Angel's Egg follows the life of an unnamed young girl living alone in an undefined building near an abandoned city. She cares for a large egg which she hides under her dress, protecting it while scavenging the decrepit Neo-Gothic/Art Nouveau cityscape for food, water and bottles. In a prologue, an unnamed soldier-looking boy watches as an orb-shaped vessel, covered with thousands of goddess-like sculptures, descends from the sky. Awakened by the orb's whistles, the girl begins her day of scavenging, but soon crosses paths with the boy on a wide street traveled only by obscure roving tanks. Frightened by the boy, who carries a threatening cross-shaped device over his shoulder, the girl runs off down an alley. When she returns to investigate, the boy has left. She resumes searching for food and glass bottles, avoiding the ominous figures of men clutching harpoons which scatter the cobbled streets.
After a moment of respite to eat her findings, the girl spots the boy and approaches him. He turns and surprisingly produces her egg from underneath his cape; she had abandoned it on the plaza where she was eating. He instructs the girl to "Keep precious things inside you or you will lose them," and returns the egg. When asked what she believes is inside the egg, the girl asserts that she can't tell him. The boy then suggests breaking the egg to find out, which incenses the girl and drives her storming away, only to be diligently pursued by the boy.
Eventually the chase gives way to the pair bonding, as the stoic fishermen figures spring to life and frighten the girl. The fishermen race after enormous shadows of coelacanth-like fish that swim across the surfaces of streets and buildings, lobbing their harpoons at the brick and stone. As the shadows swim away, the girl explains that while the fish are gone, the men persist in hunting. The pair wait out the commotion within a vast, church-like Opera decorated with stained windows of fish.
Leaving the city and heading towards the girl's settlement, the pair stop within a massive structure which appears to be the carcass of a beached leviathan. Noticing an engraving of a tree on a pillar, the boy describes his memory of a similar tree which grew to hold a giant egg containing a sleeping bird - an image shown at the start of the film. When the girl inquires as to what the bird dreams of, the boy flatly asks if the girl still won't tell him what's inside her egg. The pair ascend a staircase arrayed with bottles of water, like those the girl collects, on each step. Adding her newest tribute to the line of bottles, the girl and boy reflect on their amnesia, caused by their long lives, as to their identity and purpose. The boy begins to recount the biblical tale of Noah's Ark, describing the flood, its survivors, and their search for land by awaiting the return of a dove. The tale deviates down a fatalistic turn when the boy claims that the dove never returned to the ark, and thus its passengers forgot why they were sailing, forgot about the civilization drowned below, forgot about the animals that turned into stone and lost all connection with who they were alike the girl and the boy.
The boy pensively asks the girl if they themselves or any of the strange world they live in really exists, or if it is merely a memory like his image of the sleeping bird. The girl suddenly insists that the bird does exist, and leads the boy down corridors of ancient fossils to arrive at a chapel-like alcove. The boy looks on aghast; against the far wall is the fossilized skeleton of an angel. The girl explains her intent to hatch the egg and return it to the "bird" she'd found. The boy solemnly explains this was what he had suspected all along.
Later, the pair warm themselves within the girl's settlement. As the girl drifts off to sleep, she speaks to the creature inside her egg of their future together. Outside, the heavy rain consumes the city and floods the streets. While the girl is turned away from the egg in her sleep, the boy takes it and raises his cross-shaped device high to smash it. After smashing the egg the boy leaves. Awaking the next day, the girl discovers the broken shell of her egg and shrieks out, utterly heartbroken. She starts to run away from her settlement into the woods, past a giant tree holding a huge egg, suddenly throwing herself into a deep ravine. She kisses her reflection on the water before diving into it. Beneath the water, the girl transforms into an adult woman before releasing a final breath, which rises to the surface as a multitude of bobbing eggs.
As the rain suddenly abates, trees holding eggs like those described by the boy are shown to be scattered throughout the landscape. The boy stands on a vast shore, littered with white feathers, as the orb-like vessel rises from underneath the ocean. Among the thousands of statues adorning the orb is a new feature: a figure of the girl, sitting serenely on a throne and caressing the egg in her lap. The screen slowly pans out to reveal that the land of the beach, the forest, and the city is part of a small and lonely island within a vast sea, appearing not unlike the hull of an overturned ship.Jinpachi Nezu - BoyMako Hyōdō - Girl
Nezu worked with Oshii once again in Patlabor 2: The Movie and Mako Hyōdō played a supporting role in The Sky Crawlers.
Prior to the production on Angel's Egg, Mamoru Oshii lost his faith in Christianity. Senses of Cinema opined that the film "seems informed by the existential desperation caused by the collapse of one's belief system"; Oshii himself has stated he does not know what the film is about.
Production and release
Angel's Egg was a collaboration between Oshii and Amano. The animation was produced by Studio DEEN, with Hiroshi Hasegawa, Masao Kobayashi, Mitsunori Miura, and Yutaka Wada working as producers. Oshii and Amano collaborated on the script, and Yasuhiro Nakura composed the music.
Angel's Egg was released direct-to-video on 15 December 1985 by Tokuma Shoten. The 71-minute OVA would be later used as the skeleton for the live-action film In the Aftermath (1987) directed by Carl Colpaert. Colpaert's film occasionally intercuts with footage from Oshii's Angel Egg with dubbed over dialogue which does not appear in Oshii's film.
Angel's Egg did not do well with critics on its release, and Oshii stated that "it kept him from getting work for years". However, it is considered "one of the highlights of 'artistic' anime and [his] career as a director." Brian Ruh, a critical analyst of Japanese popular culture, stated that it was "one of the most beautiful and lyric films in the animated medium."
Helen McCarthy called it "an early masterpiece of symbolic film-making", stating that "its surreal beauty and slow pace created a Zen-like atmosphere, unlike any other anime". In his book Horror and Science Fiction Film IV, Donald C Willis described the film as "a haunting, poetic melancholic science-fantasy film, and–for non-Japanese-speaking viewers at least–a very cryptic one." Willis also included the film in his list of most memorable films from 1987-1997.
In an article in Senses of Cinema on Oshii, Richard Suchenski stated that the film was Oshii's "purest distillation of both Oshii’s visual mythology and his formal style". The review noted that "Patlabor 2 is more sophisticated, Ghost in the Shell is more important, and Avalon is more mythically complex but the low-tech, hand-drawn Angel's Egg remains Oshii’s most personal film."