Angel Beat's presents an unimaginative look into the afterlife and what it means to die with regret. The main story centers around High School students in Purgatory with flashbacks nearly every episode to students' former lives on Earth. A lot of neat ideas are presented here, unfortunately Angel Beats! kept everything at an elementary level. It's because of this rudimentary attitude that keeps the series from outshining other animes that deal with similar topics.
Here's the thing: Angel Beats! tries to be clever and fails. For instance, in Purgatory you can't die. That's a given. However you can still bleed and feel pain. But why have pain if you can't die? This is one of the simpler reasons to come up with that explains why Angel Beats! isn't deep. Or even tries to be for that matter. Not that that's a bad thing, but if you're looking for an intelligent anime, you won't find it here. This series has serious A.D.D. It'll touch something interesting, draw you in, and then drop it like an ugly baby.
It's not until later in the series that the characters really have anything to lose at all. The writers finally present a compelling antagonist for our heroes to do battle with and a half hour later it's all over. In the mad rush to tie up the story, the writers deemed it necessary to add an explosion of information into one episode which still left me with questions. I appreciate the effort, but one or two more episodes wouldn't have hurt.
I wasn't impressed with the animation. The colors were vibrant and the characters were well drawn, but I was still bored with everything that I was looking at. The amount of creativity put into the show's art design was minimal at best. The characters, although well drawn, were dull and uninspired. There were only two times that impressed me animation-wise: the Guild and Angel's guard skills. That's it. Sure, the animations could be bright and sparkly but I couldn't help but feel they were only like that to distract me from the environment. The Guild looked amazing. It's a shame that most of the time I had to sit and look at a classroom.
Angel Beats! receives high marks for me on its sound. Whenever the band performed I knew I was in for a treat. The music that the girls performed was fantastic, especially the ballad. In fact, the music was so good that it distracted me from how pointless it was to have a band playing in the first place. The background music was fitting as well, especially during some of the more emotional moments.
The Japanese voice acting was spot on. The English voice acting was not. Everyone sounded so bored in the dub that I was distracted from the show because I was picturing the voice actors repeating their lines into a microphone without any real clue on how they should be delivering them. I switched to subs after the second episode, which is a real shame considering how many animes have very good English voice actors now-a-days.
In any and all forms of entertainment, the characters need to want something. There are way too many characters in this series that I didn't care about. Angel was the only one that kept my interest because of all the mystery behind her and by the last episode I felt cheated when all of her mystery came to a conclusion. Throughout the series Angel is a brain-dead fart, yet she still manages to be the only dynamic character in the series. None of the other characters change at all. By time I was finished with the series I had no idea why any of those characters existed other than to make the Afterlife Battlefront seem like a true guerilla group (which it wasn't).
Aside from the fact that 90% of the characters were filler characters, I had no investment in them. When a character "dies" they pretty much just black out for an extended time before coming back. This allows the writers to "kill" them in brutal and oftentimes hillarious ways. But because of this I wasn't invested in them. In fact, this laissez faire attitude kept me from being invested in the story at all.
Angel Beats! wasn't a bad show. It was just dissapointing. Even without high expectations, I was dissapointed because the first episode set up so many neat ideas that could have been explored. Instead these ideas were looked over, leaving many plot holes as the story advanced. It tried to have emotional moments but because I didn't care about the characters I didn't care about the story either. Battling against god is a serious subject. There are plenty of animes which deal with the same type of subjects with a much more serious manner. Angel Beats! failed at drama and instead opted for comedy and action but even comedy and action shows need to invest the viewer somehow into the story.