Death is quite a frequent thing in media. With the recent surge of “dark” anime, death has been used to show a CRUEL and EDGY world. But generally, it is used to evoke some sort of sympathy or empathy. Some shows are leading examples on how to do a “death scene” by either glorifying the death of a significant and loved character (Code Geass, TTGL, FMA). Other take the road less travelled and make deaths a more “Well that just happened” approach (Majestic Prince, Valvrave, KoiUta). Both are effective in their own sense, they are both carried out to evoke some sort of emotional response. But the question is, what if the characters are already dead? What if, instead of dying, they are brought back to life? Can there still be an emotional response or will it just fall flat? This is what Angel Beats is going to answer.
Angel Beats is the one Maeda Jun anime that is not animated by KyoAni. My brief history with Jun’s works is not a good one. I thought Clannad was an over dramatic harem, Little Busters an over dramatic slice of life and Kanon an over dramatic…mess. So when I saw his name attached to another “Must see” anime, I immediately set my expectations lower than low. So, did he reach those expectations? Did Maeda-sensei finally deliver what I wanted out of him? Ehh, not really. My main faults with his work is that he places too much of an emphasis on the “Make you cry” rather than the “Make you engaged”. Why bother creating characters with dilemmas and faults when you can just have a little girl cry in a corner? There are plenty of things wrong with this logic of his but that’s an entire different thing. However, in Angel Beats, to my surprise, there were a decent number of characters that I cared about. Three, I think. But hey, for Jun, that’s pretty good. It was because of this concept that he took up which made some sort of engagement happen, and for that, I can commend him. However, that doesn’t mean Angel Beats is anyway perfect, far from it in fact, but lets just stay positive for the time being.
The main reason why I like some of Angel Beats is because of the backgrounds of the some characters and how they got to the “Battlefield” (by the way, I know there is like a billion names for the purgatory-like area that they are in but I am just going to use Battlefield). The entire idea of dying with some sort of regret is something I can fully get behind, especially in Otanashi’s case as he was finally getting his life in check when he passed. Its a message to the audience that acceptance is a key thing in life, no matter what the circumstances. I would’ve appreciated this a hell of a lot more if it wasn’t so over the top with its drama. Its true that Angel Beats is one of Jun’s least overly-dramatic shows but that REALLY isn’t saying much. Even the characters and stories I like have the vein of melancholy running through them. It comes down to some cheap trick he employs to easily win over the hearts of many without actually creating anything original. Get stuff like a cancer victim, mass murder or an unlikely love story then the masses are in shambles.
Yui’s back story is argued among fans and the like to be the best story in Angel Beats, and I can agree. Its a nice simplistic tale of a paralysed girl yearning to find love. What I can appreciate about it is that Yui’s actions and attitude up until episode eleven was all very upbeat and cute. So when her back story came around, it kinda made sense for her to take a hold of this new lease on life (even though she is kinda dead). Taking over as the lead singer for GDM, trying to make as many friends as possible or simply just wanting to make others smile, she is constantly trying to achieve what she couldn’t while she was alive, all unbeknownst to the audience that she is bed ridden with uhh…moe disease or something iunno. I just love the way that Maeda Jun can’t even go on Wikipedia to find some sort of disease that makes someone weak. Its always “Oh, I was born with a weak body”. Oh I see, those seem to be the symptoms of Moeitis, a rare disease which only strikes in girls with eyes bigger than their forehead. My condolences.
Anyways, Yui goes through the series wanting the only thing that can make a girl happy, that being marriage. Who better to step up to the plate then Hideki because she didn’t interact with any other boy properly but that is beside the point. The trouble with this scene is that, while it is nice, its overdone. What I mean by that is that simplicity is overrun with complexity. If things done in this scene were just a step down in regards to dramatics, it would be a lot more impactful. Lose the blaring, distracting “My Most Precious Treasure” for a stoic, nice piano piece; The over dramatic cry of acceptance from Hideki for a toned down, heart felt reassurance of feelings etc. People tend to forget that louder does not equal better, all it does is create a sense of awkwardness and, for the most part, and out of character experience. But, to give credit where credit is due, I did really enjoy the “Would be” romance that was shown after Yui accepts Hideki. Hideki taking Yui out in her wheelchair, that embrace as Hideki places Yui back in her bed, the tear that Yui’s mother wiped away. It was all very touching and sweet, its true that it could definitely be handled better but it would just be wrong of me to constantly look at the negatives of the scene.
Now usually, I would’ve mentioned the plot in some way, shape or form by now but, in Angel Beats, its only used as a means to develop two characters’ “romance”, those being Otonashi and Kanade. Everything is set up for these two to be in each others pants by the end of the show. Otonashi is always there whenever something is revealed about Kanade. When he first arrives, he learns that she has weird abilities. At the GDM concert/distraction, he learns that they are merely computer programmed…things (I won’t go into the knitty, gritty side of it all). When they are locked in the jail alone, he learns that she is just a normal girl. In those previous sentences, “he” can easily be replaced with “we” or “the viewer” or something along those lines. Basically, what I’m getting at is that whenever Otonashi finds out something new about her, so does everyone else watching. This could be thought of a cleaver piece of writing but these “revelations” are pretty obvious so when they are revealed, it lacks impact and nearly breaks immersion. There is also the fact that there was not nearly enough chemistry between them to even call it a romance. Otonashi shared the same chemistry between Yuri and Hideki, the only difference between them is that Kanade is seen on screen more with Otonashi…well, that and one other thing that is unique between them.
I am, of course, talking about Otonashi’s heart that is somehow in Kanade when she was placed on the Battlefield. This part in Angel Beats has set up a rift in the community. People are divided between “This shit makes no sense” and “But the power of love wins everything”. It should be obvious to which community I am belong to. You know, I can kinda see what they were going for, the entire “connected even in the previous life” is a nice touch I guess, but damn it should at least make some sense. Its a plot hole that is so big, I had to draw a diagram to fully explain it.
Let me walk you through it…
1) Otanashi dies – Its the tragic tale of him dying, sacrificing his life for the aid of others while he is successfully turning his life around. I have to admit, I liked this story. It wasn’t overdone (by Maeda Jun standards anyway), it was told at a time in Angel Beats where it could have full impact and not interrupt the story and it resembled Otonashi’s character quite well, despite the fact that he had lost his memory.
2) A hospitalised Kanade gets a Otanashi’s heart – Now, I’m no doctor but I’m assuming the heart has to be remotely “fresh” to be liable for a heart transplant so I guess the time span between Otanashi dying and Kanade getting the heart is, at most, two weeks.
3) Kanade dies – An unknown time passes between Kanade’s heart transplant and Kanade dying. Otanashi died due to some sort of infected bruising cause by the train accident. Something like that shouldn’t affect a heart but hey, I’m sure the guy who regularly uses diseases for moe girls but can’t come up with a name for the disease should be trusted here instead of me. Regardless, I think that Otonashi’s heart let her live for a range of 6-12 months as a fully functioning heart can sustain a diseased life for longer, but hey, I’m not the expert here, Maeda Jun is.
4) Kanade arrives on the Battlefield – This should be an immediate occurrence, going off what has been provided in the show. I honestly doubt that Kanade was “Tenshi” as soon as she arrived given her personality in the latter half of the show. My guess is that, due to being hospitalised for so long and being sick, she wouldn’t have any social skills so she just chose to isolate herself from whatever group was there. In her isolation, she went about creating her “skills” that are associated with Tenshi e.g Hand Sonic, Distortion, Harmonics etc in order to protect herself. She is said to be “the enemy of the Afterlife” so this could imply that she was lingering around the Battlefield before Yuri and co. arrived, with the intention of passing people on to the next life.
5) People become hostile to Kanade and she acquires the name “Tenshi” – Again, an unknown time passes between her arrival and this event. I’m assuming Yurippe didn’t wake up one morning and say “Man, the student council president can suck it, I’m so shooting her today”. Kanade must have wanted them to pass on to the next life but one thing lead to another and the entire crew turned against her. Communicating with each other went out the window some time in the midst of this so that could indicate some decent amount of time passed, lets just estimate 3-5 months between 4) and 5).
6) Otanashi arrives on the Battlefield – At long last, our MC has shown up. I don’t know when he did but he did. By the time he arrived, Yuri was visibly afraid or at least threatened by Kanade while she was doing recon so again, some time has passed since the last event, lets just say 2-3 months.
All this means is that it took Otanashi over a year to arrive on the Battlefield, completely contradicting what has been explained in the show. When he died, he should have arrived then and there, right? Apparently not. So basically, the ending shouldn’t be possible. But it happened. And people liked it. Now, I know plot holes are not the easiest things to spot at times but goddamn, this is right in front of you. The entire concept was being screwed right there. Its not even a difficult concept to grasp, its literally “You die with regrets, you go to Battlefield instantly”. It takes skill to make a plot hole out of that. What baffles me the most is that the show must have gone through many stages of production and no one raised their hand and objected to this. Kinda makes me wonder if it was just Jun testing the waters to see how much he can get away with as long as he had a cute little girl there, apparently quite a lot.
Production wise, its rather nice. I did use to really like P.A Works (I still do, its just that style over substance has been a recent approach to a lot of their recent anime) mainly for their background art and they do show off as much as possible. Musically, its sound (pardon the pun). Few songs manage to stand out but other than that, its nothing to go crazy about. The seiyuus did a rather good job as well. Nowadays, its kinda rare to see Hiroshi Kamiya get such an emotional role like Otanashi so I guess that was pleasurable to hear. Now, I don’t usually mention dubs but hot damn I need to cover this. I’m not one for dubs. The only time I would watch one is if it was a show I really liked or a show which is notorious for having a good dub, but generally, I tend to avoid them for the simple reason that I just enjoy hearing Japanese rather than America- sorry, English. But for any other show, I just look up a decent amount of scenes to compare. My ears still haven’t forgiven me for putting them through so much torture. Some scenes that I found funny or nice have been more or less ruined. They localised it too much and that is never a good thing. Moral of the story, watch the Japanese version, no one deserves such torture.
I was rather annoyed when I finished Angel Beats for the simple reason that it was missing something. Pacing. When it comes down to it, it was a rushed messed. Some characters had no time to develop despite the fact that they were showing clear signs of development. It felt as if it was missing a lot of things and maybe that’s why they decided to produce a VN to make up for everything. It is something that I would call an unfinished project and it certainly does not deserve all the acclaim that it is receiving. Maybe if it was 2-cour and it fixed that absurd ending then yeah, I’m sure it would be great. But we have to deal with what we got and what we got was a rushed mess that used cheap tricks to make the masses cry and, to me, that is the worst type of show that can be made.