Angel Cop Anime Review
US Release By
Psychic Cyberpunk Action
6 30-minute OVAs
1989-09-01 - 1994-05-20
Some time in the future, terrorism in Japan has become commonplace, and the police have become almost as brutal as criminals in response. One cop, known as Angel, is the best of the best, stopping at nothing in her fight for justice.
Angel and her new partner are investigating a series of murders in which the victims are the terrorists, killed in very unpleasant ways by a group of rouge psychics working together to hunt down the lowest scum in the city. But with opponents this dangerous, even surviving this case will be a challenge for Angel and her team.
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Part AD Police Files-style cyberpunk police action, part detective yarn with a psychic twist, and part AKIRA-style psychics-run amok, Angel Cop may not be quite the gritty futuristic police drama it could have been, but it puts together a solid action movie with an interesting plot and above-actioner-average characters to tie it together. Just one problem: the "good guys" are frightening in their tactics and complete lack of morality, and the series seems content to only question how far the heroes are willing to push themselves rather than the right or wrong of their tactics.
If you're less disturbed by the complete absence of of ethical self-awareness and unsettling politics--24 fans will probably be a good target audience--and you're the sort who enjoys psychic mayhem and violent overkill, then Angel Cop is worth a look. Otherwise, you've been warned.
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Angel Cop ranks among the more disturbing anime I've seen. While the series is plenty violent, that's not why; it's disturbing because of its politics and morality, which combine xenophobic overtones with brutal heroes who subscribe to an extreme ends-justify-the-means philosophy, sans any apparent ethical self-awareness.
Things start out on somewhat shaky ground when you realize that the plot setup sounds unsettlingly like isolationist anti-Western propaganda (and it was actually worse before Manga toned it down in their translation). It isn't until later on, however, that things get really bad--and it's the people who are supposed to be the good guys that are the problem. Among the "how far will you go for justice" questions asked and answered: One of the main characters is initially put off by the idea of discarding his human body for a powerful cybernetic frame more suited for crime fighting, but he eventually comes around, and realizes that it's better to be tough enough to take on bad guys than completely human.
But that's not so bad. How about this: in an effort to extract information from a criminal, a group of cops proceed to torture him by cutting off circulation to his arm and letting gangrene do the rest... and worse. Even by NYPD Blue standards, that probably qualifies as police brutality. The particularly disturbing part is that the scene is played straight and, so far as I can tell, without any particular self-awareness of the questionable morality involved. The fact that these people are, apparently, supposed to be the good guys, coupled with a lack of ethical introspection, honestly scares me. Then again, 24 is a popular show, so obviously a lot of people aren't bothered by that sort of thing as much as I am.
The whole isolationist political angle and anything-is-justified-with-terrorists philosophy seems particularly uncomfortable in light of world events since it was created--both the obvious US parallel and to a lesser extent the more recent tensions between Japan and its neighbors. Although in a way, you have to give it credit for a sort of prescience--while plots like this are more common now (and were then in the West), as a product of Japan's giddily expansionist boom era in the '80s, when foreign boogeymen were an almost forgotten concept, it's well ahead of its time.
Setting the questionable politics aside, Angel Cop is a decent piece of violent action anime, with a bit of plot thrown in to back up the action. The characters actually have a fair amount of depth, particularly by action flick standards, and the lack of a clear border between the "good guys" and the criminals they're after is handled relatively well--there is some interesting moralizing within the story about the border between criminal and cop (albeit seriously tainted by the show's own messed-up morality).
The story itself is a half-decent detective yarn with a psychic twist, though toward the end things get a little weirder and the mood evolves into more of a desperate showdown-slash-"how far will you go to beat the bad guys" kind of thing. (Again, don't take that to mean that the characters start questioning their own brutality--it's more along the lines of self-sacrifice.) Had I not had such serious issues empathizing with, or even rooting for, anybody at all, it would have been a pretty good plot.
On the technical end of things, Angel Cop is around average. The animation, while not spectacular, is fairly high budget, and the artwork has the higher level of detail you'd expect in an '80s-vintage production. The character designs are also a passable variant of the "dark and angular" style; on average they're ugly, as well, but that sort of adds to the flavor. As for action, there's quite a bit, but less cyberpunk-cop shootouts and more psychic havoc than I was expecting--more AKIRA than AD Police Files. On the bright side, the psychic stuff is done well.
I haven't heard the Japanese version, but apart from a lot of profanity, Manga's English dub is passable. No particular standout performances, but they get the job done.
Overall, if you don't get put off by the supposed good guys (and you should be put off--you might just be able to ignore their "tactics" or find an ironic air I didn't see), and you enjoy a good bit of psychic mayhem and violent overkill, you will probably enjoy Angel Cop--but you've been warned.
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Angel Cop has some things in common with AD Police Files, but can't compare in terms of style. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (and its sequel) also have a similar setting and morally-questionable anti-heroes, but it is far more nuanced and asks a lot more questions about right, wrong, and philosophy in general.
Notes and Trivia
Angel Cop is an original concept developed by director Ichiro Itano (along with Urotsukidoji director Hideki Takayama and Hiroyuki Kitakubo, who directed Golden Boy and Roujin Z--interesting team). Itano is probably best known as the director of the Gantz TV series, although he has a lengthy career as an animator. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the only series he ever created, and the only one he scripted apart from Battle Royal High School.
There is a single-volume manga adaptation by Taku Kitazaki, originally serialized in Newtype starting a year after the first OAV was released. Kitazaki is ironically much better known for romance manga (in fact, only known for romance manga outside the Angel Cop adaptation); perhaps as a result, the manga version has a significantly different story and stronger characterization.
Both manga's dub and subtitles take significant liberties with the dialogue; in particular, some of the propaganda rants are toned down or changed entirely.
US DVD Review
The bilingual DVD features the whole series in stereo audio in both languages and not much else.
Graphic violence and rough language easily bump this into the 16-up category, and definitely don't let your kids near it unless they have a good sense of what a good guy is supposed to be.
Violence: 4 - Generally violent and bloody, with a few particularly disturbing scenes of torture.
Nudity: 1 - Nothing of note.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Not really.
Language: 4 - An unusually high number of expletives in the dub.
Available in North America from Manga Video on one bilingual DVD, out of print and relatively hard to find at the time of this writing; was also available on six dubbed VHS tapes, as well as a one-tape compiled version of the whole series.