Buried Treasure Legend of the Angel
by Justin Sevakis, Feb 19th 2011
Hey, this place looks familiar. That's right, it's my first Buried Treasure in over a year! I promised I'd pop back in occasionally with a special column every once in a while, and so here we are. Hopefully I can keep doing this more often than once a year...
Legend of the Angel (Angel Densetsu)
People are deeply superficial creatures. Perhaps nowhwere is this more obvious than in high school, where rampant insecurity and constant one-upsmanship turn how people look and present themselves into an outright caste system. The attractive kids, provided they can act cool as well, float to the top of the social pecking order. The kids with obvious appearance issues gradually sink to the bottom. These roles aren't set in stone, and in my time as a teenager I saw many people climb and fall, but those were mostly accidents -- most people had no idea how to be a social climber, and ended up stuck right where people perceived them from the beginning.
And so, we have a new transfer student named Seiichiro Kitano, who is starting his first day and hoping to make lots of new friends. He is, under the surface, a clueless innocent, inherently smart (he gets perfect grades) but socially doofy. He's incredibly nice and kind -- to a fault, really. He thinks in terms of quiet self-sacrifice and modesty. He's essentially a Boy Scout -- polite and conscientious to a fault. However, by some cruel trick of fate, he was born with the most awful curse one could imagine: a face that (probably) not even his mother could love.
It's not that he's just ugly, or unpleasant to look at; it's that he's TERRIFYING. Seriously, the kid looks like a demon. Even with the softened look of mid-90s hand-drawn animation, his very appearance is enough to send people of all kinds (and even most animals) fleeing for their lives. All he has to do is walk towards a person, and they'll cower and start screaming and crying, begging him not to kill them.
One might think that this unlikely power would corrupt an individual, but Kitano clearly doesn't think of himself as intimidating. He knows he's not exactly an idol, but his appearance is never the first thing on his mind. To him, his face is no big deal, and if he can only make some friends, he thinks, people will see that there's nothing to be scared of. And so, he transfers into a new school, introduces himself politely, and sits in the back, all the while his classmates and teacher sweat and panic, terrified that they've somehow attracted one of Satan's minions to their very school.
There is no changing Kitano's social fate. People have made up their minds about him at first sight, and there's really quite little he can do to escape their preconceptions. Indeed, the only people who will even talk to him are the school delinquents, and they're only out to prove themselves against a new perceived adversary. From the school tough-guy, to leaders of local gangs, every thug is out to test their meddle against this terrifying kid they've heard so much about... and through a series of truly bizarre coincidences and happy accidents, he comes through mostly unscathed!
It's hard to explain the bizarre humor of Legend of the Angel without giving too much away. Like the more recent comedy Detroit Metal City, it comes almost entirely from the single joke of its premise, and the joy of watching it lies in the viewer's amazement as it takes an already-familiar setup and builds an ever higher and creakier tower of silliness around it, topping itself again and again. Early on, one punk gets used to his appearance and isn't phased by it. Maybe, we think, Kitano isn't scary enough. And then you hear his blood curdling SCREAM...
Despite all this silliness, there's some genuinely smart satirical stabs going on under the surface. Kitano rises to the top of the Japanese youth underworld with blinding speed, based entirely on surface judgements and miscommunications on a very fundamental level. It's not just the kids that are guilty of prejudging poor Kitano: even the school principal is convinced that he's a monster, who has infiltrated his beloved campus! It's basically the opposite of the classic Peter Sellers film Being There, in which a simple, learning-disabled man bumbles his way to the top of American politics simply by looking like a wealthy business owner and speaking in polite non-sequiturs.
But nevermind all the smart subtext. Legend of the Angel is quite simply the funniest anime I've seen in a very, very long time. How it's slipped so entirely under the radar of American anime fandom for as long as it has, is a complete mystery to me. This little one-shot is easily as funny as any anime comedies that were coming out in America at the time. It's also depressingly short -- the OAV ends at what is clearly the beginning of a very long comedy of errors, and the video itself feels like a tease for the much longer (15 volume) manga series.
I can find precious little information about the making of this OAV. The director, Yukio Kaizawa, is best known for shonen comedies (including Hell Teacher Nube, Digimon Frontier and episode director spells on Zatch Bell and One Piece). I suppose that's fitting, though hardly enlightening on any artistic level. Visually the show is nothing special -- it looks like any number of cheaply made early 90s OAVs. Its characters, hardly the slashable Shonen Jump characters of today, are appropriately unappealing.
The manga series, having finished its run in 2000, is now mostly forgotten among manga fans. The anime was never reissued on DVD or even Laserdisc. Its release seemed like a non-event, and few fans outside of Japan have even heard of the title. And so, Legend of the Angel now stands as one of a truckload of now-forgotten OAVs of mediocre pedigree, which were dumped on the Japanese market as marketing for a manga property. And that's a real shame... it's easily one of my top 10 anime comedies of all time.
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