Real Talk By: Cmack The Don
Mexican Kung-Fu orphans in the 70’s fighting drug cartel members who have mastered the power of voodoo. If that premise doesn’t interest you or at least make you curious, you can skip Seis Manos on Netflix, an animated original from Austin, Texas-based animators Powerhouse Studios, who assisted in animating the recent Castlevania adaptation.Seis Manos isn’t quite an anime, but it’s not exactly your typical American animation production either, with a mix of cultures, heavy violence, martial arts, horror, and 70’s exploitation film influences.
If you were a fan of The Boondocks on Cartoon Network, you’ll remember that although the show was mainly comedy, the series boasted legitimately well-animated fight scenes (that were sometimes also hilarious at the same time), that were well-paced, choreographed, and had sharp techniques. Seis Manos reminded me of the fight animation of The Boondocks, except if it wasn’t satirical and they happened every episode. Creators Brad Graeber and Alvaro Rodriguez (cousin of grindhouse master Robert Rodriguez) are huge martial arts movie fans, with Alvaro having written the Danny Trejo masterpiece “Machete” and having involvement in the From Dusk til Dawn series. Graeber brought in Sifu Thomas Leverett, another Austin/Texas based personality to consult on the martial arts for the show, who has more than 20 years of experience in the Chinese Martial Arts to consult on fight scenes and technique. Touches like this are one of the strong points of the series, as it adds a layer of authenticity to an outrageous concept, and is a treat for anyone familiar with the techniques of the styles shown.
The fight scenes are definitely where a large amount of the animation budget went to, and they have slick and high-quality concepts in them that match, or come close to, matching the fight sequences seen in higher budget productions like Samurai Champloo. One of the drawbacks and largest criticisms I can make about the show is that while it’s clear they knew they had to nail the martial arts, the in-between animation of dialogue, story events, or casual moments at times can be very noticeably choppy, almost as if there are frames missing from the show. Because this is an in-house production from a small studio, and is definitely lower budget than the work of the giants of anime, I could move past this and understand why it’s there, but it’s still off-putting at times.
The character design and voice-cast are all outstanding, and between the well-crafted and intense battles and the freshness of the story, Seis Manos strongly rises above its lesser points, easing into itself and the concept later in the eight-episode run. The characters all have a variety of body types and clothing styles that make them distinctive and memorable, with my favorite being Silencio, the vengeful loner who cannot speak due to the cartels injuring his tongue and voice as a child. I thought it was interesting to see a character unable to speak in animation, which usually relies so heavily on the art of voice acting, however Silencio has plenty of personality, like all of the other characters.
I mentioned earlier that SM takes a moment to find its stride, and that’s because aside from having a lot of concepts and influences to balance out (which it eventually does), the tone and presentation is a little bit inconsistent at first. I could picture SM being kind of a tricky show for parents, because from the outset, it might kind of look like Avatar: The Las Airbender, or something to that affect, because the animation and art-style lends itself more to the look of a show targeted at pre-teens. That’s why it can be a bit jarring at first when you hear characters use heavy swearing or see intense gore. You expect it a bit more often with Japanese-style anime (and even then, a Shonen anime is going to have a much different style than more adult-oriented Seinen material), so at first I wasn’t sure exactly who the audience for SM was.
Once you get adjusted to the style, the solid concepts at work behind the show push it through. The characters are all in a situation that’s in over their heads, and it’s refreshing to see an animated show that makes use of martial arts that doesn’t feature the characters at any point using blatant supernatural powers. Yes, they can smash bricks, concrete, and skulls with ease, slip past bullets, and do some exaggerated, physics-bending movements, but at no point do they use legitimate superpowers like beam blasts, flight, teleportation, or any of the standard temptations that usually show up in martial arts-related animation. Having to improvise weapons, use their surroundings, make use of balance and leverage-based moves, and intelligence to make up for the gap in them not having true superpowers was a definite plus for me. The magic and folklore that does show up for the most part is used to creatively advance the story, with the magic-using characters tapping into the spirit realm using arcane rituals to get information about what’s going on.
The three central characters, the seis manos the title refers to, have a real charm and underdog grit that makes them feel like a real family. Despite not getting to know them as well as I’d like throughout the show, that does leave me wanting more for next season, which there hopefully is.
Netflix catches a lot of heat for the amount of shows and productions they greenlight, and while some of that might be justified, I think it also allows for the chance to give concepts like this a place to get distributed, and for projects that might’ve been locked away in a filing cabinet a chance to entertain some people. One thing I will say is that with a good enough concept and studio developing it, SM could definitely be adapted into a 3rd person action/adventure game with brawler elements. That would be something I would definitely be eager to get my own manos on.
Seis Manos Season One Gets a 3.5 MFs out 5