In this alternate "future 1990s", Japan never went through the bubble-burst of our world, but rather, became the nexus of world finance, surpassing the United States. This is brought them the unwanted attention of terrorist groups such as the Red May, who want to take down the Japanese economy in order to destabilize the world for their own purposes. In response, the Japanese government has authorized the Special Security Force: an elite unit working outside existing legal framework, with a license to kill. For newcomer Haruka Mikawa, codenamed "Angel", the Red May insurrection is the chance for her to prove her skills to her partner Raiden ... but they soon find out that they aren't the only ones hunting terrorists, and it isn't long before the hunters become the hunted.
Angel Cop really didn't have to be this bad.
Imagine, if you will, a tightly knit narrative about government agents who find themselves uncovering a great conspiracy, only to be manipulated into facing a rival government agency by some bigger fish. Call it "cyborgs versus psychics", a battle royale to determine which of their bosses gets to be in charge of Japan's shadow government. Maybe throw in some waterboarding scenes, toss in some smoothly choreographed action scenes here and there, but keep the atmosphere tense and exciting and suspenseful and gritty. Sounds great, right?
And that's what Angel Cop could have been, had it not been for its creators deciding early on in this project (I'm guessing the first five seconds after inception, really) that their audience was clearly going to care more about gore, blood, shredded steel, and explosions than about any actual meaningful social commentary. With director Ichiro Itano (responsible for the "darker, edgier" Megazone 23 Episode II, the second episode of Violence Jack, and later to helm the infamously visceral TV series Gantz) and writer Noboru (aka Shou) Aikawa (responsible for the reprehensible scripts of Dog Soldier, Genocyber, Violence Jack, and Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, though, paradoxically, also the scenarist for Vampire Princess Miyu, Neo Ranga, and Twelve Kingdoms), it's evident that they wanted to be as violent and edgy as possible, plot be damned. And, unfortunately, this comes at the expense of characterization, as it's evident after about five minutes that even the protagonists are trigger-happy psychopaths. Even the most "innocent" character in this show is depicted incinerating multiple people, so really, we're kinda sorta left rooting for Angel by default simply 'cause she's got a nice pair of headlights. On her motorcycle. Or something.
The animation quality is middling for the late '80s/early '90s, which means that by modern standards it looks stunningly archaic especially in most non-action scenes and relies on a lot of explosion effects and speed lines to disguise quality defects. It doesn't help that literally everything looks very dark -- even the daytime scenes look somewhat muted. Still, there are a few combat scenes that are pretty awesome for their time, such as the fight on the bridge in episode four and several scenes of the very protracted final battle which actually takes up nearly the entirety of the final two episodes. The art design is borderline hilarious (the decision in particular to dress the Hunters up as glam rockers complete with big hair is particularly risible), and we're never quite sure if Lucifer is a butch woman or a transvestite with breast implants, thanks to a complete lack of consistency in her (his?) character design. Also, since this is 1989 Japan, just about everyone is apparently a biker, leading to the most ridiculous game of chicken I've ever seen animated. And while there are a couple of missile launches to remind us that director Itano is the namesake of the Macross "Itano Circus" trope, the focus here seems to shift rapidly to how quickly this anime can become a thorough splatterfest, an emphasis that quickly becomes outright noisome (right from the beginning, where we get to see Angel graphically blow the brains out of a female terrorist).
By the way, guys? Health Hint for the Anime Creator: Don't flash a girl's boobs at me while you're killing her onscreen. Party foul to the Nth degree! Also misogynistic and repellent, but hey, that's just another day hard at work for these guys, right?
As with many action OAVs of this era, the music is uniformly terrible. Just when you think this anime might get down a suspenseful moment, the music director decides to jam a synthesized minor chord in our faces, at times to the point of laughability. The oddly choppy ending song, a rock ballad called "Itami" (meaning "pain") by Crayon Company is essentially only appropriate due to its name, as it's sung ever so slightly off-key. It's telling that the most effective (or at least relieving?) moments are the ones where there isn't any background music at all.
As unsympathetic as all the characters were, I can't really blame the all-star seiyuu cast for it. Mika Doi (Macross's Misa Hayase) really embraces her badass side as the hard-bitten Angel, opposite Masashi Ebara (Hohenheim Elric from Full Metal Alchemist) as Raiden, a cop so beyond the law, he doesn't even need a shirt under his motorcycle jacket. We've even got Akira's Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki) as big-haired glam-rocker psychic Asura, ironically, playing one of the few characters you don't see riding a motorcycle. (Not even an anti-tank one! And yes, this show has anti-tank motorcycles. Just go with it, okay?) The voice actor with the least experience, Kumiko Hironaka, chews tons of scenery as the androgynous and transparently bat-nuts-crazy Lucifer, and honestly, it's kind of a shame she hasn't done much else, if anything, at least to have some better titles on her resume. (She also gets to yell racial epithets in almost-but-not-quite-English, which would be utterly hysterical if it weren't so offensive in context.)
"DON'T TATCHI ME!" Okay, crazy lady.
For the purpose of this review, I reviewed the subtitled version, which is nevertheless extremely bowdlerized from the actual Japanese audio. The funny thing is that the subtitles refer to the ultimate manipulators of world power as "American corporations" but those of us who are actually listening to the Japanese dialogue hear the word "yudaya" thrown about incessantly by both good guys and bad alike. Yep: the real villains of Angel Cop who have the gall to challenge the rightful and destined supremacy of Japanese science and industry are Jewish bankers. I guess I missed that memo when I last visited Great-Grandma Ethel for Seder all those years ago -- matzo-ball soup, gefilte fish, world domination by turning Japan into a giant nuclear waste facility ... yada yada yada. Oh so sneaky. This utterly offensive insinuation, of course, is completely removed in the English dub, along with, unfortunately, any semblance of serious acting talent whatsoever -- prepare to hear extremely wooden, fake "American" accents that involve putting "-er" endings to words no actual American would think of appending that sound to, a complete and utter failure to pronounce any Japanese names correctly, and, best of all, horribly (awesomely) corny lines that somehow manage to make the entire cast look even more like psychopaths than before.
(Little Girl Freya: "My quarrel's not with you, I wish you no harm. BUT YOU ARE GUILTY AND MUST DIE!")
The most memorable dub line, though, which I won't spoil, is, unbeknownst to a majority of Americans watching this show, a shoutout to satirist Ian Hislop, which firmly cements the idea that writers behind this intentionally lowbrow dub are, ironically, smarter than the original scenarists.
And finally, after most of the cast has been slaughtered bloodily, and just as Angel has finally turned the corner from self-centered, venal, trigger-happy psychopath to slightly less self-centered, venal, trigger-happy psychopath - the show finally comes to a close in an abrupt downer ending that hammers home what sort of crapsack universe these creators have opened up to us. Essentially, you realize that no matter what anyone has tried to do, Japan pretty much goes to crap anyway. Thanks, guys, we really enjoyed that feeling of accomplishment and relief. I'm certainly still not watching the last two episodes of Genocyber if this is the best ending Shou Aikawa could come up with at this point in his career.
What is so frustrating about this anime is that there really are a few great story ideas in here, what with the multiple supra-governmental institutions tasked to deal with terrorism being manipulated by shady politicians and shadier transnational institutions, but unfortunately, instead of giving us a properly suspenseful political thriller, Angel Cop lobs us a barrage of sensationalized gore and violence, coupled with some of the most blatantly racist, jingoistic, xenophobic diatribes ever portrayed in the anime medium.
An abortive attempt at smart sci-fi action sabotaged by the lowbrow aesthetic of its own creators, Angel Cop presents enough fresh ideas (or alternately, an entertaining enough dub) to just miss the bottom rung, but remains a hopelessly flawed and shockingly racist exploitationist piece that nevertheless undoubtedly influenced other, better anime to come, but also misled legions of early would-be anime fans into thinking that violence and boobs were all that anime had to offer. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Absolutely not for children. While not an "adult title" per se, there's several charnel houses full of dead, mangled onscreen bodies here. There's some brief nudity that I hesitate to call fan service due to the violent context. Only one major character death is not portrayed as being particularly gory.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (6/6)
Angel Cop © 1989 Ichiro Itano / Soeishinsha
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