Angel Beats is an original *cough* work regarding teenagers (ooh really?) in a school setting (you don’t say!) doing comical stuff (never heard that one before) with the pretext of staying alive in a bizarre afterlife inside a videogame-like world (although Gantz does not give them kill points after battles).
Animation done by P.A. Works, a studio which is mostly trying to pamper the fans with moe fan service and completely neglects the storyboard. Directing is done by Kishi Siji, whose roster includes both very good and very bad shows. I guess he has his ups and downs.
ART SECTION: 9/10 [ Haibane Renmei meets Suzumiya Haruhi ]
General Artwork 2/2:
The series yells high budget all the way and that means a viewing pleasure of delight. The backgrounds are very detailed and have a gazillion filters to make them look shinny, gradient, and generally like gorgeous sceneries in Key visual novel date sims. Yeah, they made it look like that even if it AIN’T a game adaptation. Yet, the intro video has all the characters posing at you with their names attached on them. This can only mean two things. Either the producers think we are too stupid to remember their names or we are suppose to think this is indeed a Key date sim. Which ends up being retarded after awhile, since it isn’t and there are characters with names in the intro who don’t even speak more than twice in the whole series. Trolled or what?
I could argue how silly everything looks during comical moments with the SD and low frame rate during those moments, but it’s perfectly acceptable since it’s supposed to make you laugh and not criticize a Da Vinci sculpture. So overall; great artwork.
Character Figures 2/2:
They went for bijin looks and silly gimmicks and I must say it worked great. All characters are drawn with smooth outlines that hardly look weird. Plus they look like they are fashion models doing a parade, trying to look as cool as possible. Yup, easy way to attract the fans of moe and kawaii. It goes overboard of course but, hey, the setting is supposed to be a virtual afterlife and thus it is excused in-series to be so hunk/hot/drooling (after all, if it sells, why change it?). No worries here; they look great and don’t deform outside of excused comical moments.
Mostly a typical school setting with a few extras like underground passages full of traps, and military facilities full of weapons of mass destruction. I can’t say there is much variety in here and I usually yearn for much more but the type of the story excuses it nicely. For all I know nothing else exists in this world other than an endless schoolyard, where teenagers do endless studying and take part in endless tests. My God, this is Purgatory!
Animation & Visual Effects 3/4:
Good but not great. A lot of time is spent on gags with low frame movements and superflat looks, while the use of 3D is not always that successful. Also, fighting scenes are just random magic gizmos appearing out of nowhere while explosions and bullets don’t really seem to damage the backgrounds most of the times. As for battle choreography, having people turning their heads to chat instead of aiming at their enemy is plain stupid. Not to mention all major action scenes don’t last more than a minute. Some are even resolved off screen. None of all these are done terribly, like in a title such as 07 Ghost for example, and the series is not action oriented anyway. Heck, you could remove the guns and the shootings and it still wouldn’t matter as a bullet in this series is equally powerful as a slap. But it still feels cheap at times and ruins a part of the fun.
Still, all these can be countered by the few school band festivals. They are as great as in “that other known series” which by the way has nothing to do with this “original” work. In all, the characters have vividness and move really lively most of the times. It’s just that they overdone it with the comedy SD and stupid action scenes, resulting to taking out a point.
SOUND SECTION: 10/10 [So what is the name of our team today?]
Voice Acting 3/3: This is another one of those series where the characters make a lot of jokes and gags based on stereotypes. That is, they speak in a totally clichéd way, just so another one can pull out a comeback one-liner and create a joke out of it. Not a new approach to anime as it has been done better in older series such as Sayonara Zetsubo or Bakemonogatari … which have nothing to do with this “original” work despite the odd coincidence of the main lead having the same voice actor as in those older shows. But it’s ok, it was still funny and witty to the most part and I did enjoy it a lot. Even during serious moments, the quality of the dialogue is well done and the voices never feel ridiculous at those times.
Music Themes & Sound Effects 7/7: I didn’t lose my mind over the songs. They range somewhere between elegiac and average pop and they are definitely well made but I am not fond of such types to know if they are really good to the ear. I sure have no qualms about them. The thing I liked most is how they used said music themes in slapstick moments (slow motion jokes) and even in-story (a school band playing music to distract the students from the battle raging outside). The rest of the battle or comical sounds are nothing much but thanks to the uniform of music and story, they feel far more relevant and good. Also, it appears that they use a different song in each episode instead of just repeating the same one every time. All these show creativity and variety and for that I give them a perfect score, even if I’m not head over heels about them.
STORY SECTION: 4/10 [ Gantzers meet the SOS Brigade ]
Well, the main idea is sure interesting. It’s about people with harsh lives who are killed being sent to an in-between stage of afterlife, where they are students in a school full of NPC people as well as an Angel who is sent by God to kill them. And by “kill” means to just stop them from being rebellious towards the system of this virtual reality. For you see, they are already dead and no matter what happens to them, they come back to life a few minutes later. But if they comply with the school regulations for too long, they disappear entirely. So the main team of high-schoolers has this arsenal of weapons and fights the Angel all the time, while causing chaos in the school in order to make sure they stay alive... or dead… or whatever.
But it turns out all that is just smoke screen. In reality there is no Angel or God; it’s just them assuming God punishes them for no reason. The Angel is just another dead human like themselves who just wants to make them move on but has terrible communication skills. Thus it is catchy how they refuse by themselves to move on and thus become themselves the very problem that prevents them from being reincarnated, or go to Heaven or something like that. Nice twist I must say.
It’s still a mostly fantasy series and all of the above happen in a very light manner. For example, some can create weapons with dirt or mind-wash others at will. Yet all that are not important, as neither the weaponry nor the hypnosis add anything to the story. They are just flashy extras. It is never shown if the world has boundaries or why the so-called Angel never recognizes in class the people she fights every night. The story ain’t taking itself seriously. Neither did Suzumiya Haruhi’s story but then again it did not prevent that one from becoming a smash hit. The whole presentation is much closer to a school comedy or an anime parody that is easy going to the mind and simply has a semi-serious premise hanging around in the font. Part of catering all tastes; remember?
It also feels like they ripped off made a tribute to many other famous works. In the second episode for example, you get a Resident Evil scene, in the third a Howl’s Moving Castle reference, in the twelfth a Matrix Reload scene. The lead girl looks like Haruhi and even has an armband with a similar name for a brigade, while her headquarters are almost identical to those in Persona 3 and 4. So imagine taking a hundred ideas from a hundred titles and using most of them as an excuse for a joke and the result is the Gintama counterpart of soft sci-fi. And I don’t know how much you liked Gintama ; I for once found it sub-par to the most part. Based on tastes, you may like the whole insanity and Easter egg hunting, or you may not. All that are after all peanuts next to how it’s…
…rushed as hell. With such an engrossing story and a large number of characters, it would take far more episodes to unfold properly. Thus when a new development comes along, it happens so fast that the emotional impact on you is ruined to the most part. One moment they are making jokes, the other drama falls 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, and battles are resolved in seconds. But jokes? Nope, those can last for entire episodes. That alone shows how much they cared about the actual story; doesn’t it? So although the series has a developing story that changes from comedy, to drama, to mystery, to something else in a span of only 13 episodes, it happens so fast and rushed that most of the emotional binding and great story ideas are lost. Which in turn…
…ruins all the importance of side stories and throws to the side most characters. Each one of them is there for a reason but the story focuses on only a small part of them. Heck, most of the times you think there are only 5 people in the entire world. Makes things feel autistic and barren at times. 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. Sure, ok, I agree. They are still useless as characters and exist only to make jokes. I have seen series where all characters take part in the progress of the story and this is not one of them. And for that matter, it ain’t no surprise how most of them…
… were left flat and semi-developed in the end. There is an ending and it could be a great one if it was given at least 5 more episodes to unfold properly. But it didn’t and it felt dried up and almost boring.
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10 [ Itoshiki Nozomu meets Suzumiya Haruhi ]
It’s all about the looks with this sort of series. Nothing surprising in this “original” work. Yes, they are all attractive, cute, perky, Haruhi rip-offs , and many more. The high budget animation helps to infuse them with great liveliness and thus they feel far better than the average “frozen caricature with a flapping mouth anime character” out there. Of course, all these count as external or superficial attributes, which are very well done, following the recommended pre-constructed package in the field. This does not apply very well to their…
… personalities, which are pretty simplistic and almost uninspiring for most of them. Most of the cast consists of generic archetypes, whose "character" can be described in just 2 sentences. The hypno-guy, the karate-guy, the ninja girl, all these are characters who are just what they appear to be, plus a quirk at best. You can’t add anything to their characterization thus they may be funny but also shallow and forgettable who add nothing to the plot in the long-run (Although TK is extremely memorable for his English one-liners). Still, whatever they do is overall eye-catchy and backed up by their lively voices and witty dialogues. They are imposing to the most part even without actual…
Backdrop & Development 2/4:
… immersion for more than 5 of them. Most don’t have a story or development. Even for the major five, development is nothing else but characters talking to each other about their pasts through mostly rushed flashbacks. AniPlex tried to copy the successful Kyoto Animation formula and that all made it a breath of fresh Air-tv , by following the established Kanon to the letter. They may as well do a Clan Add so the tribe will thrive.
(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 but then again that is just me.
The main three characters are ok all things considered and they save some face.
Yurippe gets a fair amount of attention and development and she keeps learning about the world around her. But it’s not like anyone else couldn’t be used in her place for that. She had already a lot of things to show and sharing some of those feature with other characters wouldn’t hurt at all.
Otonashi moves the plot forward and has a very strong presence. He began as a generic high school teenager we have seen a million times already, with the amnesia routine we have seen a billion more. But he actually feel better as he goes on. He has some guts (unlike most of his brood) , and his flashbacks flesh him out nicely later on, without the revelation of his lost memory being the key to the solution of everybody’s problem, as it usually is. In fact, he changes things so much than in the last episode he is the exactly opposide of what his archetype suggested at first. Too bad it was all so rushed and ended being silly.
And then there is also Kanade the Angel. Starts as an average cooldere but later on becomes a lot more. Her personality is excused and affects the story beyond her original role as the messenger of God.
There also running jokes about some gimmicks that colorize some of the secondary characters’ personalities (like the glass-guy having a well-built body) but in all that don’t really move them forward. The only thing that actually does…
…is them getting catharsis and disappearing entirely. Weird huh? Shooting a million bullets at you does nothing, yet admitting your fears and hopes leads to your removal from the series. Feels almost like if you like someone, you wish he/she never comes to terms with him/herself or it’s game over. How original… Unless you have watched Haibane Renmei.
Anyways, as weird as it feels having development as synonym to perm-ban, it is excused and rather gutsy to actually see characters being removed. They sure don’t resurrect with Dragonballs or any of that shounen crap. They stay dead… or better say, they come back to life as reincarnated. Or go to Heaven; I don’t know, the series never shows what comes next. In all, this is a far better variant to the usual Key trope, where a person mentions his/her problems and then becomes background decoration. It is also relevant to the purpose of the world and the core story (and overall thematic). It still happens so fast you feel nothing about most of them but it is still an absolute form of catharsis.
It still happens too fast for most and the truth is none of them “really” ever die, but that is an issue of story and not character. </div>
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10 [There are all Kagebushin no Jutsu; they go poof when you touch them]
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, the cute with the gore. It’s 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 thought right while in the making. They 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 not easy at all. Not a bad move; most of the best anime of all times are multi-genre and easy-going. Sadly, most of the times 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. Unfortunately, Angel Beats is with one foot in this category.
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 2/3, Memorability 1/4
It is NOT a masterpiece or even something people will discuss in 5 years from now. 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. Well; easy come, easier go.
The aesthetics are done great and the tested formula of success is played along nicely. I am almost certain all Key fans will like it… for being a tribute to Key (poor Aniplex; can’t even get a credit). It may end up being entertaining and a commercial success since most are suckers for cool animation and cute girls and the recent moe/ecchi plague makes it look great by comparison. But future generations of fans will almost certainly won’t give a damn about it. Because it was made way too rushed and has less to offer than others that were made fairly close to it. Thus it has less than average value next to the titles it plagiarizes and to the people it targets.
By the way, this won’t become apparent for the next one or two years as the series is still fresh and hyped to the moon by zealots. Which is also nothing “original” in the field.
See you next time on yet another “original” take on some “original” anime that for some silly reason a lot of people will think it’s great.
The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi