ORIGINAL MY ASS
Angel Beats is considered to be an original work, in the sense that it’s not an adaptation of some light novel, or porn game. Though if you take the word at face value there is absolutely nothing original about it, since it plays out exactly like a light novel or porn game. The opening video has all the characters posing at you with their names attached on them, and they are colored with gradient filters. Accompanied by all the done to death stereotypes that have killed creativity in anime; teenager-only cast, Japanese high school as a setting, and of course watering down everything with romcom shenanigans.
The premise sounds cool and fresh at first, until you realize how awfully handled it is, and you figure out Haibane Renmei did it ten times better, a decade ago, with a fraction of the budget. The show is also not focused on something specific and constantly moves from one theme to another, usually by jumping genres in the process, and having little to no sense of continuity. First it’s about fighting God, then it’s about a music festival, then it’s about baseball, then it’s about dramatic flashbacks, then it’s about a monster invasion.
If that was not enough, the setting makes no sense at all. Aside from how we never got any explanation regarding how it was created, or why it looks like a high school of all things. I understand the meta-logic being a school, since this is the laziest and easiest setting you can create, that has the maximum appeal in the target audience, but in-series it makes no sense to look the way it does. And no, it’s not like only teenagers go that place. Hell, it doesn’t even have some sort of logic in the way it works. Someone can go there years after he died, while someone else goes right away. You are not supposed to remember anything after you leave, and yet here we are people knowing each other after they left.
Most of these issues are a result of the show being allowed to have only half the episodes it deserved, thus being forced to rush through the events. This, though, is not excusing the faults in the least. What kind of emotional impact can there possibly be, if one moment they are making jokes, and the immediate next tragedy drops from the sky and crashes them. One day someone disappears, the next day they go make fun at each other like it didn’t matter at all. Mystery exposition happens in long monologues, development is mostly flashbacks, most of the characters are left undeveloped (which is extra funny when some of them even have their names showing in the opening), and battles get resolved in seconds. But jokes? Nope, those can last for entire episodes. That alone shows how much Maeda cared about the actual story; doesn’t it? Yup, I only have half the time to show everything; let’s waste most of it on jokes.
LACK OF GRAVITY
Even if one disregards the pacing issues, the world of the series lacks substance and gravity. Death has no meaning, most people are automatons, causing damage to facilities has no point, you can create guns out of dirt, there is brainwashing for some reason, and all you are doing in that world is studying eternally for exams in a fictional school that offers you nothing. If this place exists to give dead people a chance to live the lives they never had, it sure does not do a good job.
PRETTY COLORS & NICE SOUNDS
Not that anyone seems to care about originality or proper storytelling regarding this anime. After all, anime are just dumb entertainment for little children, right? It is considered a masterpiece of dramedy by several thousands, the reasons being mostly excused by the pretty colors, and the nice sounds. It’s really funny to see so many people feeling emotional over such terribly rushed and uninspired presentation. Anime standards are REALLY low. You can’t even enjoy the generic as fart artstyle, including some of the most uninspired character designs you can imagine. If their names weren’t showing in the intro of every episode, you would constantly be mistaking them for characters from other shows.
P.A Works in general, lacks a visual identity, to the point you are constantly confusing who exactly animated their shows. I mean, it looks moe, it has a Suzumiya Haruhi clone, a school band festival, and is directed by Jun Maeda, famous for his handling of Visual Key adaptations. Of course and you would think this anime is made by Kyoto Animation. And yet it isn’t; it’s just a by-the-numbers rehash of stuff, others are making for over a decade, traced over with no passion for visual identity, making it dull despite its fidelity in backgrounds and attention to detail. They can make the characters as moe as they like, and they would still be vanilla ice cream. They can throw in as many Easter eggs from other shows as they like (there are references to Resident Evil in episode 2, Howl’s Moving Castle in 3, and Matrix Reload in 12) and they are still not adding anything to the actual show. Other than making it feel even more derivative, and still inferior to everything it plagiarizes.
Even if we look past bad pacing and uninspired artwork, the characters are still pretty flat and uninteresting. Oh, sure, you will find tens of thousands yelling how much they cried, but it’s not because of the characters. It’s because of the tragic things that happened TO the characters… in flashbacks… while sad music is playing in the background. What I mean by that is that there is no investment to who they are or what they do. It’s just slapstick humor, based on done to death anime clichés, followed by sad stuff that happened in the past, and dealing with them by simply talking. That’s it. (Angel) Beats me why this superficial form of character exposition is so successful. It probably has to do with anime being notorious for spending a hundred episodes for the most obvious exposition to come along and thus this series creates a huge contrast that hits you with a 2 ton hammer. It is sudden and has such a high shock value on you that (Angel) beats the alternative. I still find it terribly rushed and cheap.
DULL MAIN CHARACTERS
The main characters are boring archetypes, snatched from typical date simulations, defined by quirks and clothe accessories, like ribbons in their hair, or the color of their stockings. Well done Kyoani… err, I mean P.A. Works. Your labor is a breath of fresh Air-tv , by following the established Kanon to the letter. You may as well do a Clan Add so the tribe will thrive.
Yurippe gets a fair amount of attention and development, as she keeps learning about the world around her. But it’s not like nobody could take her place when it came to exploring the setting. She was the leader of that SOS Brigade knock-off, she already had a lot of things to do. Allowing one of the secondary characters to assume that role would be preferable, leaving her doing the Haruhi imitations she is so obviously invented for.
Otonashi moves the plot forward and has a very strong presence. He is the self-insert generic high school teenager we have seen a million times already, with the amnesia routine we have seen a billion times more serving as the lazy excuse for why the conflict with Angel is not dealt with in 3 minutes. Whatever he does seems to drive the plot forward, but only because he is the proxy of the viewer and thus nothing but a problem solver, with nothing going on about him.
And then there is also Kanade the Angel. Starts as an average Rei-clone, but after her past is revealed becomes far more fleshed out. This still does not excuse how she never recognizes Otonashi or any of the other students she is fighting every night, because if she did the show would be over in 3 minutes.
UNSUPPORTED SUPPORT CHARACTERS
The rest are secondary characters that we learn close to nothing about. I ended up using nicknames when I was mentioning them to someone else, like, the hypno-guy, the karate-dude, and the ninja-girl. The only one I ended up caring for, was a side character named TK, and only because he was dancing and singing in English. One could of course argue that it was never about all the characters and only about 3 or 4, leaving the rest as minor support. But when said minor support takes up a lot of screen time from a show with such nasty time restrictions, then it ends up damaging the whole.
Like most titles of its era, Angel Beats tries to cater all tastes by combining the serious with the silly, the humorous with the dramatic, and the cute with the gory. It is a high budget pop-corn work that rehashes other scenarios, like what the Avatar film did with Pocahontas . It is just another easily digestible piece of fiction, poorly made and aimed as fast food. This is not a bad thing if done right, as we live in an era where a series which tries to focus too much on only one genre, ends up being ignored by everyone who is not a fan of said genre. In turn, that translates to low sales, cancellation of further projects, firing staff and making people jump off windows to their untimely deaths. So the anime producers threw in as much as they could and tried to cater as many different tastes as possible. They even went mostly for laughs, as we indeed live in cynical times and trying to pull a successful serious series is as easy as writing a light novel that is not about beta males porking their sisters. But by doing that, instead of a full course dinner, we end up with a soup where all flavors are thrown in the blender and the end result is this gross pulp with a boring taste that drives you to the nearest sink. Angel Beats is what you vomit.