Another anime I cannot believe I haven’t already reviewed given how many times I’ve used this one as an example. I discussed this in anime using product placement and it is on at least four of my top 5 lists including top 5 anime that made me cry and top 5 anime from P.A. Works.
What is Angel Beats about? Otonashi wakes up and finds himself in a strange school. Nearby him is a girl setting up a gun and taking aim at another girl. The girl informs him he is dead and invites him to join a battlefront in a fight against god. Politely declining the girl’s offer, Otonashi decides to talk to the other girl. It is there he realises that he is in fact dead and he is now in the afterlife.
Angel Beats is one of those anime that you will either completely fall in love with or you will sit and stare at it wondering what the hell it is you are watching. There’s very little room for inbetween given you either love the over the top humour followed by insane action and finally crush your heart drama or you find the whole thing an exercise in emotional manipulation that misses the mark. However, for me Angel Beats is one of those very special anime that I can watch time and again and no matter how many times I see it I laugh, I get excited, and then I end up a teary mess before breaking into that final smile post credits of the last episode (and yes, you have to watch through the credits otherwise you are just going to end up a mess).
It is really hard to explain why I feel this way about Angel Beats though. The characters aren’t exactly riveting with such a large cast and so few episodes to develop them. While you will probably grow attached to Otonashi and Kanade, maybe Yuri if she doesn’t annoy you, and one or two other cast members, the vast majority remain strictly background or one note. This kind of means that a lot of the events later in the series shouldn’t have a lot of impact given the characters are more or less only distinguished by their hair colour, weapon or catch phrase and yet somehow they all manage to charm me in their own way even if I know very little about the bulk of them. Possibly it is because of how little time they get to annoy that they manage to remain charming. I think that given enough time characters like TK could get super annoying.
Despite that, individual character moments are solid. Iwasawa’s moment here we got her back story and then got to see her sing ‘My Song’ was incredibly emotionally wrenching and really consolidated that despite the zany humour, this show was serious about dealing with the themes it brought to the table when it set its story in the afterlife of young people who, for various reasons, never got to live their full lives the first time. This is really the first turning point of the series. A character you were kind of familiar with from the first couple of episodes takes the spot light and then breaks your heart and you finally realise what this show is going for in terms of tone and theme.
Then there is Hinata and Yui. Yui may be an incredibly annoying character, but she still manages to have her moment to shine when we finally see her stripped of all the comedy, frantic energy and distractions. When you realise why she is forging herself into the person she became in the after life and you realise what she’s really trying to achieve it just hits you. The fact that she’s annoyed you every time she’s appeared on screen up to this point kind of fades away and Hinata steps in when Otonashi falters and he manages to give Yui the words she needs to hear at that moment.
And that’s probably the greatest strength of Angel Beats. It knows how to deliver moments. The overall narrative pacing and plot might be a bit of a mess with too many characters and at times too many ideas, but each of those character moments are beautifully spaced throughout the series that each time you think you might want to stop you’ll be hit with something really stunning and unforgettable. What you are left with is a series where the feeling of the whole is significantly greater than most of the individual parts.
Visually Angel Beats is a joy. Sure there are some moments where the characters are off model and the animation isn’t as clean as it might be, but again, the show knows when to put everything on the table and there are those scenes that just take your breath away and they are the ones you will remember after watching. The dramatic moment when the lunch tickets float down to the ground, all the Angel’s recombining, the destruction of the guild, and the graduation sequence are each beautifully delivered and give you a sense of a truly gorgeous show. This is further reinforced by the fabulous music throughout the whole show (and one of the best opening themes of all time).
I’m not going to say everyone should love this. The plot is a bit of a mess and there are definitely a lot of moments that are pure filler or there forced in for a sub-plot that ultimately doesn’t amount to much, and as much as I came to love the characters, there are just too many of them for the show to really do the cast justice. Still, if you watch it through and it reaches you, this show will be the one you reach for when you want to laugh, cry and then smile and just be able to feel something.
As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on Angel Beats so please leave a comment and let me know whether you are in love with the show?
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ANGEL BEATS! 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: KANADE TACHIBANA HAREGI VER.