Sunday, January 26, 2014

[Anime Review]: Angel Beats!

DIRECTOR: Seiji Kishi

WRITER: Jun Maeda



Sometimes series are funny because they don't take themselves seriously, then there are others that make you laugh because they take everything too seriously. The mix between comedy and plot is often a precarious one, with many series falling mostly on one side or the other. Angel Beats! will draw you in with an interesting concept and hilarious antics before hooking you with a story that you won't soon forget. The series is brought to us by Key, the creators of a number of very popular Visual Novels, who can now add what I think is a very successful anime to their list of achievements.

Yuzuru Otonashi finds himself in a world where he cannot die. In fact, neither can anyone else. Devoid of any memories of his past, Otonashi is picked up by a local resistance group, the Afterlife Battlefront. This world is a place between life and death; if you're not careful you will simply disappear, a fate the Battlefront is determined to fight. What I haven't yet made apparent, however, is that the centre of this world is a high school, and simple attendance is enough to make you vanish. While most of the school's students are empty but lifelike NPCs (that's non-player characters to those of you still in the stone age), the school's student representative is an artificially augmented girl known only as Angel, who uses her surreal powers to oppose the Afterlife Battlefront. Otonashi's very first meeting with her ends in his first "death" in this new world, causing him to throw his lot in with the Battlefront to fight for the life he's already lost once before.

Wow, that sounds pretty serious, doesn't it? Angel Beats! actually starts off as more of a comedy, with some serious laughs to be had in the first three quarters of the anime. That doesn't mean that the plot is something to scoff at though; the series slowly become more and more story-focussed as time goes on and the mysteries of Otonashi's new world are explored. Angel Beats! is one of the few good examples of a series that will tug at your heart strings while still making you laugh out loud without having any awkward transitions between the two. The one complaint I have about the plot is that I wanted more. Wait, what? That's a complaint? Well, there are 13 episodes all up which, as I'm sure I've said before, immediately makes it incredibly difficult to tell a well-rounded and complete story. Having said that, it has been done before and Angel Beats! does it as well as, if not better than many other short anime series; I just think that more could have been done with more episodes. If I had to give a real complaint however, it would be that there are some minor inconsistencies in the later episodes along with some plot points that were never fully explored, though there wasn't anything that really detracted from my viewing experience.

Angel Beats! has a rather large cast. I can't say I've bothered to count them all, but the characters are both a strength and a weakness of the series. While at first glance each character has a distinct and well-developed personality, closer inspection reveals that many of them are just used for one particular line or action that is repeated throughout the anime. They're not so much characters as they are robots programmed with only one function, which I think stems from Angel Beats!' short length. The planning and development behind the characters may be there, it's just that they don't get the screen time they deserve, or perhaps that they need to make the transition out of two-dimensional space.Still, the central cast are excellent, and unless you are looking for it you probably won't notice what I've described above. The series only delves into the past of a few characters, which serves to emphasize just how much some of the other characters are left out, but the backgrounds they do explore are really very interesting, and the exploration itself is done quite well. It's like everything this anime does makes me wonder just how much better it could have been with more opportunities to develop its characters and its world.

I have no complaints about the visual aspects, though the audio is probably worth talking about. The Afterlife Battlefront features a band by the name of Girls Dead Monster which performs a few original songs throughout the show and even have extra pieces that weren't featured in the anime. They're all of excellent quality, even if they weren't all to my tastes, but the ones I did like are now some of my favourite songs.

Before I finish up I'd better mention that there's actually an Angel Beats! Visual Novel in the works, which I think is something to be incredibly excited about. If they can tell an excellent story with only thirteen episodes, just think of what they can do with what will most likely be over 30 hours of reading time.

SUMMARY - I thoroughly enjoyed Angel Beats!, the unique combination of a serious story and laugh-out-loud comedy has been pulled off wonderfully. Not all of the characters are in the spotlight long enough to leave an impression, but I'm willing to overlook that because those that have been focused on were incredibly interesting. All of my complaints boil down to more time being needed to produce a more complete series, though what's already there is excellent. I definitely recommend this anime, it's one that everyone should watch at some point.

SCORE - 8.5/10 - GOOD
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