Viz Media is one of the most recognized licensors of anime and manga franchises for fans in the United States, so there was an almost instantaneous attention drawn to its latest project when the publisher announced they were collaborating with Netflix on an original anime series. Even more surprisingly, it was revealed that this new anime series would be drawing influences from both 1970s kung fu and Mexploitation films with the title "Seis Manos" confirming those influences.
With a packed cast and animation produced by the studio behind the recent Castlevania anime effort, Seis Manos is hoping to put its best foot forward. Thankfully it does as Seis Manos is an incredibly promising hit in the making for Viz Media and Netflix. With a fun presentation, quirky characters, and a healthy dose of brutality, Seis Manos is a fun ride.
Taking place in Mexico, Seis Manos follows a trio of orphans who grew up under the tutelage of their Sifu, Chiu. Trained in Chinese martial arts, this equips them with the skills necessary to take on a mystical new threat. El Balde has been tapping into an evil power and is suddenly turning those who work for him into bloodthirsty demons.
When the trio's master is caught in the middle of this violence, they set out on a path to figure out what's really going on and somehow put a stop to it. Working with an American agent fresh from Vietnam and a policewoman looking to prove herself, everyone suddenly gets in way over their heads.
The series' presentation should be instantly recognizable to those familiar with pulp films of that era. With a fun film grain effect over the entire series, there's a wave of nostalgia that informs character design and dialogue. Due to the pulpy nature of the presentation, the more exaggerated elements of the story are amplified even further. There's no pretense here. Thanks to the magical realism inherent in Mexican folktales, these seemingly disparate elements just blend together far better than one would initially expect.
Seis Manos finds the balance behind taking its story seriously and building a credible threat while making sure to have a little fun with the whole thing. Using martial arts might make it seem like our heroes are invincible, but there are violent consequences throughout. At the same time, one of the main trio, Jesus, has a potbelly and loves to drink but can still throw down in an equal way with his counterparts. He'll be throwing out hilarious one-liners, but the scripts for the series know when to tone that down in order to double down on just how messed up things are getting.
Much of the fun comes from the series' voice cast who are clearly having a great time with what they're given. This is especially true for the standouts Danny Trejo, who's growly El Balde oozes with a confident menace, and Mike Colter, whose Brister has some of the most intentionally pointed dialogue in the series. Because of this, Colter gives a hilarious performance that's more in line with tongue-in-cheek exploitation parodies like Black Dynamite rather than the Dolomite figure this type of character was originally inspired by.
The main draw, however, is the action of the series. Well-choreographed and storyboarded fights combined with unexpected types of foes leads to unique sequences overall. No two fights look or play out in the same way, and there's a variety in how each one comes to an end. There's a range between going full blood and gore, but the characters also use their environment intelligently to bring about different victories or losses.
One of the major downfalls of Mexploitation is that the genre can quickly run its course no matter how fun of an experience it is, but Seis Manos is balanced in such a way that it's sure to keep you around and fully invested throughout. An intriguing mystery keeps you going, and it quickly becomes clear that each character has layers of depth you wouldn't expect to see from this kind of genre. Even if you ignore all of this, Seis Manos is still six tons of fun.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Seis Manos premieres on Netflix worldwide on October 3rd. This review is based off of the first four episodes.