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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan: The Last Temptations of "Gay Angels"

As mentioned in the last Saint Beast anime review, the Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen OVA came out in between the release of 2005's Yukyuu no Sho drama CD series & the incoming release of 2006's Onshu no Sho. After that latter drama CD series came to an end, Wonderfarm would put its attention back towards the animation side of things with a return to television. Not just that, but Tokyo Kids would also return, making it a true-blue "second season". Of course, this would be yet another prequel to the Seijuu Kourin Hen TV anime, so in Spring of 2007 various UHF stations in Japan debuted Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan/Angel Tales from the Epic Times (some places also use the more loose "Angel Chronicles"), a 13-episode TV anime that seemingly decided to bring back the style of the first season. Alongside Tokyo Kids doing the animation, Hiroshi Kitadani also returned for the theme song, this time with JAM Project in tow. With this also being available for legal streaming via Viewster, is Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan just more of the same from the first season, or did Wonderfarm learn from Madhouse's OVA excursion for the better? Time to boot up my Xbox 360 once again & find out, I say.

Heaven, though still seeming more or less peaceful, has slowly started showing cracks in the visage. This is only worsened when Zeus, God of Heaven, institutes a ranking system amongst his angels, deeming them of lower, middle, or higher levels. Not just that, but he has chosen Gou, Gai, Shin, Rei, Judas, Luka, Shiva, Kira, & Maya as candidates for the six "Saint Beast" positions, which will be the highest of all angels. Judas, who believes in absolute equality, has many reservations about the ranking system, as it's bringing about feelings of jealousy, superiority, & even outright hatred between angels, & is starting to wonder if Zeus is truly meaning for the well being of Heaven. In the end, though, what is truly "Paradise"? Is it Heaven, where Zeus watches over all & rules supreme, with those who sin eventually being purged into the Forest of Darkness as goblins? Is it on Earth, where angels can live by their own rules, but have to worry about Zeus's wrath for defying his orders? Or is it with the fallen angels Lucifer & Gabriel in Hell, far from the watchful eyes of Zeus?

Right away, the biggest difference between Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan (I'll just say "Season 2" from here on out) & the two prior anime before it is that this Saint Beast production is given time & space to breathe. The first episode, for example, has no external conflict in it whatsoever, instead simply showing off where each of the major characters are at this point in time. In fact, ANN's Spring 2007 Preview Guide even put down this first episode as being completely pointless & only establishing that "life sure is peaceful here in Heaven"... It's too bad that this was a completely incorrect conclusion to make, because said introduction establishes the complete & utter opposite. Using inner monologues, private conversations, & even just visual storytelling, this second season starts off by indicating that Heaven is not longer as peaceful as it once was, and it's all because of the ranking system. Angels who were once kind & peaceful are now cocky & belligerent because they're of a higher rank than the others, or angels now harbor deep-seated jealousy because they're now a lower rank. Hell, Kira & Maya's half-blood heritage only makes things worse for them when they're deemed potentially worthy to become Saint Beasts; this is technically in Episode 2, though. I usually don't want to bring up another person's opinion like this, but this is a case where the one who checked out this show's first episode didn't seem to actually pay attention to what was happening. Anyway, back to my own review of this anime...

Similar to how the drama CDs were released as overall arcs containing multiple stories, Season 2 can be split up into three story arcs. Episodes 1-4 cover Zeus naming the nine candidates for the six titles of Saint Beast, how it affects them all personally, and then the actual trial of making it up the Sacred Summit to prove their worth. Episodes 5-9 see the Saint Beasts descend onto Earth on orders from Zeus, where they come across a phantom tree that's killing humans & animals, a hidden village where angels & humans coexist, & Kamui of the Golden Wolf, a rebellious angel who has been defying Zeus for ages. Finally, the anime ends with Episodes 10-13, where the Festival of the Holy Spirit gets interrupted by the collective force of the hundreds (if not thousands) of angels Zeus has eventually purged into the Forest of Darkness, & the only way to stop them is to seal them within the "Box of Hope". Now when I say that this is similar to the drama CDs I am only going by guesswork here, but this show definitely feels like it's either a direct adaptation of some part of the CDs or Wonderfarm really wanted the anime to emulate how the dramas operated. The end result of this is some uneven pacing, depending on which arc you're on. The first arc is honestly a little too slow paced at times, with a story that could have easily been told in just two episodes; that being said, the focus on character interaction is appreciated. The second arc flows much better, due to it being split up across three missions, all of which follow an overarching narrative, which is whether or not Zeus is truly as benevolent as he is believed to be. The final arc has a lot of set up for later events which will only be detailed in the drama CDs, like Shiva potentially becoming a high priest on the recommendation of Pandora & how exactly Judas & Luka will execute their coup on Zeus.

What's easily the most interesting aspect about Season 2, though, is that this is a Judas-led series; Gou does feature heavily enough, but only as a secondary lead, at best. From the very first episode, Judas' inner conflict regarding Zeus' true intentions takes center stage, and the idea of doubting God only strengthens as the story moves on, creating what is easily the main reason to watch this series. The BL aspect, after going into overdrive in the OVA, returns to being handled in a much more reserved & understandable fashion, and it is generally done well. Luka & Rei's budding relationship is more fleshed out here, Shiva's jealously over Shin being Judas' angel of choice & his general superiority complex is showcased well, & I still would classify Gou & Gai's relationship as nothing more than really close friends, as Gou looks out for his buddy, but also knows how to calm Gai down when needed; Gai & Maya, though, I can definitely see in a BL light.

I don't know why, but seeing Shiva laugh happily makes me feel uncomfortable.

Finally, there's the rest of the secondary cast, which is a heavily mixed bag. Pandora's true intentions are hard to get a bead on, though he never truly seems trustworthy, while Kira & Maya get an intriguing bit of backstory hinted at by the fact that Kira always knew who their angelic father is & that it's something to be ashamed of (it's obviously either Lucifer or Gabriel), but there are plenty of characters who get nothing more than extended cameos. Cassandra gets literally two appearances at the start & end, Saki & Karil (two old friends of Gou's) barely appear yet seem to have some sort of importance, & Yuri, the head of the Goddesses' Guard, is treated just as bad as Cassandra. Then there's Pearl, which is a familiar grown out of Pandora's body that appears every now & then. He first appeared at the very end of the OVA, but here essentially helps act as someone for Pandora to converse with in private, though why fellow priest Cassandra couldn't do the same is beyond me. To be fair, Cassandra & Yuri have no real involvement with the main stories told in this Season, but Saki becoming angry over Gou being nominated as a Saint Beast, when he was just as talented, is treated like an important piece of character drama, but he appears so little that it's hard to relate to it much. Hell, Lucifer was distinctly shown in the OVA as being the only angel that Zeus cast out of Heaven, so Gabriel being shown off as also having been cast down really just comes from out of nowhere, giving you no direction on the type of character he is.

Really, the biggest "flaw" with Season 2, & all of the Saint Beast anime productions in general, is that they don't actually tell the plot points & stories that are the most interesting. Without relying on the drama CDs, you'll never know why exactly Lucifer & Gabriel were cast from Heaven, how exactly Judas & Luka attempt their coup, why the other four Saint Beasts are spared from banishment if they willingly helped in the coup, if Maya & Kira ever actually find the reincarnation of their mother, &, most importantly, how the climactic confrontation between the Saint Beasts & their fallen compatriots actually happens. Not just that, but where were Zeus & Pandora during Season 1? In fact, what in Heaven was the Goddess doing before Season 1? She's occasionally referenced to in both the OVA & Season 2, yet is never actually shown on screen. Now, to be fair, the anime productions aren't worthless on their own, as the character development & drama is handled rather well (especially here in Season 2), & this final anime production does end with Judas & Luka deciding to take the fight to Zeus himself, as well as a clever way of handling the legend of Pandora's Box. I don't regret taking the plunge into these anime, but it does sting knowing that the most curious & important parts will forever remain a mystery to me.

Now, to reiterate, Tokyo Kids was never an anime studio on the visual par as that of Madhouse, so in a number of ways, Season 2 doesn't look quite as good as the OVA did. That being said, this anime still looks much better than Season 1 did, though there is both some returning staff as well as some new bodies. For the third time we have a different director, with Nanako Shimazaki (Ultra Maniac OVA, Fushigi Yugi Eikoden) heading up her first & only full TV series. Overall, her(?) staff does a good job, though there is the occasional rough face or two, & you can still find some obvious cost-cutting measures here & there. Once again, "original creator" Kei Arisugawa headed up the writing team, though he only directly wrote the first episode here, with Mayu Sugiura & Yuji Minamide doing the majority of the episode writing; oddly enough, though, the "Wonderfarm Literature Dept." is credited for writing Episodes 6 & 10. Much like the OVA, the writing here is much more solid, though by this point Arisugawa & his team had already written a ton of drama CDs, so I would only hope that they perfected the type of storytelling they were going for. The character designs here were adapted by chief animation director Toshiko Sasaki (Gallery Fake, Record of Lodoss War TV), who essentially went for a middle ground between the softer-looking designs of Season 1 & the more angular style from the OVA, and it works well here.

Hijiri Anze also returns for the music, which follows the OVA by being much more orchestral & fitting the Heavenly nature & environment of Saint Beast; there's actually a main theme, or sorts, that's pretty damn memorable. The opening theme is "Divine love" by JAM Project featuring Hiroshi Kitadani, which is (to my knowledge) the only time Kitadani ever lead a JAM song. Luckily, this song knocks it out of the park, delivering the usual rock-heavy JAM sound, this time composed & written by Masami Okui, & Kitadani's voice fits this franchise well; hearing the rest of JAM shout "Love!" during the chorus is cool, too. That being said, the OP footage, especially during the chorus, makes this show look like an action-heavy series, which this is not; there's action, but it's not a major focus by any means. Matching the way the series is essentially split up across three overall story arcs, there are three ending themes, each sung by characters in the show. Episodes 1-4 use "Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan ~angel chronicles~" by Pearl, Saki, & Yuri (see, it was pertinent that I brung them up earlier!), a high-energy pop song that sounds a fair bit like a boy band, but it's a fun song, nonetheless. Episodes 5-9 feature "Tsubasa Arumono" by Luka & Rei, a ballad that's all about flying high into the sky because of hope, fitting for the lovers who are known for their giant wings. Finally, Episodes 10-13 end with "Retsu・Go! Guy!" by Gou & Gai (obviously), an upbeat rock song that only assures my feeling of the two being strong friends, as the lyrics even talk of having a rivalry that makes each side fight harder. That being said, I'm sure the whole "Two guys whose friendship burns forever strong" concept is often used in BL... I'm not too familiar with this genre, after all.

While I did bring up the voices of the six Saint Beasts themselves in my review for Season 1, I must bring up Akira Ishida once more here, since Judas takes center stage. In the first anime, Ishida had an interesting role as the outright villain, which he doesn't do too often, but here he's able to do so much more by excellently showing the growing dissent Judas has towards Zeus. This can also apply to Hikaru Midorikawa's Luka, who meshes well with Kouki Miyata's Rei & makes the relationship between their characters very natural. Also in the "expanded role" category is Jun-ichi Kanemaru's Zeus, which is nicely done, and I think Kanemaru also does the super Engrishy narration heard at the beginning & end of the show; it's endearingly awkward. The rest of the notable returning cast is just as fine as before, including Sho Hayami's Lucifer, though he only gets slightly more here as Lucifer only appears in about two or three episodes. The rest of the supporting cast is made up of Daisuke Hirakawa (Gabriel), Hiroaki Hirata (Kamui), Takuma Terashima (Saki), Tatsuhisa Suzuki (Pearl), Wataru Hatano (Yuri), Youichi Nishijima (Karil), & Yuki Kaida (Cassandra), but all but Hirata really get their moments to shine; once again, you likely have to go to the drama CDs for their respective bests.

Out of all three anime productions in this franchise, Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan definitely feels the most similar to what I'd imagine the drama CDs are like. The Japanese word "tan" can be translated as "tale", and this is how this second season operates. This series is more of a set of stories than a serialized narrative, though they are still connected enough to establish an overarching storyline, which in this case is showcasing how Zeus slowly goes mad with power & how Judas eventually comes to the realization that his God isn't as benevolent as he makes himself out the be. Still, while this season does help give context as to why Judas & Luka wind up becoming the villains of Season 1, it's obvious that the most important story arcs, like the coup & everything past Season 1's story, are reserved exclusively for the drama CDs. Still, out of the three anime promotions for said drama CDs, of which there 28 in total (plus 8 novels, a manga, & a PS2 video game!), Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan is the best of them all; Seijuu Kourin Hen is the "worst" overall (though not terrible), while Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen just looks the best. One can certainly find enjoyment by just watching the anime productions, & I'd say that watching them in production order (Season 1, OVA, Season 2) works best, but just remember that there is much, much more out there that you'll likely never be able to experience.
Still, I like that Viewster has taken the chance on exclusively "retrocasting" anime that never received a legal release in North America before. With anime like Meine Liebe, Bokura ga Ita, Sora no Manimani, & Saint Beast, alongside titles available from the likes of Sentai Filmworks & Discotek Media, Viewster does have an interestingly eclectic line-up to check out... Now if only the company would make an app for more consoles than just the Xbox 360.

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