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Jun Maeda, well known for previous teen drama efforts - Kanon and Clannad, has come up with another, shorter retelling, only this time with a much more interesting twist.. Kanon was all about character development and slowly divulging in each ones story, Clannad was more of the same, only more brutal in its story telling and delivery. Angel Beats! however, must capture its audience with half the number of episodes of 'Kanon' and 4 times less than that of 'Clannad'. So how does it fair?
Yuzuru Otonashi, some teenage boy awakens to find himself at an unknown school. Completely oblivious to his surroundings, he stumbles across a girl wielding a rifle - squarely aimed at another girl. Right off the bat, it is revealed that the place they reside is effectively a purgatory, where students souls remain in limbo for having not lived a satisfactory life or having died with many regrets or unfinished business - either way, they're all teenagers so, lives cut short. It turns out that this girly dispute is due to a conflict of opinions, not much else. Before the girl with the sniper can exact some sort of punishment, Otonashi approaches the girl seen in the scope, only for her to brutally stab him through the chest. A pretty grim welcome, but it matters not as he finds himself in a bed in the infirmary... completely fine. It would appear that people in this world cannot die - their body feels pain, much to the annoyance (and amusement) of certain characters who die on a regular basis, but makes a full recovery sooner or later.
It turns out that a group of kids are all united against this stabby girl (Tenshi) and have their own club which endures multiple embarrassing name changes. Every other student and teacher in the school is simply referred to as an NPC - A non playable character. The details are all a bit murky and the explanations vague but any in depth description would be a waste of time and far too serious for a 13 episode teen, drama, comedy.
Yuzuru Otonashi - is a pretty dull, standard lead. Most of the time he's the willing to help out anyone, slightly confused mug who is in the same position as the audience, standard. He does offer up some comedic value here and there though, often taking the piss when reacting to others crazy behaviours in the club. His backstory is one thats pretty quick, but holds a meaningful message that all should heed.
Yuri Nakamura - AKA 'Yurippe'... awful name, admitted later on... is the leader of club as she was supposedly the first sent to this place. Her past is real grim, but she remains in control as the bossy leader who tends to just sit back and watch everything fall to pieces.
Tenshi - the girl who seeks order amongst all students including those with souls, she has several forms of attacks and abilities which she announces (Mark 1, 2 ,3 etc). A tiny student council president, she seems emotionless and calm for the majority of the show, where her name and such get revealed. Oh and she really likes spicy food..
Hideki Hinata - the class clown
Ayato Naoi - the gay hypnotist in love with Otonashi
TK - spouts random english words, usually irrelevant
Matsushita - the fat judo guy
Takeyama - the hacker nerd who insists on being called 'Christ'
Takamatsu - glasses and a six pack
Noda - crazy halberd wielding lunatic
Eri Shiina - constantly says 'How unwise'
Yui - foul mouthed, pink haired... say no more
Both 'Kanon' and 'Clannad' also had Maeda working on the soundtracks, including the super catchy intro and outro themes. 'Angel Beats!' is no different with a classy piano track to begin with and an incredibly lovely/depressing end theme (this is the most heart-wrenching part to be honest - it's much sadder than the actual ending!). A few tracks pop up here and there that are worth a listen such as 'Today is OK' and 'School Days' - most laden with either electronic beats or modified piano tracks. The breaks where there would be adverts are quite cleanly done, with a single note on a piano played as the angel beats logo flashes past (a heart rate monitor line) clever. There is also a band called 'Girls Dead Monster' that crops up on occasion, a J-pop/punk chick trio - they're quite awful, as its very mushy upbeat trash really.
As with most anime, I preferred the Japanese voice actor over the heavily exaggerated American dub which makes every guy sound like a jock on the football team and each girl a bubblegum blowing air head, so subtitles it is. The ways several characters reveal the reasons to them being where they are, tend to be quite well thought out and deep, though they do play on your emotions and deliberately have some cold hearted situations. This anime is really highly rated in the anime community, so I would go ahead and say it is overrated as there is little time to grow attached to characters in so little time and yet still, the majority of episodes are spent dicking about with little to no story progression. Even so, it has its charms and the general story is well thought out and interesting. Worth a go.
==I'm told it's nice to be pleasantly surprised and you have that look on your face...==
Yes, Angel Beats rather took me by surprise. The plot is not such that it would make me want to watch it but that's where a decent few lines of opinion can get you interested. I'm a firm believer that almost any story no matter whatever the content can be made sublime by how it is handled in its respective form. Angel Beats may not be sublime but it does so many things right. I'd say at its very heart it understands what it's about. It knows the tone it wants to pitch its story at and nails it perfectly. Without these two points it could have been pretty silly and pretty childish and make watching it as an adult want to bleed from the eyes.
==OK, I'm intrigued enough to want to hear the bare bones of the story - I was going to try and come up with a piece of music imagery there instead of the bones, but, well, I was too lazy==
His mind devoid of memory, Otonashi awakes to find himself at a high school. Only this high school is a limbo for dead teens who have unresolved issues from their past. He is inducted by Yuri in the Afterlife Battlefront, a guerrilla group of students fighting against god for their unhappy lives prior to death. Their nemesis, the school council president, is Angel, who in their opposition hope will lead them to god.
==OK, that sounds strange. Or bad. Or both. But I assume due to your positive reaction so far that the reality is something better than bad and more interesting than just strange==
Yes. Again we have to plunge ourselves into something where the genre conventions don't always match up to what we might wish for. By which I mean the emphasis on teen characters. I guess in occidental culture if your narrative focuses on teenagers then it's usually aimed more at teens (films like Brick being a notable exception) or at nostalgic reminiscence (ala Stand By Me). You've just got to watch Neon Genesis Evangeleon - err, kids in giant robot suits - for the ultimate in richly told, oft saddening storytelling suffused with religious imagery and deeply philosophical but on the surface it's just kids in suits right?
==So take the plunge? I mean, suspend that extra piece of disbelief, just get on with it and enjoy it for what it is==
Very nicely put. Firstly this is set out in 13 twenty-five minutes episodes plus an OVA (original video animation). The OVA works more as a coda, and actually is set prior to the ending of the series so I'm not sure why as part of the blu-ray presentation they didn't just integrate it into the series, as they did with (the excellent) Technolyze. It would not have been out of place. The pacing of it and thus the storytelling is well judged and thought out; Angel Beats reveals its secrets at suitably appropriate episodes to keep everything moving and this in turn aids timely development of the characters. I'll not describe the how as this will be uber spoiler alert (this will be a theme throughout I'm afraid!). But trust me, they do this well. It has, though, had some criticism for the 13 episode structure as it means not all the of the Afterlife Battlefront have their backstories explained, but I don't see this as a problem though I can understand the criticism because as the story progresses the Battlefront starts to recognise the need to fulfil the dreams that were lost to them in their childhood and so it maybe lessens some of the impact of this shift in the story. But if it does, it's not to the extent that it really matters too much. It certainly never felt any less compelled by the lack of additional backstories.
As I opened with, the producers of Angel Beats have really got the tone of the series right. It's rich with humour, sometimes a bit oddball and balances this with the emotional backstories we discover, as well as the changing relationships between the Afterlife Battlefront, Angel and Naoi (who succeeds Angel as School Council President after a successful campaign by the Battlefront against Angel. Naoi, unfortunately, turns out to be far worse than Angel could have been). In limbo one cannot die - or so we think - and so there's a lot humour revolving around comic demise. Sometimes to the point of pure lunacy: entrapment by fascination with cute clockwork animals anyone? I'm not sure here I'm really doing justice to the series because it being quite so unusual and though the humour can be quite slapstick and as I say downright ludicrous - repeatedly attaching rockets to a student's chair to send them barrelling to the ceiling of the classroom as a diversion - but it works, maybe because sometimes it is ludicrous in the same sense that Monty Python is. You take a certain amount of 'low humour' and use it to you own ends. Perhaps it's also because it counterpoints the seriousness of some of the backstories. Without the humour it'd probably be pretty grim and frankly wouldn't work. Which leads me to quickly add that though there is much comic demising going on, it's not a bloody series, it has a 15 rating and really I'm not sure why this is, I'd say we're more in 12 territory at most.
==Shall we take a bit more of a look at character then?==
Yuri, being instigator and prime mover against god and Angel gets fully fleshed out so that we can understand how some horrific events in her childhood (again no details due to spoiler alert) have shaped her worldview (should that be limboview?). For all that she may stand in the window, sniper rifle train on Angel or sit in front of the giant screen that displays the day's Battlefront operation, she's at heart very deeply scarred. Because what we find out is genuinely horrific. It's not gratuitous and this is important, it's discreetly described and sensitive. And I think in general it's a very sensitive series when it needs to be and so again there's the balance between humour (the Battlefront being wiped out by their own defences on a trip to their weapon works) and true emotional wallop.
Ditto Otonashi. As we discover he's in a slightly different position to the other characters, something that's intrinsically linked to his initial amnesia. As he begins recall his past: his younger sister's death, which motivates for this to drag him out of his apathetic existence and drives him towards medical exams to become a doctor so that he can help and heal. Unlike the other characters, we find out Otonashi died in a mixture of fulfilment and not. As such he's the motivator for the change in the Afterlife Battlefront from wilful defiance to encouraging the characters to come to terms with their respective demons.
The remaining cast, Angel and Naoi aside who we won't look at for spoiler alert syndrome, are all members of the Battlefront. The teachers and schoolchildren are all NPCs (non-player characters) who populate limbo. They go through their normal day, day after day and until some strange happenings further into the series don't really come into the story except in terms of how the Battlefront relate to them. Despite being nothing more than cyphers the Battlefront always do their best to keep them out of harm's way, their key strategy being the utilisation of Girls Dead Monster. Girls Dead Monster being a band made up of Battlefront members, led, initially by Masami, who is the first member of the battlefront to actually gain fulfilment, unsurprisingly through her music. Girls Dead Monster provides the "Beats" in the title of the series and oddly, considering most songs in anime are pretty dreadful (unless by Yuki Kajiura or Yoko Kano), are surprisingly good. You can understand why the NPCs flock to them as they explode in their guerrilla performances (Angel is not happy when they stage their impromptu live gigs). They have real energy to them.
Masami's place in Girls Dead Monster is taken by Yui, whose relationship with older Hinata - bit of a love hate thing - again provides some real emotional power to it. Bother Yui and Hinata bring a lot of humour to the series but ultimately a lot of warmth and their final respective casting off of demons is really rather touching. Again, it's touching in many ways because of the humour. They're willing to strip away the robes of humour to display emotional nakedness.
==OK, so as you say there's the humour vs feeling stuff going on. Any other thoughts on the series beyond this?==
Angel Beats, ultimately, is great fun. I've already said I feel I'm doing it a disservive because it's hard to capture the essential something that's at the heart of the series. But it really does have it all. The humour is sometimes ludicrous, often very familiar to other anime series but where much of it would really get on my nerves in another series in Angel Beats it fits and never grates. Ditto, the way Girls Dead Monster come in, it's something that should not work. But it does because it becomes both integral to the plot and to the development of Masami's and Yui's characters. It's not just a vehicle for bad pop music that makes you want to spoon out your eyeballs in horror. (Not something I am recommending by the way. No eyeballs were harmed in the writing of this review.) The main characters are well fleshed out and their stories moving where they need to be and they develop, they're not static and actually, watching Angel Beats it would be very easy for the series to rest on its laurels and just keep them static and continue episode after episode fighting with Angel to comic but thankfully they don't and that means that the characters really do become the heart and soul of the series.
So yes, one would certainly recommend Angel Beats and quite deservedly so. It has that illusive 'something', that spark of artistry that really makes it compelling, funny and ultimately touching. I don't think it's going to make neophytes of non-anime lovers out there (but that being said I'm not really a lover of anime, I just know what I like and get it in whatever shape or form that I can) but it's perhaps another case of: if you can get it, stream it, without having to fork out about the £20-25 you can expect to pay for the blu-ray then sample the first few episodes and see if it resonates. If it does, great, if not, well, there you go.
The Blu-ray transfer looks lovely. I must admit comparing animation on blu-ray vs DVD you can really tell the difference. Yes films you can too but in animation the difference seems even more accentuated. The colour is just so much more vibrant. I must confess I didn't really investigate the extras but there are only some trailers anyway so nothing to actually investigate. I was too busy enjoying the series!
What happens to us when we die? That cheery question is something the more gullible amongst us may have been pondering last week as the countdown to the prophesied Mayan Apocalypse drew nearer. Mocking the naive aside, speculation of the afterlife is an interesting subject matter and forms the basis for a number of anime shows/movies. One such example is Angel Beats, which takes place at a high school in limbo, were recently deceased youngsters attend classes until they come to terms with any lingering doubts about their life permitting them to pass on. The show is presently available to buy, as a two disc DVD set, from Manga Entertainment containing the thirteen episode series plus a twenty two minute OVA.
Angel Beats kicks off with protagonist Yuzuru Otanashi awakening at the above-mentioned school. Missing all his memories from the time he was alive, Yuzuru is naturally confused about his current location until a purple haired schoolgirl named Yuri Nakamura (who is the spitting image of Haruhi Suzumiya) explains Otanashi's predicament. It doesn't take long for the assertive Yuri to enlist Yuzuru to the Afterlife Battlefront, which she leads. Said Battlefront is a group of deceased students who are rebelling against high school life out of fear that compliance with the rules will see them pass on. An eternity in purgatory is after all preferable to potentially getting reincarnated as a water flea.
The Afterlife Battlefront's rebellion is, for the most part, innocent enough. The group cause mischief in class, break into dormitories, steal meal tickets from the canteen and organize unsanctioned musical concerts at the gym. Things however get serious when class president Kanade Tachibana turns up to quell the Battlefront's disruptive ways. The softly spoken, silver haired, Kanade is in fact an angel endowed with superhuman abilities. Keeping her at bay is an almost impossible task even though Yuri's group is armed with weapons fashioned out of dirt.
Generally speaking, Angel Beats is a mix of comedy, action and drama. A lot of the early episodes are filled with slapstick gags, which are in stark contrast to the touching moments found in the later chapters. Examples of the sillier stories, found on the first DVD, include "Day Game" were Otanashi and friends are made to take part in a baseball tournament and "Guild" were the Battlefront travel to an underground base only to get picked off one at a time by their own anti-Angel traps. The jokes made me chuckle, but I found the dramatic episodes covering the tragic manner in which the Battlefront members had died to be far more interesting.
Although strictly speaking not an action show, the skirmishes featured in Angel Beats are well put together thanks to the above average artwork and animation. There's a good selection of gunfights and melee duels, which are entertaining even though you know that the combatants are already dead and therefore cannot be taken out of commission permanently. Anyone who suffers a fatal wound in limbo simply recuperates a few hours later, no matter how gruesomely they are dispatched. This rule does however change near the end when shadow creatures that can devour souls show up on the scene.
One complaint that can be levied at Angel Beats is that it doesn't afford its characters enough screen time. The Battlefront's roster is expansive, but the story only delves into the back-story of a handful of characters. We learn that Yuzuru was learning to become a doctor after losing his sister to cancer and how guilty Yuri feels about being unable to protect her younger siblings from being murdered by robbers. It's good stuff, which fleshes out their motivations. Unfortunately a lot of other cast members don't get the same treatment and are relegated to being two-dimensional cardboard cutouts with quirks to be exploited for comedic effect. What's the deal with TJ who spends every free moment break dancing, Eri the ninja girl who has a soft spot for cuddly toys or Noda who doesn't go anywhere without his faithful axe? I guess we shall never know. The series would have benefitted from being a complete twenty-six episodes long instead of the mere thirteen we get.
My final rating for Angel Beats is four stars out of five. All in all I am pleased to have this DVD in my anime collection. One minor technical gripe I have is that during the opening theme, of some episodes, there is no sound for the first couple of seconds. This doesn't affect the story at all, but it's an annoying glitch that should have been picked up during the authoring process. It robs listeners from enjoying part of the beautiful piano melody " My Soul, Your Beats." Perhaps it's just an issue on some players (the hardware I use is a multi-region Pioneer) but it's worth pointing out as Manga have been guilty, this year, of bringing out releases to market with substandard subtitles and even missing scenes. I really expect better from the UK's premier anime company.
As for the content itself, I found that I enjoyed Angel Beats more on a second viewing. The first time, I sampled the show, I would have given it three stars as I unfairly dismissed it as being shallow due to the goofy opening episodes (not my cup of tea, but I am sure fans of funny high school cartoons will eat it up.) The second time round I didn't dwell on those episodes and became much more invested in the characters, which gives the bittersweet finale much more of a powerful impact. I wouldn't be too surprised if some viewers end up weepy eyed after the ending twist is sprung on them. I have to give credit to the writers for naturally evolving the series from a flat out comedy to a touching drama without making it feel disjointed. Sniff, sniff. I have to go now... I think I have some dirt in my eye.... waaaaah.
Now i'm going to be honest here.. i'm a tough nut to crack when it comes to Emotional stuff however, this Anime made me cry on multiple occasions and i'm not afraid to admit it. Angel Beats mixes a complex storyline with emotional sub-plots to make an amazing Anime. Let's get straight into it.
Angel beats takes place at a High-School which is pretty simple, however Animes are anything BUT simple so the high-school acts as an "Afterlife" for those who have passed away but still have lingering attachments from the life they lived. Everyone has their own special story and you find out as you watch. The twist that in this afterlife, is that the students can still feel pain as if they were alive but they cannot die; they just simply pass out and awaken in a few hours time. The High-School is home to a union of Students called the Battlefront which is run by a girl named Yuri.
The main story follows the role of Otonashi who lost his memories after dying. He meets Yuri at the start but is however, confused about where he is and what is going on. There is also another student in which the Battlefront calls Angel as they believe she's an Angel who reports to 'God' about the Students' endeavours. Lost, yet?
The animation is amazing, especially on the intro sequence where Tenshi is playing the piano; i thought that was spot-on. The characters are likable and as the story progresses it becomes easy to understand. The best part of this is the ending; if you completely devote yourself to the storyline and relationships with the characters, the ending will be a completely heartbreaking experience.
However, it was too short and I was surprised at how few episodes there were and the ending closes it off completely so don't expect a season 2. Well, not a 'good' one anyway.
This is and will always be, my favourite anime!
(text taken from my Squidoo review)