Here we go with the first review of the season! Today I’ll talk about “Angels of Death” (殺戮の天使 Satsuriku no tenshi), an indie game that recently became an anime.
PLOT-TWIST SPOILERS ALERT!!
If you’re watching the anime and want to avoid spoilers, save this article for later!
I found out about “Angels of Death” (殺戮の天使 Satsuriku no tenshi) more than two years ago, when still nobody on the internet knew about it and it was just an indie rpg-maker game available only in Japanese.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know I love playing games, and a few years ago I spent an awful amount of time playing rpg indies. One of the first games I played was “Ib” (loved it, btw) and when I saw a fanart of the main characters Ib and Garry in a cross-over with Zack and Ray, I was immediately attracted by their look.
I looked up the game and started playing. I put all my knowledge of Japanese into use and finished the game on my own. After a little while I watched a gameplay by the Japenese YouTuber Kiyo who read the lines perfectly in character. And that’s when I fell in love with this story. Since that moment, I followed Satsuriku from up close, with the novels, the manga and finally the anime, so I’m deeply attached to it.
I could talk about it for hours, so I’ll focus the review on two things that you can expect from this story, and I’ll conclude with a warning.
A unique relationship: Zack and Ray
One thing you should know is that everybody in this story is a psychopath. Ray and Zack are our main cast, and just like all the other characters, they both are mentally unstable. What makes this story work and involve the audience emotionally, is the way these two interact with each other and grow to find their equilibrium in a very special relationship that I like to define as “bonding of souls”.
Ray is a child that lived an horrible childhood with abusive parents, and she was forced to kill her father to save her own life. She had no idea that she had committed murder, because nobody ever taught her that hurting and killing were wrong. She discovers that she did something bad by reading a bible that she finds by chance, and since that moment she starts feeling guilt. She defines herself a sinner, and she wants to be killed so that she can make atonement for her sin by paying with her life.
When she meets Zack, she founds in him what she needs. Zack hears her speaking about God during their first conversations, so he promises – by swearing to God – that he will grant her wish and kill her if she helps him get out of the crazy building they are trapped in. This works for Rachel. She starts trusting and idealizing him, to the point Zack becomes God himself to her when she’s told that a “real God” doesn’t exist. This weird and sort of creepy attachment that Rachel grows for him goes on until when Zack tells her clearly that she doesn’t need a God to make her wishes come true, and he encourages her to consider their promise as nothing more than a promise between two people who only have each other and can only trust each other. That’s when their relationship evolves into a honest and unbreakable bond that goes beyond stereotypes and prejudices.
Zack: a character lost in translation
Japanese is a beautiful language and a lot is said about characters only by the way they speak. Japanese doesn’t have as many swear words as Italian or English, but they don’t need them: they can communicate through their 喋り方 (Shaberikata, way of speaking) whether a character is male, female, elegant, illiterate, rough, sweet and so on. Then there are cases of characters that speak in a rough way because that’s the only way they’ve ever known in their life, but they are actually the purest people ever; Japanese are masters in communicating how complex and multi-layered these characters are, only through intonation (when dubbed) and pauses put at the right moments (when there are only subtitles).
Isaac Foster is one of these characters.
Zack is absolutely my favorite character in the whole story. He’s an assassin and a psychopath that ironically is incredibly naive and pure. In him cruelty and purity coexist perfectly. Just like a child, he doesn’t like to be lied to, he’s curious and wants to know new things. The world he was raised into was a horrifying succession of murder and abuse, and killing is the only thing he has ever known. Zack speaks with simple and rough words, but they are direct and utterly honest. When he makes his promise to Ray at the beginning of the game, he says:
I’m stupid, so I need you to get out of here.
This only sentence defines him perfectly. He’s not just a psychopath. He recognizes his limits. He’s illiterate, he can’t read or write, but he’d like to. In his room there’s paper on which he tried writing something. When they find their name plates, he’s curious about which one is his name. And he respects Rachel deeply for her knowledge. It’s almost moving how he feels toward her: as soon as he realizes that Ray isn’t lying to him when she says that she wants him to kill her, he starts considering her a sort of “teacher”, the “smart person” to turn to for answers. He learns and remembers all that Ray says.
When the English version of the game came out, I bought it immediately. You can imagine my disappointment when I saw how bad the translation was. Really bad.
For example, the sentence that I mentioned before, the one that introduces Zack to the player for the first time and defines him best as a character, was completely ruined, turning into:
I’m such an idiot, so yeah… let’s work together to get the hell out of this place
Nooooooo. Zack’s personality is ruined. He swears too much, he’s too aggressive. His innocence and the fact that he doesn’t know a thing about the world except killing disappears completely in the English version. When they get to Cathy‘s floor, he doesn’t know what a camera or a photo are; he doesn’t know that he can’t break steel with a blade, he doesn’t know what a gas mask is. And in the English version, on Cathy‘s floor, he says something like “Are we taking a picture for the passport?”.
THERE IS NO WAY HE KNOWS WHAT A PASSPORT IS.
Localization destroyed Zack’s character and consequently also the perception people have of Zack and Ray’s relationship.
Angels of Death is a good story, that can be interpreted in several ways. It has good characters, a good story-line, a good plot-twist and a good ending.
But. But. But. A little advice.
The new fandom, that was born with the English version of the game and is growing with the anime now, is a bit too toxic for my taste. They probably have a completely different idea of this story and of Zack and Ray’s relationship, and this is probably because of the English version of the game, which doesn’t show at all the bond that I described to you here.
The strength of their bond and also the “romantic” potential of their relationship – if you want to call it that, fine by me – is evident in the Japanese version of the game. It’s there. I don’t think it’s weird to ship Zack and Ray, and I think the author built their relationship to leave also that possibility open.
But you will find on the internet people fighting against the shippers, saying things like “If you ship Zack and Ray you’re a pedophile! XOXOXO”
My advice is to play the game, watch the anime – which is good, at least until now! – and enjoy it silently.
I love this story, so I’m always here to discuss it in the most objective way!
Lots of love,