Angel Beats! was the most hyped anime of last season. Taking place in a limbo-like world, the anime deals a lot with themes of death, reincarnation, identity, and souls. Ootonashi wakes up in this alternate reality, where he is immediately confronted with news of his own death. People in this afterlife are already dead and thus cannot die. Ootonashi soon joins SSS, a rebellious faction against the rules of this world. Together with Yurippe and other SSS members, they fight against any perceived authority. However, when Ootonashi meets Kanade, he realizes that things may not be as Yuri thought.
The premise is definitely very solid. It has all the elements to make it a masterpiece: action, adventure, and copious amounts of depth. However, after a few episodes, I hated the execution. The flaws are blatant and huge. However, despite all the problems, I actually enjoyed Angel Beats!
Let us just get the criticisms out of the way. The pacing is terrible. For example, in one episode, we see Ootonashi’s flashback to how his previous life ended. While this is a very beautiful moment, it is immediately followed by a rather silly fishing trip. Furthermore, the plot is really incoherent. Something treated first as a comic relief may end up being the trigger for a very serious subplot; that insignificant fishing trip ended up being an important beginning of a new arc. The series is too inconsistent about its tone and its hierarchy of plot points. The problem extends to its characters. I found many of the supporting cast to lack much development. They were not distinct enough and I have little idea who is actually important. Takamatsu, Oda, T.K., and Fujimaki all fill the same forgettable role. Yet once in a while, one of them becomes significant to the story. Ultimately, there is just too much confusion with everything. The confusion is worsened by the amount of themes Angel Beats! try to address. In the end, we are left with a superficial exploration of life, death, and all the other stuff Angel Beats! try to cram in.
Yet, several weeks after watching this, I still smile when I think about this anime.
It is certainly not refined literature, and it does not try to be. Instead, Angel Beats! takes the premise and just goes completely for it. When the anime wants to address the realities of this afterlife, it does not just explain the rules. It gives us a scene like that of The Matrix. When it wants to incorporate romance, we have a poignant ending akin to the last scene of Kannazuki no Miko. It really goes all out, and that makes it a fun, wild ride.
In addition, there are actually some things Angel Beats! executes wonderfully. I really like the changing attitudes of the authority figures. It is a nice pattern to see Tenshi eventually become an ally, and then a parallel situation with Naoi. The anime takes this neat idea of breaking down authority even further when Ootonashi changes SSS leader Yuri’s attitude about this world.
I also really like the running music theme. It strings this incoherent story together. When Iwasawa sings her final song and leaves the world, it is seen as a sad loss. Later, when the replacement rock star also leaves, it is instead a really beautiful blissful moment. This signified a change in attitude among the characters and the audience. Finally, this progression sets up for the graduation ceremony when the important characters sing before they leave this afterlife. I thought that was quite a powerful motif.
I should also mention briefly that Yui-nyan~ takes the anime to another level. She is super adorable and I laughed at her every silly charming antics. Unlike most other support characters, Yui is a total success because of both her distinctive personality and developed background. The kyaarific confession moment is also just too cute.
Angel Beats! certainly has its flaws, but it does not feel pretentious. I really like anime that try to go over the top. Indeed, Angel Beats! does that and more. It is not perfect; it is not even well executed, but this is a solid, fun, and enjoyable series.