Angel Beats is a new anime by Key, creators of such titles as Kanon, Air and Clannad, but this one isn’t based on a Visual Novel like their previous adaptations. It’s actually based on a light novel written by Jun Maeda, the genius behind most of Key’s stories. The plot revolves around a young man named Otonashi who has lost all his memories. The first episode opens up with Otonashi awakening in what appears to be a high school in the middle of a night, only to find a girl his age named Yuri wielding a sniper rifle and aiming at another girl some distance away. Wait, what? Yeah, it’s not really a traditional high-school anime, in fact it parodies many of the cliches of high-school anime, and I commend it for that. But it’s not really a high school, per-se. Yuri introduces herself as leader of the, well, they keep changing their name. Whatever it’s called, it’s apparently a group of people rebelling against God in this purgatory. Yeah, we’re in purgatory now. Otonashi doesn’t believe her at first, so goes over to the girl targetted by Yuri’s rifle, the one they call ‘Tenshi’ (Angel), and trying to figure out what’s going on. The truth of Yuri’s words dawns in him when the Angel wields some kind of blade and pierces Otonashi’s heart, in an attempt to prove that he’s already dead, later waking up in the school’s infirmary. What follows is Otonashi’s initiation into the battlefront, and his new-found friendships with all of it’s members. Each day they’re presented with a new mission in their attempts to keep from following the world’s rules and disappearing from the world. Otonashi spends his days enjoying his new (after)life, trying to recall the memories of his own life while learning of the past lives of all the other characters. But that’s where my summary ends, you’ll need to experience the rest yourself.
As I stated earlier, Angel Beats is hardly a typical anime. It combines elements of a slice of life, paranormal, action and drama anime all together almost seamlessly. The show is a drama at heart, though. It’s all about the characters, and the stories they have to tell. We have the story of a boy who has his only purpose in life stolen from him, a girl who’s dealing with the grief of being unable to protect her loved ones, a girl who spent her life in hospital and missed out on her life, and so on. And while these stories were very touching and powerful, they all share a common shortcoming: lack of depth. These stories were told in such a way that most of them only really lasted an episode, and then it didn’t matter anymore. I think that’s a real shame! There’s so much potential in their stories, and to only have them milked as quickly as possible in the space of 13 episodes, we lose a lot of potential there. I haven’t read the original novel, so I don’t know how this adaptation compares. But by judging on what I see, I see an anime that’s way too rushed. There’s so much to tell here, and they skim over it so quickly. It wouldn’t be so bad if they only focused on a few important characters and told their stories in great detail, ala the style of many of Key’s other works, but they didn’t even do that. It appeared that they were going with trying to explain every character’s story in minimal depth, but they couldn’t manage that either. I think that would have been best, give the anime 26 episodes to realize the stories of EVERY character, each character getting their own episode (except for a few important ones). But that’s where it suffers, too. While it’s said that every character has a story to tell (that’s why they exist in the world), I don’t believe it. Prime example is the renowned TK, the comic-relief character. Don’t get me wrong, I love TK, he makes me laugh so much. But that’s it, he doesn’t do any more for me. All he does in the show is spout random engrish lines and dance a lot. I’m dead serious, he’s as two-dimensional as a sheet of paper. How can a character like that have anything you might call a backstory? He’s as lifeless as the NPCs (Angel Beats in-joke). And that makes me sadface. If they’re gonna have a big cast of characters, and make the aim to have them confront their pasts, then don’t make two-dimensional characters with no depth. You can have comic-relief characters, but at least give them SOME depth! Take Sunohara from Clannad for example. For most of the story, he’s just there for comedy. But in the end he gets his own story arc, and you realize that he’s a person, too. You don’t get that from Angel Beats’ comic relief characters, of which there are many. It’s not a comedy anime, and that’s what pisses me off about it.
But ranting aside, I still loved Angel Beats a lot. It’s one of my favourite animes I’ve seen recently, and I really enjoyed it. The comedy is top-notch, the drama is great (however a bit rushed), and even the action is kinda exciting. Sometimes they get in the way of each other at times though. It doesn’t take itself TOO seriously, but it does still take itself seriously when it needs to. I dunno, seems a bit conflicting. But as I said, this is still an awesome anime, and I really do recommend everyone check it out at least once. It’s only 13 episodes, what have you got to lose? haha. One thing they did manage to do was make you get teary-eyed, though. A key anime wouldn’t be complete without that defining aspect. =)