Angel Beats! Review

Well, I went back to watch some things that I wanted to review for a while, and one attempt at reviewing a fairly modern series.  But the anime release period operates in a season model, where every quarter has shows coming and going.  So that means that October will be all new stuff.  But since nothing is finished yet, let’s look at a show that was recommended to me by the same person who gave me several other recommendations, starting with Angel Beats!

Angel Beats(Sub) Anime Review
Length: 13 episodes
Studio: P.A. Works/Sentai Filmworks

Now, let me begin by saying that this review will contain some spoilers, but I will try to not spoil anything beyond the first four episodes.  To me, the first fourth of anything is fair game when in a review, and this is a plot where the ultimate goal is pretty much the same, but the means and allies change throughout.  And that main goal centers around a couple dozen high school kids who want to get out of some kind of limbo where they need to live out their unreached goals until their spirits can be at rest.

The story begins with a caring red headed young man named Otonashi falling into this purgatory and ending up with amnesia.  While trying to figure out where he is and why he’s in a high school uniform, he learns of his predicament, he is basically immortal, with lethal wound healing after a few hours, but oddly not cuts, sores, and bruises.  An aspect that I think the writers forgot about after the eight or so episode.  Well, that’s not necessarily true, the characters do still act like dying is just a temporary side effect, but even during a point where immortality won’t help them, they still act like they can brush it off.

But after getting murdered twice, Otonashi realizes that he is in a space for the dead, and a group known as the SSS Battlefront, the name changes all the time, but we’ll go with that, recruits them in their war.  Which begins with them fighting a platinum blonde that they refer to as Angel.  Her job is to get the teens to the SSS, a group of individuals who all suffer from an unsatisfactory or unfinished existence, to enter a normal high school existence in order to fill their empty lives, since this show takes place in a high school between Heaven and Earth.

Actually, there is a lot of commentary on the Japanese education system and the conditions it gets individuals in once people enter the adult world.  Now, this kind of stuff makes shows all the more interesting, but a much as I like the undercurrent of real world issues being discussed, I cannot go into it without spoiling things about the background characters, who are called NPCs, the character development, and a character who appears at the halfway point.

But going back to the horrible pasts, most are very well told and feature the trauma card on nearly as hard as Berserk.  I will not spoil one of them, but they are all delightful in how horrible they are, and more than a little bit ironic.  However, only about six people have a past, one is kind of lame, and every character without a past detailed is just 2D and uninteresting.  I understand the desire to make a large group of characters, but when only about seven characters matter, you can toss a few out of the supporting cast.  Baccano did balance wonderfully, but Baccano is a balancing act that worked out as well as it did because of the talented creators.  But this is not quite at the level of Nichijou, where you could remove half a dozen characters, and the only “negative” result would be that the cast feels smaller.  But these guys are a resistance, think about the original Star Wars trilogy, how many people in the resistance really mattered?  Or pretty much any war or even conflict story, unless you characterize everyone to an even point, introducing tidbits of about 17 characters makes anyone who is not characterized feel out of place.

But even the characters provided aren’t all that unique.  The leader of the SSS is a girl named Yuri, often referred to as Yurippe, who has purple hair with ribbons, and is a strong female leader who is more restrained and violent than Haruhi Suzumiya.  Now, I am not calling her a blatant rip off, but there is very little to her beyond her dark past that I can grab onto to fully defend those two being unrelated.  We also have Hinata, the somewhat bumbling blue haired friend of Otonashi… He’s one of the more main characters, and that’s all I can think of.  Angel is a very development heavy character who has very few emotions, but it was in a way that was interesting, mostly because she feels more organic than others I could mention, her digital super powers notwithstanding.  Although, her design of a short girl with long platinum blonde hair and yellow eyes…  It is distinct, but very blah.

Despite having the artistic talent of a frog, I really get peeved at bland character designs, because there are so many unique design possibilities.  And even more recent designs, like the co-op robots in Portal 2 and a lot of Borderlands, both manage to look distinct and memorable.  To me, great character design is when, regardless of the style a character is placed in, you can tell who they are.  For another example, the characters of Adventure Time look very recognizable due to the simple characteristics that must be included for them to be the character people know.  You can make quick, but eye catching sketches, and they can often be more iconic than anything that someone designs for an hour. Despite how the art direction in Deadly Premonition is not even that good, I will always remember the way the character look, act, and sound.  But no, shows like this and games like *Insert Military FPS Here* look like crap, even though just giving them visual characteristics, like say a scarf or a little icon, they can look memorable.  For the love of god, Captain Smiley from Comic Jumper was first made by a two-year-old, and it is way more eye catching than this.

But the actual animation is perfectly fine, and I do like the neat little lighting effect that they have going on with character’s hair, but this show took a break dancing Engrish speaking dancing man, and barely focused on him,  There is a painfully Moe little girl who has a progression plot that is as heartfelt as it is depressing.  There are actually arcs to a lot of characters, but there is so much cleaning up that needs to be done.  It really feels like the artist was so proud of the characterless girl band extras, that they had to be considered secondary characters by the show’s outro, which is just a pan out of the 18 or so characters.  You’ve got a tough action girl who is a ninja, but likes cute things?  Freaking The World God Only Knows had that as the fifth stereotype that it touched!  And does this incarnation do anything unique?  No!

I do like the plot of this show a ton, it has good twists and a bunch of intrigue.  The backstories remind me of the flashback writing in Lost Odyssey, which make the standard of Japanese media’s writing look like below average fan-fiction.  I think that the setting makes great use of the school environment, the most repetitive location in all of anime.  I love how people need to get closure, because closure is something that I crave from any story ever made.  Characters do indeed develop, but many are just static, only able to be described within a sentence.

I want to say that Angel Beats! is great for people who are leaving, or have recently left High School, College, or even just their own home time.  It has some wonderful moments and send offs.  The last episode is just the main characters saying good-bye, and closing pretty much all their stories, without explaining anything about why or how the world exists.  There are some wonderful moments, but then there are just some pointless moves.  I understand that guns are seen as a last resort in Japan, but there is no need to have a couple dozen guys make guns for a couple dozen people.

And where did all these gun makers come from?  Did they also lack something in life?  Why are they high school students though?  There is a faulty execution about love being the key at the end, but it was really not foreshadowed to any meaningful degree, and there are many scenes that could’ve been cut with the characters.  The base frame work is good, and I did have a lot of fun with the show. But in the end Angel Beats is something that just makes you crave something meatier.  Not at all bad, but it could really use some more refining before I can without a but added at the end, call it a good show.  Symbolism can enhance something, but it is not an excuse for poor optimization of resources.  Especially the ending, you can be a bit more blunt if you want to, fans shouldn’t need to explain your subplots.

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