Angel Sanctuary was a manga written by Yuki Kaori from 1994 to 2000. At the tail end of its run, in 2000, it got an OVA from Hal Film Maker. The same studio that brought us Princess Tutu and… Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-Chan. The manga is dark and disturbing with a lot of screwed up events and circumstances. It’s also really good, provided you don’t mind media that takes liberties with Judeo-Christian mythos. So, does a three episode OVA manage to capture the spirit of the manga?
Our tale opens with our hero, Setsuna, fighting against a group of thugs. He’s winning handily, until his sister, Sara, interrupts the confrontation, angry at him for forgetting about their date. Turns out their parents divorced and they decided to meet up once a month to keep in touch. Don’t have a sigh of relief yet, it’s quickly revealed that Setsuna has more than a familial love for his sister. Yes, this series features incest. Although I will give it credit over everything else I’ve reviewed with that kind of content. There actually are good narrative reasons for it and the reactions they get are largely realistic. It’s also a screwed up element in a series that is deliberately full of screwed up elements. So it does kind of work for this story. After separating from his sister Setsuna encounters demons who tell him he’s the reincarnation of an angel, Alexiel, who followed in Lucifer’s footsteps, rebelling against God. He finds himself dealing with his feelings for Sara while both angels and demons try to reawaken Alexiel, which could very well bring an end to his life and identity as Setsuna.
Let’s begin by looking at the negative aspects of the series. The most obvious issue is that it doesn’t stand alone by any means. It’s like Battle Angel or Fire Emblem and serves more as a teaser for the manga rather than as a self-contained story. Which, to be fair, is kind of to be expected when you turn twenty volumes of manga into a three episode OVA. There are certainly other issues too. The pacing isn’t very good. The series throws major scenes at you one after the other with no time to take anything in and with very little explanation for any of the supernatural elements aside from “it’s magic, they don’t have to explain it.” As a result exactly how this world works is kept kind of vague. Again, to be fair to the OVA, these are all problems present to some extent at the beginning of the manga.
On the positive side, the premise is really solid. There are lots of good ideas and the setup leaves a lot of room to further delve into the world with lots of intrigue to build upon. Pacing issues aside, the events themselves also unfold very naturally with plenty of foreshadowing for important plot points. Which does give the narrative a pretty strong flow. It does provide a solid opening for a series.
A lot of the characters in this series aren’t particularly likeable. They’re largely complex and even interesting, however. The problem with the OVA in particular is that the complexity for the characters is heavily limited since there’s a lot less time with them. As such you get traits that are far more basic for the secondary characters, who are largely the strongest characters in the manga. It does spend sufficient time with Setsuna, Sara, Rosiel and Sakuya to give you a good feel for their characters. The rest of the cast develop and become important at later points than the OVA reaches and they come across as quite flat and you would question why some of them are even there if you haven’t read the manga.
The art is really good. The action sequences are very well animated and the character designs look really nice. I especially like the way they draw wings. The art does get absolutely brutal at times and the violence can be disturbing. The backgrounds are well detailed.
There are some very strong performances in this. Nojima Kenji, Psycho Pass’s Nobuchika, gives a great performance as Setsuna. You also get powerful performances from Miyamura Yuko and Koyasu Takehito. The biggest weaknesses are Kawasumi Ayako, who seems to be decidedly not trying, and Chiba Susumu who over-acts as though he’s been training with Brian Blessed. The music is just okay.
The ho-yay factor is a 3/10. There’s some stuff between Setsuna and Sakuya that seems suspect, but nothing big.
Angel Sanctuary definitely has things to recommend it. It also has significant issues. By itself, it really doesn’t hold up. Really, I would only suggest it for fans of the manga. If the premise sounds interesting to you, I’d look at the manga first. As a supplement to the manga, it does work okay, providing a nice little look at the first story line. My rating for it is going to be a 5/10. Next week, K-on the movie.