Saturday, March 21, 2009

Perfection: Casshern SINS Episode 18

I just finished watching the most perfect character-development episode of anime I have ever seen.

The entire 22 minute episode takes place within a dream sequence from Lyuze's perspective. (For those who aren't in the know, she is the lead female character in the series. Lyuze has been following Casshern since the first episode and since then has revealed that he caused the death of her older sister.)

In a series of surreal scenes that alternate between Lyuze's childhood and adulthood, she is forced to confront all of the mental and physical conflicts that have plagued her since the ruination began.

Lyuze's sister constantly appears, as does Casshern, which forces Lyuze to pick between the two most influential people in her life. On one hand, her sister was an early role model and a reminder of what the world used to be, while Casshern represents the new world that she is forced to live in. The childhood flashbacks take place in flower fields, while the others place Lyuze in the ruins of the current world.

Her sister is often out of reach, obsessively repeating the fact that what Casshern did ruined everything for everyone. Still, Lyuze tries to rationalize his actions, repeating that he was unaware of his sins and even unaware of himself. At the end of nearly every dream sequence, mistaking Leeza for Casshern, Lyuze ends up shattering the image of her older sister.

While trying to figure out what it is she truly desires, Lyuze finds herself in a strange vision where a human pins her against a wall and tells her he can make her wish come true. At first, I considered this sequence to be the only weak point in the episode, but after having more time to think about it, it is far less disturbing than I originally found it. Moments after walking away with this stranger, we see her lying naked on a stone slab and a splash of blood fills the screen. When she stands, the faded outline of the man lies in a puddle of his own blood, and Lyuze walks away, realizing that what she wants has nothing to do with forming a sexual relationship.

In the understated climax of the episode, Lyuze crouches down, shaken by the realization that she cannot kill Casshern because she feels a deep connection with him. For the first time, a robot expresses a wish to be human, as Lyuze wonders if a human would be better able to comprehend what she is feeling. The moment is profoundly deep, as it takes a character who has been cold and conflicted and gives her a heart.

The longer the dream lasts, the less sway Leeza holds over Lyuze. Leeza's final appearance is to tell Lyuze that she needs to accept the tragedies that have occurred. Even with her death and the world falling to pieces, Leeza tells her younger sister that all of these events have allowed her to meet Casshern, which has resulted in her gaining an emotion that she has never felt before: Love.

Instead of shattering, Leeza fades into the distance, and Lyuze experiences a new sense of self-worth and direction. She casts aside her inevitable mortality due to Casshern's ruination of the world and instead finds herself satisfied with being able to be near him.

Lyuze has always been my favorite character in the series. While Casshern is a sympathetic character, Lyuze is perhaps even more so: Her one desire is to kill Casshern, which she knows she can never accomplish. Instead, she forces herself to follow him, waiting for a moment of weakness. What she finds is a man (robot) who has a conscience. He knows what he has done and he wants to find a way to set things right. This kills her desire to kill him, as he is no longer a one-dimensional villain. And while I suspected the revelation was a long time coming, she had never spoken of falling for Casshern the way so many female anime characters tend to do. The creators took a "show, don't tell approach" for so many episodes before finally confirming what everyone should have figured out.

Another factor that makes Lyuze's character so entrancing is her design. So many current female anime characters are male fantasies taken to the extreme, both in body and in mentality. Lyuze is not all perfect curves. in fact, her body is extremely angular--even more so than Casshern's. This makes the typical camera shots less focused on making her a sexual object and more about creating a unique artistic decision. Yes, there are shots that exclude her face and focus on her mid-section, but it does not seem to follow the usual association of the camera with the male point of view as it scrutinizes a female body. Instead, it is how she moves when she fights that lends a feminine grace that is missing from her anatomy. It is odd to see a character's sex best expressed while she brutally tears others to shreds, but it is oddly unique.

Lyuze has a dark stoicism that is so well executed I doubt I will ever see it in another character. She is not emotionless (a pitfall the girls in Claymore tend to encounter). Instead, she takes on an air of thoughtfulness, because every waking moment she has spent with Casshern is a contradiction of what she set out to do.

This dream episode is a wonderful exploration of Lyuze's psyche, which culminates in a moment of self-discovery that few anime characters are ever shown to experience. It is a masterpiece of animation, illustrating an unparalleled pinnacle of character development.


Jstone said...

I started reading this and realized there were spoilers.

I still haven't finished Chevalier D'Eon a year later. I'm on like episode 6. I got side tracked by Gundam SEED: Destiny which turned out to be a lot better than I thought and then in the last 2 episodes just collapsed on itself like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon around midday.

Grant said...

JStone! My first commenter!

I guess it's sorta got a spoiler or two.

Sorta glad to hear about GSD exceeding expectations. Sucks that it fell apart, though. I still haven't watched a Gundam series since War in the Pocket.