Angels of Death
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 15 of
Angels of Death ?
I have to hand it to Angels of Death for finding novel ways to surprise me. As much as I've enjoyed Ray and Zack's exploits and been delighted by its odd sense of humor, I never would have pegged this show as the one to move me to tears. Nevertheless, this episode came dangerously close.
When we left off last week, the building's self-destruct had been activated, and we open with Gray walking through the flaming rubble of the lower floors, reminiscing I assume about the “good” times. It works as a fiery yet quiet reflection on where we've come from, but it would have worked better if we hadn't already backtracked through all this already. Meanwhile, Zack and Ray hightail it up the stairs, and we get several surprisingly sweet reminders of how close they've become. For the first time maybe ever, Zack becomes scared and vulnerable as the fire reaches their landing and triggers memories of his past trauma. It passes oddly quickly as Ray gives him the courage to break through, but it's still nice to see the reciprocity of their relationship in action. Likewise, there's just something cute about Zack carrying Ray under one arm like she's a big puppy, even if everything is collapsing around them. They're both smiling, they're both having fun, and they're doing it together.
Sadly, their escape is not without its casualties. After breaking through the last barrier of rubble, Zack's trusty scythe finally gives up the ghost and its blade snaps off. It's a sign that his time as one of the “angels” is truly over, but it also leads to one of my favorite moments in the entire anime. Rachel, apparently reluctant to leave it behind, pauses by the scythe's blade for a moment before saying “bye bye” and rushing back to Zack's side. In any other story, this would be a symbolic gesture, saying goodbye to an old friend, but Zack is alive and standing right next to her. She's literally just saying goodbye to his scythe. Sure, it has that deeper subtext of saying farewell to her time in the basement, but it mostly stands out as a moment of absurd sentimentality that nonetheless feels at home in Angels in Death. It's a weird show about weird killers doing weird things, and that's its charm.
They finally reach the top of the stairs, and with the end in sight, Rachel takes a moment to revisit her original vow with Zack. She still sincerely wants to die; she just wants to make sure that he also sincerely wants to kill her. This might seem like a small thing, but it's actually a poignant culmination of Angels of Death's running theme intertwining death and love. A while back, I likened the story to an otome game, with Rachel trying to find the perfect suitor to murder her. After many rivals and struggles, Zack has truly emerged as Mr. Right, willing to work side-by-side with Ray and respect her wishes. This moment right before the climax is Ray negotiating for true consent from her partner. She doesn't want to do anything they're both not completely comfortable with. In this scene, Angels of Death displays more compassion and emotional intelligence than most stories that actually sell themselves as romances. Now, the circumstances are obviously messed up as hell, but when factoring in the sheer ridiculousness of the premise, as well the show's sincere commitment to its central absurdity of equating murder with love, I find myself enjoying this trash pile instead of being skeeved out by it.
At this moment, I have to admit that yes, I do want Zack to kill Ray, and I want it to happen with a smile on both of their faces. I don't know how I got here, but it's so twisted and macabre that it wraps around to being pure and beautiful. This is what they've been struggling for all this time, and it's the happy ending they both want. And this is why the episode almost made me cry, because that bastard Danny crawls out of the shadows and shoots Ray right after she gets her reassurance from Zack. Continuing the otome theme, if Zack is the compassionate and thoughtful partner (appearance and mannerisms notwithstanding), Danny is the jilted and selfish ex-partner. He doesn't care about what Rachel wants, and he's going to kill her on his terms, not hers. This being an anime, Ray doesn't die right away, and with tears in her eyes she reassures Zack that even if their promise goes unfulfilled, it was the promise itself that was most important. That was the glue that bonded them together, and not even death can sever that bond. Danny, defeated but still too far gone, tries to end everything entirely, but Gray comes to the rescue with his sign-of-the-crossbow. (Because he's a priest, get it? Crossbow?) He seems to have been satisfied with both Rachel's and Zack's growth as people, so he's willing to help them escape. Zack shuffles to the door with Ray's body draped in his arms, trusting Gray that she can still be saved, while Danny aims his pistol.
That's our last cliffhanger of the series, and it's a doozy. I'm still curious about what the outside world will look like, but I'm far more concerned about Zack and Ray finding their happy ending. Boiling it down, the main concern right now is Zack saving Ray's life so that he can kill her on their own terms at a later date. It's so messed up, but I'm so much more invested than I thought I'd be. In this final act, Angels of Death ramps up both the melodrama and its twisted flavor of romance to great effect. This episode also ends with a combination music video and clip show after the credits, if it weren't already obvious they didn't have quite enough story to fill 16 episodes. Still, I'd rather they fill time this way than mess up the pacing of this shorter but otherwise propulsive penultimate installment. It sagged a lot in the middle, but with this string of strong episodes, Angels of Death is on track for a solid and affecting conclusion. I don't know what's in store for Zack and Ray, but I'm getting my tissues ready.
Angels of Death is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is an anime-reviewing zombie who can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.
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