Angel Sanctuary article published in Animerica Vol. 9, No. 11, November 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.Artist Kaori Yuki's Angel Sanctuary (a.k.a Tenshi Kinryoku (long o)) is not a cute and fluffy, virtuous, feel-good kind of story. It's dark, bloody, twisted, violent and tragic. This engaging epic is a gothic horror story done shojo style. If Anne Rice ever did a manga, she could only hope it would be as bewitching and beautiful as Angel Sanctuary.
Long ago, God created Adam Kadmon, the first angel. Genderless Adam Kadmon was the most powerful and perfect of God's creations. Dividing its powers, Adam Kadmon created twins. Alexiel the Organic Angel was the female twin; Rosiel the Inorganic Angel was the male twin. They were equal and opposite.
One of God's other angels was Lucifel who rebelled against God. He and his followers were cast down into a barren land to become demons. Lucifel became Lucifer and merged his body with the new land to give it life. What became of his soul is one of the mysteries of Angel Sanctuary, but without his soul to master it, the lands of Hell became uncontrollable and destructive.
God favored Rosiel and always kept him near but did not allow Alexiel to dwell in the upper level of Heaven, let alone pay her the attention she craved. With this motivation and disgust at Heaven's merciless, blood-thirsty treatment toward the beings of Hell, Alexiel united the demons and made war on Heaven. When she reached the highest level of Heaven and the time came for her to kill her brother, she could not do it. Instead, she sealed Rosiel in the Earth. As punishment, Alexiel was branded ‘fallen', her body was trapped within a crystal, and her soul was condemned to be repeatedly reborn as a human fated to die a young, tragic death.
The manga series begins with the evils Kurai and Arachne storming Heaven to retrieve the Angel Crystal in order to restore Alexiel's soul to her body and begin a new Genesis.
Setsuna loves his sister Sara -romantically. While there is always a great deal going on in the plot, this love is at the core of the story.
In the beginning, Setsuna and Sara's parents have divorced and enrolled them in single- sex schools. Because Setsuna's pretty and has light hair, he tends to get into a lot of fights. It's during one such fight Setsuna is introduced. He's pounding the stuffing out of one of his opponents when the smell of blood makes him pass out. This is when Kira, Setsuna's cool, seemingly disinterested friend, steps in and chases the other punks away.
To see each other, Setsuna and Sara must meet secretly after school. Kira helps drag Setsuna their meeting place. Sara smacks Setsuna around, accusing him of preferring fighting over a ‘date' with her. After a good verbal thrashing, Sara finally remembers to introduce her classmate, Ruri, a shy, smart, spectacled girl who has been watching the whole scene in stunned silence. Ruri can see auras, and she's dazzled by the bright, wing-like aura surrounding Setsuna. He thoughtlessly calls her ugly, causing her to run off.
During their ‘date', the siblings discuss their situation. While Setsuna professes a brother and sister their age shouldn't be so close, his romantic feelings for Sara plague him mercilessly.
At school the next day, Matsuno, a quiet, studious boy, reacts violently when a teacher tries to take away his Digital Angels -Tenshi Kinryoku (long o) CD video game. The boy's reaction surprises Setsuna and his classmates.
At Sara's school, Ruri is being bullied. Sara calls out to Ruri, helping her escape her tormentors. Sara's advice to fight back occasionally reveals Ruri's feelings of inadequacy, "I can never be like you, Sara."
On the way home, a beautiful foreigner asks Ruri, "Do you believe in God?" Ruri tries to leave, but the man grabs her arm and gives her a disc, saying she's a special, chosen person, who can use the power of her faith to help Rosiel. With a boot to the strange man's head, Setsuna enters the scene and helps Ruri escape. The foreigner notices Setsuna looks just like Rosiel and realizes he must be Alexiel!
As they run, Ruri drops her glasses. After lecturing to her about talking to weirdos, Setsuna comments that she's much cuter without glasses. This redeems Setsuna, for Ruri realizes he's not a cad, just someone who says whatever pops into his head. Setsuna notices the CD but lets her keep it. Unfortunately, neither of them have been watching the news: the disc is the Digital Angels CD ROM which has been connected to numerous mysterious deaths.
At home, thinking fondly of Setsuna, Ruri tries out the CD. She is bombarded by the cruel words of her peers, then the computer communicates with her, echoing the words of the man who gave her the CD. It promises to make her stronger and prettier. "Who are you?" Ruri types. "I am an angel," the computer responds...
At school the next day, the bullies leave Ruri alone because now she's confident and forward, asking Sara for a date with Setsuna. Ruri suggests Sara's reluctance is because she's jealous, so Sara agrees.
Sara has them meet in her school's chapel. The strange man who gave Ruri the CD watches from a rooftop outside, fascinated by Setsuna. The evils searching for Alexiel's soul spot the man and recognize him as an angel right off. Kurai attacks. The angel disappears, so the blast hits the chapel. Setsuna reacts instinctively, covering Sara. The shattered chapel cross heads toward Setsuna. In a vision, it seems like a man bearing a sword. "Betrayer of God, die!" "Are you going to kill me?" another says. Disturbed by the voices in his head, Setsuna responds with a psychic barrier which shatters the cross.
When the dust settles, Setsuna is reminded of his mother's distrust of how Setsuna always escapes danger without a scratch. He is so relieved that his sister's safe, all he can do is acknowledge to himself and God that the only woman he'll ever want is Sara.
The evils enter the chapel and Kurai throws herself on Setsuna, ecstatic that she's found Alexiel. Arachne points out Setsuna's a boy, then drags the frustrated Kurai away before more people see them. Finally Sara and Setsuna notice Ruri- the flying glass from the blast has ruined her eyes.
While Kurai's fierce love makes her certain Setsuna is Alexiel, the computer communicates with Ruri. It speaks to Ruri's disappointment that Setsuna saved Sara instead of her, that the last thing Ruri's eyes saw was Setsuna and Sara together. The computer turns Ruri's despair into hatred. It promises to make Sara disappear and spews out reams of paper covered with the word ‘KILL'.
In the middle of class the next day, Matsuno stands up and announces, "I have to go. The angel is calling me." Though surprised, Setsuna is too preoccupied by his feelings for his sister to pay attention. Setsuna even goes to the municipal offices to check his family registry, hoping he and Sara aren't really related, but to no avail. He vows he won't see Sara again until he can control his feelings then immediately stumbles across her crying over Ruri. When Sara had visited her, Ruri had been vicious. Setsuna consoles her as best he can.
Later, one of Setsuna's classmates tells him Matsuno's head exploded while playing the Tenshi Kinryoku (long o) video game he'd gotten from a foreigner. Setsuna finally puts the pieces together and heads off to find Ruri's place. He arrives about the same time as Sara. Ruri's parents are passed out and she's using her computer behind a locked door. Ruri is excited by the prospect of getting her site back and having Sara disappear. With the synchronized efforts of other people using the Digital Angels CD, Ruri chants a spell.
Outside, the evils watch as a pentagram forms in the city, enthraled by the display and intrigued by the possibility that man-made electricity could be converted into spiritual power. Armageddon has begun!
Sincerely remorseful, the mysterious angel begs forgiveness for the lives he has taken, but he will do what he must to release Rosiel. The result is a blackout, one with no stars and an unnaturally swollen moon. Ruri's vision is returned in time to see a beautiful angel with the face of Setsuna. She is enchanted.
"I am Rosiel, once the brightest angel in Heaven. I received God's love and stood in ultimate glory. I have been sealed within the Earth... With your help I have reawakened. I will fulfill our promise, but will you help me one more time? Let me absorb your data and the rest of your spiritual energy." Rosiel surrounds her with tentacle-like wires as shots of other Digital Angels users show their grisly fate. "Don't worry; the rest went to Heaven. You won't be alone." With that, Rosiel's wires gorily absorb Ruri's body.
With Rosiel awakened, the story becomes increasingly surreal and otherworldly. But there are still a few more Earthbound adventures before Alexiel awakens within our reluctant hero and the story progresses to the remarkable realms of Heaven and Hell. In that time, the true darkness of Rosiel is revealed, and Sara confesses she shares Setsuna's love. This love is Setsuna's single focus throughout the story. The world's never done him any favors, so he doesn't care about the end of the Earth, right, wrong, or anything else -only Sara. Once they are separated, he'll do anything to get her back. Along the way, he meets dozens of eccentric, unique characters, each with their own motives and perspectives. Most of the characters are extremely passionate about their loyalties and loves. Whether he likes it or not, Setsuna begins to care about the people around him, slowly nurturing the sense of injustice Alexiel's soul has given him. Despite teenage hormones, major emotional issues, an unearthly setting, and mind-bending scenarios, Setsuna struggles to do the right thing.
Beautifully illustrated with a dense, complex story, Angel Sanctuary is not a series for readers who lack commitment. Twenty plot-intensive volumes long, it's the type of manga best read from the beginning. If that's too much to invest in right off, you might try the videos first, which have been released by U.S. Manga Corps. While this title seems like it would have a select audience, the manga was regularly at the top of Japanese sale charts. Kaori Yuki's intricate, detailed art and many beautiful, dramatic male characters are certainly a major draw, but without Angel Sanctuary's equally intricate, detailed plot, it could never have garnered the series its remarkable fame. Angel Sanctuary will challenge your ideas of right and wrong, love and spirit.
Angel Sanctuary is a character intensive series. This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list but an introduction to the primary characters from the beginning of the story.
Setsuna is no angel. Since his youth, he's had a violent streak which borders on homicidal; his folks are divorced; his mother thinks the devil's protecting him; and he's in love with his sister. If that's not enough to drive an adolescent to delinquency, he's also the Messiah of the Apocalypse and the reincarnated soul of one of the most powerful angels in Heaven, which provide him plenty of visions and other problems to further trouble his mind.
Pretty and sassy, Sara is as much of a plot catalyst as a character. While she has enough presence in the beginning to demonstrate she loves her brother as much as he loves her, she is ultimately a human in a plot filled with angels and demons -or so it seems. Later in the story, she begins to play a more significant role in the plot.
Setsuna's supportive, mysterious senpai. While he initially seems an extemely cool punk, there's more to Kira than meets the eye. He's the one who put the earring on Setsuna which controls his homicidal tendencies and also gave Setsuna the pendant which turns into Nanatsusaya, Alexiel's sword. After one of Setsuna's encounters with Kurai and Arachne, Kira gets diced up but doesn't die. This is just the tip of the enigma iceberg where Kira's concerned.
Sara's shy, smart friend. She ends up being a victim of the Digital Angels CD plot set in motion by Katan to release Rosiel. Rosiel absorbs her and uses her likeness to bait Sara and Setsuna.
Yue Kato (long o)
A friend of Kira's, Kato (long o) is a drug addict even Kira can't guide to a better life. His addiction ends up causing him his life, but not in a way you'd expect. He takes a pill Rosiel uses to possess people and is used as a puppet to bait Setsuna by seeming to kill Kira. This awakens Alexiel who slices Kato (long o) down, but not quickly enough to get Rosiel at the same time. Kato (long o) becomes Setsuna's guide through Hades and more, later in the story.
Neither male nor female, six-winged Adam Kadmon the Serafita is the first angel. Formed in perfection, Adam Kadmon is the progenitor of Alexiel and Rosiel and most powerful of God's creations. Although imprisoned in Heaven, Adam Kadmon aids Setsuna several times during the course of the story.
The beautiful Organic Angel who united the demons of Hell to fight against Heaven. She was captured and branded ‘fallen,' but not before sealing her insane brother within the Earth. Her body is trapped within the Angel Crystal while her soul is repeatedly reborn to tragic loves and lives on Earth. She and her twin brother, Rosiel, each have three wings.
Once God's favorite, Rosiel is one sick and twisted villain. In the beginning, he's trapped within the Earth. After he escapes, he remains in Earth -obsessed with his sister, and therefore Setsuna. As the Inorganic Angel, he has power over the inorganic world, which in our modern age, allows him to do all sorts of nasty things like absorb the data from people's brains and turn them into cyber zombies.
Devoutly loyal to Rosiel, Katan is a Cherubim who defies the laws of Heaven and goes to Earth in order to free Rosiel using his Digital Angels scheme. Katan honestly believes Rosiel will unite the divided forces of Heaven and bring peace on Earth. Even when Rosiel remains on Earth - spreading death instead of returning to Heaven- Katan continues to aid him.
One of Rosiel's pawns, Kyrie is a lesser angel infatuated with Rosiel. She foolishly believes Rosiel cares about her and willingly follows his unholy orders. In doing so, she fully awakens Alexiel's soul within Setsuna, resulting in Kyrie's death and the start of the Apocalypse.
Fourteenth child of the Gehenna Emperor, possessor of the Dragon Stone earrings, Dragon Master Kurai is the most powerful ‘evil' variety of demons. Because Alexiel saved this young evil from rape and worse at the hands of the angels who all but wiped out the population of the first level of Hell, Kurai loves Alexiel and will do anything to get her back. Arachne Cousin and dear friend of Kurai, Arachne is also an exceptionally powerful and shrewd evil. Initially portrayed as a female, Arachne is a male with a woman's heart and dresses the part.
MANGA V.S. OVA
As often happens when a dense, complex epic is limited to a few episodes, large chunks of the plot and various characters were cut out of the OVAs, and only a small part of the story was covered. The entire Digital Angels CD plot, Ruri's character, and all of the humor are sacrificed for the sake of telling the dramatic, plot-intensive parts of the story. The OVAs cover roughly the first three and a half books, ending at the climactic point where Setsuna enters Hades and Rosiel returns to heaven after the Apocalypse has begun. The machine gun pacing makes the videos somewhat overwhelming instead of just enigmatic. Despite the differences, the OVAs have just as much bloody action and cryptic intrigue as the manga. Add to that Angel Sanctuary's many mature themes, and the video series deserves the ‘16up' rating given to it by U.S. Manga Corps.
There's more gender bending in this series than you can shake a stick at. First there's the hero who has the soul of a female angel within him. Then there's Kurai who looks like a boy but is actually a girl who is in love with Alexiel and doesn't like boys. There are characters who have no gender and some who switch back and forth between genders. Arachne's cross-dressing seems down right straight forward compared to many characters. So is all this gender bending just a ploy to shock and titillate the audience? Yes and no. Homosexuality is a fairly common theme in shojo stories, so there's nothing new there. While there is certainly an element of drama to the unique characters and their unusual relationships in the series, one of Angel Sanctuary's underlying themes is people love who they love, regardless of gender.
RELIGION AND LITERATURE
Angel Sanctuary seems to draw more on Judaic than Christian mysticism, but they are not the only religions Kaori Yuki borrowed from. Reincarnation -one of the plot's major tools- is technically not an accepted Judeo-Christian concept. The whole idea of Alexiel being reborn as a lesser being doomed to horrible fates as punishment for her wrong doings is out and out Buddhist. Several characters and plot elements draw heavily on Norse myths, including Yggdrasil, the World Tree which connects the world of humans with that of gods and demons. Many names are derived from various religions and myths. The angels who fell with Lucifel - many of whom make appearances later in the story- all have names of Satan or the Devil in various languages. The series begins with a quote from Milton and much of Setsuna's unearthly journey is reminiscent of Dante's Divine Comedy. And if that's not enough, there's also a great deal of reference to Alice in Wonderland! Angel Sanctuary is definitely not your ordinary shojo manga.
I have used the spellings on the Official U.S. Angel Sanctuary site when available.