Angel Beats!

Title: Angel Beats!
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Company: P.A. Works
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 3 Apr 2010 – 26 Jun 2010

Synopsis: Otonashi Yuzuru wakes up one night in the middle of an unfamiliar school with no memories other than his name. He is met by a girl holding a large sniper rifle, Nakamura Yuri, who tells him that he’s dead, this is the afterlife and that she leads a guerilla group fighting against fate, God and the controller of this world, the student council president who they call “Tenshi”. Yuri wants Otonashi to join her group (and to help think up a new name for it, as the team originally calling themselves the “Afterlife Battlefront” shortened to the SSS, can’t seem to settle on a decent title), but Otonashi isn’t so convinced and wants to hear Tenshi’s side of the story. Tenshi, however, reciprocates by stabbing Otonashi in the heart…

The Highlights
Comedy: One of the few things that remains consistent.
Aesthetics: Usually glorious, but the character designs can be inconsistent.
Plot: Terribly paced and written; too many plot twists and jarring changes of direction.
Characters: Inconsistent and prone to long bouts of irrelevance… but most are likable.
Sentiment: Heartwarming and genuine; never feels cynical or phony.

Angel Beats! is a bizarre and enigmatic anime, filled with paradoxes. Aesthetically, when it chooses to be, it’s utterly breath-taking but the character designs, generally the most emphasized visual element of a series like this, are often inconsistent. It borrows elements from a line-up of other popular anime, yet it exudes a feel that’s genuinely individual. Its plot is completely haphazard and the writing is (I won’t mince words) terrible, yet it still manages to be so sentimental. I honestly don’t see any hint of cynicism from this series. It’s clumsy and often poorly executed, but I have no reason to doubt its earnestness. For an anime so flawed, Angel Beats! always tries hard, and (ironically) has its heart in the right place.

An anime original written by Key ornament Maeda Jun, Angel Beats! is a massive departure from Maeda’s usual works. While most Key series deal with their signature mix of romance and drama leading up to one (or many) deaths, Angel Beats! is set in a post-death purgatory and the romance (and also to a fair extent, the drama) are very much suppressed. Comedy and mystery are the order of the day. Seto no Hanayome’s director, Kishi Seiji, is completely at home with Angel Beat!’s random flavour of comedy… it’s about the only thing the show executes with consistency. The show loves sequences of repeated jokes and isn’t afraid to make light of the rules that govern death in this morbid afterlife. The SSS regularly find themselves having to “sacrifice” members to navigate booby traps or sabotage exams which result in ridiculous over-the-top death scenes and physical comedy which is kept fresh by little unexpected twists each time.

The mystery, on the other hand, is a mess. The rules of the universe, as we’re introduced to them, are unnecessarily misleading, and the way Yuri shows her understanding (or lack thereof) of the way things work makes her unintentionally suspicious. New questions crop up almost every episode and the answers come approximately one episode later and seemingly from the gusty garden galaxy. Many of the plot-driven conflicts end up being little more than meaningless diversions, created by misunderstanding and there’s only two cases where characters act even remotely sinister, the first of which results in repentance and a reversal and the second of which is a plot device. The pacing is haphazard and the regular plot twists means that the direction changes almost by the episode. Sure, it makes for an unpredictable experience, but it also makes for an incoherent one.

Every now and then the show will dedicate an episode to a character, and we really ought to have had more episodes like these ones, since this is where Angel Beats! is at its most heart-warming and dramatic. After Otonashi’s realization about two-thirds of the way through, I thought an emphasis on the characters was going to be the order of the day for the rest of the series, but that wasn’t to be, seeing as how Angel Beats! evidently can’t hold the same tone for more than an episode. While I wouldn’t say the execution was superb even in its sentimental moments, we at least get some insight into the characters and some rather socially and philosophically relevant (if didactic) messages on organ donation, caring for the sick and, on a higher level, finding your place in life and rebelling against God.

I adored the ending. The final episode almost seemed detached from the rest of the show with the characters behaving vastly differently and a relaxed tempo in a story that otherwise acted strapped for time. But the finale itself was so romantic and overflowing with genuine emotion thanks to a good plot twist (arguably one the show’s few) delivered with punch. It was a fitting end to a show that was, in spite of its flaws, rewarding overall. Sure, the pacing and script were woefully inconsistent and the show clearly bit off more tuna than it could chew, but the comedy and the likable, heartfelt characters made it worthwhile.

The Rating: 6
6/10

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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