Dave Merrill rates it:
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This review of Angel Sanctuary is a little heavier on the spoilers than usual. If you're foaming at the mouth over the mere idea of the surprises that Angel Sanctuary has in store for you, you probably shouldn't proceed any further.)
OK, first off, a warning. This is not going to be a positive review, so if you don't think your emotional well-being will survive criticism of your Fave-O-Rite Show, then I suggest you stop reading right now, and just file this one under "Dave Don't Like It".
Because I don't. Angel Sanctuary is pretentious, confusing claptrap; a Frankenstein's monster stitched together out of pop-culture religious iconography and girls' comics cliches, told in a deliberately confusing and obscurantist style designed to conceal the lack of coherent plot, animated by robots programmed to imitate CLAMP; in short, it's angel-winged junk.
So let's get right to it. Setsuna is a high school student who vacillates between complete inertia and fits of insenate rage. He wants to boff his sister Sara, but their mean old mom simply doesn't understand. What is it with parents? If that wasn't enough, for some reason Setsuna is also inhabited by the soul of the Organic Angel Alexiel, who sided with the demons in their war against the angels and was imprisoned in crystal for her trouble. Yup, her trouble - Organic Angel Alexiel is a chick angel. So the deal is, the demons, who are the good guys, are trying to wake Alexiel up, so that she can lead them against the angels, who are the bad guys. Which would make the angels demons, and the demons angels, but that would make too much sense. So Setsuna, while attempting to keep from getting beat up and attempting to bone his sister, is being harrassed by the demons Kurai and Arachne who try to kill him and thereby bring out his angelic powers. And if you think that's reminiscent of another anime (Harmagedon) then you're right, and if you think we'll be seeing more scenes that are reminiscent of other anime shows, you're also right. Arachne is, by the way,a transvestite demon, which leads me to conclude that you can have awesome supernatural powers and yet be incapable of an effective sex change. Sure, it doesn't make sense, but it's Angel Sanctuary - it doesn't have to!
So it turns out that Setsuna's drug-dealing classmates kidnap Sara, and Setsuna shows up to rescue her, and the drug dealers turn into hideous monsters controlled by the bad angels. The bad angels are led by Inorganic Angel Rosiel, who is Alexiel's brother. You get it? He's Inorganic, she's Organic, so naturally they have to fight. Except Rosiel wants to bone Alexiel, because there's just not enough incest in Angel Sanctuary. Anyway, Rosiel, who sports pretty hair and a purple Nazi uniform, has his monsters rip Setsuna's body apart, but he's brought back to life by the Blue Water gem. Sorry, I mean, he's brought back to life by the Adam Kadamon, who apparently is a guy that floats in the air and brings people back to life after they've been ripped apart by hideous monsters. Kadamon also scares Rosiel away and I believe he picks the winners at the next race at Meadowlands, but I'm not sure.
Brought back to life, Setsuna proceeds to attempt to bone his sister yet again, but his crazy mom, for some crazy, old-person reason, thinks that incest is a bad idea. GET WITH THE 90'S, MOM! Part One ends with Rosiel's assistant bad angel emoting "So Rosiel is our last hope for the salvation of Heaven! But his heart is fixated on Alexiel and he will not return to Azueilt!"
Now, I know that this all sounds like pharmaceutical company representatives discussing their new brand names, but I swear to godthat all this crap actually means something. The problem with Angel Sanctuary - well, OK, one of the problems - is that the animated version is crammed with unexplained characters, situations, locations, and concepts, and without intensive research into the original manga, all this junk is impossible to understand. And once you've done the research, you realize it was a big fat waste of time, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before we move on, let's run this one past our Bishonen Checklist. Nazi regalia? CHECK. Incest? CHECK and DOUBLE CHECK. Transvestitism? CHECK. Homosexuality? CHECK. Trendy decadence? CHECK. Religious imagery? CHECK. Movin' on.
So Part Two opens with crazy mom, who just doesn't understand, sending Sis to England to get her away from Incest Boy. However, Sis sneaks out before the flight and kisses him at school, because she realizes she Loves Him Too. This Moment Of Forbidden Lust is captured on camera and flyers thereof are distributed at school, prompting Setsuna to declare that he "has an earnest desire to make love to his real sister." The whereabouts of the school psychologist during this entire episode are a complete mystery. Sis is about to fly to England, but Setsuna's demon pals advise her to ditch the flight and go for the gusto. Now, when the little demon appears on my shoulder and attempts to influence my behavior, I take it with a grain of salt, but apparently Sara's education is severely lacking in Warner Brothers Appreciation. Meanwhile, in a dramatic showdown with Rosiel, Setsuna's best pal Kira is killed. Setsuna retaliates by killing Rosiel's henchman Kato. Kira is brought back to life, I think, and everything converges at the airport, where Mom and Sis are about to board the flight and the cops are about to nab Setsuna for murdering Kato (which he did actually do). Suddenly Kira shows up and takes the rap for the murder, allowing Incest Boy and Girl to escape crazy, crazy mom and find a hotel where they can attempt to pollute the gene pool.
It's at this point the episode ends, and a great shock convulses the viewing audience at the realization that there is yet another episode of this dreck to wade through.
Part Three. In the heady afterglow of their illicit sexual congress - mercifully, the viewers are spared actually having to see them boinking - Setsuna goes to the police station to free Kira. He gets into a fight with Rosiel's henchman Kattan. Kattan shoots a magical force beam at Setsuna, but Sis jumps in the way and is killed, saving the world from having to raise her no-doubt defective offspring and saving the viewing audience by removing the cause of so much of this video's stupidity. At any rate, seeing the object of his lust vaporized enrages Setsuna, and in his anger he manifests Devilman, uh, I mean Alexiel, who destroys Kattan and promptly goes into catatonic shock, the immense power of which completely destroys the entire city. By the way, this kills Kira's dad, allowing Kira to have a tender and emotional Last Moment with his distant and unaffectionate father. Since this is a character who only appears in his death scene, the audience is unmoved, and in fact makes several derisive comments at this point, some of which involve the Harry Chapin song "Cat's In The Cradle."
Setsuna finds himself in a fantasy world where the city is undestroyed, he's not possessed by an angel, and his sister is not his sister but his girlfriend. However, this hallucination dissolves in a cheap CG effect and we find ourselves back in the regular, destroyed world, where we learn that Kira is actually the 7-Bladed Sword That Imprisoned Rosiel! Thanks, that really explains a lot! Rosiel, who is never far from wacky, magical-force-beam, city-destroying shenanigans, tries to convince Setsuna to kill Kira, but Setsuna kills Rosiel instead. Suddenly, in the midst of the turmoil and darkness, Serafinda the Adam Kadamon appears! Serafinda, who can manipulate Time Magic - just like Christopher Plummer in Star Crash! Tokyo returns to a pre-destroyed state, but apparently the awesome power of the Adam Kadamon doesn't extend to resucitating dead sisters, so Kira stabs Setsuna with his 7-Bladed Sword (insert suggestive comment here) and sends Setsuna to Hades so that he can get his sister back. It's at this point, as the credits roll, that the viewer realizes that he will never, ever, get those 90 minutes of his life back.
I found Angel Sanctuary to be intensely lame. The plot, or what I could follow of it, merely lurches from one supposedly-shocking moment to another, throwing in angels, demons, Crazy Moms and Adam Kadamons whenever needed to get things moving. Even assisted by someone conversant with the original manga, it's a tough watch - without expert assistance, I don't see this video making sense in the least. This train wreck is jam-packed with dramatic cop-outs - characters dying and coming back to life, cities destroyed and reborn, all for the sake of a cheap thrill in a video otherwise bereft of interest. Christian cosmology is used and abused at will, for no purpose other than because Angel Wings Look Cool-- if this is the result of introducing Christianity to Japan, I say it was a bad idea.
The character designs pay almost no attention to Kaori Yuki's delicate manga work - instead, we're treated to a fake-Rayearth look that is distinguished mainly by the giant jaw structure sported by most of the male cast. The animation is nothing special - average in parts, above average in others, and marred throughout by lots and lots of cheap-looking digital pans and zooms. The dubbing is profoundly silly, not so much in the delivery as the script, which is awkwardly translated and even more awkward in rewrites. Characters recite dozens of unexplained, meaningless names and try to work their way around badly-constructed sentences that only serve to confuse the viewing audience further.
Now I know darn well I'm not the target audience for Angel Sanctuary - I'm not a 15-year old girl who is ready for some slightly outré shoujo manga. But even if I was, I think I'd like to watch something that actually made sense, rather than just being a parade of cliché after cliché. But what really irritates me about Angel Sanctuary is the fact that the main character's obsession is boning his sister, and the only person in the entire series that objects is depicted as a hateful, insensitive control freak and a bad parent. I hate to burst any bubbles here, but in the modern world sexual relations between siblings is frowned upon, and rightly so. Maybe I sound like some sort of closed-minded puritan - or a crazy mom - but the incest taboo is there for a reason, okay?
Of course, we can't alienate our target audience by having the teenage protagonist make bad decisions. Angel Sanctuary taps into every teenager's dream of actually being the center of the world, where everything he does is of tremendous importance. In fact, there's even a scene where Setsuna is told that he is the most important person in the world, and that nobody has ever suffered through what he's going through. This is the opposite of what a teenager really needs to hear - instead it's what he wants to hear. Angel Sanctuary is a hymn to the self-obsessed narcissist phase we all go through, immortalized in cartoon form. And boy, it's almost as much fun to watch as it was to live through.
I don't think anybody's going to see Angel Sanctuary and start boffing their relatives, but treating incest like just another wacky adolescent The Parents Just Don't Understand deal is lame, lame, lame - much like the rest of the video. My advice is to watch Devilman Versus Bird Siren instead. High school student with supernatural powers, city-wide destruction, homoerotic overtones, and Akira Fudo wants to boff his foster sister, so it's at least genetically okay, plus a story remarkably free of spurious religious imagery, inane speechifying, and shameless pandering. What's more, it actually makes sense in the bargain.
Added: Friday, October 10, 2003
Related Link: U.S. Manga Corps.