About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Angel Beats! Final Thoughts, Final Review

My friend Archon Wing, of Anime Suki fame, was a bit bedeviled by the ending of Angel Beats! As such, I hope to do like Otonashi, and be a spiritual healer that can help Archon Wing come to peace with Angel Beats. In so doing, it may be necessary to exorcise some demons. And hence here is my final writeup on Angel Beats.

Well, the conclusion to Angel Beats! more or less confirmed my thinking on what was the true core narrative of this anime. It does, however, undermine that narrative slightly by Otonashi basically having second thoughts at the last moment. Perhaps Otonashi is brought down to Earth (figuratively, of course ;) ) by having his personal desire to spend an eternity of love and fellowship alongside Kanade start to override his previously impeccable sense of self-sacrificial helping of others.

I can forgive Otonashi his moment of selfishness, as the poor guy has gone through a lot, and was always very caring towards others throughout the anime. And Kanade is very beautiful, powerful, and kind.

Plus... something just struck me, good reader. Something just came to me.

Perhaps there is a hidden meaning in Otonashi's temporary panic at the thought of losing Kanade.

Maybe Otonashi actually did have his own personal issue to deal with after all. Maybe his issue was learning to accept a life without romantic love, just as Yurippe had to move on by accepting what happened to her beloved siblings.

The healer himself had his own wounds to heal, and so he belonged in the world of Angel Beats! after all. He did not just accidentally show up there due to amnesia.

Well... I'm putting that idea out there. Make of it what you will. I could be wrong, but who knows. As I wrote on Anime Suki, Angel Beats! leaves a lot to personal interpretation and fan speculation.

This is not necessarily a negative. It means that you'll get out of this anime whatever you invest into it. And it means that you can craft your understanding of this anime to perhaps compliment your own personal views on philosophical and/or spiritual matters.

The core narrative is that of the healer and peacemaker Otonashi coming to this world and helping the SSS Brigade and Tenshi. That is the heart of this story. But the body you fashion around it is up to each individual viewer.

And with that in mind, Maeda does expect a lot of his viewers here.

The anime does a blatant bait-and-switch, as its stated and marketed premise only has relevance for the first few episode, and later becomes the story of Otonashi helping out his friends in a fashion similar to how Tomoya helped out his. As with any bait-and-switch, not everybody will like the switch. Personally, though, I did like this one, and I think it makes some sense.

But there's only so much you can get away with in presenting a fictional story, I believe. And I think that Maeda may have forgot that.

With this in mind, Angel Beats! reminds me of Code Geass, in that both were complex amalgamations of a vast variety of different elements that appeal to different types of anime fans.

Code Geass had military conflict that would resonate well with Gundam fans. It also had mechas that would appeal to mecha anime fans in general. Code Geass had a theatrical "just as planned!" main protagonist that would appeal to fans of that character type, such as Death Note fans. Hence, Code Geass incorporated into itself familiar elements of established popular animes. Code Geass also had definitive school life and moe elements. It had comedic moments that are distinctively anime in nature. It had a slight harem-esque feel to it. It had loads of fighting action in general. Code Geass did cast a very wide net, and it was commercially successful because of it. And, I would argue, its first season was also very tight, and a great watch. It managed to put it all together in a captivating and coherent way, and it was a great anime because of it.

However, Code Geass R2 went a bit off the rails, I would argue. I think that there may come a point when an anime crosses a line of sorts. When an anime incorporates too many different elements into itself, and like a juggler adding on extra balls to his juggling act, it just can't manage to balance all those different elements together in order to make a strikingly sensible seamless final work.

Code Geass R2 started to tire its own juggler out by going with the episode ending cliffhanger plot twist, each and every week, in the early going. This was loads of fun, but it also strained the suspension of disbelief of many viewers almost to the limit. And then, about halfway through Code Geass R2, the anime gets increasingly philosophical and metaphysical. All sorts of weird trippy stuff is going on. And that, I think, is when suspension of disbelief was broken for many Code Geass R2 viewers. Amping up the metaphysical aspects of the show in a very post-modernist way essentially meant that Code Geass R2 had to juggle yet another ball, and that was one ball too many. It was just trying to do too many things at once. It just had too much going on all at once. And hence the balls were dropped. Many would argue that the finale of Code Geass R2 managed to pick the balls back up and give a stupendous final juggling act, but that's a discussion for another day. Today I focus mainly on Angel Beats! And I delve back into Code Geass R2 because I think that Angel Beats! is similar in that it perhaps was trying to juggle too many balls at once.

Engaging action scenes takes time and effort and focus to sell the viewer on them.

Character development takes time and effort and focus to sell the viewer on it.

Romance requires time and effort and focus to sell the viewer on it.

Comedy requires time and effort and focus in order to set up the jokes (or humorous situations) and deliver the punchlines (or slapstick situational humor).

Moe requires time and effort and focus in that it requires presenting the moe characters behaving and dressed in a certain way.

And steeping one's fictional world in its own special sort of metaphysical or supernatural reality requires time and effort and focus in order to ensure that the viewer gets a good idea of how this reality operates in this fictional world. Some sort of set rules need to be established, or at least implied, and they need to be conveyed in a clear and accessible way. Bleach is a good example of an anime world steeped in several supernatural elements and realms, but it presents those elements and realms carefully, and in a gradual piecemeal fashion that makes it easy for the audience to slowly adapt and adjust to how everything works in Bleach.

Now, the viewer's focus can only be divided so many ways. And the story's focus can only be divided so many ways as well. So you can have some of the above listed elements (engaging action scenes, character development, romance, comedy, moe, metaphysical and philosophical elements), but if you have all of those elements, you run the risk of overwhelming the viewer, and making it difficult for him or her to make sense of it all.

And, well, Angel Beats! has all of the elements that I listed. Much like Code Geass R2, it probably has one element too many, and hence for some viewers, the metaphorical balls are dropped.

When you factor in how Angel Beats! incorporates all of these elements into a 13 episode time-frame, it's no wonder that many viewers are, like Archon Wing, left scratching their heads. There's just too much going on within too short a time frame. The anime jumps haphazardly from one element to the next to the next, and it all begins to blur for many viewers.

It also doesn't help that Angel Beats! has a fairly large cast, and didn't even try to keep juggling its full cast in its final episode...

Don't worry Girl De Mo, TK, and Yui; I won't forget you dudes and dudettes. Especially not you, TK, as your surprisingly good English for a subbed anime was always cool and groovy to me!

So, to make sense of the incredibly multifaceted work of Angel Beats!, the viewer needs to keep in mind two things:

1. The real core story is that of the spiritual healer Otonashi bringing peace in the midst of conflict, and bringing spiritual healing to his new found friends.

2. You need to use your imagination to fill in the gaps. For example, I find that it's helpful to imagine that some romances were building up "behind the scenes".

The core story of Angel Beats! is a good one, and there's a lot of fun to be had in watching this anime. This anime also occasionally reaches the same sort of heartfelt touching moments that previous Maeda works achieved.

But perhaps is just tries to do too much in too little a time frame. Like Code Geass R2, it just crossed the line.

That's not to say that either Angel Beats! or Code Geass R2 are bad animes. Both have definitive strong points, and for fans that care more about characters than plot, their weaknesses may be virtual non-issues.

But if an anime is aiming for a strong plot that is accessible to a lot of viewers, it needs to have a clearer and more limited focus than the highly ambitious Angel Beats! and Code Geass R2 animes.

All of this being said, Angel Beats! will almost certainly be a rousing commercial success. And that will likely mean it will have some influence on future anime works, just as previous prominent anime works influenced it.

I think what some animation companies may take from Angel Beats! is that there's a real audience out there for a show that combines action, moe, high production values, and certain character designs and types.

Simply put, I don't think that Yurippe will be the last character to be designed with Haruhi Suzumiya in mind. I think that a future anime that features a HaruClone as an action hero in a less multifaceted production could sell very well, and be as excellent and tight as Code Geass' first season was. Perhaps this time the HaruClone could be leading a rebellion against something like, say, Britannia. ;) And the story could stay focused on, and revolve around, that conflict, and not get too caught up in other elements that could distract the viewer from this core story.

I hope to see an anime like this one day, and I may even write some original fiction in this vein, if anybody is interested in reading that, of course.

But, long story short, Angel Beats! was a fun and interesting ride while it lasted. The ending felt a bit abrupt, and while it was very nice in parts it also wasn't a particularly satisfying conclusion. Nonetheless, I'm glad I watched this anime, and I'll give it 8/10 overall.

An ambitious work that just tried to do too much in too little time. But a work that was quite imaginative, and often very fun to watch.

And I now bid adieu to Angel Beats!, as it disappears and hopefully will lead to Haruhi Suzumiya being reincarnated in yet another anime some day. ;)


  1. Back around episode 5 or so, I remember discussing Angel Beats with a friend and saying at one point "So it's basically Code Geass done by Key?" in response to one of his statements. I'm guessing I'm not the only one to think that way. (BTW, we both agreed that we'd watch a show that was described as such, too.)

    I'm not actually sure I agree the show was a bait and switch because I was totally expecting the show to turn more Key like as it went along. For me the only bait and switch was episode 10 - as mentioned earlier, I was highly disappointed with 11 and 12 after liking what I saw with 10.

    I also had not problem with the sheer variety of elements Maeda put in, just that he tried to cram it all into 13 episodes. It should have been 24 to 26 (which seems to be a consensus I'm seeing a lot of places). For the most part we agree though: He simply tried to cram way too much into far too little airtime, and the mood whiplash (most notably in 11-12) hurt the show. Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the pacing was with how little character development there was for most of the characters. Even Kanade got shafted there, I was hoping her and Otanashi would hook up and loved the two confessing to each other, but I couldn't complete shake the "last minute hook up" feeling the scene gave me.

    All that being said - and while this show certainly isn't up to the standards of the best recent shows like Durarara or Evangelion 2.0 - I loved this show and consider it a flawed gem. And it was episode 13 that really solidified that impression after a weak episode 11 and 12. I have a thing for well done "epilogue" style episodes (Moon Phase, which was the anime that got me into anime, has one of the best), and regardless of my feeling about the lack of prior relationship development, the last few minutes of the show were absolutely beautiful and left me in a good mood for quite a while after the show ended. And that is something that very few shows each year can pull off.

    (It's all the more surprising because I usually don't care much for the final arcs of Key shows. The parts of Kanon, Air, and Clannad I liked best are all at the beginning or in the middle.)

  2. Nice Review, Triple R. While I still can't bring myself to agree with some of it, you can help me disappear, lol. But at least you are a far more understanding person towards shows as opposed to my more overreacting ones. :)

    I would agree that AB did use a number of different elements to attract fans and it worked a great deal. The accessibility of this anime is far above any of the other Key animes. It's also not a bad idea at all; they really just tried to do too much.

    I knew that the world and setting couldn't be resolved in one episode. I never expected it too; the plot isn't what's important. But the problem was that I couldn't really find any kinda conclusion. When the last words of the series is "KANNNADDDEEEE" It just feels like a sucker punch and a emotional scene that is forced out to the max. Now this isn't the first time Maeda does this, but it's especially jarring around that time.

    I also can't like how the anime insists on shoving Naoi in my face. He started out as a character as such intrigue but then got downgraded to a comic relief character so fast that I had no empathy for him. So when he disappears, I actually started laughing because it was so full of narm. Intentional? I have no idea, but that's not supposed to be right.

    But anyhow, it's really just about what the show leaves behind. For example, Mai Hime's ending was utterly stupid in terms of storytelling but at least it tried to close the relevant threads so it was emotionally something to grasp at. You feel like something has happened after watching.

    I guess the main problem was trying to portray Yuzuru as a matyr too much (Kanade to some degree) They're just so selfless that they seem to always find ways to hurt themselves to make other people feel better. I understand what they were trying to do at the end, but at this finale I have to wonder if Yuzuru realized that he can't always be making these decisions for people. Did he realize his care for others was actually hurting them? If not, this makes for a really bitter ending you know..You can leave things up to interpretation, but there's only so much you can before it comes off as half baked

    I love the last scene btw; I just don't agree with how they reached it.

    But anyhow, the show wasn't bad at all, and I look forward to more of its kind. I can see Maeda's works of past in Angel Beats, so this anime feels unusually nostalgic and for that part it did the job great.

  3. Don't know if it's updated or something but at the very end where usually see the review to the next episode, the end is shown. Not spoiling it, check the last episode again.
    Really loved this, I'd love to see an anime or a manga about how they ended up since there already is a manga about how they got into the other world...