The cast and crew of Netflix’s upcoming animated series Seis manos couldn’t have asked for a better logling following a sneak peek of the show’s first two episodes. None other than Jorge Gutierrez — he of The Book of Life fame — called it “The Citizen Kane of Mexican animé.” At a Los Angeles screening hosted by VIZ Media and Latinx in Animation, the famed animator was plenty effusive: “I loved it. I thought it was incredible. I think what you guys did was so brave and funny and subversive, and it’s just packed with heart.” Created by Brad Graeber and Álvaro Rodríguez the action-packed (and very R-rated) series is set in the 1970s and focuses on three orphaned martial arts warriors who join forces with a DEA agent and a Mexican Federal officer to battle for justice after their beloved mentor is murdered on the streets of their tiny border town.
Blending grindhouse elements, Blaxploitation films and Japanese animé, Seis manos plays like a fascinating hybrid that mixes Eastern philosophy and martial arts with Mexican folklore to tell a border town story that, despite its ’70s trapping, feels very much at home in 2019. After all, it depicts a Mexican community being ravaged by drug-fueled violence (though not the one you’re thinking) all the while turning such well-worn stories on their heads with the help of some supernatural brujería vibes.
Adding to its multicultural (and bilingual) vibe is its cast, which includes Jonny Cruz, Aislinn Derbez, Angélica Vale and Danny Trejo, among others. At a time when Hollywood keeps clamoring for more content that speaks to and about underrepresented groups, a gory series that pits its protagonists against a series of supernaturally enhanced Mexican gangs may feel like a political minefield. But given Seis manos‘ love of its characters and its playful genre-mixing (it’s all in the vein of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino), its cast felt emboldened to take the plunge into its bloodied world.
“I take anything that is ethnically charged very seriously,” Cruz confessed, “especially if it has anything to do with stereotypes I always just say no flat out.” Which is why he approached this project with apprehension. But once he read through the scripts (“I blew right through the entire eight episodes!”) he knew he was in good hands. “I was like, this is like nothing I have ever read before for an animated series! I was just so mesmerized by the way they’ve made it all happen together. And I’d never seen that before. So I was like, I’ll do it.”
Part of what attracted him to the project was the way it made its kick-ass Mexican protagonists, including big-bellied Jesus, the heroes of their story. “The belief that you can be brown and a hero,” he added, “it was a long stretch for me to get to. I grew up watching lots of Caucasian men be heroes. But to get there, I noticed, wasn’t quite an easy road.”
For writer Daniel Dominguez, who helped develop Seis manos, its 1970s border town setting was also a chance to examine one of the darker chapters in U.S. history in regards to Central and South America. When he first saw sketches of what Rodriguez and Graeber were working on, he immediately thought of “Operation Condor” and the U.S.’s imperialist drive when it came to its southern neighbors.
“I didn’t get to put any of my anger at dark imperialism into SpongeBob,” he joked. “So like, on every level — from the diversity of the cast, to the writing, to the subjects we’re tackling: the social, the political, the personal, the emotional — I’m so glad that Netflix said ‘yes’ to this.”
Seis manos debuts October 3, 2019, on Netflix.