I was intrigued by Seis Manos the first time I heard about it; an anime set in Mexico is interesting enough, but to be set in the 1970s and combine martial arts, crime, and the supernatural is just too good of a premise to pass up. Though only the first four episodes were made available to reviewers, I have no doubt the rest of Seis Manos Season 1 will be just as phenomenal as the beginning of it is.
A joint venture between Netflix and VIZ Media, Seis Manos Season 1 marks VIZ’s first original anime series. As I mentioned, it’s set in Mexico in the 1970s in a small town where nothing of note ever really happens. Our main characters are a trio of orphans adopted by martial arts master Chiu (Vic Chao) – Jesus (Jonny Cruz), Isabela (Aislinn Derbez), and Silencio – the local policewoman, Garcia (Angélica Vale), and US DEA Agent Brister (Mike Colter). This unlikely group finds themselves facing off against a notorious crime kingpin known as El Balde (Danny Trejo) after Chiu is killed by a monster of Balde’s making.
Right away, the plot grips you. The opening scene perfectly sets the tone and draws you into the mystery. We hit the ground running and never really stop. I’m honestly on the edge of my seat waiting for the rest of the season to drop; I have so many questions and I hope they all get answered. How did a martial arts master end up in a small town in Mexico? How did he come to adopt three children? What is up with that weird statue? There is so much going on; I think it’s impossible not to get invested in the story.
If you were ever wondering how to successfully meld martial arts, crime, and the supernatural, all you have to do is watch this show. It’s a blend that doesn’t sound like it would make sense on paper but absolutely works when you see it on screen. There is something unbelievably captivating about a series that isn’t afraid to be, well, a little weird. Seis Manos isn’t a martial arts show, though; only Jesus, Isabela, and Silencio fight that way, while the villains use more traditional methods like guns and knives, but they are able to hold their own against beings with superhuman strength. The crime aspect is pretty straightforward; I don’t know if Balde’s organization is a cartel – I’m not even sure what their purpose is – but they’re clearly on the wrong side of the law. (Balde is known as “the Orphan Maker”, for crying out loud.) As for the supernatural elements – there is a weird powder that’s an important plot point and a mysterious statue that you’ll learn more about as the series goes on, but there are also some aspects of mysticism that are woven seamlessly into the narrative and counteract nicely with the more traditional Chinese beliefs shown by Chiu and his adopted children.
This is a series that does not shy away from violence. In the opening scene (which was previewed at the SDCC panel earlier this year), a new recruit to El Balde’s organization is made to take some kind of weird powder that transforms him into a monster with the ability to heal. In fact, every time he is injured, he gets stronger and more monstrous. He literally rips some guy’s hand clean off at the wrist. In a later episode, Balde actually decapitates a man by punching him in the jaw. There is a lot of bloodshed and a lot of gore and a lot of death.
The characters are what make any series worth watching, and Seis Manos is no exception. The relationship between the adopted siblings is at once loving and fraught with tension. The death of their adoptive father puts a strain on their familial bonds, leaving them wondering if they will even be able to go on now that he’s gone; but it is clear that they care for each other a great deal, even while fighting. Their loyalty is paramount. In the first four episodes, we learn very little about Jesus and Isabela, but Silencio is given his own arc, complete with a flashback showing both how he was orphaned and how he got his name. Silencio is also the only character (so far) with a love interest – Lena, the local mechanic. (I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that both Silencio and Lena are disabled; Silencio had his tongue cut out and Lena only has one hand. It’s very interesting to see how these two adapt to the world around them, and it’s also refreshing to see that their disabilities do not hold them back at all.)
Equally as interesting is the relationship between Garcia and Brister, mainly because it is this dynamic that allows the series to explore some deeper aspects of both racism and sexism. Brister, a black man, is extremely dismissive of Mexican culture. His question of, “How do you say ‘cop’ in Mexican?” is met with, “There’s no such language.” He takes great offense at being called “gringo”. Through various flashbacks, we learn that Brister served in Vietnam, and that the soldiers under his command were, shall we say, less than thrilled about taking orders from a black man. He tells Garcia that she wouldn’t understand what that’s like, and she immediately calls him out on that, reminding him that she is a woman in a male-dominated field. Over the course of the first four episodes, Brister comes to realize that the way he’s treating Garcia is the same way he himself is treated in America, and he apologizes. This is some quality character development over such a short period of time.
When it comes to the animation, Seis Manos Season 1 is pretty standard. The animation is good with no real groundbreaking techniques. Both the style of the animation and the choreography of the martial arts sequences remind me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I really get a kick out of the “film” filter that overlays all of the episodes. It’s not quite grainy, but it’s clearly meant to evoke an older era by making it look as though we’re watching a film. This effect is more pronounced in some scenes than others – scenes with El Balde and his associates often look “grainier” than the rest – which I believe is intentional.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the subtitles often don’t bother to translate the Spanish dialogue. It’s infrequent, but the closed captions would just say [speaks Spanish]. For an anime set in Mexico, I expected a little more effort.
Seis Manos Season 1 is a non-stop thrill ride of gritty action and gripping mysteries. If you’re not the type to be bothered by violence, and you’re dying to see diverse characters deal with problems that are out of this world (literally), then I highly recommend tuning in when Seis Manos debuts on Netflix on October 3. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
*I was provided with advance screeners in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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