Casshan Liner Notes
Shinzo Ningen Casshan premiered on Fuji TV in October of 1973. Casshan was the second of several sci-fi superhero anime to come from Tatsunoko studios in the 70s following the immensely successful Science Ninja Team Gatchaman in 1972. Following might not be the best phrasing though since Casshan premiered while Gatchaman was still airing. In fact, Gatchaman’s active production actually affected aspects of Casshan’s development. Originally, Casshan was planned to take over Gatchaman’s time slot on Sundays at 6 p.m. on Fuji TV. However, Gatchaman did so well that the network renewed it for another year and Casshan was instead given a time slot on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. This time slot was previously used for fairy tale adaptations such as Mock of the Oak Tree and Demetan Kerokko so Casshan’s world and aesthetics were made to resemble that of a fairy tale. This is apparent from the first episode where we see the main character, Tetsuya Azuma, living in a medieval castle. Later in the episode, we see an army of Andro Force robots marching down what looks like a cobblestone street in a European village. Hammering in the fairy tale theming, the consciousness of Tetsuya’s mother is transferred to a robot swan, Swanee, who assists him in his fight to protect humanity while simultaneously spying on the villains. Throughout the series, the relationship between Casshan and his mother becomes similar to that of Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy and all this was intentional. Planning documents for the series reveal an intention to entertain younger viewers who tuned in for fairy tale stories while drawing in newer viewers with drama and action.
Although the show uses fairy tale iconography resembling European villages, no exact setting is ever given in the series. The main character and his family seem to be Japanese as their family name is Azuma, but their home is a large European style castle and the villages surrounding the castle are stocked with citizens sporting western names. The destruction of these villages to build robot factories seems like a parallel to England’s industrial revolution in the 1800s, but in the early 70s Japan was facing similar circumstances. Following the end of WWII, Japan faced supply shortages, currency devaluation, and heavy inflation. With their economy at a standstill, the government made major investments in electric power, coal, steel, and chemicals. By the mid-60s Japan had opened themselves to the international market and to compete they needed more factories to build automobiles, ships, and machine parts. By the early 70s, this expansion was creating environmental concerns and many authors from this time incorporated these concerns into their work. Casshan is no exception as the creators felt the Andro Force’s industrialization and the resulting pollution could make the foreign fairy tale-line setting more poignant.
What’s in a name?
The setting wasn’t the only aspect of Casshan’s production affected by Gatchaman extended air time. Before becoming a “newly-built” man, Casshan’s name in the planning document was Joji (the Japanese version of the name George). However, Gatchaman was still airing on Fuji TV and main character Joe the Condor’s full name was actually George Asakura. Since Japan pronounces George as Joji, Joe can be short for George. The team at Tatsunoko held onto the name Joji, and decided to instead give Casshan the name Tetsuya. I say held onto because they reused the name Joji not too long after for Tekkaman’s protagonist, Joji Minami. If you’ve already started watching the series and remember episode 13, you probably noticed an interesting Easter egg. For those who haven’t seen the series and don’t mind a minor spoiler, the episode introduces an android named Android V, who believes humans deserve freedom from robots. Throughout the episode, V seems to mirror Casshan, at first pretending to be a human who lost his family but later revealing to be an android who detests the Andro Force and wishes to live as a human. After witnessing the death of a child at the hands of the Andro Force, V vows to live a meaningful life in the child’s stead. V even decides to take the child’s name as his own, and that name is none other than George. George is even voiced by actor Akira Kamiya (Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star and Ryo Saeba from City Hunter) who originally auditioned for the role of Casshan but was turned down in favor of Ikuo Nishikawa who had previously voiced the young titular hero on the Tatsunoko anime Kurenai Sanshiro.
As for the name Casshan, it’s stated in the planning documents that the name Casshan comes from the English word “Cashe,” meaning a treasure that is hidden or stored away for future most likely referring to Casshan’s humanity. However, Hiroshi Sasagawa insist the origin is less optimistic and says derives from “gashan,” the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of glass breaking as it represents something that cannot be undone, referring to Tetsuya’s transition from a human to an android. Early in development, Casshan was given the title of “neorider,” but Toshiyuki Matsuyama with Yomiko Advertising suggested the title “shinzo ningen,” and the name was changed accordingly. Shinzo ningen isn’t a phrase easily translated to English. The term is a play on “jinzo ningen,” which literally translates to artificial human, but is often translated as android in science fiction works. “Shin,” is a prefix meaning “new” in Japanese. Thus, shinzo ningen literally translates to “newly created human.” As cool as shinzo ningen sounds in Japanese it doesn’t roll off the tongue or convey the same meaning in English. Sentai Filmworks tried to remedy this with their title “Neo-Human Casshan,” though this still doesn’t imply the character is an android as clearly as is does in Japanese. Still, it's better than the translation Central Park Media used in their dub of the Time Bokan OVA, “Casshan: the Bionic Man.” The term “neorider” was later used to describe the character in the Infini-T Force manga series published in 2015.
Casshan’s antagonist, Braiking Boss, also has an interesting name. His name uses the kanji 無頼 (Burai) meaning “villain” or “wicked.” However, “bu” can also mean warrior as seen in the word bushido (Way of Warriors), while “rai” is the Japanese word for lightning. When the two are combined it can mean “lightning warrior” referencing how Braiking Boss was given sentience by a lightning strike. Another name with a second meaning is Casshan’s robot dog, Friender, who gets his name because he is Casshan’s friend.
There were plenty of influences for Gatchaman ranging from Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds to creator Tatsuo Yoshida’s own ninja manga such as Ninja Buttai Gekko. One of the most important influences though had to be Kamen Rider, the live-action tokusatsu series from Toei Studios and manga author Shotaro Ishinomori. In July of 1972, Ishinomori and Toei debuted a new tokusatsu series called Jinzo Ningen Kikaider. Just like Casshan, Kikaider follows an android named Jiro built in the image of his creator’s son, Ichiro. Throughout the series, Jiro longs to be human and feels conflicted because as much as he hates his robotic body, he needs it to protect the ones he loves. Casshan carries almost all the same emotional baggage as Jiro, as he struggles to feel accepted by humans in a world that lives in fear of androids. Most episodes of Casshan begin with our hero aiding a group of humans who believe him to be no more than another human ally. It’s only after the Andro Force attacks and Casshan must fight back that they realize that Casshan is an android himself, usually turning on him. Episode 7 really plays this up when a suspicious townsperson fires a gun only for Casshan’s body to deflect the bullet. The townspeople turn to Casshan in shock when, as he pleads, “I have a bulletproof vest! I am a human being!”
Kikaider was very popular and is one of the few Ishinomori tokusatsu series outside of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai to receive a sequel. The sequel, Kikaider 01, began airing in May of 1973 and introduced Jiro’s brother Ichiro who was also an android. One difference between Ichiro and Jiro is that Ichiro was a solar powered android, which allowed for more tension as Ichiro’s powers were limited at night or when there was no direct sunlight. Casshan too is solar powered and collects solar energy through the crescent-shaped solar panel on his forehead. If not taken directly from Kikaider 01, Casshan’s use of solar energy may have also been inspired by Superman as Tatsunoko president Tatsuo Yoshida was a huge fan of Superman comics and was even commissioned by DC Comics to create a Japanese language Superman comic 1959. Casshan’s designed does seem inspired by American superheroes, especially the giant “C” on his chest, but there’s no doubt the Kikaider brothers were also a large influence. It should at least be stated that though Jiro and Casshan have similar personalities and internal conflicts, they also share these traits with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy predating both works by over a decade.
Casshan was directed by Time Bokan creator and Tatsunoko veteran Hiroshi Sasagawa. Casshan was his first science-fiction series as Sasagawa found himself more at home directing comedies, though he did direct action shows like Mach Go Go Go. Sasagawa stated that he looked at one of Tatsunoko’s previous works, Kurenai Sanshiro, for inspiration since the story was also about a wandering hero. Sasagawa also looked at Tarzan as a reference for directing action and had Casshan’s dog Friender howl before attacking similar to Tarzan’s yell.
It’s important to remember there are many different reasons a show might be cancelled. We tend to associate cancellations with poor quality and ratings, which isn’t always the case. In fact, materials from Tatsunoko show that the average viewer ratings for Casshan were approximately 15.9%, which is not too far from Gatchaman with an average of 17.9%. Then why did Gatchaman run for 105 episodes and Casshan 35 of what was planned to be 38? There’s actually two reasons: first, the Yom Kippur War between the Arab states and Israel broke out on October 6, 1973 raising gas prices by 70% and reducing the sponsors’ advertising expenses. The second reason was the main sponsor, Banso, going bankrupt. Banso was a company that produced pop-up picture books and stationery products but eventually expanded into plastic models. By 1972, the company tried growing their business by obtaining licenses to produce merchandise from every popular series on TV including Kamen Rider, the Ultra series, and lots of anime. Banso was producing so much merchandise their expenses skyrocketed and there was just too much product to sell. A shortage of raw materials such as pulp in the beginning of 1973 led to a slew of inferior products and their consumer complaints made pushing their expansive inventory almost impossible. Banso’s bankruptcy meant three episodes of Casshan were cut from the series’ run and in their place episodes seven, nine, and thirteen were broadcasted in between the 32nd and 33rd episodes.
Despite an early cancellation, Casshan drew in good ratings and in spring of 1974, (24 episodes into the series’ initial run) a blown up version of the first episode was shown at the Toho Champion Festival alongside Ultraman Taro and Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla. The series spawned a legacy in Japan that would only really be seen in the west through other works it inspired. Casshan’s story of an android and his robot dog fighting evil robots was the basis for the popular Megaman series. Shinji Mikami, director of the 2010 third-person shooter Vanquish, said that the game was partially inspired by Casshern. “I was inspired by Casshern, so I wanted to make a game like that.” Mikami said. “[Casshan] has lost a lot of his humanity. And when I look at Vanquish -- you've got robots and lots of synthetic creatures and even you, the human, you're completely encased in armor. Do you feel like that maybe it would be difficult to identify with ... to see the humanity in that kind of situation?” He even went on to say he wanted the combat to resemble Casshan punching robots, but had to change it for being too similar to the game he previously worked on, God’s Hand.
In the 90s, Tatsunoko rebooted a lot of their classic titles with grittier designs and edgier titles like Tekkaman Blade and Hurricane Polymar: Holy Blood. Among these was Cassharn: Robot Hunter, a four part OVA released between 1993 and 1994. The OVA was produced by Tatsunoko and Studio Gainax, who would team up again in 1995 to bring us Neon Genesis Evangelion. For many western anime fans this would be our first time seeing the classic hero as the series was edited into a movie and dubbed in English by Harmony Gold. A decade later the series was reimagined with Casshern Sins, a series produced by Tatsunoko but animated by studio Madhouse. The series is an alternate take on the Casshern Story where Casshern has killed Luna causing a disease called the Ruin to rust and destroy machines that were previously thought to be immortal. Despite being a divergence from the original story, Casshern Sins is probably the most recognized among western fans as it was dubbed in English by Funimation and aired on their cable channel The Funimation network and later on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. Some of the characters other appearances include a spot as a playable fighter in the video game Tatsunoko VS. Capcom which released in Japan in arcades and on the Nintendo Wii in 2008, but made its way overseas in 2010. The character also appears alongside other Tatsunoko heroes in the Infinit-T Force manga and anime.