In my first writeup on Casshern Sins, I worried that the show’s distant and deliberately mythic tone might prevent it from succeeding on a personal, emotional level. That issue remains a possibility, but this episode certainly didn’t reflect it; it was sad and intimate and remarkably successful, maintaining the sense of inevitability the show consistently demonstrates while offering up enough personal moments to make the Ruin succeed as small-scale tragedy. Things are still progressing as an intentionally archetypal epic story, but intimacy of telling and strong execution could make that work as well here as it does in something like Madoka Magica.
This episode opened where the last concluded, with Casshern or the man assigned his name being condemned by a new enemy for killing “the Sun named Moon” and commencing the Ruin. But Casshern didn’t remember his crime, and so his opponent declined to attack him. “Allowing you to die ignorant of what you’d done… that’d be the same as sparing you. You should know exactly what sin you’re dying for.” That style of melodramatic writing continued in the next scene, with some kind of prophet-esque robot waxing philosophical on the nature of robot being. Death was what separated humans from robots, but now robots experience death as well, and the fear of this knowledge has driven them to madness. Casshern seems cast as some kind of morbid Adam, the robot who brought the knowledge of death to the world and thus brought about the end of Eden.
But lofty metaphor can only carry your story so far, and this episode seemed to understand that. The rest of this episode was dedicated to the story of Root and Wrench, two robots who somehow fell in love. “When I’m with you, I feel like I’ve turned human,” whispered Root to her lover. “Since I’ve started loving you, I’ve felt like the Ruin inside me has stopped.” Some robots scorn the appearance of humanity, while others embrace both its physical likeness and the acceptance of death it implies. To know death is to connect with human nature, while those that fear death seek Casshern’s life as a return to perfection, to inhuman distance and the immortality it holds.
Root and Wrench lived within a community that had accepted this concession of human nature, and were simply awaiting their Ruin with what dignity they had. Casshern’s visit to their home was an eerie and heartbreaking sequence of small moments within this community and gorgeous shots of their apocalyptic church. Decayed robots lay in pews guarded by a resigned preacher, while others sat outside and practiced small human gestures as their pieces came undone. Scenes of the robots carving a marker for a fallen friend, or juggling screws until they fell to pieces and retired to avoid upsetting their friends, lent a gripping emotional truth to what had previously come across as a lofty and distant fear.
Casshern Sins’ visual execution actually improved in this episode, somewhat bucking the best-foot-forward anime trend. A lot of this came down to the greater diversity of backgrounds within the robot community; instead of taking place in a consistent plane of dunes and shoreline, their covered sanctuary combined fraying cinder buildings, overhanging fingers of terrain, and that shaking, run-down church to create the sense of a place that was itself a once-living but now barren skeleton. Vivid reds and blues lent a rich off-kilter tone to the interior church scenes, and dramatic shadows cast both Casshern and his unintentional victims as imposing figures. Fight scenes made excellent use of the show’s graceful character designs while elevating themselves through dramatic effects work, and wild camera angles lent both a kineticism to both battle scenes and the community’s slow decay.
In the end, the robots of this congregation learned Casshern’s name, a predictable development with a predictable but nonetheless tragic conclusion. The robots swarmed Casshern, accepting the loss of human dignity and even love for the chance of regaining their original immortality. Children who had put on a brave face until their friends died before them charged greedily at Casshern, and in the end he stood alone, with even the resolutely principled Root falling to Ruin before him. Casshern has learned something of himself and something of Ruin – that Ruin is a process internal to each of these robots, and that he is somehow responsible and must make amends. But there seems to be a darkness in him, as if his body is meant to be the great destroyer even as he seeks forgiveness. Even the absolution of Ruin will not come easily to Casshern.
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