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The early nineties experienced a boom in the sci-fi anime genre, resurrecting classic series and manga from the seventies into fully polished productions. One such made-for-video title was Casshan: Robot Hunter, which is a sort of pseudo sequel come remake of the 1973 series. Those monitoring the Far Eastern cinema scene may immediately spot the connection with Casshern - the live action adaptation that utilised complete digital backlot filming. For the first time on region two DVD, fans can now experience the uncut OVA and the re-edited feature length Western version of Casshan: Robot Hunter.

Casshan: Robot Hunter

Film


In the not too distant future, the people of Earth are enslaved by ruthless robot warlords dedicated on wiping out humanity. The irony is that the robots were a creation of Dr Azuma, who programmed the machines to protect the planet. However a sinister android named Black King considered humans to be the fundamental cause of Earth’s destruction, so is merely protecting the environment in the best way possible. Tormented with guilt, Dr Azuma transformed his son Tetsuya into Casshan, a superhuman-machine hybrid who is powerful enough to stand up to the evil dictator Black King and liberate Earth’s people.

Casshan: Robot Hunter reminds fans of a pre-digital anime era, where titles relied on traditional hand drawn artwork over computer generated imagery. As such, the overall style is remarkably retro, literally engulfing the screen with explosions and strobe lighting effects. The OVA was made at a time before Japanese kids started having seizures after watching their favourite cartoons and even I started to get a headache after playing this DVD. Epileptic hazards aside, it is always refreshing to encounter vintage Japanese animation. Granted, the finish may appear somewhat coarse by today’s standards but a lot of the locations have been painstakingly illustrated to reveal exquisite beauty.

Japanese animation has always out-shadowed the American efforts in terms of content and depth. Despite appealing to children, Casshan: Robot Hunter extracts traces of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters and iconic anime productions, whilst embedding subtle religious and historical references throughout the series. The title displays recurring Christian ideology, from the use of the crucifix to the introduction of a saviour, who sacrificed his own life in order to save mankind. In addition, the filmmakers have reflected on war propaganda and how the public are manipulated into following an individual’s warped intentions. Certainly as the series progresses, it becomes apparent that Casshan: Robot Hunter is much more than a camp sci-fi romp - it paints a vivid picture of the foundations of modern society.

Casshan: Robot Hunter
As well as focusing on the hero’s quest to conquer evil, the anime also touches on a few subplots involving Tetsuya’s love interest, Luna - the feisty big-breasted sidekick. Whilst fans of the original 1973 series will have no problem adjusting to the story, newcomers are provided with very little in terms of background history and are pretty much thrown into this desolate, post-apocalyptic setting. In effect, this has resulted in surprisingly tight pacing that is in complete contrast to the 2004 live action adaptation, which spends forever in introducing an alternate future and absurd, repetitive anti-war morals. There are so many discrepancies between the anime and the film that the two are similar by name only. Even the origins of Casshan’s suit have been ridiculously fabricated for the live action adaptation.

Manga Entertainment have exceeded expectations by providing two options in which the audience can view Casshan: Robot Hunter. The first disc contains the feature length version, which is essentially an English dubbed movie that has been re-edited and censored to suit Western audiences. However the second disc houses the uncut OVA that retains the original dialogue, violence and sexual references. This is certainly the preferred way to watch the anime, as it maintains a stronger narrative and plot structure. The Western version is obstructed by sudden unexplained location and timeline changes due to the episode transitions not being clearly marked. Whichever way you decide to view Casshan: Robot Hunter, Manga Entertainment must be praised for providing the choice.

Video


Casshan: Robot Hunter is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Any differences between the movie and OVA transfers are negligible; both exhibit the same qualities and faults. Despite being over a decade old, the print is largely perceptible and maintains a satisfactory level of clarity. The overall image remains a touch soft but should not really present a problem in distinguishing details and patterns. Unfortunately, the transfer suffers from extensive interlacing issues – every motion is accompanied by uninviting ghosting and combing. Even the slightest actions result in a horrendous trail, causing substantial visual discomfort.

Furthermore, there is too much edge-enhancement submerging the characters in thick halos. At least the colours are well defined, even during the darker chapters where the reds and blues are harder to illustrate. There is surprisingly very little black in the pallet; instead navy and duller shades act as appropriate substitutes and help lift the shadow details. Pixilation is predominant during the faster segments, namely battle sequences that are tragically smothered in blocks.

Casshan: Robot Hunter
The transfer for the OVA version is sharper than the feature length counterpart by a minuscule amount. In addition, it also possesses a stronger contrast balance and a more fulfilling colour scheme. However these differences are only evident during a side-by-side comparison; it is not really worth squabbling over marginal discrepancies.

Audio


Casshan: Robot Hunter has English and Japanese audio for the feature length version and four-part series respectively, both of which are available in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The differences between the English dub and the original Japanese soundtrack are instantly recognisable; aside from the obvious language issue, the English track opts for a calm female narrator whereas the Japanese version has an enthusiastic male storyteller. Conversations have been adjusted to match the mouth movements without compromising the translation. In fact, the quality of dubbing is remarkably sophisticated - the robots have been given a metallic tone to emphasise their machine origins. Conversely, Black King and his army sound like humans on the Japanese OVA, conveying explicit emotions such as sorrow and frustration.

In some ways, the English Stereo track showcases finer qualities than the 5.1 efforts, especially with the dialogue, which sounds significantly damped on both surround mixes. On the Stereo track, the monologues and conversations maintain richer texture and lovely smooth reverb. The only improvement with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is with the enormous LFE output, ensuring an exhilarating musical score and thunderous explosions. Disappointingly, directional effects are too few – the rears appear to simply imitate the frontal channels with only a hint of ambient noise. The DTS mix is slightly more aggressive but the step is so slight that it may as well be ignored.

Casshan: Robot Hunter
The Japanese stereo track is what one would expect from a Dolby Digital 2.0 setup – the effects are clear and pristine but the whole experience feels ordinary at best. In contrast to the English mixes, the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks manage to exploit surround sound technology with far greater competency. The battle segments are not only furious but the rears highlight ambient noise with a powerful punch. A fine example would be the robot marching scenes – their footsteps expose tremendous strength and unexpected sharpness. Moreover, the score retains its colossal orchestral vibe without distorting the primary audio sources. Once again, the differences between the Dolby and DTS 5.1 mixes are too subtle to worry about – simply pick one of the aforementioned tracks and enjoy.

English subtitles and dubtitles are provided, for the feature length and OVA versions respectively.

Extras


The only worthy supplementary material is an audio commentary by Jonathan Clements – co-author of The Anime Encyclopaedia. Clements shares a wealth of knowledge, history and trivia relevant to Casshan: Robot Hunter and related anime products. He is almost the anime equivalent Bey Logan – continually revealing fascinating information without pause. Clements can be heard long into the credits, which should provide some insight into how keen this author is on the field of Japanese animation. The commentary is remarkably well organised; Clements admits that he used notes but this works efficiently in selecting the most useful of topics for discussion. I would even boldly claim that this is one of the greatest commentaries available and has certainly set the benchmark for future tracks.

A few trailer selections for Manga Entertainment’s anime range finish off the short list of extras. It is worthwhile noting that the menus are quite pleasing to the eye and have been vividly animated.

Casshan: Robot Hunter

Overall


Casshan: Robot Hunter is reminiscent of such influential works as Fist of the North Star, Battle of the Planets and Astroboy, not to mention various Hollywood science fiction references. A thorough analysis of the story will highlight underlying themes and messages that are an accurate reflection of sociological and historical events that have shaped our history. Mainstream audiences may simply see it as a fun, children’s cartoon about a war against robots. Either way, there is a sense of nostalgia to be gained from revisiting this traditional, energetic early nineties anime.


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