Kenji NojimaRyusei NakaoSusumu ChibaMayumi Asano
Angel Sanctuary
Also known as: Tenshi Kinryouku
Medium: OVA, series
Year: 2000
Director: Kiyoko Sayama
Original creator: Kaori Yuki
Actor: Ayako Kawasumi, Kenji Nojima, Ai Orikasa, Fujiko Takimoto, Mayumi Asano, Ryusei Nakao, Shinichiro Miki, Susumu Chiba, Takehito Koyasu, Yuji Ueda, Yuko Miyamura, Jun Fukushima, Katsuya Shiga, Nobuo Tobita, Sakiko Tamagawa, Shin Yasumura, Yuri Shiratori
Keywords: anime, incest
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 3 episodes
Website category: Anime early 00s
Review date: 6 July 2016
It's an introduction to a 20-volume fantasy series for girls by Kaori Yuki. (One hesitates to call it an animated adaptation. It's not even attempting that. It's just doing the start of the story, as is common with OVA adaptations of long manga, e.g. Video Girl Ai, Golden Boy.) The ending in particular implies that we're about to embark upon an epic... just as the credits roll. This is funny, but a bit of a custard pie in the face if you're watching this as a self-contained piece.
Does it work? Sort of. The tone's a bit distant and po-faced, despite the breathlessly lurid content, but there's enough here to give you the impression that the original might be worth reading.
Anyway, our hero, Setsuna, is a teenage boy who's also the reincarnation of a female three-winged angel who's a terrifying monster of destruction (maybe) and was cursed for rebelling against Heaven. Or possibly imprisoned. Setsuna doesn't know any of this. Whooo-ee, he's in for a surprise. He's also got demons and immortal undead assassins looking for him, some of whom pass for human. There will be relationship triangles involving Setsuna, his divine (and very scary) alter ego and a being from the pits of Hell.
Setsuna has problems.
On top of all that, though, Setsuna is also in love with his sister, Sara. It's reciprocated, although neither of them has realised (yet). This is played completely straight, with both Setsuna and Sara thinking it's just them, telling themselves it's wrong, trying to keep their distance, etc. The show's trying to take it seriously. There's none of the cheerful "wahay, incest!" that you'll get in more lowbrow anime like They Are My Noble Masters, Kiss x Sis, etc. What's more, there's also their mother. She's not going to take it well. Amusingly though two supernatural entities will both encourage Setsuna to go for it, including one big pep-talk speech about how his feelings are okay really. The moral of this story: God wants you to schlep your sister. Or should I say, given the manga's target audience, schlep your brother?
This is neither as funny nor as gross as it should have been, since the episodes' tone is too epic for a strong focus on Setsuna and Sara as characters. It's more interested in things like our hero growing wings and killing people with a magic sword. However Setsuna does eventually manage to make a public declaration of his love to Sara at the airport, in front of their mother. I repeat. In front of their mother. (Never mind the police and the other people at the airport.) The mind boggles.
Setsuna and Sara then flee from all those pesky moral guardians, spend the day being romantic and go to bed together. Mind you, I'd draw your attention to one interesting line from their mother: "Do you want to send Sara to Hell?" Bearing in mind certain developments, it's quite possible that this is more literally true than you'd think.
The religious content is similarly full-blooded. Angels are terrifying psychopaths, demons are sympathetic and humans are meat for turning into golems if you give them drugs. The mythology is detailed, using Christian angelic hierarchies.
Apparently the English dub is bad, even by the standards of English dubs.
It's taking itself very seriously. It's got the kind of intensity that's suggesting a story on the cusp of tragedy. Two demonic characters get surprisingly strong emotional development, with relationships explored that you wouldn't expect. The author has said that 'forbidden love' was her main theme and you can see that here, not just with Setsuna and Sara. You might meet someone who was in love with your earlier incarnation. Gender, identity and even species are fluid and not to be trusted, even when it's one's own. I don't think these OVAs quite work, but they do gradually build up force and narrative momentum. I can imagine the manga being strong. I believe that's quite well regarded, anyway.
"God, please abandon us."