Can’t find a rhythm in these Angel Beats

A series by KEY‘s Na-Ga and Maeda Jun. Girls with guns. Slice of life comedy/drama. Emphasis on music. Top-notch seiyuu. Angel Beats has the components for total greatness. But somewhere along the line it falters. This is no Clannad. Heck, it’s not even in the same league as Kanon. Despite its impressive background and production values, Angel Beats tries to do too much with too little, and it shows.

The series is only 13 episodes, so there’s little time to develop characters if a greater plot is at work. This is true of any short series. But Angel Beats’ cast is enormous — the main characters and primary support characters total a whopping 15. There are just way too many characters … I can’t remember the names of half of them or even what they look like. But they’re on-screen constantly. That’s how bad it gets.

The premise of Angel Beats is invigorating enough: Otonashi Yuzuru awakens with amnesia just outside of a school and encounters a purple-haired girl named Nakamura Yuri, who just so happens to be aiming a high-powered rifle at a mysterious girl several yards away. Yuri explains to Otonashi that everyone at the school is dead and that the only way to avoid “obliteration” is to join Yuri’s Afterlife Battlefront, a ragtag group of self-dubbed freedom fighters who wish to defy God by engaging in combat with His servant, Angel. Conveniently, Angel is the girl that Yuri is aiming at. Otonashi, unable to deal with the idea of shooting such an innocent looking girl, goes to greet Angel by himself. Unwilling to believe that he is dead, he asks Angel for some kind of proof and promptly has a blade stabbed directly into his heart. After awakening, he submits himself to the Afterlife Battlefront and the battle for control of Purgatory begins.

Angel Beats!

Ready your eardrums!

I heard somewhere on the grapevine that this series was originally envisioned to run as ~25 episodes, which is standard fare for KEY storyline adaptions. It definitely needed it. Characters come and go as per standard visual-novel-esque character arcs, but resolutions are done swiftly and seemingly at random. Some characters receive resolutions and others do not, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of pattern as to who gets the spotlight or not, which is bothersome. The climax of the series comes rather abruptly and is settled within the span of two episodes, but everything up until then is just slice of life conflicts and shenanigans. Which is fine, because the series is actually pretty funny when it isn’t trying to take itself too seriously. But near the end, it tries to pull a Clannad and grab hold of your heartstrings. It’s just that you don’t have enough time to really forge strong enough attachments to the characters for it to have any effect. Clannad: After Story built upon an entire season‘s worth of character development (and somewhat mediocre development at that) just in order to reach the pinnacle of heartwrenchingly good storytelling. Angel Beats doesn’t even come close.

What I will credit Angel Beats for, however, is that is an aural fantasia. The music is wonderful and expressive — far more powerful than the narrative, in my opinion. And the acting is top-notch. I was especially pleased to hear Ogata Megumi‘s voice again (CCS’s Yue, Ikari Shinji) as well as Hanazawa Kana (Steins;Gate’s Mayuri, OreImo’s Kuroneko). The OP is also probably the best piano-based song I’ve heard in a while. There’s even an alternative OP for a single episode when a character tries out to be a vocalist for the Battlefront’s diversion band.

The comedy was also handled very well. Most of it was physical comedy, which I enjoy a lot, but I found the humor to be just a little black considering the series’ use of death as a comedy twist. The idea is that those who are already dead can’t die again — so oftentimes while the Battlefront is conducting ‘missions’ there will be moments of sacrifice (self- or otherwise…) on account of the fact that any member of the group will “eventually” make it out okay. It’s funny, if a bit grim, but a bit jarring when the series does a complete 180-degrees when it starts emphasizing its main “drama” theme of life.

It’s far from a bad series and I’m almost certain that if it were a standard 25-episode series as intended it would be much better. I can see its merits and why people would exalt it on such high levels, and I won’t really argue with any of that. But I just really couldn’t keep in time with Angel Beats.

—–

Character Ranking – Angel Beats!

  1. Angel / Tachibana Kanade
  2. Nakamura Yuri
  3. Hinata Hideki
  4. Yui
  5. Otonashi Yuzuru
  6. TK
  7. Iwasawa Masami
  8. Naoi Ayato
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