The second episode of Casshern Sins is an major improvement over the first one, however, that is only by its virtue of being one of the most depressing and soul-crushing things that I’ve ever seen.
The idea that death is what makes us human is a concept that was discussed by Battlestar Galactica concurrently with Casshern Sins. In the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica (AKA BSG), “The Alliance” of colonials and rebel cylons (the Two, Six, and Eight models) attack the cylons’ ‘Ressurection Hub’ – the thing that allows the cylons to survive the destruction of their physical bodies and transfer into new ones – thus rendering both the rebel cylons and the loyalist cylons (the One, Four, and Five models) mortal. As I recall, both a Six and an Eight state (although not in these words) that the cylon race is now better off because every moment of their lives matter, that death enables their lives to matter since their time in this world is now limited. According to them, the only difference between the cylons and the humans is now gone, so they can begin to trust one another and come together, because they are the same.
As I stated above, Casshern Sins also tackled this issue around the same time. In the second episode, Casshern comes across a community of robots who are trying to live peacefully, accepting the ruin. There are also many among them, Wrench in particular, that believe that with the ruin (death) approaching, they feel human. Wrench says as much as the Six and Eight do, that she is now for all intents and purposes human. And I really think that that statement is beautiful; death gives life meaning and purpose, and without it we may as well not be human.
But here Casshern Sins goes into a dark and ugly place. It establishes that, in the face of the ruin, robots are human, and especially makes this point salient in respect to the peaceful coalition of robots. Yet when they find out that if you devour Casshern you can stop the ruin, all of the peaceful robots turn on him. Nearly every robot in this peaceful haven try to eat Casshern and in a true dystopian fashion, he kills all of them. (And that is not even the most soul-crushing aspect of this episode!) The allegory of this scene sends a horrific message: this is what humanity is. In establishing these peaceful robots as human, all of their actions become a reflection on humanity in some way.
So what is the reflection here? Well that is easy because Root screamed, “I don’t want to die!” as he tried to cut of a piece of Casshern to eat. What the show says in this episode is that in the face of death – the big unknown – we are all just animals scrambling around trying to prolong our useless lives, and that we will do anything, even unspeakable things like killing and eating another human being, if it means we can come out on top. Through this story about robots, Yasuko Kobayashi is trying to say that humans are weak and selfish and evil. Even so, I cannot swallow that as truth. For me, for anyone really, to swallow what Kobayashi is saying is to acknowledge the world as a dark place without hope and as a kill-or-be-killed no man’s land, and above all it is to view humanity itself as beyond hope, beyond redemption, beyond being even a semblance of humanity.
A friend of mine once said: “It posits that we are inherently — by our very nature — at war with one another, that we must live in a state of fear of one another, that we must be prepared to kill or be killed at a moment’s notice. It’s an inherently mistrustful idea which breeds the kind of mistrust which leads to people shooting each other dead at the drop of a hat. […] The reality is that if we weren’t encouraged to think of human society as a war zone we wouldn’t treat it as a war zone.” She may have said that in relation to the ease of buying guns and in the wake of the Aurora massacre, but it is perfectly applicable here. To swallow the ‘truth’ in Kobayashi’s writing (because I have seen it posited just as that, as undeniable truth) is to say that humanity is a war zone where everyone is willing to kill one another ‘at the drop of a hat’ and is not only a perpetuation but also an endorsement of a vicious cycle of violence. I cannot swallow that truth because it is too bleak, too hopeless, and if that is what the world is like then I don’t want to live here anymore. In the end, the only thing I have to say is, “The reality is that if we weren’t encourages to think of human society as a war zone we wouldn’t treat it as a war zone.”