Netflix's new animated series blends retro grindhouse with Mexican supernatural elements for an ass-kicking good time. Micchy and Nick have all the details.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Micchy, from what I can tell there's a certain amount of controversy over whether some shows these days count as "anime." I think this is a pretty interesting topic to get into—dissecting how we define arbitrary umbrella terms across multiple languages and perspectives is important. But sometimes it seems people can really lose their heads over it.
The argument about what is and isn't anime is a bit like the definition of a sandwich. Everybody has an idea of what definitely is anime, but everybody puts the boundary between "anime" and "not anime" somewhere slightly different. Personally, I give the finger to semantics and call anything and everything anime, really embrace that sandwich anarchy.
Anyway, hyperviolent supernatural chūni bullshit is Pretty Anime in my book, even if it isn't strictly Japanese or even a cartoon at all. What I'm saying is that if Netflix gets to call Seis Manos anime then I get to call Taiwanese puppet theater anime as well.
At the end of the day we're all just weird adults who get really invested in watching cartoons. And for my money Seis Manos
is some pretty good cartoons, regardless of what exact name we put on it. Like what other show am I gonna watch this season that features martial artist orphans literally ripping the throats out of bad guys?
The violence in this show is so gratuitous but so metal, god bless.
Can you tell that the lead writer for this show, Álvaro Rodríguez, also wrote Machete
That connection alone should be enough to clue in most viewers as to what kind of show this is. An outlandishly violent pastiche of grindhouse and martial arts films from the 60s and 70s, brimming with a lot of blood and kung fu.
That's really what it is, a bunch of '70s movies thrown together in a blender with the barest framework under it to make it a fun and memorable, if not particularly emotionally resonant cartoon.
It has such a mix of influences that it's not only pretty dang Mexican (hope you know your Spanish insults!), but strangely committed to accurate depictions of Chinese martial arts, even starting off every episode with a Lao Tzu quote.
It's a really cool viewing experience, if nothing else. And it commits to its inspirations in ways that are really impressive. While the animation can often be limited, the fight scenes pay a lot of attention to choreography to make its fights fast and powerful. It also does goofy stuff like editing in Cue Blips and occasional film grain to emulate the feeling of watching an old film reel.
I gotta say though, those editing gimmicks are a little tacky when applied as inconsistently as they are across the series. Think back to, say, Megalobox
, which was compressed and re-upscaled to fully capture the fuzziness of mid-00s TV anime. In Seis Manos
the film reel only sputters a handful of times, so it almost feels like a punchline when it does happen.
That's fair. I think putting that stuff in constantly would be too much, but I can get how it would feel awkward. Personally I was just too amused by them to be bothered.
It's fun! But while the little formal nods are cute, overall the color design still looks too shiny and digital for me to fully get the '70s vibes they're going for. That's all. On the other hand, though, the script is absolute gold in that corny exploitation film way and I am 100% here for it.
For me, it's that tendency towards "too much" that works in its favor. The quips try so hard to be clever that they veer right back around into corny instead, straddling the line between snappy and dumb as rocks. I don't think I once laughed at any of the intended jokes in the dialogue, but I sure did get a kick out of how hard the script was trying to be funny.
IMO its funniest lines are when it's at its darkest.
For context: This guy sealed his Witch Mom inside a magic statue of an evil saint and uses pieces of her flesh he carves out of said statue to turn people into monsters. So this is him actually dunking on Jesus.
Okay, that magic statue witch mom plot is a wild ride. If I'm getting my plot points right, Witch Mom gets her son to murder her abusive husband for her, raising him to be such a sociopathic monster that he eventually turns on her and forces her to make Magic Teardrop Drugs for him?? And somewhere along the line she gave another woman the means to kill her abusive husband and now communicates with her through magic shroom trips.
Pretty much! And all this sets in motion a random underling of his going hog wild and turning into a monster.
Who then kills our main characters' adoptive father, who was a kung fu master who raised them all as martial artists, and they take on the task of avenging his death.
Angry Boi there is bad at listening to people though, so he goes a little hog wild and starts murdering people who are mostly trying to help in the funniest church standoff I bet I'll see all year.Priest:
there is surely some evil going on in this townPriest, five minutes later:
it was me the whole time.
It's all fun and games until you stumble onto your youth pastor's Gun & Cocaine room.
But yeah, Seis Manos
' plot is A Lot, which I think works for it. There's always something going on, and it's structured well enough that there's almost never down time, which makes for a fun watch even if it doesn't all make the most sense.
Yeah, it's just fun
, even when it's introducing new villains halfway into its 8-episode run as setup for a last-minute twist. It goes straight from "actually the drug smuggler priest was a good mob boss keeping the town from getting dragged into a werewolf gang war" to "and then the buddy cop duo watch an old lady trip on shrooms" without stopping for a moment, so you don't realize how dang stupid the story is until an episode's over. And it still has time for drunken zombie finger hijinks!
You know if all this is weird to the rest of the cast how messed up must it be for Jésus, since he spends nearly the whole show drunk.
Jesus is a big mood, yeah.
I mean, sure, drowning his grief in mezcal after his surrogate father's death is a terrible coping mechanism, but he's nowhere near the worst among the main trio at taking bad news. For instance, he could be trying to solve his problems with murder.
Hey man, some people punch a Padre's skull in so hard he gets stuck to a statue of the crucifixion to cope.
Really though, while the cast aren't particularly deep, the show takes time to give them at least some humanizing moments, which I think is what keeps it from feeling like the empty exercise in ultraviolence it could have been.
It deals in broad emotions, nothing particularly specific or biting, but there's just enough context for why the buddy cops are such prickly bastards or why Silencio is such a rage machine that it doesn't feel totally hollow, yeah. Silencio's arc isn't much more complex than "misdirected anger bad", but it's enough. And "enough" is really all this show needs to land.
Also I appreciate Jésus as one of the rare fat characters in an action cartoon who gets to do more than just be a joke. Like he's still one of the more comedic characters, but he gets as much dignity and cool fights as his siblings, which is nice.
He's serious, by the way.
Plus he gets my favorite fight in the show when he just goes Police Story 4
on a bunch of dudes.
Meanwhile Isabela gets to be, uh, possessed by an ancient witch mom, complete with inexplicable revealing costume change.
To be fair, up until that point she's afforded the most depth of the main trio, but it's still a pretty tired move to make the girl
in the main trio fight the villainess for her own agency.
Yeah, it's a weird move all around. Like most of the plot points in the show it comes and goes fast enough that it doesn't kill any momentum, but it's a weird move to take when you could have had all 3 of the sibs tag-teaming against El Barde while trying to figure out a way to beat him.
And then Garcia turns to the camera Dora the Explorer
style to get everyone to chant her exorcism with her, for some reason.
Now I get the sense that Seis Manos
is pretty faithful to Mexican folklore, down to the curandero exorcism or whatnot, but I cannot deny that this scene radiates powerful "Swiper, no swiping" energy.
It's a weird conclusion to the fight, if nothing else. Made doubly so when it's followed up by Garcia macking on Brister directly after. Like they've spent the whole show mostly quipping at each other and I'm pretty sure he still thinks "Mexican" is a language but I guess we're supposed to ship it.
Life comes at you fast, I guess.
My money's on suspension bridge effect. Given the life-threatening circumstances they just got out of, some emotional confusion is only expected. That's the only explanation I can come up with, anyway.
I guess. And life certainly does come at you fast in Seis Manos
. Like one minute you're talking about what to do with your brother's increasing compulsion for brutal murder, the next you're fighting your dad's evil immortal kung fu master and his magic sword.
I'm honestly perplexed by how the El Balde stuff basically wraps up in 7 episodes only for the series to pivot to a completely different conflict in its season finale. Like obviously the China stuff is a sequel hook, but it's still such a bizarre decision to spend exactly one episode on this arc and then go "hey watch the next season maybe!"
It's weird, but at the same time I kind of love that it decides to end the season by going Full Wuxia on us, and the finale's fight sequence is easily the best of the entire series.
It is neat! But the sudden hop in genres is just jarring. We spent 7 episodes in the gritty violence of the criminal underworld with just a smattering of supernatural elements, and then suddenly we're in larger-than-life hero/villain territory. The disconnect is especially apparent in the child slave subplot.
Just a few episodes before, the show established the overwhelmingly violent way El Balde's gang takes over San Simon.
But by the end of the season, the kids somehow hoodwink them and chase them out with just a bit of spunk and wit. It's a weird shift in tone from "the world is unjust and the powerful are cruel" to "heck yeah, kid power, just gonna scare away a bunch of thugs and take over the Father's drug smuggling ring, I guess."
Yeahhhhhh, that's probably the show's biggest issue. While it mostly commits to being a fun, blood-soaked, somewhat campy romp, there's points where it breaks into some Kids WB
stuff that doesn't work. Like in a different show some spunky kid Bugs Bunnying the villains out of their guns would be amusing, but here it just feels off.
This is a show where the main villain murdered his own father as a child, but now kids with lethal weapons is a fun punchline, I guess.
I wonder if we should just assume that Seis Manos will just be an entirely different show in its hypothetical second season. While the first season takes violence and death at least somewhat seriously, I can't imagine that escalating the conflict from mob drama to full-on wuxia will do much to ground the stakes.
The season does end on Silencio being abducted by an ancient kung fu cult, with Isabella and Jésus traveling to China to save him, so I can't imagine it'll have much in common with the dynamic of this season.
But frankly as long as the martial arts fights are as entertaining and well-crafted as they were here, I don't think I'll mind too much.
If the first season is anything to go by, any future seasons will be nothing if not nonstop action and goofy plot twists. If it can just keep up the momentum (which I don't doubt it will), it'll be a fun watch no matter how dumb it gets.
It's not trying to be thoughtful or critical on any more than a superficial level, so all it's gotta do is stay brisk and not dwell on anything too long.
If nothing else, Seis Manos
was a fun watch with a pretty unique setting and cast for an animated series. And if wants to just keep doing that forever, then I'm here for it.