Punished for her rebellion against God and heaven, the mighty angel Alexiel is forced to inhabit the body of Setsuna Mudo, a teenage boy struggling with incestuous feelings toward his sister, Sara. While demons and angels try to awaken the warrior within, Alexiel -- whose spiritual troubles mirror those of the earthly adolescent -- finds herself growing accustomed to her new life as a human boy in this three-part anime series. - summary courtesy of Netflix
Angel Sanctuary is yet another title that I've known of for several years, but never felt particularly compelled to pick up until recently. After reading the summary at Netflix, I thought the premise seemed rather intriguing, and because of all the hype I've heard over the years, I was fairly excited to watch this series. I really had no idea that I'd be so completely disturbed and nauseated by the end.
Alright, let me get the DVD details out of the way first as there really isn't much to talk about. The features are very basic - scene selection, and English dub track, or Japanese track with subtitles. Nothing special there at all.
Now, as most of you know, I am a big fan of English dubs. However, this was the first time I can remember where I couldn't switch to the Japanese track with subs fast enough. The dub is hideous. I am not exaggerating when I say I was instantly reminded of the old Godzilla movies, where there was always a severe delay in audio versus mouth movements. Not only that, but the English voice talents were about as untalented as they come. The one person that would have made the dub tolerable was Crispin Freeman, but I just couldn't withstand the others long enough for his character to make an appearance. That said, the Japanese seiyuus make these characters, period.
Now let's discuss the overall story, if one can even call it that. This pathetic excuse for an OVA pretends to be everything it isn't, and then some. It starts off with Setsuna Mudo, who lusts after his younger sister, Sara. Their parents have recently split up, apparently due to the fact that their father had an affair. Setsuna's mother is protective of young Sara, but shuns Setsuna because she thinks he's "creepy." Now, this is where things begin to spiral into confusion for the viewer. If my understanding is correct, Setsuna has been taken in by a man he calls Kira-sempai, who has some very deep, dark secrets of his own. It isn't too long before Setsuna is confronted by two cross dressing demons who inform him they, and apparently the rest of the universe (Heaven, Hell, and Earth) is waiting for him to awaken.
This isn't even the weirdest part though. Setsuna's sister is then kidnapped, and naturally he goes to find her. Upon arriving at the warehouse where she is being held, he encounters the three bullies that beat the hell out of him (pun slightly intended) on a pretty regular basis. Initially unbeknown to Setsuna, these bullies are actually demons as well, complete with grotesque bodies and...tentacles...lots of tentacles. As Setsuna begs them to release Sara, one of the tentacled demons rips his arm clean off. But when Sara is faced with certain death at the hands of Alexiel's twin brother, Rosiel, Setsuna, for the first time unleashes some of Alexiel's powers.
At this point one would think the tide would turn from over the top, highly disturbing teenage angst to something much more substantial. However, this is not the case. Instead of being totally weirded out by all the strange events and people surrounding him, Setsuna is becoming increasingly obsessed with bedding his baby sister. Before I go any further, one would expect the object of his affections to be put off by this, but no, she actually reciprocates, even going so far as to pine for him. Eventually, they decide to run away together, and yes, they do end up having sex.
Now for the supposed "real" plot. As I said, everyone is waiting for Setsuna's awakening as the female angel, Alexiel. If the previous angst weren't bad enough, her brother, Rosiel is also desperate to gain his sister's affections in so many sadistic ways. In other words, he too has incestuous inclinations toward Alexiel.
And that's basically the long and short of it all. The "real" plot seems to be haphazardly thrown into the mix simply to add something that vaguely resembles a redeemable quality. However, this is so poorly executed that it's almost irrelevant. The incest factor is disturbing enough in itself, that is for certain. What's worse is that this OVA almost seems like a platform to legitimize such a thing; as if the act and the people who engage in it are simply misunderstood. This is illustrated, in part, when Setsuna and Sara run away together, both justifying their relationship by saying that if they go to a place where no one knows them, then it's no big deal. After some events, Sara is killed, which awakens Alexiel's spirit who resides in Setsuna's body, he finally accepts his destiny, and proceeds to play the intrepid hero.
Which brings us to a cliffhanger without an apparent continuation.
I don't think there are any words that can help me express how much I hated this movie, and to be honest, I cannot figure out if this unmitigated piece of crap was an honest attempt at making an OVA, or if the writer actually has some serious real life issues. That is not to say that I wasn't holding out hope. When the first episode started, I was expecting the story to be a psychological profile of a person who struggles with inappropriate feelings and behavior. If it didn't turn in that direction, I at least expected to find out that Setsuna and Sara actually weren't blood relatives. The brother/sister love theme far over shadows the theme of religion, and the strife between fallen angels and righteous ones. Some members of the supporting cast could have been this series' saving grace had they played more of a role, and were given more complete characterizations.
To be completely fair, I must mention that the Angel Sanctuary OVA is based off the 20 volume manga series. After watching this movie, I did some research on the Internet, and as with many manga adaptations, the series itself is extensively truncated, and doesn't tell the complete story. However, if the move is any indication, I have absolutely no desire to fill in the blanks. I can't see how the incest theme would be any more justified by simply reading the manga. Referring back to the animation, there are so many confusing things that were never addressed, and the animation and character designs are only slightly better than average. Even the action scenes lack substance.
In closing, I can't for the life of me understand why this movie enjoys such a high degree of popularity, aside from the possibility that fans of this vapid, morally questionable cesspool are also fans of the manga. I'm still stunned at some of the glowing reviews that refer to Setsuna and Sara's relationship as "beautiful" or "sweet." Or equally as bad, referring to the movie over all as a "masterpiece."
Normally this would be the point where I'd make a recommendation on whether to rent or buy, but in this case I can't do either. Angel Sanctuary is just that bad. Any self respecting anime fan who enjoys engaging characters and a well crafted story should avoid this like the plague.
What did you think of this review?