First things first, I didn’t like Angel Beats!
This is totally crazy, I know. This is the show everyone in the interwebs is drooling over. Surely I must have caught some rogue virus that rots away the parts of the brain that enjoy moe anime. I mean, I don’t like K-ON!! either, so just what is wrong with me? You’d think since I enjoyed Clannad so much this new offering from the same writer would be just as good, or at least have the same amount of impact as its predescessor, right?
Looking back at previous Key series, it turns out I didn’t like Air or Kanon very much, so it should hardly seem surprising that Angel Beats! ended up on the disappointing end of the scale with the rest of them. Why is that? The tried and tested formulas were there: mysterious afterlife world, highschool setting, girls with guns, a bit of fun thrown in the mix with emotional reefs to run aground on, etc etc etc. Oh, and a lead female protagonist who looks like Haruhi. Yup, all the key ingredients were there to satisfy my brain, and by all accounts Angel Beats! should have been win… yet it wasn’t.
Find out why after the jump.
The story begins with Yuzuru Otonashi, a 17 year old (ish) high school student who, upon waking up in an unfamiliar high school campus, quickly realises he has no memory of who he is. Not that this matters to us as viewers as we are quickly distracted by Yuri Nakamura, a 17-ish high school student in a sailor uniform. And she has an enormous gun. First thing you notice with Yuri (or Yurippe), besides the gun, is how familiar she looks… uncannily familiar. Not only does she bear visual similarities to a certain SOS brigade chief, she is also leader of the “Like-Hell-I’m-Dead Battlefront”, a group of high school students bent on causing havoc in the afterlife.
Similarities end at the sailor suit though, as Yurippe is even tempered and a more logical thinker then Haruhi will ever be. Her group consists of a bunch final year high school students who have died with regrets. They quickly explain to Otonashi that everyone, including him, is dead and stuck in this afterlife world where they can play out their high school life as blissfully as they would like. The catch? If you do so you’ll disappear for good in order to be reincarnated. At first Otonashi is indignant; how is it a bad thing to be reincarnated? Because, they explain, reincarnation as a human is not guaranteed. Otanashi, would you like to come back as a sea slug? Yeah, I thought as much. Hence the Battlefront exists to cause as much rucus as possible and not satisfy the rules of the world, and thus not ‘pass on’.
Why the guns, you might ask. Well, to make sure everyone follows the rules, God put an angel in charge of the school, except in this case she doesn’t have wings and is only 5’1″. ‘Angel’, who’s real name is Kanade Tachibana, happens to be the arch enemy of the Battlefront, and complete lolicon bait. Many a website now has zillions of pictures of Angel in various poses (read into that if you dare ^^), despite her being one of the more under developed main characters in the series. Seriously, she has only one facial expression and doesn’t talk any louder then 15 decibels, yet she’s so damn cute…
Anyway! Now we have a Haruhi clone who is more competent then the original, a pint sized girl posing as God’s right hand with overkill stamped onto it, and a bunch of fellas willing to tee it off in a sort of reverse harem scenario. For any other typical moe drudgery it would be game on at this stage, yet fortunately this doesn’t happen with Angel Beats! It was actually surprising how little focus the story gave to the whole school life dynamic despite its cliché academic setting. At the start of the anime this was a good thing, but it actually turned out to be a problem as the story progressed. Allow me to explain.
We don’t really notice it, but by having a bit of grounding in the daily regimen of going to school effectively relieves the need for the plot to include details about the world in which its set. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya pulled it off perfectly by immersing the viewer into the world in which the characters lived. The same goes for Clannad, yet unfortunately the afterlife world of Angel Beats! just ignores this requirement. What remains is an acute sense that the characters are isolated from the events happening around them. It has occurred to me that this may be on purpose, but in my opinion it leaves an unfinished, hollow feel to the entire plot.
Continuing on with that whole hollow feeling, huge amounts of time pass throughout and between each episode, effectively removing any immersion you may get from watching the series. Unfortunately the same can be said for character development, with minor characters passing through so fast that we barely get to know them before they zoom off. The end result is a story really lacking in oomph and vigor. Not even the cute Kanade’s overkill programs can make up for that.
Having said that, there are plenty of moments in the series which were really good, and by good I mean awesomely good. Because of the afterlife setting, certain episodes go back and dwell on the main characters’ life before death, and the reasons why they are now in limbo. These episodes are well crafted with a fair amount of humour and Key’s signature heart-tearing moments. Depending on the character, this could range from losing all senses and being bed ridden, to having their entire family brutally murdered. This back story then ties into a current situation in the afterlife, often linking nicely together some plot elements with a character, for example the reason behind Otonashi’s memory loss. If only then there could have been more then 13 episodes in total, because towards the end it was like the entire series was on perpetual fast forward.
So why wasn’t Angel Beats! as win as I thought it was going to be? Sure, Yurippe is cute and the art style is really good, but the small total number of episodes resulted in a story that lacked execution and at times felt rushed. In my opinion, if the writers spent more time expanding on the plot and characters as opposed to pointless gunfights, this would have improved the flow from episode to episode greatly. If I compare it to other Key stories, Angel Beats! doesn’t rank as high as Clannad, however I would recommend it over Air and Kanon hands down. If you are up for something a little different from the normal spread of fanservicey style anime per season, then give Angel Beats! a shot.