Genre: Modern Fantasy/Supernatural/Action
Year Released: 2010
Distributor: Aniplex of America
Running Time: TV Series, 13 episodes, 23 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-14
Related Films/Series: Angel Beats!: Stairway to Heaven, Angel Beats!: Hell’s Kitchen
For Fans Of: Danganronpa, Persona 4, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Bleach, Air
-I streamed the series on Netflix and listened to the Japanese language track.
-Angel Beats! is the first Key production where the anime screenplay actually predates the video game. For those of you not familiar with that company, that’s the same company responsible for visual novels that also got anime adaptations such as Air, Clannad, and Kanon.
-The creator is Jun Maeda who also wrote and helped score the music. Speaking of which, he also provided music for Gunslinger Girl.
-The opening theme “My Soul, Your Beats” is performed by Lia who is famous for both the theme songs in Air.
-Seiji Kishi is the director of Angel Beats!. His work also extends to Kengan Ashura, Yuki Yuna is a Hero, and Yugo the Negotiator which I also reviewed on Iridium Eye.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Oh, boy. I couldn’t have been the only one to notice some things I found unintentionally funny. For starters, that breakdancing random English-speaking guy isn’t the first anime character I’ve seen named TK. Don’t you all remember Matt’s little brother in Digimon? Naoi has a habit of saying there’s one or two reasons when he’s explaining something much like his VA voicing Kyu from Detective Academy Q. Hinata gets blasted with a rocket trap under his chair multiple times during the tests and he casually complains that people will say “Oh, he’s [Hinata himself] blasting off again.” like he’s a Team Rocket member. There was one scene where “Angel” uses her Hand Sonic Version 5 ability and wonders how it looks sinister. She thinks that she’s a cruel angel. Tell me you weren’t thinking of a certain anime theme song when she said it. Let’s make it obvious: ZAAAAAANKOKU NA TENSHI NO YOUNI…
-Naoi is voiced by Megumi Ogata who is known for voicing Yugi Muto from Yu-Gi-Oh!, Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho, Shinji Ikari from Evangelion, and Haruka Tenou/Sailor Uranus from Sailor Moon.
-Musician Bonus: Angel’s abilities have musical references like effects pedals. Distortion, delay, and harmonics are the obvious ones here. The harmonics ability has fridge brilliance because a harmonics pedal adds notes to whatever instrument is played to complement the instrument much like how Angel can clone herself with that ability.
Much like how I reviewed Your Name a while back, I get to cover an anime that apparently got so much hype in the otaku subculture. However, this particular series came out when I wasn’t paying attention to anime, so the early 10s is like a dark history for me where I pretty much know nothing. Years after the fact, I heard the praise with how people loved the characters and were in tears for multiple scenes especially the ending (I’ll get to that later). Then again, a lot of works from Key get attention whether people like it or not, so I tend to take it with a grain of salt. Since I had a bit of extra time before writing this review which is a rarity to say the least, it looks like I get the opportunity to cover this lauded anime series even though I’m very late to the party. Shoot, you might have watched the whole thing or know about the plot.
How is this original anime screenplay?
Angel Beats! takes place in purgatory. This doesn’t resemble the underworld and Hades isn’t around. This particular purgatory resembles a giant high school with dorms and several buildings on campus. The newest student on campus is the recently deceased Otonashi who doesn’t know how he got here nor does he know his own first name. This school is far from normal as he sees a girl with a gun named Yuri Nakamura who’s trying to kill a girl she dubs “Angel” who’s supposedly a deadly student council president. Yuri also leads a club called the Afterlife Battlefront or SSS for short (the Japanese name is Shinda Sekai Sensen which explains the initialism) to deal with Angel’s alleged tyranny on campus. The other members are also dead while some have their memories and others don’t. Otonashi is dragged along to this crusade where they go on armed raids, espionage, using concerts as distractions, or hijacking tests to take on Angel. Yes, this all makes sense in context. Angel herself isn’t what she seems and there’s a much bigger conspiracy which causes Yuri to wonder who God really is and why she should rebel against Him.
It has been a very long time since I watched anything related to Key, but it was a decent refresher. To be fair, Angel Beats! has better character designs than most of the moe-blobs that flood so many of their works (just being honest here). I was skeptical about Yuri at first since she came across as a Haruhi Suzumiya clone with guns and a dye job, but I’m glad she goes beyond that. Yuri starts out as this crazy and very petty leader (stealing meal tickets? really?), besides her tragic backstory, I’m glad she actually owns up to her shortcomings unlike Haruhi and actually develops into a more likable character. Otonashi did come off as some slightly snarky blank slate, but he does have much more than meets the eye as he learns more about himself and trying to survive the high school of the dead (that joke was easy, but you were all thinking about it). I will say that the show does improve over episodes and the ending was quite bittersweet. Unlike most otaku, I’m not going to say it was as big of a tear jerker like Grave of the Fireflies as some have hyped it up to be. I liked how it tied so many things together and there was a legit plot twist that I didn’t see coming especially when it came to Otonashi and Angel. The music was pretty good with the opening theme song, some of the score, and the songs from the in-universe band Girl’s Dead Monster that plays in multiple episodes. It was also a refresher to have a series with multiple female characters and for it NOT to be a harem show which was a breath of fresh air.
Hey, Angel Beats! is beloved by so many otaku, does this mean I’m going to give high marks all the way across the sky like a double rainbow?
Pardon that dated reference, but if you read some reviews like Your Name, then you should seriously know where this is going.
Angel Beats! has overrated aspects. The animation has aged CGI backgrounds and cars. The production value drops later on in the series. Even though there are plenty of colorful characters, the cast was way too big for a thirteen episode series and not everyone’s backstory or personality is fully explained. There was one unintentionally laughable scene where Iwasawa plays her acoustic guitar while her friend raises one level of the soundboard which was connected to her guitar, yet somehow the whole school can hear her singing via the intercom system despite NOT BEING CONNECTED TO A MICROPHONE! The biggest problem I have with Angel Beats! is the extreme tonal dissonance in it’s attempt for otaku-baiting. I’m sorry. Is Angel Beats! trying to be a dark comedy? Slice of life show? Action piece? Romance? Tragic drama? There’s just a giant mish-mash of comedy, action, dead serious events, and not everything flows or connects. I feel like there’s this mood whiplash every episode like one episode involves a giant gun fight and then it’s a baseball tournament not long after. What was the point of cramming all of those genre tropes in? I thought Angel Beats! needed to have some consistency instead of trying to please every anime fan out there. Also, the aspect of armed students is really hard to watch given the school shootings that happen in America.
This work from Key was good, but I’m not calling it a masterpiece. Some of the main characters get a good amount of character development despite the wacky and morbid things that can happen in the same episode. There were likable things such as the ending, some of the plot twists, and the musical aspects. I wished so many characters didn’t pop up left and right with some only with legit purpose for the plot. Angel Beats! did pander to the hardcore otaku fans by inserting way too many elements in a blender, but the mixing didn’t work and the tonal shifts were unnecessary. Angel Beats! is on my list of good, but overrated media. It didn’t deserve the hype it got, but at least it kept me interested to see what happened next despite it’s flaws.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like Key works.
Subtract 1-3 points if you want your anime to have a consistent tone.
-Likable main characters
-The ending is brilliant while being bittersweet
-Good musical choices
-Way too many genres crammed in
-Too many characters for it’s short run time
-Extreme tonal dissonance with comedy and tragedy
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: Angel Beats! would be fine for teens and up. There’s mild language consistently, but I’ve heard worse words in things rated PG. The violence gets intense and very bloody. Characters die, but they get reanimated the same day (kind of makes you question whether anything can be considered a sacrifice?). There’s fanservice and the occasional sexual reference here and there, but there’s no nudity or sex. The backstories are quite disturbing with spousal abuse, child abuse, murder, and tragic circumstances happen.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Angel Beats! is property of Aniplex of America. The Blu-Ray set is from Amazon and is property of Sentai Filmworks.