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Buried Garbage - Angel Cop

by Justin Sevakis, Nov 29th 2007

Some weeks, like this one, just leave me a limp cinder of a human being. During weeks like this I want my brain to be gently massaged with the repeated, rhythmic pounding of stupidity and splatter.

I love Angel Cop, and I'm not afraid to admit it. It's delightfully trashy, misanthropic, dopey, racist and paranoid, all wrapped up in one bloody package. I don't find it offensive any more than a homeless person muttering profanity to his invisible cousin.

The plot is fairly straightforward for cyberpunk cop stories. The Special Security Section, a top-secret anti-terrorism task force, gets a new deadly agent in Angel, a cold bringer of death who wouldn't hesitate to kill a child if it meant also taking out her target. Her new partner, Raiden (who inexplicably wears a leather jacket, no shirt, and carries around one of those 1988-era brick-sized cell phones in there somewhere) gets wounded while hunting down the Communist Red May, a group of communist extremists bent on turning Japan into the next communist state. Their leader, a dude named Suyama, is just getting out of prison when they launch a surprise attack on the American Embassy.

Angel happily leaves Raiden for dead to go after her target. But the war with the Red May is soon brought to an early and sudden end with the involvement of a group of ESPers, which include a little girl with the power of fire named Freya, her caretaker Asra (who has that gigantic Twisted Sister-esque poodle hairdo and a cape), and their ringleader, the American sexpot Lucifer, who looks like a drag queen trying to impersonate Sharon Stone. She turns into something resembling a demon that Angel spends much of the series trying to take out. The three ESPers have decided to declare war on pretty much every organized group in the world, starting with the Communist Red May. The Special Security Force is next.

It's strange this sci-fi world imagined in the late 80's. It's supposed to take place in the future, but reeks of so much jingoism that it's assumed Japan has become a superpower and everyone wants to attack it for some reason. It tries very hard to build this great case for conspiracy and intrigue, but none of it makes any sense at all, and the other things taking place are so stupid that nobody in their right mind could take it the least bit seriously. Raiden turns into a cyborg. Lucifer, in the original Japanese, spouts out random lines of Engrish.

Everything about Angel Cop is a little bit "off." The film uses a washed out-looking film stock I usually only see in Japanese low-budget indie movies of the 80's. The animation varies between very fluid and complete crap. (Adding to the strangeness is Yasuomi Umetsu's early touches on episode 1; his emphasis on hand movement and wrinkles in clothing and skin.) The music is unsettling and minimalist, and hasn't aged well. However, I still enjoy the odd, halting ending theme "Itami" (Pain) by the band Crayon-sha. It's a desperate sounding anthem that just has such a bizarre feel that I initially thought the mix got screwed up during the dubbing process. All of this adds this sense of disquiet, this uncomfortable otherworldliness to Angel Cop and its world of big 80's glam rock hair, discos and ESPers, of dripping gore and bullets that seem to pack the destructive power of a stick of dynamite.

I have not been able to find out much about the history of Angel Cop, though it must be a strange tale, as there was a break of several years halfway through the show (likely an indication of funding problems), and the six-parts took a total of five years to be produced. As this is the first anime title I've ever written about that doesn't even have a Japanese Wikipedia entry, it can't possibly have been well-loved in its country of origin. This, despite a manga adaptation in Newtype 100%.

Strangely, some of anime's true all-stars came out to work on Angel Cop, including character designer Nobuteru Yuuki (Escaflowne, Paradise Kiss), animation director Yasuomi Umetsu (Kite, Mezzo DSA) and director Ichiro Itano (Megazone 23 II, Gantz). Itano loves his gore, as he showcased in his directorial debut -- the deeply upsetting Violence Jack -- and here he reunited with screenwriter Noboru "Shou" Aikawa (Fullmetal Alchemist. Twelve Kingdoms, Nadesico) to come up with this... this... act of pubescent nihilism.

To date, I have not heard either of them talk about this title or their reasons for making it, but most people would find their original intentions to be pretty offensive. In the end, it's discovered that the top levels of Japanese government have sold out to the Jews that took over America, and having successfully plundered Vietnam and Iraq for the sake of money, these Jews are going to turn Japan into Asia's nuclear waste dump.

Yes. That makes no sense, is patently anti-American, anti-Semitic, ethnocentric, Japanese imperialist, vile, and above all, dumb. But that's okay. The subtitle track on Manga Video's DVD tones this down a bit and the dub does away with it entirely. Us evil Jews Americans would never know the difference!

Angel Cop is idiotic and full o' hate in Japanese, but it took Manga Video UK's unstoppable dubbing team to make it hilariously awful. At the time, Manga UK was marketing anime as an edgy adults-only thing that stopped just short of being a constant bloody orgy. So, in order to get the British rating board's "18" rating they would pepper most of their dubs with as much swearing as they could. (I don't understand why this was necessary with Angel Cop, as surely the gore alone would have already been enough.) Casting the always-wooden Sharon Holm as Angel (after she previously deprived Patlabor's Shinobu Nagumo of all of her depth), they lovingly replaced whatever dark intensity the character had with interjections like, "f*ck and piss!"

Of course, over the years Angel Cop has become synonymous with lines that would make even the hackiest B-movie screenwriter squirm. The most notable line, "if this is justice then I'm a banana", has become a tongue-in-cheek greeting among old dub aficionados. A while back, a YouTube user named Lee Slone decided to edit some of the more choice scenes into the endlessly amusing "Angel Cop Condensed", cutting 6 episodes worth of profanity and stupidity ("Ichihara said the recoil off this gun could break my arm. Well, here goes!") down to just over six minutes. Unfortunately, some of my favorite moments did not make the cut.

Angel Cop is a good time. Heads explode, blood goes everywhere, hair is huge, and Brits do terrible American accents. You may feel dumber afterward, but it's that numbing, relaxing kind of dumb.


Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
CCommon. In print, and always available online.
R1US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3Import only, but it has English on it.
R4Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
How to get it: Angel Cop was one of Manga Video's first US releases, and due to its (at the time) very low price -- $10 for a half hour episode, all released separately -- quite a few people bought it. Manga made a few strange touches to the piece, including extending the previews for the next episodes (but not its audio, causing them to run over the ending theme) and squishing down the ending animation to fit in the English credits, but to me that just adds to the charm. A DVD release followed years later, but by that time fandom had moved on and not many copies were made. Now long out of print, I had a hard time finding copies online for less than $50. Plenty of used VHS copies are floating around, though (including a "Collection" edition with all 6 episodes together), and those can be had pretty cheaply. There's a Japanese-only R2 release that I'm sure looks better as well.


Screenshots ©1994, Ichiro Itano/Soeishinsha.

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