Angel Beats! is like a house of cards being built by someone who gets easily frustrated; a good idea, but by the end it all falls apart because it just never stays still. As a concept, Angel Beats! is something new with the whole purgatory/afterlife-school thing, and that could have worked, but it doesn't get very far with it. It just doesn't seem to lift itself off the ground that much.
A major problem with Angel Beats! is that we as an audience are supposed to accept things without any clarifying statements. In fact, that's the first thing that comes up in the series. Otonashi asks where he is and then Yuri says that it's the afterlife, and we're just supposed to accept that fact. Otonashi doesn't at first, so why should we? And he only buys it after he gets killed and still finds himself there after it happened, which is also kind of bullshit. I mean, what if everyone just has the powers of the immortals from Baccano!? The whole purgatory/afterlife thing doesn't get properly explained until episode 3 when they explain how someone actually died. That's just one thing that they want you to accept right away, there are many more things that they want people to accept right away without explaining it, either right away or ever.
Another problem with the story aspect of it is it's all over the place. It can't seem to take an idea and stick with it. The only thing consistent about the setting is that it takes place in and purgatorial-afterlife and people can be killed and not die. Anything beyond that, the creators play around with like Legos. Now, playing around with an idea to see how it works in different ways is not a bad way to make things, but this only makes sense if one set-up and another set-up are two different entities and not two episodes apart in the same thing. This problem also causes a numerous amount of plot holes though out the series. I'm not exaggerating much when I say there is a plot hole in just about every other episode. That doesn't seem like a point in its favor.
A final complaint I have about the story is that they switch out villains in a similar fashion that an indecisive girl switches out dresses on the eve of her first date. For most of the series, the villain is Tenshi, and that worked just fine, but it's another person and then something else and then another thing, and the villain at the end of the series is unexpected, but not in the good way. They're not predicable because you'd have to have created the thing to accurately predict it. And the business with the other villains just seems to be unnecessary padding, without making any sense.
The story overall is the weakest point of Angel Beats! The ideas are solid, it has some nice character moments (which I'll mention later), and whenever they can stray away from the plot and just do random things is always nice, but the plot is just dumb and confusing, and can't just pick something and stick with it. It wants to goof around and yet wants us to take it seriously, another it wants us to do without any explanation as to why.
The cast of Angel Beats! is functional, if uninteresting. The main character, Otonashi plays the straight man and is very similar to Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. In fact, these characters are so similar, you could be forgiven for thinking that he's just Kyon with orange hair and a back story. I do like this character though, because he's smart, rational and the only one who doesn't usually want to go along with Yuri's plans. I also like his back story very much. It has some nice moments of characterization for him, and it turns him into a solid likeable character, unlike his counterpoint, Yuri, who is not solid or at all likeable. She's a combination of Haruhi from TMoHS and Medusa from Soul Eater. She has the insane ideas and bossiness of Haruhi, but the cunning and compassion of Medusa. She doesn't seem to respect, or even like anyone else in the cast and just thinks of her teammates as pawns. Her ideas and bossiness that are similar to that of Haruhi are undermined by the fact that Haruhi could get away with it because she's practically God and Yuri doesn't have that excuse, so it just come across as stupid and annoying. The funniest thing about Yuri is that we're supposed to sympathize with her, but her back story is so overly dramatic that I have to call it into question. She would have made an alright villain, but as a hero, she's not a very good character.
Tenshi is a pretty good character on either side of the spectrum. I like the back story for her that takes place in the afterlife, as well as her general attitude, but then again, I'm a sucker for those types of characters. The other character I hate in Angel Beats! is Yui. She's like Renge from Ouran but with nothing actually fun about her, so she's just loud and obnoxious for most of her screen time. Her back story's alright though. It does explain why she's the way she is, but explaining it is not the same as excusing it. The rest of the cast ranges from OK to pretty good. Most, if not, all the cast is is just a cookie-cutter representation of an archetype usually found in secondary characters. Which is not to say they're bad, but it does weaken the cast severely. Still, the moments with them are mostly enjoyable, the back stories they actually explain are interesting and they would be pretty cool on their own if it wasn't for the fact that there's a story going on that takes away from it all.
The art and soundtrack are excellent, but both do suffer minor problems; re-hashing scenes and the end theme respectively. However, both are still really good. The art is very impressive. It does have the shiny quality about it that a lot of newer anime has, but it actually experiments with how to perfect it and how it looks in different types of shading and camera angles. The music does a good job matching the mood the story is trying to portray, whether successfully or not, and it's very enjoyable. Especially that opening. I didn't like it that much when I first heard it, but it just grows on you. The dubbed cast is actually pretty good at their roles. I don't think anyone is miscast and they seem to enjoy it. Bottom line, the production values were not wasted when making Angel Beats!. It's just a shame that a chunk of it was.
Overall: Angel Beats! has a good foundation to it, but uses toothpicks for support beams , and the overall design of the building is sloppy at best. It's an anime that plays by its own rules, and doesn't know what the hell they are. I can understand why people like it, and maybe why people would love it, but I don't really agree with it. The whole thing is just not structurally sound. It was fun to watch in some places, and I could recommend it, but for the most part, it puts style over substance and just doesn't have the right cards to play to make itself fantastic. 6.3/10