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 20, 2010

Angel Beats! Review: Part 1

Angel Beats! has definitely been the most hyped series of the Spring 2010 anime season. At one point, I had been very much looking forward to it. My thinking upon seeing promotional art for it was that it would be like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, only much more action-packed. That seemed almost indescribably awesome to me.

However, I became disenchanted with the world of anime in general, which is partly why I took this blog on hiatus for a couple months. After being disappointed in some animes after initially being psyched for them, I decided to wait for new anime to mostly/entirely go through their entire airing before I'd look into them further. I wasn't in the mood for another disappointment, like I endured with The Sacred Boob... er, The Sacred Blacksmith, or with Kiddy Girl-And.

Angel Beats! was recently recommended to me anew by 0utf0xZer0 of Anime Suki, and since this recommendation was made near the end of its airing, I've since decided to watch some episodes of it.

I've decided that I'm going to review Angel Beats! in two halves. This "Part 1" will focus on the first six episodes, while "Part 2" (which I intend to release in about a week or two) will focus on episodes seven through thirteen. So, I write this review having only seen the first six episodes of the anime. This review is based purely on my impression of those first six episodes.

This may actually be a fairly short "Part 1" review, as there's really not a lot to say about Angel Beats! that hasn't already been said, imo.

I will say that Yurippe is certainly an intriguing character...

The similarity in her character design to that of Haruhi Suzumiya is certainly appealing to me, as Haruhi is one of my favorite anime characters of all-time. Yurippe's personality also bears some notable similarities to Haruhi's, at least in episodes 4 and 5. Yurippe raises the specter of exceedingly harsh "punishment games" in episode 4, and the way she put her subordinates through comedic abuse for distraction purposes in episode 5 also makes me reminisce of how Haruhi has often done the same to Mikuru Asahina.

However, there are other facets of her character. As much as she reminds me of Haruhi, it wouldn't be hard to picture Yurippe as the hypothetical daughter of Full Metal Panic's Sousuke Sagara and Kaname Chidori. Her expertise at personal and tactical combat reminds me of Sousuke, while her often explosive temper reminds me of Kaname. That being said, Yurippe is often very forthright and straightforward in what she says, reminding me slightly of Shana of Shakugan no Shana.

And what of the male lead of Angel Beats! ?

Otonashi, as evidenced by the scene pictured above, is often dragged along by the plot. He is often overwhelmed by the strong and vibrant personalities that are found all about the SSS. Otonashi is reasonably similar to Tomoya of Clannad. A solid main male protagonist, but not one that particularly stands out for me. I will say that he often comes across as the most reflective and thoughtful member of the SSS. There's a real impulsiveness to the SSS and their actions, while Otonashi tends to be more cautious and reserved.

But one character that rarely comes across as impulsive is Tenshi

Tenshi (or "Angel") certainly serves well as the ying to Yurippe's yang. Tenshi is soft-spoken, operates in a very orderly and economical fashion, and does not say much. She also is a largely solitary figure in this anime. After six episodes in, the true nature of Tenshi remains a mystery. However, it does not at this point seem likely that she is an actual angel. She is a very powerful character, though.

At this juncture, the readers of this blog may be wondering why I'm focusing more on characters than on the plot, or even the episodes themselves. This, after all, is not how I approached the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Clannad: After Story, or Umineko.

However, all of those animes (yes, even including Umineko) had plots that remained firmly rooted in their central premises and thematic drives. I honestly can't say the same for Angel Beats!.

Honestly, I don't know what Maeda is aiming for here. I don't know what the viewer is supposed to take away from this anime other than:

1) Bad stuff happens sometimes, and it's tragic, and it's Ok to feel angry or resentful over it.

2) It's good to have friends!

3) Slapstick comedy rulz!!!

Well... this is not entirely true. It's readily apparent that Maeda is aiming for a hit anime here. And on that measure, Angel Beats! is almost guaranteed to be a rousing success.

Let's run Angel Beats! through my four common strands of hit animes that I wrote up over on Anime Suki.

1. High Production Values - Angel Beats! has this in spades. The character designs are crisp and clean at worst, and gorgeous and appealing at best. The artwork is frequently superb, and always at least Ok. The animation quality is top-notch. The background music is solid, and the OP and ED both sound heavenly while being visually eye-catching. The voice acting is on par with that of other hit animes. Yes, Angel Beats! has high production values to be sure.

2. Strong Beginning - I don't know what Angel Beats! is aiming for, but whatever it is, it throws you right into it right off the bat. Waking up in the middle of the street, and then noticing a purple-haired sailor outfit-sporting teenage-appearing girl looking through the scope of a sniper rifle as she prepares to take a shot at her rival is certainly a fast start. Angel Beats! does do an admirable job of introducing you to most of the members of the SSS Brigade right in the first episode. Most, if not all, of these members have their own distinctive personality quirks, which means that even if you forget their names, you'll still be able to recognize each character by how he or she acts. Right now, I honestly can't recall the name of the classic buttmonkey character for this show (Hinata, I think?), but I could spot that poor pitiable blue-haired guy from a mile away. The same goes for the wicked axe/scythe wielder that defends Yurippe's honor at every turn, the guy who constantly adjusts his glasses to look smart, and so on and so forth.

A very colorful and eccentric cast to be sure. Maeda certainly knows how to make a zany crew of characters to keep the viewer entertained. And the beginning of Angel Beats! is, on the whole, pretty entertaining.

3. Good Comedic Moments - I've seen more laughtastic animes than Angel Beats!, but it does have good comedic moments. Episodes 4 and 5 were particularly memorable for their amusement value.

4. A Key Area of Strength - Much like Mai HiME, and Code Geass, before it, it's readily apparent that Angel Beats! is trying to hit each and every sweet spot for the modern otaku. You have your moe, you have your slapstick comedy, you have your great action scenes, you have your baseball episode, you have your standard school-life fare, you have your large quirkific cast, and you have your shout-outs to other popular animes (Haruhi implicitly, Clannad at an obvious inspirational level, K-On! with this anime's band, etc...). Once more, we have a veritable potpourri of trendy anime elements.

As it pertains to sheer commercial success, there's little doubt that Maeda has hit this one out of the ballpark.

Too bad that it doesn't stand up well to his previous Clannad work, in my opinion.

Oh, don't get me wrong, Angel Beats! is well-crafted entertainment. And it doesn't even really have any plot holes, per se.

But, as I said before, I don't know what Maeda is aiming for here.

The plot often feels haphazard and adrift. Not internally inconsistent, but chaotic nonetheless. We go from outright open warfare to a simple baseball game to trying to get a rival to fail her test. That's quite the range for literal (and proverbial) fields of battle.

Clannad was much more consistent, grounded, and structured in comparison. I had a better sense of where the characters were coming from, and why they were doing what they were doing. As best as I can tell, Yurippe and her SSS are simply having a presumably futile temper tantrum against God, and are trying to wreck havoc for its own sake. As amusing as that havoc can be, it's hard to see what Yurippe is truly fighting for.

Getting angry over horrific personal tragedy makes sense of course. The world often feels very cruel and unfair. But most people don't react to that by waging a perpetual proxy war against God. They may scream at the Heavens above, but they ultimately get on with their lives.

... And, in fairness, perhaps that idea is all that Maeda is aiming for here. That no matter what tragedy befalls you, you eventually have to find a place of peace and contentment and move on. In this anime, the "moving on" is symbolized by disappearance.

But if this is the case, then Yurippe is arguably a rather antagonistic figure, as her actions are almost certainly preventing the rest of the SSS Brigade from making their own peace, and moving on. When the original lead singer of Girl De Mo disappeared, the mood of the anime was not a particularly sad or tragic one, I felt. It seemed that since this lead singer reached a blissful moment of happiness and contentment, that she was able to move on, in at least one sense or another. Perhaps she moved on to Heaven. In any event, she was able to finally come to terms with her life and existence up to that point, and in doing so, perhaps her life was fulfilled, and its attachments relaxed themselves from her.

On the other hand though, the baseball episode of Episode 4 saw Otonashi prepared to go to great lengths to prevent another similar disappearance from occurring, so who knows?

But on yet another hand, Tenshi has been portrayed in a largely sympathetic light, while Yurippe was once said to "sound like a villain" by one of her allies. Maybe these hints aren't to be taken too much to heart, but perhaps they are intended to say something about the characters, and how we should view them.

All-in-all, I can decipher no clear thematic drive behind this Maeda work. Clannad and Clannad: After Story was clearly about the importance of friendship and family, of dealing with tragedy, of always aiming for your dreams, and of growing comfortable with where you live and are in life. These themes shone with the same glow as the orbs of light that often floated all about the scenery of Clannad.

But Angel Beats! leaves a great deal to personal interpretation. That is not necessarily a negative, but given the supernatural premise of this show, I find it a bit questionable.

I've read some arguments that Angel Beats! should just have been a
slice-of-life school-life show in the vein of K-On!, or the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's lighter moments. While the scenes of literal battle in Angel Beats! have often been exquisitely rendered and fun to watch, I can't help but feel that maybe these arguments are correct.

Much of the plot activity of the first six episodes of Angel Beats! could be comfortably contained within the context of a real life school without the heavy plot premise and vaguely supernatural setting attached. Indeed, perhaps such a real life school context would be more accessible in a way, as it's easier to relate to baseball on Earth than baseball in some bizarre version of Purgatory.

All of this being said, Angel Beats!, after episode six, still has the potential to be a classic here. There are elements here that enable Maeda to say something profound if he can just decide on what it is he wishes to say. And Angel Beats! has often been fun to watch. It will almost certainly be a commercial hit.

But unless it ends on a strong note, with a clear idea emanating forth from it, it will not be remembered as well as Clannad was.

As amusing entertainment, it hits a home-run. But as a story about ideas, it seems to miss the mark by aiming at too many targets, and not putting much effort behind either shot.

I'll give it 7/10 so far.


  1. I'm not going to spend much time commenting on this one right now since I have a big assignment coming up, and also because I don't want to influence your thoughts about the second half too much. For the record though, I recommended the show to you after seeing episode 10.

  2. Yea, I would say Yuri is an excellent character; Otonanshi and Angel also get very good development later in the story.

    And I'd have to agree that the story is pretty aimless and unfortunately it never manages to shake that off. It's as if they can't decide whether to be funny or sad, and it gets mixed together to provide something really indecisive and weak. The melodrama is even more annoying than usual at times because of that. I really don't know where they wanted to go with it.

    I mean I enjoyed in the kind of Umineko "LOL WTF" kind of sense mixed with an occasional touching moment makes it ok, but we really needed more episodes (it's only 13!) as a lot of story elements and characters are very shallow.

    But at least the characters they focused on are very solid, and the events concerning them allow the show the temporarily be on par with its predecessors.

    If I were to rate it now, I'd probably give it something like 6-7/10, maybe higher if they finish well it'll come off as memorable, but otherwise I probably won't remember it after a few months.

    So yea, I pretty much agree with your review so far. =p

  3. 0utf0xZer0 - Don't worry, this anime was definitely worth watching. It's very entertaining in a "LOL WTF" kind of way, as Archon wrote. Unless I rate an anime below 6/10, it was worth watching at least.

    Archon_Wing - More episodes probably would have helped yeah. If this was 24 episodes long, I wouldn't care so much about it being a bit aimless after 6 episodes, because Maeda would still have 18 episodes to flesh out the idea(s) behind his work, and that's a lot. Perhaps Maeda's only fault is not being able to transition well to a 13-episode format.

    You do see glimpses of Clannad brilliance here and there. The central characters of Angel Beats are very solid, yeah.

  4. Angel Beats isn't Maeda's first thirteen episode show - that honour belongs to Key's adaptation of Air. Which in my opinion also suffers from some pacing issues, with several events seemingly going unexplained - the show may have sold more than twice what either of KyoAni's FMP projects did and helped establish the studio's reputation as a superstudio, but I suspect that's because the show was stunningly well animated, not because it was paced well. At least there, however, Maeda can defend himself by pointing out that the original Air game was very, very long and that the story was cut down to size. Here...

    Also, for some reason I didn't connect Girl's Dead Monster with K-On despite the precense of an airhead named Yui... originally I connected it more with the concert in Haruhi. Maybe it's that Angel Beat's Yui has a character design that reminds me a lot of Tayutama's Ameri:
    Ameri is the one in the upper left. I'm not sure that the resemblance in intentional though: for one, Tayutama is a fairly minor franchise, second, because despite her appearances in promor art, Ameri is prone to jealousy and can be pretty vindicative and nasty at times. Yui is a much more likeable character.