It’s a horrible series, but it’s never a boring one. Directed by Ichiro Itano well after he animated those amazing Macross dogfights and written by Sho Aikawa well before he scripted Fullmetal Alchemist, Angel Cop is fast-paced drivel taken further into camp territory by a delightfully profane dub from Manga UK. Consequently, the series never goes three minutes without someone shooting, swearing, exploding, roasting alive, tripping a landmine, torturing a suspect, delivering some bizarre phrase in a masked British-Brooklyn accent, or ranting about how the Vietnam War was just a weapons test for Uncle Sam’s military contractors. It’s best summed up by this helpful compilation.
However, there is another version of Angel Cop. A shorter, lighter, and shockingly cuter version.
Not long after Angel Cop started production, it was accompanied by a manga adaptation in Newtype, Japan’s biggest anime magazine. Itano and Aikawa are credited with the original story, but the comic was drawn by Taku Kitazaki, now better known for gentle, introspective fare. Kitazaki was just starting out in 1990, and his one-volume adaptation of the Angel Cop saga is a strange assembly of soft-looking characters and grimy, Akira-style punk violence.
It’s weirdly upbeat for something connected to an exploitive bloodbath like the Angel Cop anime, with Angel herself providing a good gauge of the changes. In the OVA series, she’s a brusque, uncaring, profanity-spewing hardcase. She thinks nothing of leaving her partner Raiden bleeding in the street or of pumping a few extra rounds into a terrorist who’s already splattered across a wall. In the manga, she’s a chipper young Special Security Force recruit, throwing peace signs and not really hiding a rather obvious crush on Raiden.
Then again, the first few pages show her shooting off a suspect’s hand and beating him insensate, so in some ways she’s still the Angel that anime viewers grew to loathe.
Speaking of Raiden, he’s re-imagined here as a shades-sporting avatar of everything manga authors though was cool in 1990. At least the Special Security Force gets actual uniforms in the manga, as opposed to a dress code that lets government agents go bare-chested beneath furred jackets. Peace and Hacker, the other two major SSF agents, get slight redesigns, but they’re mostly the same: Peace wears glasses and Hacker tries to intimidate suspects by flexing his muscles. Hacker just looks less like Golgo 13 in the manga.
Kitazaki’s Angel Cop manga runs under 200 pages, so it doesn’t waste time. The anime stared off with Angel and Raiden taking on a Communist cell, but the manga skips most of that and begins by introducing a trio of mythologically named psychics (or, as the dubbed line goes, “They’re called HUN-TERS!”) responsible for grisly murders. In the anime, Freya, Ashura, and Lucifer have distinct and downright ridiculous designs: a screechy little girl, a skinny hair-metal star, and a racist, well-muscled Nordic blonde. In the manga, they’re all slender, pale-haired espers straight out of old Keiko Takemiya books, even when it comes to the once-amazonian Lucifer.
At this point, I should note that no one has translated the Angel Cop manga yet, and my Japanese skills can’t puzzle out the intricacies of whatever conspiracy runs through the story. Much like the anime, you need only know that the Special Security goons and some ominous psychic assassins are being played against each other by shady government types.
One notable change from the Angel Cop OVA series concerns our heroine’s background. It was never explored in the anime, but the manga shows Angel as a normal schoolgirl who came home one day to find her mother and little brother murdered by her father. Daddy then blew his own head off in front of her. This unfortunate development drove her to live as a nihilistic street tough, and it wasn’t until Raiden brought her around (by sticking a revolver to her head) that she found her true calling in Japan’s secret police.
Another of the manga’s key alterations arises when Lucifer and the other psychics attack the Special Security Force members head-on. An explosion leaves Raiden and Angel lying broken in the street, with Angel using the last of her strength to bathetically crawl over to her partner. While the Angel Cop anime saw Raiden severely wounded and remade into a cyborg, here it’s Angel who’s injured so badly that the government decides to rebuild her using the power of Japanese technology.
Raiden, on the other hand, comes through with only a few scratches, and he checks on Angel to find that she’s now the star of Battle Angel Alita. In truth, Yukito Kishiro started up Battle Angel a month after Angel Cop finished its Newtype run, so I imagine that Kitazaki was working more within the mold of Robocop and Eight Man. This becomes increasingly obvious as the manga continues, even if Kitazaki doesn’t try to adapt Robocop’s Jesus parallels.
Just like Robocop, Angel decides to show off her newfound cybernetic abilities by heading out and pulping a crook with her arm-mounted minigun, much to the shock of an innocent bystander. Raiden confronts her, only to learn that she doesn’t remember him or who she is. But there’s little time for recovering her identity, because Kitazaki really wants this manga to be over soon.
The psychic hunters are still at large, and Freya takes out Peace and Hacker in short order. In response, Cyber-Angel confronts Freya and casually rips her apart. Our emotionless heroine next takes on both Lucifer and Ashura at once, managing to put a bullet through Ashura’s psychic brain (this is, of course, counters what happened in the anime, wherein Lucifer killed Freya and made Ashura switch sides). Lucifer is enraged, but Raiden prevents further killings by showing up and explaining the details of the government game that’s behind everything.
I can’t work out the particulars, but there’s a huge American flag in the background. I’ll just assume that Raiden is elaborating on how the International Jewish Conspiracy controls Wall Street and Hokkaido’s tourism industries.
Whatever Raiden says, it inspires Lucifer to take off and settle the score with her handlers. Angel sobbingly regains her humanity, and then Raiden and the SSF chief confront the filthy government weasels who set them up. They don’t quite succeed, but at least the main conspirator is taken out by his superiors in cynical, you-know-too-much fashion. With the rest of the cast now dead or wounded, Angel and a vengeful Lucifer meet for one last throwdown. The whole thing ends in tears and a nighttime snowfall.
Critically speaking, the Angel Cop manga might be better than the anime, if only because the characters are less repulsive. Angel shows actual emotion, her trip through the Robocop factory adds a mildly interesting character struggle, and her relationship with Raiden is more coherent that it ever was in the anime (where she goes from ignoring him for five episodes to sucking cyborg face with him in the finale). Of course, the manga is still thoroughly banal and clichéd even for cheap ’90s comics. Kitazaki’s airy, romantic style doesn’t fit the exploding heads and gruesome deaths, and the entire work shows the careless rush of something that was rapidly finished when its related anime series didn’t prove a massive success.
There’s also the possibility that Angel Cop is just as rabidly anti-Semitic in manga form. For all I know, it could be worse than the anime. Maybe I missed a scene where big-eyed manga Angel quotes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and then vows to stop those wretched Jews from digging their money-stained fingers into Japanese soil and making matzo from the blood of the nation’s infants.
What little information I’ve found on the Angel Cop manga suggests that Kitazaki isn’t particularly proud of it. The lone volume is obscure and seldom talked about in Japan’s geek circles, much like the anime that spawned it. At the same time, the manga is bound to interest anyone who’s morbidly fond of the Angel Cop anime series. It’d be nice to have Kitazaki’s version of the story translated, just to see how close it comes to one of the anime industry’s most fascinatingly horrible sights.