Organic Mirrors - Reflections on and by Characters' Bodies in Shojo Manga Angel Sanctuary

Term Paper, 2004

24 Pages, Grade: 1



I. Introduction

II. Male Character Concepts
A. Incestuous messiah: Setsuna
B. “Am I beautiful?”: Rosiel
C. Devoted from head to toe: Katan

III. Female Character Concepts
A. Adolescent concerns: Kurai
B. 87-58-85 and a bleeding heart: Alexiel
C. Veiled disgrace: Layla – Sevothtarte

IV. Sexless Character Concepts
A. Joys of motherhood: Seraphita (Adam Kadamon)
B. Boundless transgression: Belial (“Mad Hatter”)

V. Conclusion



I. Introduction

Although products of a highly commercialised entertainment industry, Japan’s manga are still rooted in a tradition of refined figurative self-reflection. Especially theatrical practice with its multiple forms of expression affected manga in a way that it began to feature the human body as the most flexible symbol of both physical and psychical concerns. “In Japanese […] comics this protean transforming body is sometimes grotesque […], sometimes alluring […], but always memorable. […] In this fantastic mode, ranging from science fiction to occult pornography, the body interrogates the dominant constructions of identity in modern society – be they gender-based or even human species-based.” (Napier, 37)

Under such a heading different subgenres of manga developed their own distinctive techniques of presenting bodies.

The shojo [1] genre, in the beginning exclusively aimed at adolescent girls, acquired its characteristic motifs and style in the seventies when conquered rapidly by draughtswomen who made it a successful domain on the Japanese comic market. Female protagonists were then alternated with so-called bishonen, sensitive young men of feminine beauty deviating from sexual and social norms by entering into romanticised homoerotic relationships. Androgyny, nonconformity and role reversals, which went back particularly to Kabuki and Takarazuka theatre[2], became omnipresent in shojo manga. Great emphasis was placed on physical beauty which did therefore not fall victim to stylisation as it was the case in other genres. Plot ceased to be the centre of interest and gave way to detailed illustrations of inner conflict and personal development for which the human body often constituted the visible equivalent. From this, manga critics also frequently drew conclusions about the inner life of the meanwhile grown main target group, actually girls and young women in their teens or early twenties.

At the end of the eighties, magazines publishing shojo manga went through a crisis resulting from an overuse of common topics. Thereupon artists turned away from the tragic dream or past worlds most of the stories had been set in and began to devote themselves to cheerful depictions of relatively ordinary characters in ordinary surroundings, which meant, at the same time, a convergence towards shonen[3] manga. As a consequence, genre limitations became blurred so that boys began to read girls’ manga as well and the other way round. Although, within the shojo genre, the main emphasis actually remained on character development, the presentation of an interesting plot became almost as essential. Since then, the mixing has continued.

First edited between 1994 and 2000 in the girls’ magazine Hana to Yume, Kaori Yuki’s manga Angel Sanctuary (Tenshi Kinryou Ku) is one representative of the younger, more heterogeneous generation of shojo manga. On the one hand, it features a sixteen-year-old non- bishonen male hero, but on the other hand recalls the atmospheric fantasy settings of earlier times conveying a “sense of melodrama” (Levi, 22) and thus reacting to certain escapist motifs[4] (cp. Székely, 32).

Beside this, the body has however retained its outstanding symbolic significance so that this paper will attempt to answer the question: How are bodies in shojo manga Angel Sanctuary integrated into the character concepts as both the trigger for and mirror of inner, interpersonal and social conflicts and which attitudes towards physicality and social roles do thus become revealed?

II. Male character concepts

A. Incestuous messiah: Setsuna

The Tokyo student Setsuna Mudo constitutes a typical contemporary Shojo -manga protagonist inasmuch as he gets into a situation in which he is confronted with a second self or identity sharing his body (cp. Roedel, 131) and, moreover, with his own deviant desires (cp. Székely, 32).

As far as his outward appearance is concerned, Setsuna, albeit generally lacking bishonen attributes, can be described as a handsome boy. He is a slender, short-haired blond with a frank-looking face and not too small, bright eyes, which actually predestines him to girls’ favour, that of both the girls within the story and the female readers (cp. Vol. 11, epilogue).

With regard to his nature, one can state that on the one hand he is sincere[v], resolute[vi], brave[vii], loyal[viii], humorous[ix], emotional[x] and vulnerable[xi], but on the other hand sometimes very insensitive[xii], thoughtless[xiii], slow-witted[xiv] and slightly arrogant[xv] so that he has to be regarded as a complex character capable of development.

His problems do not arise for the first time when he, at the age of sixteen, realises that he is in love with his younger sister Sara. Earlier, he has been rejected by his family, especially his mother, because of his supernatural strength combined with savage frenzies overcoming him at the sight of blood. Not enough, the sempai [xvi] frequently bully him on account of his Western looks[xvii]. Only his friend and sempai Kira and, of course, Sara have always stood by[xviii] him. Gradually, his brotherly affection for Sara has turned into sexual love. Considering himself to be perverted, he first starts to deny his feelings, which causes him great suffering and finally does not pan out.

The following period of inner conflict is accompanied by the arrival of supernatural beings – Rosiel and Kurai – who are, out of different motivations, determined to awake the seraph Alexiel whose soul has been reincarnated in Setsuna’s body. At the beginning, Setsuna is unwilling to accept the intruder, but in the course of the whole story he manages to integrate Alexiel’s powers into his identity and thus matures. And as “the character’s ability to connect with the Other, be it the unconscious or the supernatural is clearly coded as a sign of inner strength and mental health” (Napier, 127), he finally becomes the real messiah the liberation movement has hoped for, but at the same time succeeds in maintaining his self except for most of the negative features he has meanwhile outgrown. In correspondence with Setsuna’s personal development, the love for Sara, which he already declares to her in the first chapter and which is requited but soon followed by her death, has to overcome numerous obstacles before the lovers are happily reunited.

Shifting to the interpretational level, one can easily correlate Setsuna’s incestuous cravings with his simultaneous awareness of the alien soul sharing his body, given the facts that he is at the peak of puberty (cp. Mutz, Scheer) and that manga as a medium are anchored in a tradition which “emphasized techniques that capture the essence of a subject” (Levi, 21).

In fact, the first time he consciously experiences Alexiel’s presence is when he saves Sara from Kurai’s beam. Because Alexiel had always killed the people she loved as a result of her experience that this was the only way to rescue them, her and Setsuna’s attitudes inevitably clash at that moment so that he can clearly perceive her as an alien, obstreperous factor inside his body. Her impact on him is even stronger after Kira’s death (Vol. 2), when he, utterly overwhelmed by grief, temporarily gives way to her power. One could assume that Alexiel represents, still in a conflicting way, his growing adult side, which has to arise, because his more childlike part is unable to bear the loss of the older Kira, at whom he looked up. At least, Kira is an important role model, but perhaps even a father figure to him. Mutz and Scheer point out that, on the one hand, adolescents needed to mature and form their own grown-up identity, but if they were on the other hand confronted with a situation demanding more self-reliance from them than they have actually developed, this could set them back considerably (cp. Mutz, Scheer).

Afterwards, Setsuna describes his emotions during his overpowering by Alexiel as if he had been deprived of his vitality and overcome with nothing but fiery anger[xix]. Furthermore, it is important to add that he has felt Alexiel’s soul not just to be alien but female, because this indicates that he sees, or rather feels, a connection between alienation and femininity and thus most likely between maturity and sexuality as well.

In the following, he increasingly accustoms to Alexiel and even learns to appreciate her, which is in fact necessary as he has to use her powers in order to save Assiah from destruction. The most far-reaching challenge he has to take up in the course of this development is the awakening of his soul within Alexiel’s body after Voice has pulled Nanatsusaya out of his one. But even then Setsuna succeeds in asserting himself over the many people who regard him now as somebody he actually is not, namely Alexiel, although this demands immense psychical exertion from him. After having returned into his own body, he remarks that this body feels more appropriate to him[xx]. Appropriate, not better in a sense of superiority. That implies that he still considers himself to be male, a masculinity which goes beyond physical attributes, but at the same time has overcome his fear of or at least uneasiness about the other sex by learning about it physically and psychically.

To this insight one could raise the objection that he has already familiarised himself with the other sex much earlier, namely when making love to Sara in the course of their escape from Tokyo after their mutual declaration of love. The two even blame themselves for transgressing against God’s[xxi] will, but contrary to this, both their interior monologues and the illustrations featuring a white background[xxii] indicate that the couple experience a pure kind of happiness instead of a feeling of sinning. Their intimacy constitutes a sharp contrast to any other depictions of sexuality in Angel Sanctuary, which are mostly far less explicit but instead imbued with subliminal eroticism materialised by certain gestures and facial expressions lacking completely in this scene. From that, one can conclude that the emphasis does not lay on sexual desire but on Setsuna’s and Sara’s psychical unification. Physical interaction thus illustrates their mental state. In addition to that, one should remark as well that Sara, from childhood on, has been Setsuna’s most important source of care and confidence as he had been rejected by their mother. So, probably he is not just attracted to Sara in her sexual capacity as a woman but moreover in her role as a protector[xxiii].

The striking fact that it is an incestuous relationship Setsuna enters into, can be interpreted according to one of the most common motifs in Shojo -manga, the adolescent hero’s drastic break with conformity (cp. Székely, 32), which is mostly realised by the development of sexually deviant preferences. This is not astonishing considering the general adolescent need for rebellion and examination of the own newly-developed kind of physicality (cp. Mutz, Scheer) which is obviously a reaction to Japan’s strict separation of the sexes before adulthood (Napier, 48).

As already mentioned before, Setsuna is a typical hero in many respects. What makes him outstanding is, however, the fact that he does neither return to conformity nor die at the end of the story (cp. Berndt, 100). He has matured physically as well as psychically, but, at the same time, kept his positive attitude towards his relationship to Sara. This implies the viewpoint that it was not impossible or reprehensible to integrate some of the insights from adolescence into one’s grown-up self, in particular as far as certain own ideas on morality and independent thinking were concerned[xxiv].

B. “Am I beautiful?”: Rosiel

As Setsuna is no perfectly righteous protagonist, his antagonist, “inorganic” seraph Rosiel, is no “bad guy” in the Western sense either. Antonia Levi points out that because of both Japan’s literary tradition to focussing on introspection (28) and the Japanese attitude that “morality is a purely human concept, a social concept […] not tied to any transcendental view of the universe” (99), in manga “being a villain is not the same thing as being the enemy” (70). Keeping this in mind, Rosiel’s character concept is probably one of the most interesting within Angel Sanctuary, in particular with regard to discrepancies between body and soul.

In the past, Seraphita had divided his might into positive and negative energy attaching the first to Alexiel and the latter to Rosiel, the twins he then “gave birth” to. God, who feared their joint powers, isolated them holding Alexiel captive in Eden and keeping Rosiel in Etemenanki. In terms of physicality they were exact opposites[xxv]. Alexiel was a pretty, vital young girl, whereas Rosiel was born malformed and almost not viable, actually without a body in the original meaning of the word. God assured only him repeatedly of his love, but when Rosiel wished to meet his sister God suggested that she would not like to see him because of his unique hideousness. However, he, albeit filled with desperation, finally managed to approach Alexiel, but instead of requiting his affection she rejected him. Unknowing that God had extorted this behaviour from her, Rosiel erroneously attributed it to God’s preference of him and, above all, to his ugly appearance so that he brutally took tissue and organs from her body in order to create an own beautiful bishonen -like physique from it.

In the course of the actual story, Rosiel continuously strives for affirmation of his feminine beauty[xxvi] and is obsessed with making Alexiel either love him or die. Corresponding to the increasing degeneration of his body back to its initial state, he becomes more and more insane and cruel, even to his loyal devotee Katan. In the end, Setsuna compassionately redeems him from his suffering by enabling Alexiel to wake up temporarily and to absorb her brother so that the twins are peacefully reunited inside Alexiel’s body.

To illuminate Rosiel’s character, one has to remark first that the attribute “inorganic” is more than a mere epithet. It indicates that Rosiel initially was not destined to be judged by categories of outward appearance as physicality was explicitly and exclusively attached to Alexiel, the “organic” angel. However, exactly this happened to him on account of God’s intrigues.

By the way, the fact that it was God, his father so to speak, who evoked his lifelong trauma suggests certain conclusions with regard to family relations: Rosiel’s “mother” (Seraphita) had created him so hideous and his “father” (God) made him suffer from it, although his bodily (bodiless) state was not Rosiel’s fault. Thus, an impression of an inadequate mother and an unjust, authoritarian, even sadistic father is conveyed which corresponds to a general tendency of manga to depict broken homes (cp. Székely, 31/32)[xxvii].

Taking up the previous insight, one can state that Rosiel made the bitter experience of being unable to fulfil exaggerated demands and to be rejected seemingly because of this. His “body” epitomised his own alleged shortcomings. The false body he then built from Alexiel’s cells was intended to be the consequent compensation for his inadequacy which should guarantee him adoration. If Alexiel had been able to assure him of her love he probably would not have taken these measures. His whole sham existence is grounded in the simple need for love. This denotes in turn that only love and support can enable a person to build up self-respect, which is, of course, not new.

But besides, it is inappropriate to reduce the twins’ relationship only to that of the humiliated versus a (seemingly) humiliating counterpart. Instead, it is also logical to regard the “organic” angel Alexiel as the epitome of the body or physicality in general and the “inorganic” angel Rosiel as that of the soul or spirituality. As Alexiel and Rosiel are different in character and appearance, body and soul differ considerably as well, but as neither Alexiel nor Rosiel are able to reach happiness until they finally melt together, body’s and soul’s dependence on each other becomes obvious, too.

With regard to this, the solution could not be to give up either body or soul, as it frequently happens in science fiction manga, but to take up the challenge of harmonising them in order to bridge the gulf in one’s identity. This might demand great exertion, but, contrary to other formulas, offers the opportunity to be rewarded with confidence.


[1] According to Susan J. Napier “Shojo literally means ’little female’ and originally referred to girls around the ages of 12 and 13.“ (118)

[2] In exact opposition to the exclusively male ensemble of Kabuki, the younger Takarazuka employs only actresses (cp. Levi, 11; Roedel, 134).

[3] These are aimed at boys.

[4] As already mentioned before, the main purpose of most manga is to entertain their readership. This should also be kept in mind when looking at the character concepts.

[v] He is incapable of pretending to the ”Anima Mundi” that he is a classic messiah.

[vi] He is irrevocably determined to fetch Sara back after her death and does not give up his project until he finally succeeds.

[vii] He risks his life when he lets Nanatsusaya run his body through so that he can go to Hades in order to find Sara’s soul.

[viii] He does not hesitate to cure his friend Kira/Nanatsusaya in spite of Seraphita’s, an authority’s, warning.

[ix] In Hades, he and Kato have quite amusing exchanges of words.

[x] He cries when Kato stays behind in Hades.

[xi] After Kira’s claim that he has exclusively been interested in Alexiel, Setsuna is about to commit suicide and can only be restrained by Zaphikel.

[xii] He says to Kurai that he regards her as a younger brother (“KLEINER BRUDER“, Vol. 8).

[xiii] Without thinking he exposes Zaphikel to Sevothtarte.

[xiv] He does not at all comprehend Kurai’s attempt to seduce him.

[xv] First, he does not involve his friends in his decision-making.

[xvi] According to Antonia Levi “the sempai-kohai, or upper classman-lower classman, relationship is a uniquely Japanese institution, […] .The sempai [upper classman] has considerable power over his/her kohai and is entitled to respect regardless of his/her personal merits.“ (5)

[xvii] Unlike most other manga characters who, although Japanese, do not look Asian either, Setsuna’s and Sara’s Western appearance results from their British ancestry.




[xxi] Antonia Levi points out that in “non-Christian Japan” (25) “depictions of Christianity are (…) focused on image.”(62). This accent on visual illustration of Christian components is obvious in Angel Sanctuary and his religious beliefs do not say anything about a character’s righteousness. In fact, God as a character is far away from being a “good guy” and his angels are, albeit a symbol of purity, scions from an unnatural, disgusting birthing center.

[xxii] According to Christine Roedel, Japanese people associate the colour “white“, amongst other things, with purity (“[…] Weiß, die fernöstliche Farbe der Trauer und des Todes sowie der Reinheit.“, Roedel, 137).

[xxiii] With certain reservations, she could even be seen as a substitute for his mother.

[xxiv] One might object that Kaori Yuki had let the story end happily because she had not wanted to disappoint her fans (Vol. 20, epilogue). However, this paper only discusses the final release of the manga.

[xxv] With regard to this, Rosiel has to be male as Alexiel is obviously female. Otherwise, Rosiel’s sex would not be so clearly identifiable.


[xxvii] However, Kaori Yuki does not present a one-sided view on father-son relationships considering that Kira’s father is a very warm-hearted and caring man.

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Organic Mirrors - Reflections on and by Characters' Bodies in Shojo Manga Angel Sanctuary
University of Siegen
Introductory seminar: 'Under the Influence: Asian Film Traditions and Hollywood'
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ISBN (eBook)
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Analysis of corporeal concepts in a manga aimed at girls. In English, but with some German references. Primary source was in German, too.
Organic, Mirrors, Reflections, Characters, Bodies, Shojo, Manga, Angel, Sanctuary, Introductory, Influence, Asian, Film, Traditions, Hollywood”
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Heike Stindt (Author), 2004, Organic Mirrors - Reflections on and by Characters' Bodies in Shojo Manga Angel Sanctuary, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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