This Is Your True Nature; Casshern Sins Episode 1

While I can come away from this episode and say from an objective standpoint that it is fantastic , I could not bear to give it any score higher than a B because it fails to reach out, engage, and make a connection with it’s audience.

In classical dramatic structure as taught in high school English class there are roughly five parts to a story: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. What “At The End of The World” does is take a common route in modern literature in which the formal exposition is forgone in order to focus in more on the plot and characters without “wasting” any time introducing the world. A well-known example of this is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, specifically the first novel in the trilogy: Northern Lights (known in North American as The Golden Compass). It is such a significant example of this technique, because unlike earlier works which simply minimized exposition, Northern Lights contains no exposition whatsoever, yet is a science-fiction tale set in a parallel universe. Casshern Sins takes the exact same path as Northern Lights, thus has no formal exposition at all, and jumps right into the rising action piece of it’s dramatic structure. Casshern Sins, however, fails at this approach where Northern Lights succeeded brilliantly, and that can be attributed to it’s decided lack of ‘incluing’ as the major expository technique. Incluing is a term coined by fantasy and science fiction author Jo Walton, which she describes as “the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart information”. Incluing is a major part of the modern idea of continual exposition in which exposition is not only a fixture to be inserted into the beginning of a story, but also an integral piece of the entire work. Often times modern exposition is not simply the information dump placed before scenes of action and dialogue but is instead the careful conjunction of both infodumping and incluing; authors such as Pullman, however, eliminate the practice of infodumping (which constitutes the entire concept of ‘classical’ or ‘formal’ exposition) and instead employ only incluing. Casshern Sins lack of infodumping as well as incluing make it difficult to connect to Casshern, our protagonist, as we know literally nothing about him, the world he lives in, or the events surrounding him and are not ‘clued in’ (hence the term ‘incluing’) into what any of these might be. Without basic information about the plot, the audience is lost and disconnected.

Furthermore – and again, in comparison to Northern LightsCasshern Sins is not able to mitigate the damage  of its poor expository execution with any sort of emotional connection to the characters. One of the fundamental strengths of Pullman’s Northern Lights is that while it may be set in a world and has a plot that require a lot of explanation, those are not the focuses of his novel (or the trilogy) in it’s beginning stages. Instead Pullman focuses and discourses on Lyra Belacqua, her life, and her friendships with Roger Parslow and Pantalaimon, these draw the reader in by establishing an emotional connection and form the basis for the rest of the book (and series). Casshern Sins, again, has none of this. Casshern is introduced as a killing machine who does not know his own past, thus his relationships with pre-existing characters cannot form the basis for a reader connection; when the author presents a character in Casshern’s situation the emotional connection that they have to establish between the reader and that character then falls squarely on either the character building new relationships or establishing characterization (and an identity arc). The new relationship that supposed to be developed as a way for the audience to emphasize and relate is that between Casshern and Ringo, a robot with a child-like demeanor and appearance, except that doesn’t happen. Casshern and Ringo exchange less words than I do with the the guy who works at the corner store, and the events that transpire between them are also less impacting that the ones that I have with the guy who works at the corner store. Even when Casshern rescues Ringo from the agressive robot who wants to crush her to bits, nothing really impacts their relationship; such an event usually goes one of two routes: the savior and his rescued become closer because of the heroism the savior shows or the savior alienates his rescued with the amount of depravity and violence the savior shows. The first possible outcome is most often employed in situation in which the author wishes to create a new relationship or reinforce a tentative one while the second is most often employed to destroy an already formed, close relationship for the express purpose of creating emotion strife in its characters and pity in the audience. The second option however, only works to create pity as a form of empathy in a situation in which a relationship has already been formed; this undeniable clause is something the writers must not understand, as they opted to take Casshern and Ringo’s relationship (which is only arguably existant) on that path. Without any relationships for the show to fall back on, the task of building an emotional connection is then squarely placed on the character of Casshern, yet another failure. Casshern is first and foremost introduced as a robot who is extremely good at killing things, yet other than that he is left a blank slate. In stories of forgotten pasts the first thing that has to be established for the protagonist is character, personality; even though the protagonist may not know who exactly they are, the audience still need to have a sense of who they are. Characterization is key to the success of any narrative, but especially so to a narrative in which characterization is the only way for the audience to get to know who the person they are supposed to be rooting for is. Casshern does nothing nor saying anything that gives any indication as to the kind of person he is supposed to be, his character is woefully undeveloped, neigh, non-existant. Sure, Casshern asks great philosophical questions such as “What does it mean to be human?”, but that is not characterization, it is barely even the basis for an identity arc because there is nothing else to support it. Casshern is also left empty, and untouched, so not even an emotional connection can be brokered.

Interest in a story is different from investment. Casshern Sins is a truly beautiful show that fantastically utilizes music – it even brings in deep philosophy and a promising premise – but that does not mean that I am in any way invested in how this will turn out. Interest is generated by plot, themes, even animation, or art-style, but true investment in any novel, film, video game, or anime comes from its execution of the plot, story, and characters. The heart of good storytelling is not in the plot, but in the characters and the story (the place where the plot meets the characters’ arcs). And in those places, Casshern Sins‘ first episode is colossal failure. All of the things that are supposed to make me want to watch this again aren’t there in the least. This show had no way to reach out and pique my interest with the plot, because it didn’t tell us anything about it. This show had no way to reach out and touch my heart, because its characters were dead. All of the important, critical aspects of the show are even more desolate and dilapidated than the place they are set in.

All things considered, the only thing I can give this show so far is a C+ and another chance to fix its shit and end up dazzling me.

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2 responses to “This Is Your True Nature; Casshern Sins Episode 1

  1. Casshern Sins is a tricky beast. A lot of people have a hard time tackling it because they’re looking for either a straight action show or a Kino’s Journey-esque adventure. Approach the show as both and it’s actually pretty fascinating stuff! Also the show is probably one of the most visually stunning anime ever made, so that helps.

    Make sure to watch until at least episode 4, since that’s when the show begins to click. If you still don’t like it by that point then you might as well drop it, but if you’re beginning to warm up to it, then keep going; there’s some pretty fantastic rewards at the end of that tunnel. The first half is a bit better than the second but if you liked avant-garde interpretations of old-school anime like the recent Fujiko Mine, you’ll probably dig this.

    • Don’t worry, I don’t plan on giving up. Natasha has informed me over and over that it picks up and becomes a perfect nine of an anime, so I intend to hold out until that happens. :)

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