I’m not sure what I’d choose as my favorite anime series. There’s a lot of competition. Yet I never sway when picking my favorite terrible anime series: Angel Cop. Released from 1989 to 1994, it’s three hours of profane, mean-spirited hyperviolence, and it perfectly embodies a time when Japan’s direct-to-video anime market surged with sex and violence like a collective id unchained.
There’s more to Angel Cop, though! In contrast to the typical banal, gore-laden anime OVA, Angel Cop strings along a halfway passable tale of anti-terrorist operatives gone bad. The near future sees Japan wracked by economic slumps and the attacks of no-good commie terrorists known as the Red May. The government forms a squad of Special Security agents licensed and in fact encouraged to kill, with the ruthless Angel and her slightly more humane partner Raiden exemplifying their shoot-first ideals. Before long, they’re at war with not only the terrorists but also a trio of psychic assassins and their own government. It’s all kept afloat with competent action from director Ichiro Itano, a briskly paced script initially by Sho “Noboru” Aikawa, and the occasional burst of nice animation by veterans like Yasuomi Umetsu, Keiji Goto, and Keiichi Sato.
This makes it all the more hilarious that Angel Cop rapidly devolves into a barrage of profanity and slaughter. The show relishes its gory excess even in the title screen, seemingly painted with a machine gun that shoots blood. The English version is a Manga UK swearing contest in which “Fuck you, baby!” and “All right, buttfuck, that’s enough speech-making for now!” are among the more conventional lines. Enjoy this compilation if you haven’t already.
And then Angel Cop gets awful in a way mainstream entertainment wouldn’t dare approach.
In the final episode of Angel Cop, our repulsive heroes corner the bureaucrats responsible for the whole mess. They reveal that it’s all the work of the American government, eager to transform Japan into a glorified U.S. aircraft carrier (and Hokkaido into a nuclear waste dump). And it’s not just an American plot—the true villains are the Jewish bankers who secretly run the world! Really. The dub rewrites almost the entire anti-American screed, but it’s right there in the original Japanese dialogue.
That leaves me fascinated by Angel Cop. It’s crass, it’s violent, it’s fun to watch in a hateful way, and it’s offensive on just about every stage. Hanging conspiracies on the American government is commonplace in fiction of all origins, of course. But whatever possessed Itano and Aikawa (who, to be fair, is credited as co-writer for the first episode only) to work anti-Semitic agitprop into the plot? To quote Angel herself, “What in the FUCKING hell?”
Japan’s bustling economy led to many excesses in the 1980s, including a surfeit of conspiracy theories. The nation’s financial success sparked new rivalries with foreign nations and very real backlashes in some sectors (such as the American auto industry). Some Japanese authors seized on this and concocted theories about international secret societies scheming to undermine Japan’s newfound prosperity, with Jews often leading the cadre. Such anti-Semitism would draw instant widespread condemnation in most Western countries, but Japan’s busy print publishing industry and relatively small Jewish population diluted objections for a good while.
Many of these crackpot fantasies built upon common conspiracy boogeymen like the Rothschilds and the Bilderbergers, but their proponents put anti-Semitism foremost. As Tom Brislin of the University of Hawaii noted in a 1995 paper, “Whole sections of bookstores, since the mid-1980s, have been given over to books about Yudayajin,” and even popular newspapers batted not an eye at carrying ads for volumes with titles like Get Japan, The Last Enemy: The Jewish Protocols for World Domination.
These theories gained more ground in the early 1990s, when Japan’s bubble economy faltered and readers were eager for sinister explanations. The glittering facade of the 1980s had crumbled into a protracted recession, and it was easier to look to foreign banking cabals than to blame Japan’s own stock prices and real estate markets.
Angel Cop runs thick with that same paranoia. The Red May terrorists are out to financially cripple Japan, and the Special Security team can’t even trust their government handlers. It’s a work soaked in fears of a helpless future where the best that our bloodthirsty, foul-mouthed antiheroes can do is escape to an uncertain fate while the conspiracies they uncovered quietly vanish under the rug. Itano clearly wanted a cynical and drastic revelation to top this cavalcade of exploding brains and bloody shootouts, and he sure wasn’t going to have the villains cackle about Japan’s imprudent bank loans and unchecked asset inflation.
In fact, Angel Cop’s climactic bout of Jew-hating might have been deleted if the series had lasted beyond 1994. The following year, the Japanese news magazine Marco Polo promoted a feature story which denied that gas chambers ever existed in Nazi death camps. The international outcry led Marco Polo’s publisher to shut down the magazine in apology (or, as Brislin theorizes, use the opportunity to ditch a struggling periodical). While this hardly stopped the niche market for conspiracy theorists, it made Japan’s larger publishers more reluctant to back Anti-Semitic authors. Angel Cop was already a troubled production, reportedly seeing delays due to the media frenzy around otaku murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki. Another stroke of controversy could’ve nixed the series completely.
As far as I know, neither Itano nor Aikawa has remarked on Angel Cop’s last act, and their subsequent work doesn’t suggest a fervent belief in anti-Semitism. Aikawa has a penchant for conspiracies and Nazis, but in a villainous light. Historical revisionism fuels a war between Earth and former colonies in Martian Successor Nadesico. Fullmetal Alchemist takes obvious allegorical stabs at American military occupations, and Aikawa picked real-world fascist Germany as the stage for the series-concluding movie.
Granting the benefit of the doubt, however, we may assume that Itano and Aikawa do not hate Jewish people or believe the Holocaust is fiction. It’s far more likely that Angel Cop’s anti-Semitic capstone was the product of a cultural naivete distressingly common in early ‘90s Japan.
Unfortunately, Angel Cop isn’t the sole case of anti-Semitism in the anime industry. Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, director of the recent Recovery of an MMO Junkie series, has a Twitter feed strewn with Holocaust denial and pro-Nazi arguments. Once this came to light, the companies associated with the series distanced themselves and dismissed Yaginuma. It’s bad enough that Twitter has plenty of faux-ironic Nazi sympathizers with anime avatars; now anti-Semitism emerges from the anime market itself.
Today Angel Cop’s bout of Jew-hating seems almost quaint, a dumb mistake stemming from its writer and/or director reading too many whacko conspiracy books. It’s hard to imagine that, after watching three hours of Angel Cop’s murderous nonsense, anyone could take its international Jewish banker backstory with a straight face. We can laugh at it almost as easily as we laugh at the scene were Angel yells “Fuck AND PISS!” in the middle of a psychic firefight.
Yet this noxious plot twist really isn’t a joke. As ridiculous as it seems, it stems from the same lies and ignorance that feed hate crimes and genocide. We may laugh, but we should take Angel Cop’s ugliest moments as a reminder that anti-Semitism arises in the strangest places and certainly hasn’t gone away.