Angels of Death
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Angels of Death ?
It's been a long road (33% longer than most single cour anime), but we've finally reached the end of Angels of Death. It was a ridiculous and deeply flawed show, even morally heinous at times. And yet, I'm sad to see it go. It's not the show I expected it to be, but it's also not the show I was hoping it wouldn't be. It began as a campy and self-aware spin on RPG Maker horror games, subverting certain expectations while playing up the inherent absurdity of its death game scenario. It ends as a story about two broken people embracing their cracks and finding solace in each other. I've been writing about this show for 16 weeks, and I still don't quite understand how we got from laughing at Zack getting electrocuted to wallowing in such a quiet finale. It's been one hell of a ride though, and I've got a bit more to say before we pull into the last stop.
The first part of the finale unfortunately serves as an example of Angels of Death at its worst. Conceptually, it's a fine and necessary scene. Gray and Danny are the last of the “angels,” warped beyond being capable of existing outside of the murder playground they made for themselves, so Gray keeps Danny at bay as Zack carries Ray outside. The problem is that it's a long dialogue-heavy scene that wastes time spelling out the story's themes and symbols for the audience. These aren't difficult things to pick up, and Angels of Death also hasn't been shy about spelling them out prior to this episode. It's an understandable enough flaw—you want your audience to leave your story with a grasp of everything you put into it. But a little bit of trust goes a long way. For that reason, I'm not going to itemize everything they talk about, especially because I've already brought up most of it in prior reviews. The important point is that, by working together, Zack and Ray have grown up enough to live (and die) both for themselves and each other. They grew out of the arrested development—either living selfishly for oneself or selfishly imposing all of your desires onto another person—that plagued the rest of Gray and his angels up until their deaths. There are innumerable ways to be human, and all of them are difficult, but opening our hearts to each other can be a great way to ease each other's burdens.
Zack and Ray may have learned to exist together, but there's still no place for them in the outside world. The mysterious building turns out to be just that: a nondescript building on a random street corner. There's no miracle waiting for them, and Zack quickly realizes that the only way to save Ray's life is to give her up to the EMTs and surrender himself to the police. It's a tragic and painful separation, but it's emblematic of the empathy and selflessness that Zack was able to nurture during his time with Ray. We are also separated from Zack and Ray in this moment. Using news reports as exposition is an often hokey storytelling shortcut that I've already poked at Angels of Death for employing, but I think it actually works well as a way to ground the audience and put the ridiculousness of Zack and Ray's experience in context. These detectives and doctors don't understand what happened in that basement, nor could they. Of course they're going to treat Zack like he's a dangerous serial killer. He is! Of course they're going to treat Ray like she has Stockholm Syndrome and put her in an institution. What else are they going to do? Maybe the best ending for everyone does see Zack atoning for his crimes while Ray receives the psychological care necessary to reintegrate her back into society.
That so boring, though.
After 15 episodes of melodramatic killing game absurdity, I don't want a nice ending for Angels of Death. I want the right ending for Angels of Death, and thankfully, that's the one we get. Zack smashes through her window like a scythe-wielding Prince Charming and whisks her out into the cool night air looking every bit the part of an angel of death. That's all we see, although we can imagine how the rest of it plays out given the surrounding police cars and the lingering image of Zack's blood on the broken windowsill. Ultimately, the specifics of who kills whom and how don't matter as much as the simple victory of their reunion. Zack's rakish grin and Rachel's tear-streaked smile give us a powerful moment of catharsis after an otherwise oppressive episode. Instinctively, this conclusion feels bittersweet, but context matters. Romeo and Juliet is only a tragedy because the two of them wanted to live together. The main throughline of this entire story has been Ray's desire to be killed by Zack, and the fulfillment of that is a happy ending if anything. Zack's fate is more up in the air. If he dies after killing Rachel, that would be sad, but it lends his actions the nobility of self-sacrifice, which is something he wouldn't have been capable of at the beginning. Given everything (and I do mean everything) we've seen him survive up to this point, it's also easy to imagine him escaping from the police and living on for both himself and Ray. Or maybe they're both still alive, tearing things up on the lam like the murder-prone disasters they are. Again, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that we see for ourselves how happy they've made each other.
Angels of Death appeals to an adolescent yet fundamentally human desire for trashy and twisted romances that toe the messy boundaries of our emotions with both pulp and sincerity. It sucked me in with its clever handling of horror game tropes and weird sense of humor, but before I knew it, I was invested in the journeys of our main characters. The strength of Zack and Ray's oddly charismatic rapport cannot be understated, which at every turn transforms what would otherwise be a horrific situation into a campy jaunt through a religious zealot's death game. It never takes itself seriously enough to be edgy, but it also has a surprising amount of emotional acuity for a story about a young girl who longs to be murdered by a serial killer. That premise alone has enough bad taste to turn off a lot of people, and the anime is also saddled by sluggish pacing in the middle and some frustrating writing. Nevertheless, despite my better judgment, I have to call this a good anime. The premise is unique enough, the execution is solid enough, and Zack and Ray are a consistent delight to watch. If the phrase “problematic fave” is still in parlance with the youth, then that's absolutely what I'd brand Angels of Death. It's a warped show, and I'd be hesitant to recommend it to everyone, but I'm glad I got to write about it.
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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