That was probably the deepthest and one of the best anime i've ever seen. Ill even go so far to say that if you didn't slip a single tear in Angel beats! you have no soul.
And with that, Look at scores. No need to explain further.
The story was excellent, the character development was astounding for such a varied series, and the music was fantastic.
For me, the only thing that can sum up this series is: perfect.
I can't remember why or when I wanted to watch Angel Beats! but I do remember enjoying it quite a bit. If I wanted to watch it, it would probably have been for the animation, as this is a treat for the eyes; it has to be one if not the best anime I've ever seen visual-wise. Everything looks so... polished and different from the usual stuff, like a tiger among cats; sure the cats look good, but that tiger is in a class of it's own who will tear those other cats apart. So, so gorgeous.
The sound is great all-around but I must mention the beautiful OP. I love how the piano doesn't stop, how it can still be heard even when everything else is playing and how the OP doesn't switch to rock or anything heavy that would disturb the piano or the mood it sets. The other instruments and vocal enhance the majesty of it and make it into something wonderful. And the other version is pretty good, not as good as the piano one though. The VO work, especially TK but otherwise, don't have much to say about it. But damn, love it when Angel activates one of her moves through voice command.
The worst thing I can say about this is that I wish there were more backstories to the characters, as only about half have them explained. And it wouldn't do to say who did or didn't get a backstory but I must mention TK; the english speaking (Kinda), bandana wearing dancer. We know nothing about him apart from that he's cool and that nobody knows anything about him (Contradiction? Probably...). It is a shame... but the characters overall were pretty great, each having their quirks, their traits, what makes them different from each other; how they're themselves and no other. Just wanted more to their backstories, more development.
The story was good, pretty good but not excellent. You got the synopsis and the fact that they're essentially immortal; dying is simply a timeout that lasts a short time (You'll learn this early on). But death in this world (To vanish), like death in our world is something completely different than a timeout. It's hard to explain it without giving away too much, but it leads to one of the best aspects of the show, so I'm not going to try. At some parts, I just wanted more. It should have gone on longer than 13 episodes, as the last few episodes seemed... cut up, or not entirely together. Kinda broken up and missing a few components. Coupled with the already mentioned character development stuff, it brings it down. What's there is pretty good, but it's not enough.
A quick note before I wrap this up: what can top the comedy and maybe even TK's coolness is the sad moments, or tragic moments. Some real tearjerkers here.
If it was longer and with more backstories given, especially TK's (I'm repeating this a lot but the backstories are one of the best parts of the anime) then it would be on the top of my list. But what's done is still quite good, and I'll definitely remember it for quite a while.
WoW.. to anyone who stopped watching after the first few episodes I'm sorry you missed out big time. I was a bit turned off by the first three episodes myself, seemed like the anime was going to be just another cut and paste school/silly anime, but it wasn't that long after the end of the third episode that the show took a turn for the serious and really started getting me hooked. By the last episode I was so into the show that I actually watched all thirteen episodes without even stopping to go to the bathroom. It really made you care about the characters and the story was really engaging and even surprising. At times things in the show would take a sudden turn from funny and relaxed to dark and unnerving then thrust into a damn near heroic, heart warming scene.
This is a real hidden gem and I recommend this one big time, don't let the first three episodes fool you, this anime has quite the good story to it. It will really make you care about the characters which is very rare for an anime that starts out the way this one does. Hell I'm a demon and even I had the urge to cry at the end of this one.
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.