Angel Sanctuary

Angel Sanctuary

angelsanctThe angel Alexiel loved God, but she rebelled against Heaven when she saw the disgraceful behaviour of the other angels. Upon her capture, as punishment, she was sentenced to live on Earth forever – to be reborn again and again, living an endless series of tragic lives. Her current rebirth is in the body of Setsuna Mudo, a troubled teenaged boy in love with his sister, Sara. His misery almost mirrors the troubles and chaos ensuing among the angels, and the class that threatens to arise between them may very well destroy both Heaven and Earth.

One of the first mangas that I ever started reading, Angel Sanctuary was like nothing I had ever read before (or since). Drawn in by the incredibly-detailed drawings laden with symbolism, I was quickly blown away by the speed of which I was plunged into the murky depths of Setsuna Mudo’s life. It was an addictive read, with an elegant complexity to the plot.

In a nutshell, the story examines the thresholds of love from many different perspectives. Although the main character is unashamedly in love with his sister, this is just one small facet of the overall jewel. This theme covers an entire range of characters, many of whom have experienced, or are currently experiencing, a deep love that is somehow deemed unacceptable in the eyes of society and God.

Having said that, the reader must understand that they need to go into this particular work with an open mind. A lot of controversial topics are addressed throughout the story such as murder, incest, transgender issues, homosexuality, religion and death. A lot of these topics spring up almost at the very start of the plot, and Kaori Yuki does a really good job of laying strong foundations for each of these themes and taking the time to do each of them justice, which is impressive considering the breakneck speed at which the reader is pitched head-first into so many different stories from the swell of characters that turn up earlier than you would expect.

This leads me onto another potential problem readers might have with this one: general confusion. In Angel Sanctuary‘s earlier volumes, it did seem to be undergoing some sort of identity crisis. While the storytelling and excellent and exciting it did, at times, get a little bit overwhelming. At points, I did find that I had to concentrate a bit more than usual as the story did jump around as it tried to find its ultimate focal point (as if a powerful angel reborn as a teenager in love with his sister wasn’t interesting enough). Things could have been more clearly laid out for a reader but, even so, Yuki did well in juggling every character she introduced and every issue raised. When things finally settled down and the narrative became more progressive, it was easy to get immersed in the complex world that was being built before me.

Angel Sanctuary is divided up into three arcs. The first few volumes are known as the Earth Arc. The middle is the Hell arc. The last leg is known as the heaven arc. These are all based on the primary location of the main character Setsuna, and all three shed a different light on Angel Sanctuary‘s incredibly complex world; from the deadly depths of the underworld to the hypocritical and morbid politics of heaven.

Beyond the boundaries of our troubled teenaged protagonist, the primary cast is 20 characters strong. This may sound a tad too overambitious, but each one is given an equal amount of face time and each have their own unique and compelling backstory that gives them the substance to withstand the test of time. In a normal case this many numbers would reduce an individual’s development, but such is the beauty of this manga. There are no shallow shell-like characters here. Every one of them has a wonderful amount of physical and emotional detail. They all have their own challenges and obstacles to overcome, and they all grow as the story advances. Not only do you end up being sympathetic to Setsuna’s plight, but also about 20 others. It’s emotionally exhausting – but in a good way.

As you might imagine, most of these characters are morally ambiguous, which completely blurs the line between good and evil as you start to see a logic to their actions and decisions. Characters that you perceive to be good will do something unforgivable and those that seem more monstrous will sometimes strive to better themselves. Redemption and corrupted innocence are two major themes that become apparent further into the story alongside the divinity of heaven and the origins of evil and sin. What is so great about this manga is that it makes you question your own ethics and the reasoning behind them.

Though Angel Sanctuary is defined as a shoujo series, this is one that will appeal to both men and women. Despite the initial hiccups within the first couple of volumes, it does not take away from how great this series is overall. Solid and compelling, this is one story that I recommend everyone should read – especially those that are fairly new to manga and are looking for the next challenge.