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I'm going to say this right off the bat, so that we're all very clear....this movie WILL insult, repulse, and offend some people. This series touches on at least three of the most socially and even morally taboo subjects one can conjure up in any culture, incest, heresy, and bisexuality, and touches upon them in a way that many will see as glorification. Matter of fact, let's not sugar coat it; they ARE glorified. Those of you with highly strict, rigid moral/religious values, I tell you this for your own good. You have been warned. This anime will test, taunt, and challenge that which you hold so dear. I repeat...you have been warned. ...Still with me? Good.
That having been said, Angel Sanctuary is one of the most stylish, imaginative, story-driven, dramatic, tragic, and yes, even romantic anime series I've ever laid eyes on.
So, where does the whole mess from that first paragraph fit in? Let me try to explain...
Angel Sanctuary's main set up takes its cues from a number of religious texts, but mostly Milton's Paradise Lost. You have three levels; in heaven, you have the choirs of angels, in hell, the damned. And in between, the 6 billion humans on earth who either acknowledge or deny that either side exists, even though beings from both sides interact with them on a regular basis.
However, neither side is what they seem. Heaven is full of vain, self-righteous, elitist choirs of angels; Hell is a barren wasteland out of the sight of God, and more or less seems to just want to be left to its own devices. Sorta like a demonic Switzerland.
The thing is, God seems to be rather indisposed somehow. In his stead, the angels are now in charge of heaven. And they're almost all greedy for the throne.
One of the big exceptions is Organic Angel Alexiel, a high level angel who, tired of all the clashing egos and self-righteous slaughter, decides to defect over to the other side, and lead a revolt against Heaven itself. Eventually, though, her revolt fails, and after a climactic battle with her twin brother Rosiel, she is caught, and sentenced to be split into two parts; her body is trapped in an unbreakable crystal in heaven, her soul is condemned to an eternity of being resurrected on Earth in some sort of lowly existence, and to meet an inevitable horrible death each and every time. Her soul will be stillborn within a human body, and will have no choice but to experience existence laying dormant.
Enter Setsuna Mudo, the most recent incarnation of Alexiel, though he's obviously unaware of this. He's your pretty average hopeless romantic high school student in love....with his biological sister, Sara.
Here's the thing, though. This is not your expected "Yee-haw we're marryin' our own cousins while tippin' the cows" type of brother-sister attraction story. No, folks, seriously. Setsuna LOVES his sister. The way that Seth loves Maggie in City Of Angels. The way that Eric Draven loves Shelly in The Crow. The way that, i dare say, Romeo loves Juliet. How the hell that happened, i don't know, but it's the truth. Setsuna knows damn well he's going to hell for it, and doesn't care. When he loves, it's, as his best friend put it, "clumsy, but straightforward", and complete. Sara is the one true point of happiness in his life, and vice versa. Not even the threat of hell, the scorn of an angry parent, or the hand of God himself can render that asunder.
However, both sides are sure as hell going to try. See, in order to stop the conflict, beings on both sides have been trying to hunt down Alexiel and force her dormant spirit to fully awaken. In this search, bonds are made, emotions grow where there were none, and love is tested.
What follows is a very unique take on a love story, borrowing elements from various religions, fantasy/fiction, and even Greek tragedy, coming together in a divine tapestry that breaks so many rules, and is unlikely to be copied anywhere in the foreseeable future.
As I said, undoubtedly, this will freak some people out. Putting aside the sexually ambiguous look and character of the beings from both sides, the seemingly constant statements of blasphemy, and the depiction of wicked angels, sympathetic and emotional demons, there is the film's main love story between Setsuna and Sara. Yes, it's blatant incest. And yet, i daresay, if you arent cheering your ass off for these two by about 2/3 of the way through the film, check your pulse, you might be missing a heart.
The main problem I have with the series is the way it ends. It's a To Be Continued of the worst kind. And last I checked, Kaori Yuki, the original manga's creator, has no plans to make an anime out of the rest of the series, so the only way to get any sort of closure to the story, apparently, is to wait for Marvel or Dark Horse to bring it over here, or go import the manga, and learn much Japanese.
It's not often you have a film come along, let alone an animated one, and just blow every preconception you might have out of the water, and Angel Sanctuary does this in spades, and beautifully. But, when films like Dogma and Stigmata can offend some at the drop of a hat for their content, i also know that some will end up hating it for the same reasons. The open-minded will enjoy this story to the full hilt. The stagnant will find themselves challenged, and probably confused. To them, i say, just dont watch if you think you can't take it. It's simply your loss. But should you watch, and choose to be repulsed, well, look up at the first paragraph again...you can't say I didn't warn you.
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