Angel’s Egg has always been something I’ve been meaning to check off my anime to-do list for quite a while. Every anime reviewer I listen to tells me this is a great film in desperate need for more attention, while also saying the typical “it’s not for everyone” or “it’s really arthouse” statements to warn the unprepared away. And I think that’s stupid, because Angel’s Egg doesn’t hold your hand so why should its fans do the same? If you know someone who hasn’t watched Angel’s Egg, trick them into thinking it’s a KyoAni anime and watch their surprise at what they get instead. That’s the kind of “fuck you” that would make a fellow trickster like Mamoru Oshii proud.
And in less profane terms, knowing less about the movie beforehand maximizes the mystifying effect it’s going for, with your mind blurting “What’s going on?” in the biggest mental font your head can muster. The bigger the puzzle, the more satisfying it is when you complete it. That’s how a viewer should watch Angel’s Egg, with their mind answering guessing games while being entranced by the cinematography. And if you don’t get it the first try, watch it again or read an essay like this one to pick up some of the details. Or you could always be a twat and label this movie as boring tripe, throwing this in the pile with Aku no Hana. How dare you?
But it’s not boring tripe, it’s a religious epic. It’s a post-apocalyptic fairy tale. It’s an existential wail against society. And so on. All of that in just seventy-one minutes, that’s amazing. Other films often need two or three hours to juggle Christian allegories and Camusesque imagery without using focusing too little on either one. Though I guess Angel’s Egg can do that given I can just explain the movie’s plot in a few sentences: Girl has egg. Girl finds guy. Girl loses egg. Sad times. You can interpret in other ways to make the characters seem more layered. Maybe the egg’s her soul. Perhaps the man is some lone crusader. Possibly Miura got more than a few ideas from this film for Berserk. Whatever. The bare-bones characters and minimal dialogue serve to make this film’s world more alien, cold, and uninviting. Moments can be so silent that a line of dialogue can feel like a jumpscare. You could watch this movie with some other guys for a horror marathon and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.
Dostoevsky always had a conflicted grasp of religion in his works, having a belief in God yet wondering how much that benefits one’s life. You can see that Brothers Karamazov with Alyosha’s attempts to be a godlier man, and if Hell is something of our own creation rather than an actual realm. Oshii does the same thing of sorts with the man’s contemplations regarding Noah’s Ark and if God really wants what’s best for humanity. The world of Angel’s Egg is very dark and barren, akin to a wasteland at world’s end. No one’s in luxury. No one is watched over. And at best, you’ll die alone and forgotten as one body among countless others. Almost like someone’s cliché of a Russian novel setting.
The atmosphere’s further aided by Yoshihiro Kanno’s music, with chanting and ominous piano music to complete the religious experience. While it can get a bit too much in some sense, I remember getting bored and doing a mockery of one of the chants during a scene, it gets the point across, enlarging Angel’s Egg’s presence throughout your mind so you too feel like a lonely child dwelling in a vast netherworld. It’s catchy music too, so you end up hearing it in your head the day after while you’re doing something else. Try going on a train ride while mentally hearing the Angel’s Egg soundtrack. It gets to you. Looking at his MAL profile, Yoshihiro Kanno never again lent his music to anime. An absolute pity. But that’s another element making this movie unique, as if it were an artifact from a long-gone society, best kept at an exhibit.
I like to compare watching the film to going to a museum, not looking for a particular piece to visually consume but just somewhere you can wander and occasionally appreciate the works around you. If Oshii hasn’t sold some of the cel animation frames from this movie so curators could put them up in exhibits, that’s a great shame. Because when watching this on a TV or computer screen, you don’t get the full effect from some of the backgrounds. Feels like staring at a Van Gogh drawing on your iPhone. It can only be completely appreciated when blown up in a larger-than-life canvas, so you can explore all the facets.
All in all, Angel’s Egg is a film whose runtime betrays how much time you’ll spend thinking about this movie. Are our endeavors to preserve what we hold dear absolutely in vain? Will humanity as a whole only sink further? How did Studio DEEN get the chance to work on this? These questions have plagued the movie for decades, and the myriad of answers given forth every now and then only enrich its mystery. Those seeking virtue will only find more perils and questions, but it’s only through such a quandary that we can pursue our dreams, even if it’s wanting to keep an egg under your dress.