I need to start this one by thanking another blogger on WordPress, 7mononoke from “Anime Rants” (link at the end of this article), who recommended this series to me. I was looking for an idea for something that could challenge Erased as a self-contained, single anime series that really blows me away. Angel Beats! never quite did that, but it was still a great series and highly thought-provoking.
The series is set in a school setting, in a kind of limbo between life and afterlife. That’s about all that’s evident at the start of the series, and it’s unclear what exactly is going on here. A group of students have formed an organised military group, under the leadership of the very Haruhi-like Yuri Nakamura, and are fighting against their enemy known initially only as Angel. She is attempting to get them to conform and take part in school life, while Yuri’s group has figured out that they are in danger of disappearing from whatever afterlife they have found themselves in if they become normal students. Being as a lot of the students are akin to soulless non-player characters in a video game, there seems to be a very real danger here, if a little confusing as to the exact nature of the risk involved. They are already dead, of course, but Angel has formidable fighting skills and a great deal of weaponry at her disposal, and they are all capable of feeling the pain of death before they… well, re-spawn for want of a better word.
This is a very difficult series to write about without spoiling it, but let’s just say that the apparent set-up is very different from what is actually going on, and the truth when it emerges leads to some hugely emotional moments. Each episode tends to focus on one of the main characters, including flashbacks to their tragic pasts. It is not all tragedy though. The stories of their lives are often bittersweet, most notably the aspiring doctor who realises in his final moments that he can make some sense out of his death by donating organs. If you like happy endings this might not be the series for you, although it depends on your definition of what constitutes a happy ending. Finding peace and finding love are not always compatible.
Many of the main characters are anime standards, and the series doesn’t quite revolve around the main heroes (Yuri and our audience perspective character Yuzuru Otonashi) as much as you might expect, with plenty of focus on the others. Considering the cast of characters is very large and the series only runs for 13 episodes, the degree to which we get to know all the different characters is impressive. The best of the lot is the quiet and enigmatic Angel, although Yui gives her a run for her money, despite being the embodiment of a very familiar anime archetype: the fiery, hyperactive, cute, short one. Loads of anime series have one of those, but Yui is one of the most fun.
I will include the opening and ending animations below, both of which are brilliant. The opening a sublime piece of animation (and a great tune), while the ending is a simple but clever idea, with the line-up of characters each episode changing subtly depending on the events of each episode. In addition to the 13 episodes there are two OVA episodes, only one of which was on my DVD collection. Being as the series is entirely self-contained and the story is over and done with by the end, the only thing for the OVA episodes to do is to go back and add in extra episodes between the others. It’s not an approach which inspires me, and the OVA on the DVD was so silly as to be almost unwatchable. Sometimes when a story is completed there’s no going back. Like the characters in Angel Beats!, after 13 episodes it’s time to move on to pastures new. RP
With thanks to 7mononoke from https://animerants.net/