Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jul 21st 2003
Casshan: Robot Hunter
Tetsuya's father was a brilliant scientist who accidentally unleashed a terrible monster on humanity. His creation, the android BK-01, was supposed to help mankind preserve the planet but has decided the best way to accomplish this task is to remove humanity from the equation. Calling himself the Black King, BK-01 has amassed a huge army of robots to conquer the human race. Transformed by his father's technology in the half-human, half-robot warrior Casshan, Tetsuya is man's last best hope for survival. Together with his robotic canine Friender, Casshan must rescue his old girlfriend Luna from the Black King's clutches before facing the mad android in the ultimate battle for the future of the planet.
For the Japanese, "Casshan: Robot Hunter" is a nostalgia trip, a grittier remake of the classic 1973 TV series. For Americans, it may appear to be little more than a campy throwback to Battle of the Planets reruns. While certainly no masterpiece, it is a far sight better than the cheesy box art would have you believe. The 1993 OVA series is an entertaining if mostly unremarkable actioner that manages to be much cooler than the hero's goofy costume.
Half sequel, half remake of the original series, the follow-up retains the camp elements of its predecessor while lending them an air of dignity through more sophisticated storytelling. The script plays up the tragic aspects of Tetsuya's transformation into Casshan and his inability to love his former sweetheart Luna, as well as the struggles of the human resistance against their robotic captors. The ridiculous battles between Casshan and his enemies take a back seat to his conflicted feelings about his father, who built the Black King in the first place. Most notable is the third episode, which borrows a page from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and juxtaposes the efforts of human slave labor to sabotage a strategic bridge with Casshan's desire to see his father's android work completed. The melodramatic plot may be predictable and unoriginal, but it is well-paced, and there are plenty of nasty villains to keep things interesting.
Though the series takes a somewhat dated view of the perennial robots-versus-humanity tale, the android antagonists remain surprisingly effective. Much of "Casshan's" imagery anticipates Mahiro Maeda's lauded "Second Renaissance" Animatrix short, with its legions of robots at work in factories producing even more robots to engage human resistance fighters on the battlefield. The Black King and his closest robotic henchmen are blessed with some very sleek designs, adapted from the originals by Yoshitaka Amano. Their look harks back to classic 70s anime villains, managing to look completely over-the-top and wickedly cool at the same time.
The same can't quite be said for Casshan himself, whose 'prince-of-space' getup is only slightly more gaudy than Luna's roller-disco-gone-mad attire. But their look is not only in the spirit of the original series but every other sci-fi 70s anime, so it's hard to find too much fault in their designs. Compensating for the heroes' campy costumes is some polished animation and music. The final battle between Casshan and the Black King is a tremendously fine piece of work, and the lively orchestral score that punctuates the whole series is also top notch.
Yet in the end "Casshan: Robot Hunter" is curiously forgettable. The overall story arc is directionless. Casshan and Luna wander aimlessly for two-thirds of the story; while Casshan manages to punch out a bunch of robots he doesn't make much of an impact on the overall war until the final act. Some things never get properly explained, like why the hell the Black King turned Tetsuya's mother into a robot swan. The plot is filled with deux-ex-machinas like anti-robot guns and anti-robot self-destruct switches.
But the two-dimensional characters are mostly to blame for the series' disposability. Nothing is ever discovered about Tetsuya and Luna's life together before the coming of the Black King, and neither show any sign of personality beyond angst or grim determination. The dearth of characterization is what ultimately dooms Casshan: Robot Hunter to anonymity.
Another ADV reissue of vintage Harmony Gold/Streamline material, the DVD release whittles the four-episode OVA series into a single movie. Thematically this doesn't quite work, and it makes the already rambling narrative seem even more disjointed. The cardboard characters also start to wear thin after an hour or so and are much easier to digest in thirty-minute chunks. Like many other of ADV's Streamline reissues, only the old Carl Macek-produced dub is included; fortunately the English voice actors are all capable enough. The DVD's supplemental features are sparse and consist only of ADV trailers, but this is hardly surprising given the show's age and relative obscurity.
"Casshan: Robot Hunter" is a decent enough way to spend an hour-and-a-half, but it doesn't warrant any repeat viewing, nor is it something you'll be loaning to your friends. Fans of old school action in the Gatchaman tradition may want to check it out, but most anime fans will be left feeling coldly indifferent to Casshan's by-the-book adventures, no matter how cool the bad guys may be.
Overall (dub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Better than it looks
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