Angel Beats! started great. The hype-machine was in full force. Angel Beats was probably the anime with the most visibility this last season. But in the end, I don’t know how many people who did not watch it this season will even remember or speak of it in two years’ time. It could’ve been great. It wasn’t.
This series is about people who have died, reached a sort of a high-school purgatory, where they can live their lives as school-students. Otonashi, the main protagonist of the series wakes up without memories, dies to someone referred to as “Angel”(Tenshi), and is pressed into the “Rebels Against Gods” (The “SSS Brigade”). You see, if you live your life as a good school student, you disappear. The members of the brigade, having suffered horrible lives, or deaths they cannot accept, cannot accept the will of God (though it’s not really clear how not going to the next life is going to help… just because it’s doing the opposite of what God wants?).
(This is a “Things I Like” post, and as such covers more my thoughts, and is less focused as an actual bona fide review. There will be a LOT of spoilers in this post.) There are a LOT of things I have to say of the series. Enough to probably cover several posts. So I’ll try to be fairly brief with each of my points, and move from the more general ones to the more specific ones.
In terms of production, this anime is really good. It has really good animation, it has capable voice actors, it has good special effects, and it has a pretty good music. The OP is really neat. It’s on a piano, and it actually sounds good. The series has some singers for an in-series band called “Girls Dead Monster” which is as stupid a name as any, but I suppose they really had to butcher English to get to “Girls DeMo”. The music is pretty neat, but not really connected to the show, and you can really tell Yui’s seiyu is not the one singing her role…
The real downfall of this series is its writing, and pacing, which are pretty terrible. The two issues go hand-in-hand. I can only surmise that the writers for this series had faced one of two possible scenarios:
- They didn’t write the whole series in advance, so each week had to plan what to do next week. This resulted in an episodic jumble when it’s a 13 episode series, so it should’ve been tight. We have the story-line not only not progress in a straight line, but some mixture of storylines that none knows where they are going, or what story-line or even theme they are on.
- The author wrote the series in advance, found out he only had material for 8 episodes’ worth of time, and had to fill the rest with fillers.
The end result is, that this series not only did not maintain its momentum, but its themes, plots, concepts were all over the place, and it’s not like all were done well, they conflicted with one another.
In the beginning, the series was pretty good, and had a deep militaristic-rebel theme, and then it added the “past lives were bad” theme which was pretty touching, and reminded me of Shigofumi. Then we had more comedy and hijinks. But I’m not talking about a comedic moment here, or a comedic moment there, but whole episodes of comedy. They managed to get touching moments into some (like in Eve no Jikan), but it wasn’t really enough. Then we get mystery, the real plague of anime series (I’m planning a post titled “The NGE Effect”), which while we had drops before, get a heavy dose of internally inconsistent crap here. Some hopeful things, and an end which leaves me pretty cold, whereas things have ended better at episode 12 than 13.
That’s a cover of the basic series structure, its “themes”, and that is part of how bad writing manifested, but pacing and specific parts were also quite horrible.
“The Guild“, is the underground facility where weapons are being made for the SSS Brigade (or Front). The path to the place is riddled with traps, and we had each character but Otonashi and Yurippe die in order to help the final two make it to the end. There it truly gets hammered into us, “Why does it matter if they die? They will just stand up later.” which makes their “sacrifices” not really sacrifices. You feel pain, but that’s it. The road to Guild is way too long, and should’ve taken considerably less episode time.
Then, in episode 8 we go to the Guild again. I felt trolled, sort of like how people felt about Endless Eight with Haruhi Suzumiya. This is an episode that totally broke the flow of the series in a manner that could not be repaired. This was an episode that if you’ll watch the whole series in one go you’ll feel wasted, and those who watched week by week felt very disappointed with, seeing as it meant two weeks of waiting for the next significant episode. This was.. inexcusable.
“NPCs and Death“, So, after they get Angel (Kanade) demoted from her role as president of the student council, a sadistic dude called Naoi replaces her, and he kills the SSS members, torturing them. Now, I can get torture and killing still hurts, because they remember the pain (like in that StarGate SG-1 episode where Baal tortures Jack by killing him time and time again), but there’s a serious issue here: If you can’t die and it doesn’t matter when you die on your road to The Guild, or to get the SSS’s objectives (as above), then why does it suddenly matter when they kill you? It shouldn’t.
NPCs are those “characters” who play a role in the world but are not human souls who suffered in the real world. Why do they not harm them? I mean, they’re basically not different from rocks and trees. But they can get excited, they can care and be angry… just like characters in a story. And if so, there is very little real difference between them and you. Admit it.
“Mystery, The Matrix,” Now, the way they shove us a “The Mystery!” into every anime ever (almost) is pretty bad. The mystery here was all over the place. Is there God, where is God, what is this place? “How can we change reality?” It was all done pretty badly, with many questions not answered or not hinted at, or getting ridiculous answers. Episodes 11-12 were pretty much lifted from the second Matrix movie, The Matrix Reloaded, with shadows that “infect” characters and turn them into clones, with their edges being 0’s and 1’s (Agent Smith). “There’s an anomaly within this world.” With finally coming to a room with many computers, and someone telling you their plots, not making a lot of sense, and hearing that in a way you may have been here before. But without the deep symbolism of the Matrix.
On a side-note, God does have a role in this anime, in its absence. Now, we could sit around and discuss the “meaning” hidden underneath. People always try to come up with meanings, with the deeper truth and concept behind a series/movie/book they love. The truth is, there isn’t always something to be found. Sometimes the authors leave things vague on purpose, to support 2-3 possible readings. Sometimes they just leave it open because they have no idea where to go, and they hope if they leave many loose and unrelated theories around, the fans will pick those up, come up with their own theories; and then all the crappy writers have to do is smile enigmatically and not tell us what they had in mind. They had nothing in mind. But still, if you look for anything, the important thing is that there is no God in this world, it’s all up to the people themselves.
“Haruhi Suzumiya”, I’m sorry, to all of you who say the series shouldn’t be compared at all to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, because you are wrong. I am not sure the comparison will tell much, but it should at least be made. I actually think it might be more damning of the series if you find that the comparison is not appropriate. Why? Because the makers of the show had clearly wanted the comparison to be made. Yurippe leads a “Brigade”, they have this badge on their arms, she has a hair-style reminiscent of Haruhi’s, and in some ways her leadership is reminiscent of Haruhi’s. The comparison should be made. Even and perhaps especially if they are nothing alike.
Perhaps the comparison is just there for us to buy into the series, by telling people, “It’s like the Melancholy…”, because Haruhi sells. Studios like selling. The series has a smarter, more listening, more caring about others Haruhi in the form of Yurippe. It could be called “Haruhi Suzumiya from the eyes of a Kyon where Haruhi isn’t a horrible person.” ;-) Last, when Yurippe has the option of becoming the “God” of the world, then you can look at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as an alternate reality where Yurippe had said yes. I find this line of thought amusing.
“Comedy and Tragedy” , The writer should’ve picked one. There are scenes which are really funny, like the part where they get Angel to fail her tests. Repetition is one of the keys to comedy, and they really pull it off. Naoi is really funny at times like when he tells Hinata to think of himself as a toilet paper, to be washed away (via hypnosis). Much of it, like all the treks down to Guild are just stupid and disjointed, and are more fitting for an episode you watch one of every so often without an overarching plot (Such as Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, the main seiyu there being the seiyu of Otonashi).
On the other hand, we have the much stronger part of tragedy. The main way this is achieved is when we are told of the past lives of the different characters. This is almost always very touching. The second part of Otonashi’s past was really quite amazing. This is what the series should’ve done, with us learning a different character’s past in each episode. They should’ve really dedicated episodes 11-12 to this rather than the crap they did.
Overall, this is another place where the lack of thematic cohesion of the series raised its head.
“Plot Holes And Loose Ends“, Seriously, I don’t even know where to begin! From the fact that Otonashi understood what Angel told him when she first told him of her motivations, to him suddenly only understanding it again later, to where is the Principal (Though I think this may be a thematic fit: The Principal’s Office is empty, God is missing), to which NPC the programmer is, to the shared “hallucination” Hinata shares with Yui: There’s no other word to describe that he’s using their past lives to imagine their next. New life, remember? The ending of the series where we have Kanade and Otonashi look the same (probably so we’d recognize them. Still stupid), to the whole not harming NPCs, what happens outside the school.
The list just goes on and on. Don’t do mystery unless you’re willing to put the effort into it, people.
“Character Development, and Tenshi“, This series suffers from what I usually call, “The School Cast Problem”, where there are too many characters, so you don’t get to meet all. We even have some characters who barely have screen time, and a couple with seemingly identical personalities (Halbred-violent and Longsword-violent, as I call them). The biggest issue though is with Kanade, who is one of the poster-girls for the show. Most of the series she’s the enemy fought against, and then we find out some of her motivations and about her personality… and then, nothing.
She plays a plot-role when her personality may switch, which it eventually doesn’t. But after that, all she is is a tactical weapon. She kills the enemies, she doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t create any interest or forward motion in the story… this is horribly botched.
“The Last Episode“, Quite frankly, the last episode should not have happened. The series would’ve been overall better without it. We have Yurippe acting like a generic moe character, Kanade acting shy and fearful.. it’s like their personalities were completely replaced. I’m sorry, but if you mention it inside the episode it doesn’t excuse you. Moreover, it felt like an OVA for the most part. It was filler. The last revelation was somewhat touching, but it was just a botched moment. The series should’ve ended when everyone disappeared.
The last episode also had a chance to change the whole series. You could have had some great revelation in it that’d get us to rethink everything that had happened during the show, understand how it all ties up. Make us sit up and go “Wow!”, but there was no such moment. It was a slow relatively weak episode. Much more-so for the final episode of the series.
“T.K.“, I need to dedicate a special point to T.K., a “mysterious” character who speaks in broken English. His Seiyuu originates from Hawaii, so definitely knows English. As above, the excuse he doesn’t really know English does not excuse this character’s existence. He’s there to spout semi cool-sounding English phrases. He’s basically a “I’m so weird! I’m so cool!” kind of character. They all need to be taken outside and shot.
This series started really strong, but then really really lost its way. It suffered from thematic changes, from lack of cohesion, from lack of internal consistency, from a lack of proper character development. It’d have been better as an 8 episode series. It had a lot of promise, but as it kept going, it kept fizzling.
This series could’ve been wonderful. But it wasn’t.
Score: 5.9/10 squandered promises. This is a 6, but not quite.
Post Script: The series had a lot of really great moments, a few really good episodes. But it didn’t add up to a good show. You could break it into two shows and it’d be better, after you cut some of the crap out. Do I suggest this series to people? It has good things, but it’s far from great. It almost hurts watching this show begin so strong and then make so many blunders.
The show kind of made a sucker out of me; most of its episodes ended with a cliffhanger that really had me hanging to see how they’d resolve it, what was happening. I kept waiting for the next episode. Where things usually took a dumb turn, or just weren’t explained, or a great episode was followed by a mediocre one, or an even flat-out craptastic one. The show drew me in, but didn’t leave me with much.