Not heaven, not hell, but something in-between.
Bring your guns, this is war.
A friend told me that I was in for a treat as I began watching this series. Little did I know how right she was. Angel Beats! is, in my opinion, pretty awesome for several reasons, but mostly because it has a little bit of everything: action, romance, drama, comedy, fantasy, the works. Seriously, you name it, this series has it.
Here’s the rub: Otonashi, a regular high school guy, is dead. He slowly comes to realize this fact when he wakes up in an alternate world and meets a girl named Yuri. Yuri, it turns out, has a massive gun and an even bigger grudge against God. She gives Otonashi the low-down: everyone in this world is dead, but the high school that they’ve awoken to is kind of a purgatory. You can be killed here, and it’ll hurt, but eventually you’ll wake back up and resume the daily grind in your new life. That new life involves attending high school (perpetually attending high school sounds like hell to me, not purgatory, but I digress) as well as dealing with the class president, Angel. Yuri tells Otonashi that Angel is an actual angel who is there to keep them all in line and make them follow God’s plan, so if you behave and do as Angel wants, you’ll disappear and end up somewhere else, possibly reincarnated as anything from another human to a beetle.
Yuri has a bone to pick with God: her life was tragic and unfair, so why go along with what God wants for you? Screw that. Better to mess with God’s plans, and the best way to do that in this realm is to fight against Angel. So Yuri formed the Afterlife Battlefront and now recruits others whose lives were awful in order to sustain a war on God. Together the Battlefront carries out operations to both learn more about the mysterious Angel as well as to spoil her agenda at every chance they can. Part of the students in A.B. are in an all-girl rock band called Girls Dead Monster who throw seemingly impromptu concerts in the cafeteria as diversions for Battlefront operations. The Guild is another A.B. faction who stay underground and create weapons for the cause. This world is also filled with “normal” students and teachers who appear human but merely act as background scenery, whom Yuri calls “non-player characters.”
It all sounds complicated, and it is a bit, especially for such a short (thirteen episode) series. However, once you get past the first couple of episodes it all makes much more sense. This series follows Otonashi’s journey as he attempts to deal with this new world, which means deciding which side he’s on, Angel’s or Battlefront’s. Since he lost all of his memories upon arrival, Otonashi agrees to stick with Battlefront, at least until he can remember who he is, what kind of life he led, and how he ended up in purgatory. And exactly who is the mysterious Angel? She speaks in a soft monotone and can create weapons that are attached to her arm using a computer program, but she doesn’t seem especially aggressive or violent, at least to Otonashi, though she will fight when prompted. The story progresses by finding out more about Otonashi, Angel, and the individual members of Battlefront, all of which supplies many heart-wrenching moments of drama. However, you also get to experience the adventures of living in the Afterlife Battlefront, which is where all the action and gut-busting moments of comedy come in. Seriously, some episodes had me laughing out loud and rewinding just to see certain scenes again.
I like the artwork, which is very clean and straddles the line between cute faces and battle-torn bodies nicely. The music was fun, especially the opening theme (“My Soul, Your Beats!” by Lia) and the various Girls Dead Monster songs that we’re treated to throughout the series. As for the story, once you grasp the setting and understand the dynamics of this world that you’re thrust into, everything else progresses smoothly. Otonashi makes a sympathetic and relatable protagonist, and the seemingly huge cast of side characters are unique enough to be identifiable and interesting by the time the first four episodes are over. The romances could have been developed a bit more, but they don’t come completely out of left field, and given that this is such a short series I feel that they were handled well enough. Also, Sentai did a good job with the English voice casting on this one. Finally the cast of Guin Saga got to use their talents to full potential! (Seriously, all of the main characters from Guin Saga are here, except for Guin and Duke Norisse.)
Overall, I really enjoyed this series. I expected action from the plethora of guns in the preview, but I was delighted by all of the unexpected humor. Then I was thrown for a further loop when the show took a serious turn. (The drama isn’t all existential God stuff, by the by, but rather comes through in exploring the lives of the main characters and the cards that they were dealt during their time on earth.) By the final episode the tears were pouring down my face. The very last scene in episode thirteen really tore me up, but thankfully there’s a tiny epilogue after the credits to soften the blow. I haven’t seen the OVA yet, but as I intend to own this series, that day is coming soon, and I hope that it elaborates on the abrupt ending just a teensie bit more. I look forward to going back and rewatching Angel Beats! from the point of view of knowing the whole story, and if there’s rewatch value, then that’s what I call good anime.
Rating: ★★★★✰ Almost heavenly.