Angels of Death
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Angels of Death ?
Rachel and Zack's journey through Cathy's zany prison of horrors continues, and the strain on their friendship deepens. The poison gas from last week's trap becomes the least of their troubles, as Cathy's most potent weapon turns out to be her honeyed words, slowly driving a wedge between her two captive playthings. How much stress can Ray's tiny frame handle, and how much prodding can Zack's already shaky psyche take? Will their relationship survive?
Of course, it's salient to remember what Ray and Zack's entire relationship is built around, the very spice that keeps this show flavorful. When we're treated with a scene of Zack gently patting Rachel's head, it's easy to forget that her ultimate goal is to die and his ultimate goal is to murder her. The scene remains sweet, but instead of becoming rote or maudlin, it takes on the zesty flavor of their twisted desires and makes their friendship much more interesting. The weird camaraderie they've built for themselves remains the story's strongest hook, and it made me surprisingly receptive to this episode's exploration of Zack's checkered past.
Whether or not Zack needed a backstory is debatable, and the backstory itself is fairly predictable—an abandoned kid, taken in by abusive guardians, who became his first victims when he couldn't stand it anymore. What makes this more engaging is the way Cathy presents this information in the form of a puzzle that Rachel and Zack must solve together. I initially thought Zack's death glare at the dollhouse was just another manifestation of his hatred for anything related to RPG Maker horror game puzzles, but the whole thing is a diorama of Zack's childhood. He has a short dream that primes the audience for this revelation, but I think it would have been neater (and more unsettling) to see Zack act out without knowing the reason yet. That quibble aside, this makes for a clever way of telling his backstory without relying entirely on flashbacks (although those remain a factor), and it fits Cathy's profile of being a cunning manipulator. The methodology of the puzzle itself, in which Rachel has to give Zack instructions, also preys on Zack's insecurity and revulsion at being used. His backstory isn't the pinnacle of smart or subtle storytelling (his awful guardians practically have “kill me” signs taped to their backs), but it's an unexpected bit of humanization that adds to his character.
If the previous floor was about codifying Zack and Ray's twisted but mutually beneficial relationship, this floor is about testing its strength. Most of this strain comes from Cathy's looming presence, and it becomes clear that the array of cameras, monitors, and speakers is her most powerful trap. The bait in this case is the perceived power imbalance between Ray and Zack, in which Ray calls the shots and Zack follows orders, reducing him to nothing but a mere tool. This is mostly true, with Ray acting like the brains and Zack the brawn of their duo, but it's also reductive, and their friendship has more give-and-take than that.
Despite their uniquely creepy exteriors and the odd circumstances of their alliance, it's become increasingly clear that both of them care about each other. Zack makes sure that Rachel doesn't succumb to the poison gas, he lets her rest afterwards, and he even encourages her to be more open and expressive about her needs. Of course, he's still Zack, so he still tends toward his loud and exasperated tone, but he's also been trending toward “jerk with a heart of gold” territory. Rachel cares about Zack too, or else there would be no reason for her to continue to help him get to the surface. She ultimately wants to die, which she doesn't really need Zack for, but she also looks out for his well-being, refusing to hog the gas mask and volunteering to take both syringes. The culmination of this episode's tribulations is the moment Zack swipes Rachel's syringe and takes both of them himself. He's shaken by Cathy's words, and he's going to be even more shaken by that weird drug he just took, but he's still willing to play the hero—the foul-mouthed, tantrum-throwing, homicidal hero.
Even ignoring the nice bit of character development, this episode remains entertaining in Angels of Death's unique way. I was immediately delighted by the comedic timing of the cut to the OP after Zack decided to throw Rachel up into a ceiling vent. The ensuing sequence of events, from Zack accidentally breaking the important keycard to Rachel essentially going “screw it” and blowing up the door, is an amusing send-up of horror game puzzle tropes. If you've played a game like this, you've definitely had a point of frustration where breaking down the door seemed like the best solution, and Angels of Death is kind enough to make that dream a reality. Cathy is also the gift that keeps on giving. Her jeers and japes ooze fake friendliness and genuine ecstasy at the punishments she doles out. Mariya Ise knocks it out of the park with her over-the-top delivery and maniacal laughter, and she's paired with some equally nice character animation to match her hamminess. Overall, this episode is consistently animated with some subtle flair to its storyboarding, doing just a good enough job communicating tone when the scene shifts from campy to serious, which is most evident in its final scene.
The final scene encompasses what's so great about Angels of Death. Zack, addled on that strange drug he just injected into his arm, is poised to kill Rachel, and in a normal show you'd expect her to beg for her life or try to talk her way out of it. Instead, she makes a heartfelt appeal not for herself, but for Zack. Ray admits that she's fine with dying, but if she dies here then Zack is stuck forever. By appealing to his own sense of justice (going back on his promise would make him a liar) and asking instead of ordering him, Ray manages to make Zack lucid long enough for him to help her get away and hopefully wait out the effects of the drug. There's nothing manipulative about her words; it's just further proof that the two of them can understand each other even when one has a giant scythe pressed against the other's neck.
This twisted yet compelling character drama adds another layer to Angels of Death's sense of camp and macabre humor, and it keeps the show feeling fresh despite its more predictable moments. I'm still having a bloody good time, and I can't wait to see what kind of fun punishments Cathy has in store for her sinners next week.
Angels of Death is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is a longtime anime fan who can be found making bad posts about anime on his Twitter.
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