humanity as much as saving everyone else's.

The design work here is phenomenal, mixing the standard 'masked hero' styling of anime with some genuinely creepy robots designs. Black King's armies are wonderful, the various designs alternately bulky and insectile, and uniformly intimidating. More so arguably than The Matrix sequels, the series does a fantastic job off driving home the point that Earth no longer belongs to the humans. This makes for genuinely unsettling viewing and it's a concept the series drives home in a number of different ways. Casshan's frequent encounters with a beautiful, and robotic, swan are particularly good balancing the sentimental demands of the genre with something altogether darker.

It's this darkness that makes the series truly interesting. Casshan is a remarkably conflicted central character and the series never shies away from this. On the one hand he pushes himself to inhuman limits in the war but, on the other hand, in doing so continues to fight past the point a machine would realise it was logical to stop. This constant battle between his human and robot sides is in turn neatly balanced by his relationship with Luna, his girlfriend prior to the robot war and now a seasoned resistance fighter herself. Casshan's struggle to remain true to both his father's ideals and his humanity is the stuff of grand tragedy and when you find out exactly how badly damaged he is towards the end of disc one there's a real sense of danger to the series. This is a story about a hero who may not reach the end of it and it never lets you forget that.

Inevitably there are moments that won't sit well with some viewers. Some of Black King's subordinates let the robot side down badly with some frankly goofy designs and at times the series is in severe danger of massively over-emoting. The real test though will be whether viewers can accept that Casshan's dog is not only a robot, but a robot that can transform into his own personal jet fighter. If that's too outlandish, then this isn't the series for you. However, if you can accept the series' more outlandish elements as well as its moments of genuine emotion then there's a lot to enjoy here. It's sharp, punchily written, well drawn and at a mere two discs is not a massive investment of time or money. Anime fans will find a lot to enjoy here and for those looking to try the genre out, this is as good a place to start as any.
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