[Anime Review]: Angel Beats!

Angel Beats! anime beats

Director: Seiji Kishi

Writer: Jun Maeda

Animation Studio: P.A. Works

Version Watched: Subbed

Sometimes series are funny because they don’t take themselves seriously, then there are others that make you laugh because they take everything too seriously. The mix between comedy and plot is often a precarious one, with many series falling mostly on one side or the other. Angel Beats! will draw you in with an interesting concept and hilarious antics before hooking you with a story that you won’t soon forget. The series is brought to us by Key, the creators of a number of very popular Visual Novels, who can now add what I think is a very successful anime to their list of achievements.

Yuzuru Otonashi finds himself in a world where he cannot die. In fact, neither can anyone else. Devoid of any memories of his past, Otonashi is picked up by a local resistance group, the Afterlife Battlefront. This world is a place between life and death; if you’re not careful you will simply disappear, a fate the Battlefront is determined to fight. What I haven’t yet made apparent, however, is that the centre of this world is a high school, and simple attendance is enough to make you vanish. While most of the school’s students are empty but lifelike NPCs (that’s non-player characters to those of you still in the stone age), the school’s student representative is an artificially augmented girl known only as Angel, who uses her surreal powers to oppose the Afterlife Battlefront. Otonashi’s very first meeting with her ends in his first “death” in this new world, causing him to throw his lot in with the Battlefront to fight for the life he’s already lost once before.

Angel Beats! anime beats

Wow, that sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Angel Beats! actually starts off as more of a comedy, with some serious laughs to be had in the first three quarters of the anime. That doesn’t mean that the plot is something to scoff at though; the series slowly become more and more story-focussed as time goes on and the mysteries of Otonashi’s new world are explored. Angel Beats! is one of the few good examples of a series that will tug at your heart strings while still making you laugh out loud without having any awkward transitions between the two. The one complaint I have about the plot is that I wanted more. Wait, what? That’s a complaint? Well, there are 13 episodes all up which, as I’m sure I’ve said before, immediately makes it incredibly difficult to tell a well-rounded and complete story. Having said that, it has been done before and Angel Beats! does it as well as, if not better than many other short anime series; I just think that more could have been done with more episodes. If I had to give a real complaint however, it would be that there are some minor inconsistencies in the later episodes along with some plot points that were never fully explored, though there wasn’t anything that really detracted from my viewing experience.

Angel Beats! has a rather large cast. I can’t say I’ve bothered to count them all, but the characters are both a strength and a weakness of the series. While at first glance each character has a distinct and well-developed personality, closer inspection reveals that many of them are just used for one particular line or action that is repeated throughout the anime. They’re not so much characters as they are robots programmed with only one function, which I think stems from Angel Beats!’ short length. The planning and development behind the characters may be there, it’s just that they don’t get the screen time they deserve, or perhaps that they need to make the transition out of two-dimensional space.  Still, the central cast are excellent, and unless you are looking for it you probably won’t notice what I’ve described above. The series only delves into the past of a few characters, which serves to emphasize just how much some of the other characters are left out, but the backgrounds they do explore are really very interesting, and the exploration itself is done quite well. It’s like everything this anime does makes me wonder just how much better it could have been with more opportunities to develop its characters and its world.

Angel Beats!  anime beats

I have no complaints about the visual aspects, though the audio is probably worth talking about. The Afterlife Battlefront features a band by the name of Girls Dead Monster which performs a few original songs throughout the show and even have extra pieces that weren’t featured in the anime. They’re all of excellent quality, even if they weren’t all to my tastes, but the ones I did like are now some of my favourite songs.

Before I finish up I’d better mention that there’s actually an Angel Beats! Visual Novel in the works, which I think is something to be incredibly excited about. If they can tell an excellent story with only thirteen episodes, just think of what they can do with what will most likely be over 30 hours of reading time.

Summary – I thoroughly enjoyed Angel Beats!, the unique combination of a serious story and laugh-out-loud comedy has been pulled off wonderfully. Not all of the characters are in the spotlight long enough to leave an impression, but I’m willing to overlook that because those that have been focused on were incredibly interesting. All of my complaints boil down to more time being needed to produce a more complete series, though what’s already there is excellent. I definitely recommend this anime, it’s one that everyone should watch at some point.

Score – 8.5/10 – Good

Angel Beats! anime beats

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
This entry was posted in Anime Reviews, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to [Anime Review]: Angel Beats!

  1. solidbatman says:

    I don’t think I could disagree with you anymore than I do on this one. My main problem is that the show never really decides what it wants to do. It just throws out deus ex machina plot twists using one dimensional characters who grow old after a few minutes on screen (except TK). Add on top of that a somewhat unlikable main heroine, and a forced dramatic ending with a stupid cliffhanger, and you have one of my least favorite shows I’ve had the pleasure of sitting through (FLCL still beats it in sheer stupidity).

    • Silvachief says:

      You know, I actually partially agree with all of your criticisms except the Deus Ex Machina plot twists and unlikable heroine.
      Many of the characters -are- one dimensional, though I would argue that’s more about screen time than anything else. What did you think of Otonashi, Yuri, Hinata and Yui? Them being the ones had had their pasts explored. TK was one of my least favorite characters to tell the truth, which is kind of funny.
      The ending annoyed but most likely for another reason. Angel basically ditches Otonashi once her objective is fulfilled, leaving him crying on the hard concrete as he screams out his love for her. That really pissed me off. It didn’t feel forced to me though, so we’ll have to disagree on that. I also quite liked Angel during the rest of the show…I mean, you’d be a tad antisocial if all of your friends had a habit of vanishing from existence, wouldn’t you? (of course, your dislike could be for a completely different reason)

      Do you think you will read the VN?

      • solidbatman says:

        I found almost the entire cast forgettable (to the point I can’t even remember the heroine’s name). I actually didn’t mind Angel, but I’m not a fan of kuudere’s, or mutes, or whatever you want to call her. Just, a forgettable show in general. BTW: That director has a very spotty track record with his shows. His drama stuff tends to suck while his comedy stuff tends to be fun. Angel Beats is a perfect example of that to me. (He directed Humanity Has Declined, Persona 4, and Danganronpa anime)
        As for reading the VN, I will once it’s fully out in it’s entirety (and TL of course). The basis of something good is there. Plenty of potential to be good.

        • Silvachief says:

          Fair enough. I also don’t usually like kuudere characters; Angel is an exception.

          The only other show i’ve seen by him is Carnival Phantasm which I can’t really form an opinion from (though I suppose it means I agree with you about good comedy). Humanity Has Declined is on my to-watch list though, so i’ll get back to you once i’ve watched that. I have no idea whether that’s a comedy or drama, so could you point out a series he’s done of the other type so I can contrast them and form an opinion?

  2. froggykun says:

    Angel Beats has always struck me as THE series which needs spinoffs. The various manga, light novels and this upcoming visual novel really add a lot to the world and characters which we only really see a glimpse of in the anime.

    Out of curiosity, how much do you know about the Angel Beats visual novel? I haven’t been following much of the news about it, so I don’t even have the barest idea what it’s going to be ABOUT (if they’ve revealed that much). Hopefully, we get some backstory. TK’S BACKSTORY PLZ. Anime gods, you can do this.

    • Silvachief says:

      I wasn’t actually aware of the spinoffs’ existence until just recently, so I plan to catch up with them when I choose to rewatch the series. There are a lot of aspects that need to be fleshed out, and with your recommendation I have yet another reason to check them out.

      There are actually going to be 6 visual novels released periodically. The first one covers the first 9 episodes of the anime + 3 characters routes. All character will have their own route, with some having romance options (which seem to make sense; Maeda has hinted that there won’t be a Yui romance, as she is Hinata’s). There will also be some new characters (will have to wait and see whether they have routes or not). There are also apparently mini games, though there’s no indication as to what they might be. Choices are going to be important, with Otonashi’s personality possibly changing and each choice resulting in a new scene.
      There’s more to be found, but that’s the basic stuff. Do you know @Bizkitdoh on twitter? He’s working on some pretty solid theories about the visual novel for his new blog, which I would recommend checking out once they’re complete.

  3. Lambda says:

    Truthfully, my top opinion of Angel Beats! after finishing it was: Maeda really is just used to VNs, huh? It felt like he was trying and failing to use his regular formula. He didn’t budget the time properly, is what I thought. Though some comedy episodes were funny, by the end of that really rushed final arc that in a way just felt anti climactic, I really wished they cut some or decided to be a full-on comedy. Honestly, every pairing felt forced, too. The cast was too large and I don’t even think they did too good a job making me care about Angel.

    On the other hand, I can respect Angel Beats! because the comedy, for the most part, was genuinely good in my opinion, and it’s an accessible Maeda anime for those that need a little bit of action.

    By the way, Maeda wrote the anime script as well as the prequel novel. This didn’t originate from a manga.

    • Silvachief says:

      Other than the last two sentences of your first paragraph, I can’t deny anything you’ve said. The actual story portion of the show was very rushed, leading to a somewhat unsatisfactory ending. They either needed more episodes or less comedy to round the series out. I acknowledge those shortcomings but still really enjoyed Angel Beats!’ good parts – enough that I am willing to overlook some of its lesser aspects. Also, I liked Angel a lot ^_^

      One thing I repeat a few times throughout the review is that the show would have been better with more episodes. Do you think a 24 episode Angel Beats! would be better or worse than the current 13 episode version?

      You know what? I managed to fix that in my draft document but completely forgot to add it to the real thing >.< Thanks for pointing it out!

      • Lambda says:

        I suppose it’s just a difference based on how much weight we’re giving the good/bad aspects. Angel just really felt flat for me, as with Otonashi falling for her. I preferred Yurippe, who I understood and could connect with quite a bit more.

        Hm… if we’re talking hypotheticals, I think this is primarily Maeda’s issue with not knowing how to pace anything unless he just writes. Clannad and Little Busters are two of the longest vns in existence, after all. I feel the best approach would’ve been to just let Maeda write whatever and have someone edit the same way they would with the adaptation process. My biggest fear with 24 episodes is that he just added on more character backstory and shafted the plot again. Some of that would’ve been fine but as more of them get written it’ll become more and more hit-and-miss and the audience would’ve grown tired of it. If it was just 11 more episodes of plot then maybe. There are some interesting ideas. It’s just you also get things like the whiplash that is Naoe’s arc to the extreme comedy after his recruitment that make me believe Maeda really wouldn’t want to.

        • Lambda says:

          Wow. Too Little Busters!, Lambda. Naoe is supposed to be Naoi. Should’ve known.

        • Silvachief says:

          I think that fear is justified. It’s entirely possible that all of the wrong bits would have been extended along with the right ones, resulting in a slightly longer series with the same poor pacing. I guess rather than saying it should be longer, I should specify that each area that wasn’t given enough time should be expanded upon. If that were done for each character the anime would have to be of an insane length (and the VN sounds pretty darn long, too).

          • Lambda says:

            Yeah. That’s also why I’m gonna hold off on the VNs until I see reviews, even if they are translated. I suspect they might just end up being backstory arcs again and exploring none of the interesting parts of the world.

  4. Annalyn says:

    I tried Angel Beats a few years ago, and I don’t think I watched more than one or two episodes. I’ll have to give in another try. My tastes have changed a bit, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard good things about Angel Beats and the people behind it. I’m glad you wrote this review! I’d wanted a little more information. ^_^

    • Silvachief says:

      I’d be very interested to hear your opinion on this one. As you may have read in the other comments, Angel Beats! has issues i’ve only skimmed over here, so I fully understand anyone who doesn’t love it. However, I would say that you absolutely cannot form an opinion from the first few episodes, especially since most of the plot is squished into the last 3 >.<

  5. Overlord-G says:

    AB is the first KEY related show I’ve seen and remains special to me because of it. Angel. Yuri, Yui, TK and Shiina are my fav characters on the show.

    I consider good drama being those that either keep me interested or in a tragedy’s case, make me cry. AB did just that in the final episode.

  6. Lazarinth says:

    I’m sure you know me well enough by now that those “minor inconsistencies in the later episodes” made it fall in the ranks for me. The music and visuals can be incredible but for someone obsessed with plot like I am seeing things like chronology issues with the character deaths, no one appearing in the world after the main character and a mastermind that gets barely any explanation, for me it’s the equivalent of seeing a bad sequel to a film you absolutely loved.

    • Silvachief says:

      I guess with Angel Beats! I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I noticed that it had issues but they didn’t affect my viewing experience in any major way.
      Just because this seems like a good opportunity to ask, do you think your literary education has affected your enjoyment of anime and other stories positively or negatively? Does your analysis of the story reveal unfortunate issues you might have otherwise passed over, or does the analysis itself bring more enjoyment to your viewing? Or both?

      • Lazarinth says:

        Both, but it REALLY depends on the story. If a story is well done with deep plot ironies and themes, and subtle ideological issues, I’m more likely pick up on them, click my fingers and go “Wow, that was really clever, did you notice how they did that?” which I enjoy a lot. But on the flip side I’m also more likely to see a contradiction or something that could have been fixed with a single line of dialogue to explain it better, which kind of makes me go “Well that made very little sense. How could he have remembered when he wasn’t even present during that scene? Those aliens just came out of nowhere in the end and I thought this drama was suppose to be based on a true story.”

  7. Lazarinth says:

    And as a med student maybe you can explain how blood poisoning (stated what Otonashi died from in the end) lead to memory loss, as they guessed his memory loss was caused by the way he died being some head injury.

    • Silvachief says:

      Unfortunately my study doesn’t cover high-school-themed purgatory, so I can’t answer that scientifically (though the wiki states he died from internal bleeding, so perhaps his brain was starved for oxygen before his death, leading to memory issues). It could be that there really is some master pulling strings from behind the scenes that did it for some unknown reason for all I know. Maybe Otonashi blocked the traumatic memories from his mind in order to escape the pain they gave him…I imagine that having his life taken just before he could achieve his goal, and after putting so much effort into turning his life around, is an experience many people would like to forget.

  8. rikuo06 says:

    Yup, the Angel Beats anime was severely lacking in “true route” material that the other Key works are known for. If there was any explanation of their afterlife world or “God” at all, I don’t remember it. One thing I’ll be looking forward to in the VNs, though I worry that we won’t get much of that material until the later of its 6 volumes. The waiting game continues. Maybe I’ll improve my Japanese enough by then to read it raw, so I won’t have to wait even longer for the translation.

    I do have reservations about this serialization of the VNs. It worked well for the Higurashi/Umineko novels, due to the nature of their plots, but I don’t see that for Angel Beats. Is it going to be a matter of chopping one super-long novel into parts with 3 character arcs each, with the true route/after story in part 6? Or will each volume have its own main route plot arc that can stand somewhat on its own? Either way, the old Key formula is not going to work quite the same way this time. I also wonder at how it will handle the romantic aspects, if any. Not that I advocate shoehorning in romance to every girl’s character arc, but in visual novel land it is almost a foregone conclusion. (That sample CG on the official website showing off Iwasawa’s panties, midriff, and underboobs caused quite a row when it was first posted.) It is one thing to have multiple character romances in separate branching routes, but if we have every character’s arc happening canonically, with some necessarily occurring chronologically after others, that makes things very difficult or very awkward. Ideally, we’d stick with Otonashi/Tenshi end and keep the rest platonic like in the anime. Another thing that might come in handy would be switching narrator/protagonist perspectives from time to time, a la Refrain.

    • Silvachief says:

      I also think we will have to wait for quite a bit later in the story to get any real explanation for anything. If Maeda is smart he will lay true route breadcrumbs in the earlier volumes to keep people interested. How’s your Japanese learning going and how are you learning it? I know about 450 kanji now, though i’m learning them slowly and I know very little grammar. As far as reading Angel Beats! in Japanese goes…I always worry that I won’t enjoy a VN in Japanese as much as I would in English. In English I can appreciate a good writing style (though that’s mostly the work of the translators), whereas in Japanese I would be struggling just to understand.

      I’m torn about the question of whether a single long novel or multiple stand-on-their-own stories would be better. Key is best at building up to a major pay-off but in this case they need to keep people interested for an incredible amount of time. There’s also the question of whether i’ll play them as they come out or when they’re all translated; what’s your plan on that matter? It’s interesting that you mention adding romance to every girl’s arc because Maeda himself has said that there are some where it won’t happen just because of how odd it would be (the specific example being that Yui will not have a romance option), which I think is a very good thing. I’m not against there being extra heroines though, where they make sense, since romance can really improve a route if it’s done right. I see Yuri and Angel being the two main heroines with others like Iwasawa and Shiina being secondary. They’ve also confirmed that the story will be told from different perspectives as it has been reported that Otonashi will only be voiced in scenes that aren’t from his perspective. The fact that Otonashi will have voiced scenes means that the perspective switches will occur in more than just flashbacks, which is promising.

  9. lifesongsoa says:

    It is worth pointing out that Angel Beats was always planned as a mixed media release. The anime is the part we got to see, but it also had a light novel and manga release all at the same time as the anime. They were all meant to compliment the same story. I’m not sure if the manga and LN are different, I actually own the book, but duh, I can’t read it. I think both of them take place before the anime though and develop characters who are less central to the anime from an earlier perspective.

    • Silvachief says:

      That’s a good point that I hadn’t considered till now. However, is it fair to let the anime off for missing out important information just because some other media release has it? Of course, that’s assuming the manga and LN do have that information.
      It’s similar to the question I still have for the Muv-Luv trilogy of stories: Is it okay for a prequel story to suffer quality-wise just because it’s building up to something bigger?
      Part of me wants to say that every release should be able to stand up on its own and be judged on its own but…sometimes you can’t give a fair opinion if you judge something that way. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

      • lifesongsoa says:

        I just think it is something interesting to note. There is nothing wrong with reviewing the anime for just the anime, but if we want to be conscious of the overall goals of the story then knowing it was a mixed media product from the very start gives us a new perspective. Same for Muv Luv or anything else I think.

        I can tell you that when I am looking at the early part of a story and I find I am on the fence about the quality my question is something like this: What kind of experience did this specific part of the story attempt to create and how well did it accomplish that as a piece? After that and only after that does the question becomes did it add or detract to the things that happened latter in the series? If the answer to either question is no or it detracts then I know I have something worthy of “goal oriented critiquing”.

        As far as Angel Beats itself goes I never felt like the characters or the world needed more development. I wanted to know them better and would have liked to spend more time with them, but I never felt like Angel Beats needed more time for the type of story it was telling. I can see where you are coming from though.

        There were a lot of red herrings in the early part of Angel Beats, such as the fight against god and his “Angel”. I know those confused a lot of people because well, I remember watching the complaints in real time, but I also think they were perfectly justified for the story that was being told. I don’t really remember any loose ends off the top of my head.

        The biggest quality complaint I have for Angel Beats is for the animation and art. The background art and some of the animation was incredibly inconsistent in the original TV release. I believe they fixed things up for the BD though, to some degree at least.

  10. Thai777 says:

    Well I heard somewhere something really interesting that can change your view of the anime. I see a lot of people here saying the cast wasnt explored enought a little bit more story could have been better. I dont remember where and I dont have a link but I heard somewhere that Angel Beats was supposed to be a 36 episode anime but they lost their material on a tsunami on Japan and almost all data was erased, only the scene with Otonashi and Kanade at the end of the show remained. Logically they couldnt redo it, because of the budget so they change it to a 13 episode. If that thing is true, its a shame that its happened.. Angel Beats what good I wonder how it would have became if it was a 36 episode anime show.

    • Silvachief says:

      That’s a really interesting idea. I haven’t seen it before, so I can’t comment on whether it’s true or not. Still, i’ll pass it on to a friend of mine who’s become kind of obsessed with Angel Beats since the visual novel was announced. With a whole ‘nother 23 episodes…I can’t help but wonder what may have happened >.>
      Thanks for sharing!

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