Decent anime series which manage to tug at the heart strings and also provide on-edge action sequences are literally a dime for every two dozen you manage to sift through. You're even more fortunate to find sensible comedy and effective character chemistry in the mix alongside such elements.
I consider Angel Heart as something of an anomaly in the current anime spectrum in that it does all of these in a unique way. The story revolves around a girl known as Glass Heart, a codename assassin working for an underground crime group. When her last job breaks her in a way she never imagined it would, she attempts suicide to escape the automatic life she's lived since her childhood, only to find that she's brought back to life from an emergency operation...and with a heart that will lead her back to a man who would change her destiny.
Little did I know it was a spin-off of what's known as one of the classic shounen series City Hunter, and it served as an introduction into a long franchise of series and sequels that I had no idea existed. Yet, don't let that deter you in watching Angel Heart, not in the least. It's a retelling of the original City Hunter series, while involving a new character in the mix. It lets you know who these characters are in modes so that you won't have to refer to the former series to gain an idea of them.
I can't spoil the heart of the series (no pun intended) without delving a bit into the characters and their identities, but I can tell you that the experiences that Glass Heart has when she's brought back to life, and the heart within her, set the mechanism that kicks this series into gear, and at times, it's rather jarring.
While this could be set up for a very high octane thriller series, it really doesn't come across that way. Instead, it's more sentimentally aimed, as Glass Heart is revealed to be a child with autonomic ability and is more than just good with a gun, living vicariously a life foreign to her through the heart that inhabits her body.
Sometimes, it provides for some nice action/fighting sequences. Others, it provides some nice, simple and hearty laughs just for kicks, even leaning towards blunt ecchi humor (yes, those familiar with the City Hunter series will note Ryo's usual "mokkori" jokes...if you don't know what "mokkori" is from the former installments in this series, you'll find out well enough here.).
The problem with Angel Heart: it does tend to drag its feet in places, and the story arcs can range in consistency from excellent to below average. My favorite arc, without spoiling the premise of the series, involves a little girl whose father was the victim of one of Glass Heart's "jobs", and the tense encounters that occur in the scheme of that arc are so potent you can't really help but be taken aback by it. It's a brilliant piece of irony that I only wish were carried throughout the series at times. Another flaw: repetitiveness in some parts. Some may find that Glass Heart's rebirth story and the life she holds inside her are overtold to the point of oblivion, but for me, since I watched the series progressively, I didn't find it too deterring for a series spanning 50 episodes.
Overall, I found Angel Heart to be one of the most underranked series in 2005. Granted, it contains a number of flaws that will be expanded upon here, but I'd have a hard time not recommending this to those who would loved the City Hunter series and those who like crime/cop stories with a bit of supernatural elements thrown in.
Animation for Angel Heart, considering its basis on characters tracing back to the mid 1980s is very well done. Many may note that the animation does indeed have a "classic", perhaps "realistic" feel here, and it's well noted considering its premise. No doe eyes or overly buxom females to be had here, it's a series that's rather mature in premise and feel overall aside from the attempts at humor to lighten the atmosphere between the characters. Then again, if you're a City Hunter veteran, you'll note that the only way it really differs from the original series is that the main characters have visibly aged a little more. Considering its source material, I can't give it lower than a 7.5 on animation because it manages to be consistent and well colored, alongside the nice backdrops.
Like the animation soundtracks for the City Hunter series, you could say that Angel Heart takes a retrospective turn, but in an exemplary way. It's hard not to like some of the stylistics if you like catchy, simple J-pop or even J-R&B stylistics. The openings seem to showcase this well. The lively "Finally" sung by Sowelu in the first OP has great sequencing and simple electro-pop stylistics, while "Battlefield of Love" by Asami Isawa, featured as the third opening, is a beautiful J-pop song with a mixture of house, funk and soul stylistics. The endings are just as stellar, though my personal favorite came in the form of the third ending, "Destiny" by Kanon.
BGM blends well with the backdrop and while I wouldn't say it's as strong as the vocal contributions of the series, it manages to make the atmosphere in which it's featured.
If I had to award a series for effort in character development and establishment in 2005, Angel Heart would be very much one of the nominees...but it wouldn't win. Reason? Sometimes the character development is drawn out a little too much, to the point where it sometimes mars the efforts to embellish the story. Yet, character establishment and interaction is very well done. There's no doubt that by series end, you'll know who these characters are, and come to grow with them.
Those who have seen the former City Hunter series will probably already know the antics and personalities of the characters that recur from those installments (with one notable exemption from the cast, but she's present in the series enough to still be a major force to reckon with - matter of fact, she frames it quite strongly), only differing with age and interpretation. I'd argue, however, the series doesn't just take on a episodic nature like the former series. The series of arcs are progressive looks at the characters and develop them much further than any of the City Hunter series have done to date.
Ryo Saeba is a character in and of himself, and most don't really give him apt credit because he's a man of mystery - seemingly perverse humored and a ladies man, but at the same time, a woman's man for the way he treats each case with aptitude and a genuine aim to help those in trouble. He takes a bit of a backseat in this series compared to the original City Hunter and its installments, but there's little doubt he makes the atmosphere very funny, even in the more serious moments. He also has more maturity with the roles he must take on in this series at times than in the former, when they're appropriately showcased.
Glass Heart: great character, there are times when she really shows her naivete (which may strike some as either genuine or somewhat trying, but never outright dislike) but you really have to feel for her situation. She's had her childhood essentially robbed from her and has no idea how to adjust to the real world. Sometimes this provides hilarious moments in the series (she tends to pull her guns a little too quickly...let's just say that), while others show a vulnerability key to her character.
Other familar characters from the City Hunter series include Saeko and Umibozu (Falcon in the original series) among a few, but enough fresh faces and development to keep it interesting and fresh. I enjoyed getting to know the characters here, though there were times when I could have done without the extended side stories.
Worth watching once, and it depends on your taste as to whether it's worth the rewatch. It's a lengthy series, so this one is best enjoyed if you watch it gradually and allow it to grow on you.
A young assassin known as Glass Heart, trained in killing since childhood, decides to end her own life. Unknown to her, powerful people in the criminal underworld are watching her every move, and a new heart, donated by a woman recently ran over by a truck, is stolen to replace the one she ruins. But as she slowly recovers, she begins to see strange visions from the life of the heart's previous owner. She decides to pursue these visions to discover their meaning, and find a new purpose in life. What she finds is Ryo Saeba, a lecherous old detective who despite appearances, could be the answer she has looked for all her life...
I tend to be a fan of slice of life, dramatic and romantic series, but my palette is open to different series of a plethora of genres. I love watching series that engage my senses and imagination, and as a writer, I always appreciate a good story with a great cast of characters. I love when people give feedback on my reviews, because it helps me see things in a different lens, so I encourage you to converse with me if you have any questions, commentary or just want to chat about a series. ^_^