I’ve been thinking a lot about how to open this blog post. I keep coming back to it, on and off, and find no easy answer. Instead of trying to be creative, or be witty, I’m going by the formula and getting straight to the point: I loved Angel Beats. I loved it as much as it was flawed. It had the potential for greatness, for being incredibly memorable, of being one of the best of the year, and instead of being Great, it was Just Okay. When I talked to my friends about this, they all agreed, and once we did some research on the subject, it soon became apparent why this great series was doomed to its non-greatness.
Fact Roll: Angel Beats! is a 2010 anime by Jun Maeda, the man behind the story and music in many of Visual Art’s/Key productions such as Kanon, Air and Clannad. The animation comes courtesy of P.A. Works, whose previous works include CANAAN, True Tears, and the Professor Layton movie. Character design comes from old Jun Maeda collaborator Na-Ga (Little Busters!, Kud Wafter, and the upcoming Rewrite). The director is Seiji Kishi, the man who directed Galaxy Angel Rune, Seto no Hanayome and Tentai Senshi Sunred.
Angel Beats! starts with a High School student who suddenly wakes up with no memories in the middle of a school. He finds a girl there, pointing a sniper rifle at another, distant girl. Sniper Girl tells him he’s dead, and tries to recruit him to her Battlefront of students who are fighting against the girl who represents the God that killed them, the mysterious Angel. Of course, who’d join a girl who’s trying to shoot another girl? So he just up and leaves crazy Sniper Girl and walks to the Angel girl to try and get some sensible answers. The Angel responds that she’s not an Angel, but the Student Council president. She does admit that everyone is dead, though, and mentions that memory loss is common amongst the recently deceased. She then proceeds to create a blade out of thin air and stabs the guy.
The guy does wake up after supposedly getting killed, and after dying a couple of more times (Three in total, for that matter). In the end, the guy, Otonashi, does join Yuri, the Sniper Girl, and her Battlefront, to do battle with the God that gave them that cruel death, even if Yuzuru is just looking for a way to regain his memory.
It’s a great start! Jun Maeda pulls one on everyone by killing all his characters BEFORE the show even starts, instead of turning the death of his characters into Huge Dramatic Events designed to maximize your tear production. Of course, the cast of Angel Beats is dead already, which means that they can get hurt and killed without Huge Dramatic repercussions. The characters can thus engage into some serious physical Action and Comedy without half of the cast kicking the bucket by episode two. Action and Comedy are two of the things that make Angel Beats memorable, after all.
The cast is also quite memorable. Each member of the Afterlife Briged is quirky and interesting (With some exceptions due to them being essentially filler characters), with enough charm and story to make you care, despite all their shortcomings.
And by “shortcomings” I mean the first of those flaws that become apparent halfway through the series: Jun Maeda imagined a huge scope, like his previous Game works; however, there was apparently no way this series could’ve been longer than 1 season. 13 Episodes were just not enough to let all the characters shine on their own, and instead we’re just left with Interesting Personalities and Roles and not enough Interesting Characters.
The plot is intertwined with many of the characters backgrounds: Who they are, and how they ended up in this afterlife school. The show’s pacing is perfectly broken by the episode limit, and instead we get a show that focuses too much on a couple of guys with fast-paced storytelling and not enough of what makes this kind of work shine on its own: Gradual character development.
There are three instances in which this becomes painfully obvious, to the point of effectively hurting the show so much, it loses much of its potential shine. Oddly enough, these three moments take place in the latter part of the show:
Yui passes on to the next life. Hinata just comes out of the blue, confesses and proposes to her in one fell swoop. Of course, there were hints in previous episodes that they were getting closer, but those hints are just enough to make you excited about Hinata pulling a sudden confession with marriage. Instead of saying, “Wow, Hinata, that was very manly of you. You’re awesome!”, you just think “Wait, dude… What?! So you’re in love with her, and she’s in love with you? *confusedface*”. One of the most emotional moments in the series, totally ruined by the lack of character development
Kanade and Otonashi start being totally all over each other. Even though it was horribly obvious from the start that Kanade would be Otonashi’s love interest, it does come out too suddenly
right in the end, when everyone decides to just accept their deaths and pass on. Wasn’t there supposed to be a whole process to go through before being able to pass on? For example, the way Yui passed on. Maybe all these cool characters did go through that process, maybe they didn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the end we barely knew anything about them and in the last episode they just disappears
It is that second half that leaves you with a profound dissatisfaction. Things happen in those episodes: Cool things, emotional things, funny things. But as each episode concludes, you can’t help but think that there is a huge gap, a huge series of moments that was never part of the story. Thus, the series goes down TWO notches, and we all move on to the next one.
The funniest thing is that the staff acknowledges how small this anime is in comparison with its full scope. Heck, the producer said so in an interview! Hence why there are also two manga and one light novel. Unfortunately, this also means that the anime, as a single, unique work, loses much potency.
You should have seen our faces when we finished watching it. They told the story perfectly: “Yeah, this was good… But it felt like it should have been better”.
The moral of the story: If you’re gonna compromise about your creation, make sure that even after the compromise, your work stands proudly on its own.