Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 18th 2009
DVD - Complete Box Set
Kuu Shiratori, like so many girls of limited imagination and will, dreams of a prince. A prince who will one day whisk her away from her aimless life and fill her empty heart with happiness. She believes her day has come when she meets handsome transfer student Kyoshiro Ayanokoji. He's refined, restrained, strong and protective, and most importantly, seems inexplicably fixated on her. That he's accompanied by gorgeous Setsuna, who fights with an oversized mechanical arm and can leech the life from others with a kiss, doesn't seem to faze her, nor does the seemingly unending carnage that the two bring into her life. A battle between Setsuna and a cat-girl with a pair of oversized mechanical feet destroys her school, and her room is demolished when she is kidnapped by a beautiful interloper with a mechanical left arm. Kuu learns that the girls are beings known as Absolute Angels and that Kyoshiro is hell-bent on annihilating them all. Which doesn't bother Kuu too much (though she does worry about how coldly Kyoshiro treats devoted Setsuna) until she discovers her own abominable connection to the Angels, and through it, the true reason for Kyoshiro's interest in her.
Call it Kaishaku's Tsubasa. A grand crossover adventure that references everything from Steel Angel Kurumi to Magical Meow Meow Taruto. However, unlike Clamp's epic exercise in fan-pandering, the body of work that Shattered Angels draws upon is spectacularly uneven—and not coincidentally, so is Shattered Angels.
Kaishaku's oeuvre ranges from atmospheric but terminally empty fluff like Taruto and UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie through well-balanced mainstream entertainment like Kurumi right up to the brilliant but genre-entrenched Kannazuki no Miko. Angels is obviously aiming for the high end of that spectrum, so it should come as no surprise that the show it most frequently emulates is Kannazuki; to the extent of recycling most of its cast and re-enlisting director Tetsuya Yanagisawa and screenwriter Sumio Uetake, among others. Those expecting lightning to strike twice, however, should check their expectations at the door. Kannazuki's unabashedly overwrought melodrama was a balancing act of unthinkable delicacy, and Angels ultimately proves incapable of walking the same tightrope.
On occasion Angels does manage moments of bald-faced emotional manipulation to match those of its predecessor. Be sure to stick around until the middle set of episodes—Kuu's reaction to Kyoshiro's apparent intentions is everything that a fan of weepy self-pity could want. But misty-eyed moments do not a series make. Not when they're battling dialogue cheesy enough to clog arteries and plotting so lame that, were it a horse, it would be immediately shot. Kannazuki had similar handicaps, but where it smothered its many faults under a beautifully orchestrated climactic crescendo of triple hanky tear jerking, Angels peaks in the middle, watering its romantic angst down with apocalyptic doom-saying and hideously annoying villainy before ending with an emotional whimper. The leads are too blandly passive to deliver much in the way of emotional punch—Kyoshiro does little more than brood cinematically and Kuu isn't an active participant so much as a quivering lump of girl-flesh upon whom events are inflicted—and their deficiencies are compounded by a script that has neither the courage to feed them through the emotional meat-grinder nor the focus to parlay their romantic travails into heightening emotional tension.
In short, the series fails as a melodrama. And if it isn't a melodrama, then it's merely a maudlin mess with terrible dialogue. (A taste: "The unceasing beat of my heart is a bell heralding good fortune; my flushed cheeks are touched by the flames of passion. This is the best feeling in the world! Hooray, hooray, and hooray!").
Not even the pretty pictures—the power of which, as any four-year-old can tell you, should not be underestimated—can save the series once it devolves into a sappy muddle. Which is a shame, as they are very pretty pictures. The characters are drawn with the same clean, sharp lines as Kannazuki's (no surprise given that Maki Fujii returns to design them), the backgrounds are lush, and the mecha are elegant.
Yanagisawa delivers the visuals with the same lurid panache that he brought to Kannazuki, creating a stylistic continuity that marks the show as a sort of de facto sequel. Scenes repeat themselves—Kuu shopping for an accessory a la Himeko, Kyoshiro thundering to the rescue on horseback (insert laugh of cynical disbelief here) a la Chikane—and the imagery echoes earlier stylistic choices, particularly the nightmare palette of reds and blacks used during some of the darker scenes. His canny use of flashy editing, visual trickery and cheap shortcuts to cover for the occasionally clunky animation remains unchanged, as does his preference for silence over even Mina Kubota's sad, frequently repeated piano themes.
But without the dark power of Kannazuki's plot to justify his deliriously overwrought direction, the oft-ridiculous flourishes (particularly all those spontaneously blooming flowers) can't help but look like the silly bombast that they are.
Which leaves us with the crossover character fan-service. There is real pleasure to be had from, say, watching UFO Ultramaiden's ultra-bland Valkyrie turn her lack of personality to eerie, sinister ends. Or in watching Sojiro's (originally Girochi from Kannazuki) transformation from brainless thug to gentle giant. And then, of course, there are the big, guilty-making pleasures of watching Kannazuki's Chikane and Himeko (called Kaon and Himiko here) once again going through the tortures of hell for one another. Indeed, for many (particularly for fans of their original incarnations), the pair will be Angels' one consistent saving grace.
Unfortunately, they are also the English dub's most conspicuous failure. It's the force of personality that Ayako Kawasumi brings to bear on Kaon (and to a lesser extent the vulnerability that Noriko Shitaya brings to Himiko) that allows their scenes to carry the weight they do. Like most of the English cast, Monica Rial and Luci Christian (respectively) are too busy struggling with the stilted garbage that passes for dialogue to invest deeply in their characters. The same can be said for pretty much everyone else, but as none of their scenes worked terribly well in Japanese, the loss is less acutely felt. The addition of Brittney Karbowski's customary energy improves Kuu considerably, but in all honesty that's less a testament to the strength of her performance than it is a testament to the weakness of Sayuri Yahagi's. The real kudos go instead to Jay Hickman, who attacks the show-wrecking role of Kazuya (Kyoshiro's brother) with such scenery-chewing relish that you can't help but revel in the hammy fun he's having. ADV (by way of license-rescuer Funimation) makes the lethal mistake of faithfully preserving the dialogue, even those flowery monstrosities that sound infinitely, agonizingly worse in English.
Less discerning fans of emotional excess may be satisfied with the occasional salty tear that the series squeezes from its watery cast, but anyone with a real taste for ugly, old-school melodrama won't be pleased. And why should they? Successful melodrama is all about shamelessly wallowing in vicarious emotion. Instead Shattered Angels reminds us of everything about the wallowing—the deliberate manipulation, the contrivances, the artificial dialogue—that we should feel ashamed about, while letting us taste but briefly its rewards.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Old Kaishaku favorites in new scenarios, often with new personalities; very pretty to look at.
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