*BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Spoilers ahead*
Angel Beats starts off with our male protagonist Otonashi discovering that he is “living” in a kind of purgatory high school world as each character who occupies this space await reincarnation. With no knowledge of how he died, Otonashi finds himself to be in a war zone, as a group of teens are battling against the idea of leaving this current life and prepare battle against Angel, the high school’s student council president.
Angel Beats is an anime that experiments mixing slapstick humour with a story that leads to despair and sadness. The 13-episode anime focuses on the antics of “Class SSS” and it is quickly established that since they are already dead each member can recover from any injury they face. Much of the show’s humour is from the physical pain each of them go through, with the characters dying in some gruesome yet comical ways.
Hailed as one of the greatest anime’s of all time by many fans and critics alike, Angel Beats has also faced harsh criticism as being seriously overrated. So where does it stand?
*puts thinking cap on*
Class SSS has a leader named Yuri, a girl who is constantly sending the class on crazy missions to overcome Angel, a person who they believe has contact with the god of this universe. These missions range from darn right suicide plots to performing underground concerts to fighting through death traps and attacking Angel head on. Though insanely different, the end of each mission all have the same goal. To overwhelm Angel and get her to contact God in order for Yuri to give the creator a piece of her mind.
Enter epic levels of sadness.
As the series goes on we learn about the horrible childhood each member of Class SSS went through before dying. Some were abused, others faced physical disabilities, and others lived a normal life before having their childhood cut short by a traumatic event. This makes their bond seem legit, as they all question and resent a god that made their lives so horrible.
With Angel Beats being a short series it makes the pacing pretty good throughout its running time. The plot is presented in a fine matter, but I was left hoping that there were more episodes dedicated to a particular character. Doubling the amount of episodes would have given the series a great opportunity to dive into a characters past with a lot more detail, making you feel for them that much more when revealing the sad, dark details that led to their death.
That said, there’s quite a bit of character exploration that takes place with the main characters (Angel, Otonashi, Angel) whilst some of the supporting characters aren’t bad either. Without giving too much away, there are some very complex reasons for existing in this purgatory for many of the characters. Everyone has a legitimate reason for refusing to move on.
What makes Angel Beats stand out from the norm is that there isn’t the usual archetypes that you often find in anime. As a result of the world they occupy, Yuri’s group of rebellious young teens are eccentric and Yuri openly admits in pretty much each episode that most of them are idiots. This provides some of the oddly funny moments that shapes the basis of Angel Beats.
The series is wrapped up in mystery and the characters share the same position as the audience in not knowing what is expected of them in this world and what’s in store for them after they pass on. All that Class SSS knows for sure is that if you play along with this world you will disappear. This world is being occupied by “normal” students and teachers whom they refer to as “NPCs”, so the class fights for their continued existence by being abnormal as possible.
Dealing with themes of life and death, essentially Angel Beats tackles what happens when we still have lingering regrets and desires in our hearts when we pass on. It serves as a ‘I wish I had done this, or said that’ kind of attitude towards each of the characters. Living in the in-between gives them that final chance to do what they always wanted to do before moving on. The series explores how one should go about overcoming these regrets and/or desires.
I had heard that the series was a huge tear jerker before I started watching and after a few episodes I was left wondering whether I read this right. However, ones you learn about some of the tragic pasts the characters have had and what leads to the series finale, I discovered why some were left grabbing for the box of tissues once they had completed the series.
Whilst Class SSS are too preoccupied to discover how to move on from purgatory they fail to see what this world truly is. They now exist in an idealised school life – filled with all the classes, friends, and activities one could ever wish for. Class SSS use moulding dirt to create its large amount of firearms meaning that in this world they can create anything they may want or need.
With the help from Otonashi Class SSS discover how you disappear. When a person feels content and has learned to accept his or her life or overcomes regrets by doing so in purgatory what was not possible to do in life, the student disappears. Their soul has been cleansed and they’re ready for another shot at life. Angel is the only one who understands the true purpose of the world from the very start. This explains why she goes along with the school life fantasy so then in the minds of Class SSS, she must be working for God and trying to force them to give up their existence and disappear.
As good as Angel Beats is, there are also some bad elements to the anime. The show dips a little too far into senseless comedy shenanigans. It seems like a couple of episodes were dedicated a bit too much on adding meaningless slapstick gags when that time could have been used to add a bit more complexity to the narrative. That being said, some of the slapstick comedy was pretty darn humorous.
This results to making the series a tale of two moods. The tone established in the first few episodes is vastly different to the one Angel Beats adopts in the last few episodes, so it’s clear to see how the series has come with its doubters. I felt like I wasn’t completely invested in a lot of the characters until about half way through when you learn what led to their death, making the first few episodes fail at establish its cast.
That being said, it’s hard to get emotionally attached to this many characters in a series that only runs 13 episodes, so to have you care as much as you do by the end is pretty impressive.
Angel Beats boasts a cast of fun and oddly funny characters and deals with the theme of regret very well. It may not seem like your cup of tea through the first few episodes but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded by the end. If you’re new to anime and you’re looking for a short series then Angel Beats will give you a great taste of what anime is all about. It will invoke some powerful feelings and will most likely have you shedding a tear or two as it reaches its climax.