The idea behind ‘Angels of Death’ reads like it could be my dream horror anime. A young girl wakes up in a strange building, to escape she must make her up up the building. But, true to its name, on each floor a deranged killer is waiting for her. The anime is based on a game of the same name released in 2015 using RPG Maker. Besides the anime, the series has also had three manga (story, prequel and 4-koma) and a light novel adaptation. Whenever I’m scrolling on social media I always find someone questioning what format they should start with to begin the series. The simple answer is start wherever you like, each reproduction is pretty much the same, and the story isn’t interesting enough to go through it three or four times. However that then leads to the question – which one is best?
When the game was first released in 2015 it was released as freeware, however since its gotten traction, understandably, the developers want to make some money from it. So, you can now purchase it on Steam for about $10 USD. Unfortunately the Steam version only works on Windows, so I purchased the Nintendo Switch version which $15 USD. The game’s Steam page features overwhelmingly positive reviews for it, but I have to say I was quite disappointed. First off, the game took me about 6 hours to complete, which I think is quite short for the money you are paying for it. I also found the graphics to feel quite dated and awkward at times. I felt if they went to the trouble to port it to the Nintendo Switch they could have at least spruced up the game a little bit.
But those issues are mainly cosmetic, let’s get into the gameplay. Well there really wasn’t much of it, any ‘puzzles’ you had to solve were spoon-fed to you by Rachel automatically offering suggestions or flat out telling you the answer. When there was a dangerous moment which could cause a ‘game over’ the game continuously prompted you to save, which again just feel like spoon feeding. A lot of the movements of the game were interrupted by dialogue or monologue, you’d walk a couple of steps and then have to go through about 10 minutes of chatting, another few steps another load of text. Overall the game was quite a boring play-through, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone especially with that price point.
Funnily enough the anime was my introduction to ‘Angels of Death’, yet I saved it for last. The anime aired with the Summer 2018 anime, starting in July, with sixteen episodes. The series was produced by J.C. Staff known for works such as ‘Prison School’, ‘Food Wars’ and ‘Azumanga Daioh’, most of these series are ones with bright and vivid scenes. Whereas ‘Angels of Death’ takes place in a dark, dingy building, the producers did their best to use highlights and shading to at least bring some colour to scenes, but there was definitely some missed opportunities For example around episode 7, a particular scene featured a surround of stain glassed windows, rather than creating a cacophony of colours instead we’re just stuck with this sickly green-bluish blur
I also found the anime was quite heavy-handed in foreshadowing the ‘twist’ at the end. As the studio tends to focus on comedy or slice of life anime, I am assuming they’re more experienced with telling rather than showing. A final point, whoever did the voice actor casting really has a gift. They somehow managed to ensure that every single characters had either a grating irritating voice or one that was just ridiculously monotone. Overall it was really the voices that made this a difficult watch, at one point I just wanted this to be a silent movie.
The manga was released soon after the game was published, with story by the game’s developer Makoto Sanada (Hoshikuzu KRNKRN) and art from Nazuka Kudan. The series is still ongoing and at the time of writing this only up to chapter 34 has been released. Visually the manga is a much better experience than the game, Zack and Rachel’s designs are more detailed and interesting, and each floor has been brought to life with intricate detail. Perhaps my favourite part of the manga was that it gave backstories to each of the killers, which wasn’t touched on by the game nor the anime. After all a fictional killer is only as interesting as the events that led them down that path.
Unfortunately I found the ‘puzzle’ aspect of the game didn’t translate very well in the manga. Rather than cutting it out completely (which would have worked better), Rachel and Zack would stumble across random buttons. Or one would go off to find a puzzle and solve it ‘off screen’, it was a bit jumpy and random. Ultimately, it made the read a bit confusing as you were trying to work out how they managed to get out of one floor and onto the next. I also had an issue with the way the relationship between Rachel and Zack was portrayed in this adaptation, but more on that below.
Across all adaptations of the story, the depiction of Rachel and Zack’s relationship tends to come off as weird and cringey. In the game and the manga, Zack is said to be over 20, but in the anime he’s 15/16, while Rachel is always 13. I found the manga’s depiction particularly odd as they artist tended to use quite a few shoujo romance elements in their interactions together, Zack often ‘kabedons’ Rachel, with an almost flowery atmosphere. While this is also depicted in the anime, the manga really amps up the creep factor with a scene just before the kabedon where Rachel is sitting on top of Zack going “really!? You’ll kill me”. Furthermore, Rachel is often depicted as overly feminine and when she shows care or concern for Zack it seems a bit ‘loving’ rather than platonic. Normally I’d ignored these types of events as just tropes but because of the age difference between the characters in the manga it’s just really creepy.
For the anime, there was a bit of controversy of fans shipping Zack and Rachel together. People who condemned it pointed out the age gap in the game, while those who supported it stood by Zack’s age change. To be honest, I didn’t get any romantic vibes from the characters, at most their relationship sometimes had a brother-sister vibe with Zack often reassuring Rachel. To be honest a death game isn’t the best place for romance to blossom, but then again I guess that was the entire point of ‘The Hunger Games’.
Perhaps the best representation is done in the game, because it simply shows how messed up the relationship is. Rachel and Zack’s relationship continually shifts with each floor they go to, they learn more about one another but also keep their distance. The relationship is shown as maddening, unhealthy and obsessive. After all, Rachel wants Zack to kill her – there’s nothing romantic about that!
Are the Endings different?
As mentioned above, the manga is not finished so I can’t comment on that ending. I also don’t want to give massive spoilers for the the game nor the anime so I will keep this vague. The game’s ending is very open-ended, it is up to the player to decide how they think it has ended. For the anime, a short post-credit scene at the final episode hints towards a certain ending , but ultimately it is still left as quite open.
Re-reading my mini reviews even I can’t work out which version I thought was best. I have to give props to the anime and manga for doing their best to expand on a pretty limited source material (the game). But there was only so much they could do, and no matter how much you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. But since I have to make a decision, I’d have to say the manga was the most enjoyable. What really made it stand out was the depictions of the killer’s backstories, it gave them some much needed depth and sometimes even made me feel bad for them. So, if you are interested in giving this story a try check out the manga and just try to ignore the weird Rachel/Zack scenes.