The story is largely predictable though still enjoyable. For me the strength of the show was the comedy aspects and the many interesting characters. However, half the episodes take a more serious tone and for drama fans this is fine, but wasn't that it enjoyable for me. Animation and music were solid.
Overall, a very enjoyable show to watch but nothing special.
Being a big fan of KEY works, when i heard about them working on a new anime, i squealed like a little girl. Story and character designs all done by Key? Oh boy, what could go wrong?
Well, quite alot apparently. Despite the remarkable potential this show has to be another beautiful heart wrenching tale, it serves only to tease Key fans with its premise but never really realises its potential fully.
Now, before you rabid fans come to tear me a new hole at the miserable score, trust me, i really wanted to give this a high score. But just give me a few minutes of your time and read the rest of the review, because im about to explain why this anime just doesnt quite make the cut.
Story - 6/10
Before i get into the story, let us talk about the setting of Angel Beats.
When i was first thrown into the world of Angel Beats, it was a moment of confusion and awkwardness. There were high school chicks running around with firearms, a guy with an axe, NPCs, an angel, an organisation meant to go against the angel, some girl band concert and talks about being in the afterlife.
And to be frank, this was one of those settings that are pretty hard to swallow the first time you see it. And this awkwardness never really goes away throughout much of the show.
Pictured: First episode of Angel Beats where a teenage girl wearing a high school uniform is holding a CheyTac Intervention bolt action rifle taking aim at an angel in the schoolgrounds, all while explaining that they are working in an organisation in purgatory wth the sole mission to defy god.
So yes, the setting of Angel Beats doesnt have much of a slice of life feel to it like other Key works like Air or Kanon. And yes, i know both Air and Kanon have supernatural aspects to them, but they both thread on the fine line seperating reality and fiction pretty well. Angel Beats on the other hand, Usain Bolted through that line and never stopped sprinting.
But really, this didnt matter much to me. Why? Because its made by Key. Im sure, that buried within all this absurdness is a beautifully crafted storyline, made so that it would fit just right into the mind blowing setting and everything would eventually fall into place. Was i right? Well, im happy to say that the answer is yes. I was indeed correct. So what went wrong? Well im sorry to say, for those of you who read my other reviews, Angel Beats suffered the same problem as Elfen Lied.
Too much unnecessary garbage that gets in the way of the story.
The story of Angel Beats is about a young man, Otonashi, who found himself in purgatory with no memories of who he is when he was still alive. There, he finds out and is enlisted into an organisation(SSS) doing battle with god. Members of the organisation were those who led miserable lifes due to events that were out of their control, hence they all harboured hate for god. They express their hatred by doing battle with the angel whom is believed to be god's ally, sent to erase them from existence.
All this is of course, only the tip of the iceberg. The story elaborates further on various plot twists such as the identity and mission of the angel, tragic backstories and much more. Sadly, I cant go on any further without this review being spoiler free.
So despite its absurd setting, this show is actually quite "Slice of Life" as the recollections of the character's time when they were still alive are relatable enough for us to feel sympathy for them.
Now lets get back to my previous italic point:
Too much unnecessary garbage that gets in the way of the story.
Im gonna be direct here. This show never really gets into the good part of the story until about 3/4s through. I am dead serious.
There are a couple enjoyable moments(And literally, i mean couple.) littered throughout the first eight, but thats it. This means that my positive opinion on this show is only based on the last few episodes. So giving this a 6/10 is being extremely generous if you ask me.
Just who is the angel? What are her motives? Why are they here? All this questions do get answered, but got pushed away far too long. For the first 8 episodes of the show, all we get are fights, fights and more fights. All this are mixed in with meaningless terms such as harmonics and programming. The show tells us how the SSS forge their weapons, how they conduct their missions to oppose the angel and other meaningless crap no one watching a Key anime would give a flying f*ck about. When i was watching this, all i wanted to know was one thing, when are they gonna advance the story?
And when the show really started to take a different turn in direction(about episode 9-10), thats where things got really good....And then it went back to being sucky again. Yes thats right, after finally doing something good for like a couple of episodes, they took another 180 degrees turn and turned back to battling bullsh*t and an end boss that has never been mentioned throughout the whole show who i dont even know why exists.
Actually, i do know why it exists. Its an obviously cheap attempt to simultaneously solve the problems of all chracters(No matter how serious) with a final crisis and bring a quick closure to the show.
Many is gonna argue with me. Saying stuff like "The earlier episodes introduces and familiarises you to the characters." and stuff like that. But thats nonsense to me because there are waay better ways to approaching this kind of things than the crap they pulled here. Plus if the main plot is hindered by the introduction of too many meaningless characters than there is really no point in having the characters in the first place.
The ending though, is surprisingly good and a send off too generous for the rest of this show. Seriously, its actually alot better than After Story's lousy Deus Ex machina bullsh*t. Though Angel Beats is guilty of the same thing with that final crisis thing, the final episode was enough to keep me entertained. Maybe because the 180 degrees turn wasnt as abrupt and there was a neat revelation in the last episode.
Which finally brings us to our next point about characters.
Characters - 5/10
Im gonna try to be brief here because most of you are probably already suffering from eye strain reading the story section. Basically, the main problems are:
1. Too many sucky characters that should not exist
2. Those that should exist arent fleshed out enough due to their screentime taken by those that should not exist, making them kinda sucky.
What a miserable cycle to be trapped in.
Anyway, like my other reviews, time to elaborate on the major characters one by one.
The main character of Angel Beats. And a pretty good one at that. Otonashi found himself thrown into purgatory with no memories of how he died or anything at all from when he was still alive. He eventually joined the SSS to aid them in combating the Angel, though he never really had the motivation for destroying her.
His backstory is the most fleshed out out of the rest and hence, is the one we can relate to and sympathise with the most. This makes him the most interesting character in the show which is rightfully so as he is the main character after all.
Despite all this however, he could definitely still use more time for his backstory to further improve on it.
Leader and founder of the SSS. Yuri bears a striking resemblance to Haruhi Suzumiya. Headstrong, stubborn and individualistic. Her cruel and tragic life motivated her to form the organisation to go against god.
Her story also needs more fleshing out, as her flashbacks are waay too brief even though they do manage to get the point across.
Member of the SSS. A carefree character who usually acts as comic relief, but with an equally sad life. Overall he is quite a likable character, but his story really needs to be talked about more. His relationship with Yui is also one of his most lovable aspects as a character.
Part of the band that distracts the angel during the SSS's missions. Inititally, i thought she was just another one of those worthless characters that serves little to no purpose, all while being the annoying noisy type she was.
Boy was i wrong. In fact, she is one of the highlights of this show. Her backstory is effectively elaborated to great effect, and her uh.."arc" is the main turning point of this show. Great job Yui, i think you deserve one of my
Enemy of the SSS. Her purpose is believed to be the erasure of all SSS members. Her appearance is that of a little white haired girl, which is why Otonashi is reluctant to harm her.
Like the other main characters, she does possess a more interesting personality that is never really shown until the end. In the end, she is a likable character, but like the rest, is a tease to what this show could truly have been.
Another enemy of the SSS, operating individually from the angel. He is a cold and merciless guy, but changes troughout the story, though abit abruptly if you ask me.
Same deal as the other ain characters, too little of him is touched upon.
They can go f*ck themselves.
As you can see. The main chracters are actually quite good, and has the potential to be alot more. Though they never really manage to do it. One way to fix this is to give arcs to each character like in Keys other shows. But instead the characters were touched too briefly on. Due to this, alot of their relationships felt rushed as characters tend to change their attitude towards someone abruptly.
What i want is to be able to spend more time with these chracters because i like them, but cant due to a combination of the existence of crap characters and having only 13 episodes. Doesnt help either that throughout most of the show, we remain ignorant on how deep this characters truly are, as they are engaged in meaningless events that dont really tell us much about them except for their personality.
The rest arent even worth my time.
Animation - 7/10
Im gonna be brief, not too much of the kind of person that cares much about technical presentation outside of pure action shows.
The animation is pretty good, fight scenes are pretty fluent and characters are animated believably and nicely. Though i believe the fight scenes are way overdone for a show like this, at least they are made well.
Sound - 8/10
The opening theme and ending theme is really good, plus the music help suits the mood in the more emotional moments. Its a pity there arent more of this moments.
Overall - 6/10
Angel Beats has the potential to be the best Key anime. And you can really see and feel the potential the series has towards the end. The setting starts to make sense, characters start becoming interesting, and more. But sadly, it ends up as nothing more than a tease to fans.
Dont expect much of a Keys heart wrenching story here. Sure, the show will try tugging at your heart strings, but will never actually suceed due to us not knowing the characters well enough to do so. However this show isnt completely devoid of any reason to watch it, if you think of it as a "Lite" Key anime with action elements, then you could quite possibly enjoy yourself.
Key never disappoints me. It is very different from the other anime from them, and it was a good change. It had a lot of action which shows like Kanon, Air and Clannad didn't have. Despite that, it still had the drama you would expect from the people who made those previously mentioned. I thought the show was absolutely hilarious. I can't say that with many animes. I just love the delivery. I think that's what made the humor so great. It's a little odd. An anime that I thought was so funny, was also so sad. I thought they did a great job, pulling both of those together in this show. It was great from beginning to end, and the ending... it probably one of the most memorable. I can't wait until it is released where I live. This is something I will definitely want to purchase.
Story: Apart from a few "hmm, that's the best they could come up with?" moments, the story is perfectly fine. While some explanations were exceedingly cheesy, each plot twist is so emotional so well executed that you almost forget that the actual twist is not very good.
The pacing of the plot is inconsistent, being very good until the ending, at which point the plot accelerates considerably. This is negligible, however, as everything is explained before the viewer has a chance to get too worked-up.
As for the ending, all I can say is that you MUST watch past the credits. After the ending and the credits rolled, I was left in a state of shock and confusion, very much like the ending to Berserk. However, I decided to see if there was anything after the credits and, sure enough, there laid the true ending.
Animation: As you probably saw from the screenshots, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. Everything from the character designs to the minor scenery details is perfect. For the scenes in which the GirlsDeMo are playing, the lights and busy-ness of the scene does not take attention from the details: the guitar players' fingers are using real chord shapes, many of the amps have Marshall on them, and the singer even has to draw a breath every now and then.
The character designs were especially good, and the symbolism which accompanied Kanade's was a nice touch. Hair styles were fashionable yet unique, very much unlike many of the anime I've seen in which the only was to distinguish between female characters is by their hair color.
Sound: Opening and closing themes for the show were everything you would expect: well-produced, catchy j-rock. While there was nothing unique about them, the music was all too appropriate and well-executed. The singing from Yui and Iwasawa was excellent, and the acoustic ballad from Iwasawa was interesting and is one of the more memorable moments of the show.
The voice acting was great from every character, but only one character really stood out for me in that department: TK was absolutely hilarious. His random, nonsensical English phrases added to the spontaneous atmosphere of many of the fight scenes.
Sound effects were appropriate and excellent, and the same may be said for the background music. Never obnoxious, the music elevated the intensity, the drama, or the comedy of each particular scene very well.
Characters: I've never been one to judge a show's characters solely on their development, but while Angel Beats! lasted only 13 episodes, the character development is extensive. The transformation from the beginning of the series to the end is vital to the plot, but the show does well to not have development for the sake of a character changing.
Otonashi is the main character, and while he is far from the funniest or most exciting, the viewer becomes very attached to him. In the beginning, an attraction between Yuri and Otonashi becomes apparent, yet this is misleading. Those kind of interesting character interactions are not commonplace in Angel Beats!, and the show relies somewhat on the unique characters to compensate.
Some characters were heavily borrowed from other shows, and the similarity is usually obvious. For example, Shiina's similarity to Saeko from Highschool of the Dead. However, significant differences are always added, such as Shiina's love for cute things.
Overall: Angel Beats! is an excellent show, and to anyone who enjoyed Clannad or K-On!, you will thoroughly enjoy it. Although not flawless, the execution and creativity more than compensates and makes for a fantastic show.
I wrestled for a while as to whether I should write a review for Angel Beats, but my egotistical side finally won over with the argument that there isn't enough hate for the series despite how appallingly badly-written it is. For those that have watched it and disagree, I can prepare concise, whiny little nit-picky writeup for you. This review, however, shall attempt to contain as few spoilers as possible, and as such, will not be viable for debates in detail.
Angel Beats feels like an anime that messed around with many popular elements of recent anime before Key remembered that they do heart-warming love dramas best, and changed gears right at the end, effectively stamping a bit fat "cop out" right where the word "fin" is usually found in long cursive. They even managed to include an all-girl rock band, having evidently eyed the successes of Haruhi and K-ON, whose sole purpose is providing distractions I'm not convinced were ever needed in any of the given plot situations. The prevalent themes are comedy, action, fantasy, and the after-life,
The story revolves around a group of dead teens who all led unfulfilling lives, now in a pseudo-purgatory high school filled with "NPCs", as the show itself describes. The group has established themselves as rebels, owing to the fact that anyone who diligently goes to class and studies hard like the rest of the NPCs will disappear from the world that they're in. "Oh!" sayeth I, "that's an interesting parallel to social conformity and disappearing into the ranks of social mediocrity!" But then it's revealed that 'disappearing' actually means moving on to your next life, and one way to do that is to be at peace with your past life and fulfilling any regrets you had. "Oh!", again sayeth I "So it's actually about forcing individuals to confront their unresolved pasts before they can move on to start afresh," which worked well with the fact that no one in this afterlife can die and take the easy way out. But then the series realized it had only 13 episodes and more than twice that number of characters, so they promptly struck off 80% of them with an arbitrary 'they all lived happily ever after!' and proceeded to draft a quick friendship and love drama involving the remaining cast. It was around this time that I began my attempts to forcibly integrate my head with my bedroom door.
The disappointing and schizophrenic story focus aside, the plot has more holes than your average pin cushion. Case in point: the first question I asked myself in the very first scene involving the protagonist and a red-haired girl holding a sniper rifle was "if this is some purgatory-esque world, where did she get that gun from?" The second episode immediately jumped to answer my question, revealing that half the rebel group was underground and tasked with making weapons in this cool-looking factory town, which then got blown up in the course of the episode, but all is well because they can apparently create anything they want by breathing life into dirt with the proper knowledge. Which, in my books, puts them 2 steps away from being God. Despite this, the rebel group seems to have to rely on pulling off big operations involving their rock band, a group of armed-fighters, and access to the school's windows and fans to steal the NPC students' meal tickets to get their food. Which I assume they don't really need since they can't die (again), and any of them who took home-ec classes should've been able to make food from the dirt on-hand. So what, teens have the knowledge to produce weapons, but not a bowl of rice? Or does dirt and sustenance just not mix as well as dirt and sniper rifles?
Towards the end there were just so many inconsistencies and ludicrous premises that the show expected me to just accept, like so much barbed wire wrapped 'round a suppository, I had one hand on my face at all times during the final episodes. At the risk of spoiling the ending, how is it that no one questions how Kanade ended up in 'Purgatory High' before our dear protagonist? Long enough for her to become acquainted with that little power-granting software and to become a permanent figure of antagonism for the rebel group, I might add. Even assuming she stepped out of the hospital after the operation and promptly got run over by a passing truck, the time line just doesn't add up. While I'm here, I might as well point out that the series title only makes sense (from a japlish stand point) right at the end, which is cause for concern since the ending was one of the worst-written parts of the entire anime. Maybe they thought that if they tied it to the title, it might seem that the ending had been planned like that all along.
Everything else I haven't mentioned is more or less just the cast tottering about comical and action sequences with only slight consequence to the overall story. They spread it out nicely across all 13 episodes, mixed in with the drama and plot twists, but for me, it just didn't quite come together, like trying to mix lime cordial with Bailey's Irish Cream. Maybe it's because the humor always held the stench of main stream slapstick-ness, whereas I was expecting a more tragically-ironic undertone given the characters' daunting pasts.
In summary, 2 points for the interesting premises that got shoved in a shoebox and abandoned in the rain, and 1 for the guitarist mini-arc in episode 3 which I connected with, somewhat. I also enjoyed some of the other characters' pasts, but that was the one that stood out for me.
Some might argue that the cast was too big for a 13 episode series, but I myself believed they could have worked with it. The varied cast, despite its share of cliches and clones, gave diversity to the group and allowed for various situations and interactions. It was also an intriguing notion to have all of them share horrible pasts, creating much potential for close bonding in this here School for the Tragically Deceased. Yet, the show's insistence on complete resolution gave no room for the characters to shine past their designated character sheet traits. Honestly, if the premise hadn't established that all of them had problematic childhoods, I wouldn't have guessed as much because the writers don't seem to know how to drop subtle hints into the characters' actions. It's worth mentioning that fleshing out characters doesn't always have to include detailed flashbacks with narrations - something the writers seem bent on pushing.
Even the main characters who were lucky enough to get back-stories didn't quite seem to match their pasts in depth or personality. Strangely enough, the 3 I thought fit their pasts best were Yuri, Yui, and Iwasawa - all of whom have pink hair (Yuri a bit more red-ish). The main protagonist Otonashi also did well in this respect, and I can safely say he had the most character growth from start to finish, coming to terms with the state of their purgatory as well as his own past. His actions contribute the most to move the story along (the rest being contributed by Yuri), though it would've been nice to see the other characters do so for a change.
Moderately strong lead characters, decent development for lead male, but burdened by disappointingly flat and unoriginal characters. There was a lot of wasted potential in this area. If it feels like this section is disappointingly short, you've gotten the gist of my opinion of it.
The overall theme for Angel Beats' music seems to be minimalism. Most songs and tracks don't seem to use more than 4 different instruments at a time, and usually have but a single recurring motif played by one lead instrument. Throughout the series, the music often suffers from confidence issues, like it's afraid to step out into the spotlight for fear of stepping on Mister Character Dialogue's toes. A couple of tracks still manage to make their presence known and recognized though.
The opening song, sung by Lia who also did some work for Air and Clannad, took a listen or two to grow on me. The piano riff that starts the song off with is short, and has a insistent quality to it, being repeated four times, the latter 2 having a 'pause and finish' variation, if that makes any sense. As it enters the verse, the piano stays forceful, but becomes scattered and erratic, giving tense and contrasting punctuations to Lia's subdued singing. I thought this fit well with the world's initial feel and premise, appearing normal from the front, but with obvious tension and inconsistency present. One could argue this as a statement on the tragic pasts of the characters as well. The chorus then picks up with a symphony of strings backing the emotional updraft, and the vocal melody begins to soar higher, though never quite reaching a conclusive cadence. This rising melody is repeated over and over with that same insistence of the original riff, giving the impression of someone straining to reach a goal with a deep sense of longing. The song then closes by returning to the opening piano riff, this time doubled by Lia's vocals. The insistent repetition of that short conclusive musical statement seems to have tamed and convinced the vocal line, bringing it to the conclusion it sought in the chorus. This can be a loose parallel to Yuri's refusal to follow purgatory's rules to move on, but finally accepting them at the end.
Wow, that's a lot of psychobabble for just the opening song. Let's see if I can shorten the ending song write-up.
The ending song is sung by, surprise surprise, the voice behind Cowboy Bebop's Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV (yeah, typing her full name out isn't helping the paragraph length..) The vocals continue through the entire song pretty evenly, with only momentary pauses, and never seems to stray too far up or down the musical stave, lending a sort of strolling feel to the song. It starts with just an acoustic guitar and the vocal melody walking along hand-in-hand, joined by a different instrument after each passage. First percussions, followed by a piano, then a string section as the percussions drop out. During this phrase, the song seems to hang in the air for a bit, before being pushed off again by a chorus of instruments (emphasis on a strong drum beat) and a vocal harmony. I felt it matched the ending animation well, which showed Yuri walking alone down a path bathed in the light of a sunset, being joined by the rest of the cast one by one. It was also used to great comedic effect during the exam episode.
Not done yet - There's still Girls Dead Monster, the all-girl rock band discussed in the story section.
Despite my disapproval of its presence in the plot, I find the band's songs oddly compelling. Then again, I find a lot of music interesting. My main problem with their songs is that from section to section, there's usually a coherence problem between the various parts of their songs. By that I mean the passages don't flow well together, mostly due to some jarring key changes or unexpected progressions, but sometimes the vocal melody will drop the coherence ball as well. This usually leads to songs being a bit difficult to listen to, especially the first time around. Yet the band holds all the vibrance and energy that a young and budding rock band typically would. Chord progressions do their best to challenge the traditional mold and avoid predictability, even though this leads to the listener being a bit more hard-pressed to follow, and the band adds quite a few energetic checks and stops in unexpected places. The band's rhythm section, especially the drums, has a tendency to play out a lot - almost rebelliously so. It feels almost frenetic the way they churn out their runs and fills, but this does a good job of adding to that vibrance I mentioned earlier. A lot of real world musicians who fill these roles often see this sort of playing as a mark of immaturity as it doesn't usually serve the song better as a whole. Yet, the musicianship is good, and overall, its not unlike how my current band plays. I always have problems with coherence in my songwriting as well, so to say that I connect with their songs is a bit of an understatement.
I'm not a great judge of voice acting, and for the most part all the actors seem to do well in playing their characters. Then again, it's pretty rare that I come across a poorly-voiced character. Maybe if I lobotomize myself with a nearby pencil and decide to watch a dub. With that said, I will entertain 1 more gripe and 1 more gush, starting with the latter. The final chords strummed by Iwasawa in episode 3 were well-chosen, but the very last chord could be argued as feeling too 'unfinished' given the situation. Almost like the swan song of someone who didn't get to fulfill all their desires. But that's the sort of controversial flavor I enjoy, so it's all good. And for my gripe, I would have to say that Yui's singing voice felt too far removed from her character for my liking. In comparison, the cast of Lucky Star and Hidamari Sketch did a good job of singing whilst still holding onto their characters. Maybe it's because it's a different person singing, but I still believe it was doable to portray Yui's personality in her singing.
When I first glimpsed screenshots of this series, my opinion was that the characters looked a bit bland and flat. Coupled with the mandatory uniforms, it was difficult for any of them to stick in my mind. Upon picking up the series though, I have to say that in no way does it seem like a low budget anime at all. Backgrounds are sufficiently varied and detailed, and movements of the characters were never awkward enough to be jarring. Angel Beats is also one of the few animes I've seen in recent times that has absolutely no slips in quality anywhere along the way. Maybe it's due to the short length and simplistic character designs. Either way, the characters and special effects are sharply rendered, and are a delight to behold, and the animators even managed to sneak one or two uncommon viewing angles in (I'm not familiar with the terminology here). That said, there isn't anything groundbreaking or unique about it past the higher quality, so I'd like to think that they started with your standard anime budget, and Mister Animation Department got away with some of the money that was meant for the plot and character departments. That evil money grabbin' bootlicker! Oh, and I'd like to mention that the RPG-esque manner in which the locations would flash across the lower left of the screen was a nice touch.
Before you point out that the average of my given scores is 5/10, let me say that characters and plot form the base of the metaphorical cake that is an anime. Music and animation form the pleasing icing and cream that covers said cake, and therefore have a smaller coefficient in calculating the overall score. Yes? All good? Right.
While I generally don't expect much from the current generation of anime (wow does that makes me sound old and snobbish), Angel Beats just held so much potential that I still managed to feel let down by it. Like a young rising star that succumbed to alcoholism and drug abuse even before emerging onto the major scene. But given the praise and popularity heaped on the series, you could argue that it has managed to make it into the limelight, and that my ramblings are the irrelevant totting of an arrogant putz with his head up his arse. It still wouldn't make Angel Beats a good series.