Pullbox Reviews: Seis Manos- Bone crunching, blood spilling, kung fu action with a grindhouse flair…

Orphans raised by a martial arts master are plunged into a mystery involving demonic powers, drug cartels, ancient rituals and blood sacrifice.

When Sifu Chiu took in three orphaned children- Isabela, Jesus, and the tragic Silencio- he gave them more than a home. He gave them a family, becoming their father in all things but blood, and a sense of belonging to something that they’d lacked up to that point. Oh yeah, and he gave them some pretty badass martial arts training, pushing them to the limits of human endurance and beyond. Way beyond…

The family’s idyllic life is torn to pieces when the evil El Balde brings his criminal and devil worshiping empire to the small Mexican town of San Simon. When violence and supernatural forces threaten the defenseless and the downtrodden, it’s up to the adoptive siblings to step up to the line. Joining them in the battle against evil will be the town’s lone police officer Garcia, and the bull-headed Vietnam veteran/FBI agent Brister. Together, they are…

Okay, there are five of them so the math doesn’t work… but you get it, right?

For fans of grindhouse action, Seis Manos is going to be a treat. Powerhouse Studios has seeded their work with more than just gut churning, ball busting, bone breaking action. They’ve also put in nods to the old pulpy sploitation movies of the 70’s. Everything from the base tone of the series, all gritty attitude and explosive violence, to the finer details seen by some as flaws but hallmarks by others. Watch for grainy film breaks, distorted sound as the non-existent reel slows down and speeds up, and the lines of wear and tear… none of which had to be there but speak to the love for their craft that the creators at Powerhouse have.

The siblings, looking like someone stepped in something…

The writing team of Brad Graeber, Álvaro Rodríguez, & Daniel Dominguez have brought their own love for all things grindy to their work. Adding to that, they threw in another flavor, and it’s the one that earned my admiration when I started watching the first episode. I love the Shaw Brothers style of kung fu movie making, in all of its glory. Those movies were the grindhouse films of Hong Kong cinema back in the 70’s & 80’s, and it’s what really sucked me into Seis Manos.

So… you think you know kung fu, hey?

It’s all here: A group of misfits drawn together by the kindly old man who teaches them kung fu; the affable oaf, Jesus, who drinks like a sailor and punches like a jackhammer; the brooding, epicly tragic figure of Silencio, who as a child saw his parents murdered by el Balde and then had his tongue cut out to keep him from telling the tale; finally, the true heart and soul of the group, Isabela, who does indeed fight like a girl… a truly badass, take no crap, “don’t call me ‘baby'” kind of girl who can snap a pair of handcuffs as easily as she can crush preconceived notions of traditional gender roles.

Ain’t no one gonna fridge this chick.

Go ahead, show her the kitchen… I dare you

Okay… so now I’ve gotta talk about the action. Holy crap on a Ritz (no plain-ass saltine here) cracker! The action in this friggin cartoon is ridiculous. Y’know what, this sounds like a good time for a trailer. What d’ya say? Take a gander… I’ll wait.

Right? And this is just a taste of the mayhem that Seis Manos brings to the table. The fight choreography is amazing, inspired by Chinese martial arts cinema. It owes its authenticity in large part to Sifu Thomas Leverett (one of many credited consultants on the show), a traditional Mantis & Hung Gar practitioner. I can’t say it enough… The fight scenes in this series rock! One of the extra bits I was able to take away from the show was that Powerhouse Animation is said to be working on the Kevin Smith headed Masters of the Universe show, also coming to Netflix in the not-so distant future (I get happy every time I remember that I have that to look forward to).

Despite its obvious roots in the culture(s) of 70’s Mexico and the United States, Seis Manos doesn’t hold to the stereotypes of the time. One of the coolest things about the show was that race and gender bias are looked at square in the eye, smacked in the side of the head, & told to sit down if it knows what’s good for it. Once upon a time, the typical-looking action hero Silencio might have been the face of the show. Or maybe Vietnam veteran turned FBI agent Brister would have led the charge, all the while taking shots at “the Man”. But here, it’s the ladies who are leading the way.

Brister and Officer Garcia

Small town cop Garcia isn’t, at first, a prominent figure in the story. She comes in and out of the scenes, griping about the boredom of being a cop in a quiet little town like San Simon. However, after teaming up with Brister, she starts to come into her own and steps up, repeatedly putting the American in his place when he lets loose a crack about provincial Mexico or the legitimacy of women in law enforcement. Garcia may not have the punching power of Kung Fu behind her, but she ain’t taking no crap either… also, she’s armed and is a pretty good shot.

You’ve gotta be getting a little tired of listening to me rant on about this show, so I’m gonna wrap it up here. Seis Manos is everything cool about animation, showing what’s possible when a creative team is firing on all cylinders. The action is fantastic (and brutal), and the cast of voice talent is on the mark. I just finished season one, and find myself ready to dive in again rather than hold out for season two…

Final Score: 10+

The “Manos”… in simpler, more innocent times
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