OK, cliched post titles aside, I’m trying something new – rather than trying to do all-around reviews, I’ll be picking out certain aspects of what I review that really jumped out at me as something needing further discussion. We’ll see how this works.. and if, after reading this post, you disagree (or agree) with me, please feel free to discuss it. I’m open to opinions and other interpretations on this one, because I really wanted to like it.
As expected, that means these posts will be filled with more spoilers, but I’ll try to hold them until after the “Read More” section.
So, about this co-production between Key/Visual Arts, P.A.Works, Aniplex, and ASCII Media Works: Angel Beats!
I tried to keep my expectations in check for Angel Beats! The Clannad anime – based on Key’s game of the same name – was pretty good. I thought the central relationship was well-developed and there was enough going. I didn’t care for Kanon and I thought Air had an interesting premise that was left unsupported by its cast.
I think Angel Beats! (can I drop the “!”?) suffers from some of these earlier issues, but maybe at the end of the day, I’m not the target demographic. For me, the major appeal for Angel Beats was that it had a gender-diverse cast – unlike most of Key’s visual novel adaptations, there were more males than females in the main cast, which made me hopeful that the show would avoid falling into harem territory. And it did avoid that trap. It was also more action-oriented than the romance, slice-of-life series Key is known for. Perhaps that’s because it’s a co-production between so many parties, or maybe it’s just that Jun Maeda is trying something different – either way, it’s a nice change of pace. And with such a strong (and funny) beginning, I really thought that this might be just the mix to make something truly interesting.
But in the end, the plot played out like one of those “crying games” without the plot development to justify things getting there. I don’t feel like most things received a satisfactory explanation or build-up. Ultimately, I feel like viewers were asked to suspend their belief a lot more than they should have been.
So please allow me to list my complaints, in bulleted fashion (MAJOR SPOILER WARNING!):
- The Battle Against Angel: Why were they fighting against Angel? OK, I know that Angel was seen as the bad guy because she enforced the structure at the school and it appeared that those who were following the rules (or enjoying school life) got obliterated. Then, all of a sudden, Angel’s a good guy, Naoi’s a bad guy (for an episode or two), then there is no villain. OK so maybe there’s a villain…
- God’s Some Programmer Who Got Half An Episode of Exposure: Maybe I’m jumping the gun on this, but it’s fine to have an action series without a “big bad”. Or have a “big bad” who nobody suspects/isn’t so bad after all. But if you set up a series like there really is someone or something to oppose, you need to have SOME KIND of payoff. Or lead us at a reasonable pace towards the realization that there IS nothing to oppose. I feel like Angel Beats failed on all counts. They jerk the viewers around so much and not in a way that seemed like they knew where they were headed all along. It was more like flying by the seat of their pants. Even with the build-up in the prior episode, the programmer being the creator of the NPCs (and the world?) came up, Yuri got a choice, then it was over. Who WAS THIS GUY?! I mean, at least make him an NPC we had seen! Make him actually matter as a character, not just an invisible plot device!
- Angel and Otonashi’s Partnership/Relationship: OK, this was built up a bit, but I still would have liked to have seen more relationship-building moments between the two of them before the big confession. And I get that they’re connected through the heart he donated. Oh and how did that work?! If he died before she did and then she was there first – THERE’S NO REASON IN THIS AFTERLIFE, IT’S LIKE LIFE ALL OVER AGAIN! And then he just wakes up from his memories and wants to help her help everyone cross over. Sorry, that didn’t make me feel endeared to Otonashi – it made me think he was Light Yagami, Villain Protagonist Extraordinaire! Seriously, he only knew he felt at peace, there was NO EXPLANATION offered for what happened to people who got obliterated until after the last episode’s credits. The whole series everyone believed that obliteration was bad. The lack of explanation for the obliteration isn’t what bothers me, Otonashi’s (and soon the others’) sudden change of heart is.
- The Afterlife in General: The first few episodes set it up like this place has rules, but only when it’s relevant to the plot. Again, I know the story is focused around its cast, the Afterlife is just a backdrop, but with so much discussed (do they reincarnate? What are NPCs? (a theory is offered later, but then they change the rules again with Shirtless Boy) Is there a God? How does the weapon system work? If only youth who died young can come to this world, how did Angel get there?) I just feel like with an Afterlife world, and so many interesting concepts, they could have either fleshed out things more or just not set up so many questions they weren’t going to answer in the first place.
There were other things (Yui and Hinata, Yuri and Noda, etc) but what it boils down to is I just feel like this show could have been much better planned. I know there’s a light novel and a manga, but an anime can and should give off a coherent enough self-contained story – I shouldn’t have to chase other mediums for the anime’s full story. Those other mediums can expand the world or take the next step – for example, .hack//SIGN followed TSUKASA’S story to fruition, but still left plenty of openings for those who wanted to know more about The World to pursue in other mediums.
It was still a great series. I’d give it an 8 if I did the ratings thing. But it had the potential to be even more.