To start off I’d like to offer a very mild rebuttal to Noah’s claim that Angels of Death overuses childhood abuse as a contributing factor to becoming a serial killer. Not because they’re necessarily wrong, but because while it is definitely a large factor for the central trio of Zack, Ray, and Danny, Eddie’s fixation on the morbid predates his older brother mistaking his face for a stress ball; Gray never gets a backstory so his motivations seem to be a combination of narcissism and the way too common cynicism those who work in professions that regularly expose them to the worst of humanity tend to develop; and Cathy was a popular student with a loving and supportive family (at least until they died) so she’s just Like That.
In their notes for the first volume of the manga, game developer Makoto Sanada stated they wanted to make the monsters in their second game humans to contrast the monsters in their first game being supernatural. This is by no means a unique concept for a video game, but it is interesting that the people they chose to be monsters include a doctor, a prison guard, and a priest.
This essay ain’t about them, though. This essay is about Zack.
I’ve mentioned more than once that Zack Foster is my favorite fictional character. I could probably write an analysis of his character from just about any angle you can come up with (except one), but today I’ll be talking about how he fits into the overall theme of abusive power structures and how they sustain themselves.
In order for abuse to continue, you need an abuser, a victim, and someone to enables the abuser. In the most simplistic terms possible within the setting of Angels of Death, Gray, Danny, and Cathy are abusers, Zack and Ray are victims, and Eddie is an enabler. There is overlap, of course (Danny manages to be all three because he’s a Very Special Boy), but that’s enough for the purposes of this essay.
Zack has been a victim of abuse his entire life. Even before he was set on fire and sold to human traffickers, the dismissive way he refers to his mother implies she was at least somewhat dismissive of him. Of course, it’s been a long enough time since he’s seen her that it’s equally likely he’s simply come to terms with her abandonment of him and has decided to let go of any resentment he may or may not have felt toward her, which is one of those fun “who could say” areas of interpretation that make him such a fun character to analyze.
Regardless, the primary goal of abusers is to make their victims feel powerless so they can control them. As soon as Zack discovered that he’s not powerless, he decided to make damn sure everyone else knew it to, and that he wouldn’t allow himself to be controlled. He flat out states that he targets people who look happy, but in addition to that it’s no coincidence that most of his victims we see (in the manga and anime, at least. With few exceptions, anyone in the game who isn’t part of the main cast just looks like a silhouette, but that doesn’t support my point so I’m electing to ignore it) are presumably middle-class white people roughly between the ages of 25-45; i.e., people who vaguely resemble 1) the guy who set him on fire; 2) the human traffickers; and 3) the couple that murdered the blind grandpa. They also represent The Majority in the United States, but since this is Anime United States, which doesn’t look much like Real World United States, I won’t get into it (today).
These are all people who laughed while he suffered, which is why he targets happy people. This is one of those things that is more or less explicitly stated within the text of the story so I’ll forgive you for not being blown away by my expert analysis. Point being, Zack is basically an avatar for the rage and resentment the abused often feel toward their abusers. He refers to himself as a monster, but hates being treated like one. When treated with humanity, he generally responds in kind to the best of his ability. When he receives the support of a fellow victim with whom he can share his trauma, he becomes strong enough to both barrel though his greatest fear unharmed and even slice through iron, because Angels of Death is about as subtle as Zack is.
In short, Zack resembles the rage and resentment abuse victims feel, and the catharsis of somehow managing being able to get one over on their abusers. Most would hopefully do so by finding a way to escape and find the help they need to recover and eventually thrive, but anger and resentment are valid emotions to feel following years of prolonged mistreatment and it’s fun to have an outlet for them in the form of a shouty mummy boy.