Double Feature Special
Casshan: Robot Hunter & Casshern: The Robot Hunter
A Review by Christopher Kinsey
Today I’m going to talk about one of those things that just rubs me the wrong way about anime. Live action spin-offs. Much like the lame live action films that embrace our own cartoon heritage, adaptations of Japanese animation usually blows enormous choad as well. But this one slides a little further down the suck-o-meter by using as its source one of the worst anime the early 90s had to offer.
I know, there was a lot of bad anime in the 90s, and I’ll be reviewing more of them as time goes on, but for now I’m going to focus on this little bit of anime hell and it’s partner in crime, the live action movie. Casshern/Casshern started off life as a robot fighting anime in the 1970s. Somewhere along the way, it was turned into an OVA series in the early 90s. It was then that the unspeakable horror happened… Harmony Gold got a hold of it and cut it into a movie length feature. So this sub par bit of nostalgia from the 70s was cut into shape by the craftsmen who gave us Robotech (Not that Robotech was a bad thing in itself… but anything Harmony Gold edited certainly was). So let’s stroll a little later in the 90s, when Harmony Gold was bought out by ADV films. They decided to market all the titles they just got for the budget conscious, as well as the bad OAVs that got their company started. The best part was, ADV couldn’t be bothered to try and find the rest of the footage from the original Casshan OVAs, so we got the very same rehash that Harmony Gold put on VHS and the Sci-FI channel. And they didn’t bother to try and find the original Japanese voice acting, so there is nothing to this DVD beyond the film and the features.
And I can forgive that, why invest more money in restoring a bad 90s anime who’s only buyers will be morons, people who want to relive the glory days of “Saturday Japanime” on Sci-Fi channel, or me when I decided to pick up a copy. Jokes on you ADV! I bought it used!
Well, let’s get to it and watch out feature presentations.
Casshan: Robot Hunter
We open to a narration about the new Dark Ages, where a sentient robot known as Black King (Braiking Boss in the original) led an uprising of robots that pretty much wiped out humankind… for no reason other than “Something to do”. The humans left alive were put into slave labor camps… for some reason. Let’s face it, any menial task you could put a human to work for you could get any robot to do cheaper and easier. But there is one hope for man, the resistance fighter known as Casshan.
Our story begins in a broken and empty amusement center, where a large robot is walking through, destroying anything that resembles a human. We are told by the narration that this is the remains of Eastern Europe in the android occupied area known as the “Robo Zone”. A human freedom fighter bursts forth and is basically chased until cornered, but finally takes out the robot and gathers some sort of information from it’s head… while a steely blue eyed stranger looks on.
We cut to the Black King’s robot assembly plant, where human slaves are ushered in alongside huge machines, which are assembling this huge robot army… still. Um, I thought the robots won? So all that’s left is to send sorts of hunter/killer bots to mop up whatever is left of humanity. Then there are the human slaves, which don’t seem to be doing much to help in the actual assembly of this robot army. A foppish robot in the trappings of feudal times muses over the fact that humans work inefficiently (Duuuur) then gets an infodump on what just happened, stating that the lone freedom fighter must be Casshern. Black King has also arrived to announce how this Casshan will be destroyed, amidst nazi-style salutes from his robot minions.
Come nightfall there is an escape attempt, and the fop robot brings forth the prisoners. Given the opportunity to face their captors, one of the morons simply says, “I’m a human being, not some machine that can just work at the push of a button! I’m leaving now, just try to stop me.” And then he just turns and tries to stride right out the doors… and is mowed down by machine guns. But one is left alive, with a scratch mark from the fop robot (Whom I’m not even going to bother to put a real name to). The prisoner is tossed back in amongst the rabble.
The gate opens again a short while later to the freedom fighter from earlier, who is immediately hailed as Casshan. But the freedom fighter takes off her helmet to tell everyone she’s actually Lula Kazuki from the human resistance here on reconnaissance. Taking off the functional fatigues, she puts on a red, yellow and blue number that isn’t exactly useful for covert operations. She doesn’t believe in Casshan, and tires to spur the prisoners to riot. That way she can blow the power of the plant and the human forces can sweep in and take the plant unaware. The elder of the prisoners agrees, but only if Lula will act as Casshan for the hope of the people.
After the planning, Lula waxes about her lost love out here in the “Robo Zone”. Moments later a large dog shows up with a collar she recognizes. The dog runs back to the stranger we got a glimpse of before, who Lula refers to as “Tetsuya”. She gives chase, paying no heed to any surveillance that might be watching the gates, but luckily, the stranger got rid of any robot in their path beforehand. She finally confronts him into the desert wastes, where the stranger doesn’t give away a thing, claiming not to be this “Tetsuya”. Oh all this brilliant foreshadowing. “Tetsuya” asks Lula to leave before things get violent and nasty… but she refuses, and breaks down weeping as the gates close once again.
The plan is put into action, but everything goes to hell in short order. The prisoner who got to live was blown off by Lula’s search for her lover in the wastes, so he ratted out the plan, getting the elder killed and Lula captured. And boy is she captured, strapped to a cross and has one of her knockers exposed only tastefully concealed by a lock of her long blond hair. Hawt. The prisoner is then double-crossed and chastised for double crossing, then zapped to death on another cross. The fop robot then refers to the robot race as “Neoroids”. How many names are we going to have for this robot menace?
The next day Black King sets up a public execution, but the humans have nothing of it, chanting “Casshan” repeatedly until dispersed by machinegun robots. But lo, the stranger reveals himself again… to be…Casshan! Casshan jumps forth and breaks out Lula, then proceeds to kill the crap out of everything thrown at him with the help of his robot dog. Finally, he confronts Black King, calling him by his old unit number “BK-1”. They exchange a moment of recognition, then Casshern effortlessly tears apart the fop robot. But Black King gives Casshan the slip as the prisoners look on in adoration. The narrator cuts in again for no reason, then we jump straight to Casshan fighting more robots.
Ohho, I see what you did there. Nothing like the seamless editing of Harmony Gold.
This time Casshan’s fighting a lady robot and her hench-bots. But all we learn is that Casshan gets pretty sleepy at sunset, and he’s forced to retreat. His dog turns into a small jet and he flees. The narrator then chimes in to give us the low down on Black King’s new project: I.E. make more powerful robots to try and beat Casshan. He might just team up with Dr. Wiley, which might work. Black King brings in his head human cybernetic scientist to be killed for not making a bad enough robot, droning on and on about “Survival of the fittest”.
Meanwhile, Casshan is visits a robotic swan and looks upon it lovingly for no explained reason… You’d think the mouthy announcer could show up now, but instead the swan shows an image of a woman that gives Casshan hope… or something. It’s really creeping me out. They keep looking at the moon, like it’s going to do something interesting.
Meanwhile Lula is facing problems of her own. She has to get a secret weapon to the human generals in Australia. Her commanding officer sacrifices himself to let Lula get away amidst a horde of robots… and again all is going to be lost when Casshan comes to her rescue, but he’s still seeing double and getting sleepy.
Black King, however, is having a restless night, and is visited by the swan, who seems to give him more technical specs on Casshan. But that little tidbit of information is shoved aside when Lula confirms Casshan is Tetsuya, or at least was. He rebuilt himself as a cyborg by his father as the robots marched on the world, but the process was lost. Black King himself is seen cradling the woman in the Swan’s image and a spectacled fellow who was Tetsuya’s father. Black King began his life as Android BK-1 who was supposed to be an AI that would run a global environmental revitalization project. In order to save the world, Black King is destroying the planet’s prime polluter, mankind.
Black King watches a tech demo of his latest robot built to kill Casshan, while the human forces launch a retrieval chopper for get Lula. As we flip from scene to scene Casshan and Lula fight robots in the wastes, but Casshan needs solar power to recharge. So instead of moving on they consider the ramifications of a robot being the savior of man from other robots… But luckily the female robot shows up with her new toy. It has a force field and “Laser Scythes”. Of course in his weakened state Casshan is a bit of a wuss, but the swan appears and… reflects the light of the sun down on him? Anyway, slightly recharged Casshan quickly destroys the new robeast…. Er… android.
So Lula gets to da choppah, and takes off. As they ascend she sees Casshan right outside and decides then and there to leap from the helicopter, but it’s OK, because Casshern catches her using his hip-rockets or whatever. Our helpful narrator cuts in for some exposition.
So in the next episode… sorry… part of the movie… we open to the Black King’s forces on the move, searching for the humans submarine. But the humans are on the hunt and blast one of the robot’s aircraft out of the sky. Apparently Black King has been having some trouble with a human colony that’s very important for him to destroy. So he makes a bunch of human slaves build a new bridge for a railroad to finally take the colony. The human forces already have saboteurs looking over the situation.
At this moment Casshan, Lula and their dog Frienda (A stupider name couldn’t have been made…) walk along the abandoned rail yards and are attacked by yet another group of robots. Casshan hacks into one of the robot’s programming and sees images from the conflict up to this point… and what seems to be Black King’s ideal world…. Some sort of rustic European village willed with bright sunshine, green trees and female robots as far as the eyes can see. Ew. This leads to the mention of “The Sigma Project” which is the last blow that can be put against humankind, but we have no clue what that is.
Lula and Frienda get taken in by the saboteurs and join in the planning of the raid, while Casshan goes to talk with the swan again and the image of his mother. He learns of Project Sigma, where his father built a new kind of neoroid that would live in harmony with nature. What? Why build robots that would serve no purpose other than consuming no resources, save for the initial building materials? It’s also noted that Casshan’s father may live on somewhere within Black King himself. Even if the project comes to pass how will this stop humanity, exactly? It doesn’t seem to kill humans, just makes a kind of robot that’s got a very low carbon footprint… or whatever.
In any case, things come to order where the bridge is finished, the train is coming on down. Everyone moves into place, Casshan has a moment of doubt, thinking he must fulfill his father’s dream, but the bomb misfires. The saboteurs move in and free the prisoners. Finally seeing reason at how stupid his father’s idea was, and how he shouldn’t let homicidal robots kill everyone to do so, he leaps into action, helping the freedom fighters. The bridge is blown, but it’s too late, the train moves on.
Casshan then proceeds to not only beat the train to the village, but he spins his entire body like a drill and blows up the entire train. He then proceeds to stare at the beauty of the town and waxes didactic about how humanity has to change their polluting ways on their own, not be replaced by androids.
We then cut over to the next part in mid musical interlude. At NORAD’s futuristic counterpart they consider what Black King devotes so many resources to restoring the planet instead of using al his forces to kill the rest of humankind. The humans seem to be making great strides against the enemies.
But back with Casshan our narrator chimes in with how tired Casshan must be, and how the war is taking it’s toll on him. He even collapses after doing what he’s done time and time again, destroying every robot. He’s powered by sunlight… what the hell people? How can he get tired? I can understand the human musings of morality and the like, but tiring when the suns out and doing what he’s been designed to do?
Anyway, his passing out leads into a dream sequence where his dad apparently turns his mother into the swan, then heads off with Black King and some generic robot flunkies into a field of fire. But Black King seems to share the same dream.
Casshan and Lula rendezvous with the human forces and leads into a badly censored shower scene (The shower scene with bare breasts being key to many OVA sales of the early 90s). Lula then dresses in a more normal outfit and tries to get Casshan to come inside and party with the peeps. But Casshan’s having none of it, he’s pondering why Black King is holding back. But he gets the Swan Signal and has to rush off.
His mother brings forth the information that Black King is going to counterattack at any minute, but he’s going to have to weaken his own defenses to do so. Huh? Oh well, that being the case Casshan is charged with defeating the Black King himself and using a dues ex machine that will cause a total shutdown of all bioroids. Why in the world wouldn’t the Black King have disassembled this?
After the swan leaves, Luna tries once more to convince Casshan of his humanity. They finally kiss as a final farewell and it’s time for the big showdown.
Black King confronts Casshan’s father. As Casshan’s dad drones on and on another subtext much like Asimov’s laws of robotics, we cut to scenes of the humans getting their comeuppance as their new super weapons fail to pack a punch anymore. As a matter of fact, the entire nuclear weapons of earth are about to be turned on one another. Black King then says he’s found quite the loophole, he’ll save humanity from itself, and keep it alive in captivity if that’s what it takes.
Casshan finally arrives for the final throw down. He and Frienda take down a buttload of flunkies, as is expected, and he finally faces the female android from before. The female android tries to use one of the super weapons on him, but it isn’t effective at all being that he’s both robot and human.
Black King ponders how he is the savior of humanity, since he’s trying to save the environment and preserve humans. But Casshan shows up it pretty much goes down like most other final fights from this era of anime. Casshan starts by getting his ass handed to him, but he hears the voice of his father and sacks up. Black King gives Casshan one last offer, to join him since obviously he only became an android to live forever (Um… OK?). But Casshan retorts, only saying Black King overthrew the world because he was afraid he’d be replaced by a ore powerful robot. These themes aren’t anywhere else in the story, why bring them up now? In any case, we get right back to the fight and now that Casshan has hulked up by being morally superior, he easily breaks Black King into his components.
He then gets a vision of the swan, his mom and dad finally freed, and his spirit goes to join them. And that activates the shutdown device that shuts down all the robots. Hoo-ray.
But we’re treated to one final shot of Black King and his AI chip… which is still alive. Oh boy! Sequel outage!
Ugh. Sure, this wasn’t the worst anime ever, but it was certainly tweaked from being something rather average to something horrible. Why did Harmony Gold make so many ham-fisted edits when every other anime company was “Going with the flow” and putting out the unedited stuff? It makes no sense. Not that tits and some more violence would have made it better, but at the very least they could have not bothered with the narration and shoveling in references to NORAD and the like.
Casshern: The Robot Hunter
Now this film was to be a prequel of sorts. It featured the very same characters and was supposed to be just as thematic as the anime series in the past. Well let me just head you off at the past: This is a vastly different movie. The anime was about fighting robots in a world virtually overrun with robots. This movie is about zombies…
Let me explain.
The world had been in the grip of a nuclear, biological and general polluting war for some time. Dr. Azuma (Casshern’s Dad) has created a breakthrough with something called “Neo-cells”. These cells can form any body part and be transplanted without rejection to any human being. This is indeed very different from the original, in which Dr. Azuma was a robotic and bionic engineer.
Meanwhile his son, Tetsuya, is off at war. He is killed by a monstrous booby trap akin to the horrors of Vietnam, and his body is shipped to his father’s lab in secret. Midori (Casshern’s Mom) is blind in this version of the tale, but can swear she sees Tetsuya’s ghost. She implores that Tetsuya see his girlfriend, Luna, at some point. She’s been really gothed up this time… and why? In either case things look promising for mankind, until a stone based lightning bolt (What?) crashes into the experimental laboratory.
Well, this causes the tissue in the neo-cell tank to form into the Neo-sapiens. Naturally the military there freaks out and kills as many of the Neo-sapiens as possible, with a few still managing to get away. Midori was caught in the crossfire trying to visit her husband at work and captured by the Neo-sapiens in the uproar. They decide to use her as a bargaining chip in their upcoming struggle, and also activate a disbanded robot army they find in an old castle in the wastelands (What?).
So of course Dr. Azuma does the only thing he can think of, he submerges Tetsuya into the neo-cell culture and revives him. But his body is unstable in this form and Dr. Azuma must turn to his molecular engineer colleague Kozuki. It is there Casshern gets the signature suit… but leaves the helmet behind for no good reason. It’s just put in there as a “Hey, we could have put him in the whole suit, but I like this new gothed up idea a lot better with the rest of my depressing and overused CGI set design”.
Anyway, while they were playing dress up with Tetsuya, the Neo-sapiens have been mounting a huge front and wiping out masses of humanity. Their main goal is to capture more scientists to help with their physical problems as Neo-Sapiens and how to create robots that are more powerful. So obviously, they try to capture Kozuki, but wind up killing him (What?). And of course at that moment Tetsuya’s suit is complete, so he comes to the rescue (?) of sorts by getting his ass kicked by one of the Neo-sapiens until a sword is thrust into it’s belly. The fights in this movie are just like the rest of the set pieces, you can’t enjoy them because the special effects and backgrounds are doing all they can to drown it all out. You have enough CGI and special effects in this film for the next seventeen “Star Wars” films (If they were to ever be made).
Well he soon finds himself in battle with a great number of the robot forces and it’s a pretty fun fight, using many classic anime sound effects and the like, but ultimately Tetsuya fails and Luna pulls him to safety. Together they go to Zone Seven where they learn the horrible truths behind the neo-cells. The population of Zone Seven are the basis of these cells. They are basically melted down by Dr. Azuma for their cells and was part of a selfish project to keep the high military staff seemingly immortal.
Ugh, I’ll just summarize the rest because it’s all downhill from here. Tetsuya eventually finds the Neo-Sapiens’s leader as he starts a device that will destroy a great amount of the world. He throws it to a unpopulated area while the Neo-sapien leader is killed by the Military general’s son (What?). Dr. Azuma finds his wife dead and tries to revive her with the neo-cells. Wishing to spare his mother the pain of the process, he stops Dr. Azuma. Azuma retaliates by shooting Luna, but Luna is revived by the Neo-sapien’s blood on the floor (What?). Tetsuya kills his father and embraces Luna, who promptly proceeds to rip off Tetsuya’s containment suit and they become pillars of light, crashing onto a new planet (What?). The movie ends with old home movies of the characters in happier times.
You’d think that this movie would be easy to make. It looks cool, and it’s always fun to see robot armies get smashed. But there is nothing here about the original Casshern at all. Sure, there are some nods to the series but all in all this is nothing more than a jumped up all style, no story Asian cinematic film. Not that the ‘classic’ tale of building robots to clean up the polluted planet turning on their human masters is a herald in storytelling, but this film should really have tried to stand on it’s own rather than try to emulate the anime series at all. I have to admit, the fight scenes are pretty, but other than that there is no reason to watch this film.