Otonashi wakes to find himself with no memories of who he is, at a school amidst armed students in conflict with a girl they call Angel, who displays a number of superhuman abilities, called Guard Skills, such as creating blades on her arms and incredible strength and speed. He learns from Yuri, the students leader, that he has died and that if he doesn’t wish to be obliterated from this world by Angel then he must join them to defy God for the bad and unfulfilling lives they all led before dying and fight against Angel, his apparent instrument in this world. Yes, Angel Beats sets up its plot rather quickly, or at least what you’d think is its plot.
Otonashi and the Afterlife Battlefront, as they are known, aren’t alone in this school, it’s also filled with seemingly regular people, who Yuri informs him may act like regular people but aren’t actually human and lack souls and as such are termed Non-Playing Characters (NPC’s) by the Battlefront. The NPC’s treat the world as if everything is completely normal and Angel is actually the student council president and it is due to the responsibilities of her position that conflict arises between herself and the Battlefront as she tries to dispel their various antics and plans that they cook up to deal with her and to not just act like normal students, which would also get them obliterated. Although they fear getting obliterated, they can’t be killed in the traditional ways, soon recovering from any damage. This allows a number of the cast to get killed (often for comedic effect) and turn up safe and well later.
This release also includes the OVA set somewhere in the middle of the series, which is a comedy romp (something of an anesthetic to the emotional finale) in which the Afterlife Battlefront conduction an operation wherein they must do everything with ‘high tension’ i.e. wildly, enthusiastically over the top in an effort to confound Angel. It’s a very silly affair, which a ‘tension meter’ slapped on the bottom left of the screen changing to reflect the tension level of current events on screen, but is a lot of fun.
Angel Beats can be tricky to describe as whilst it knows exactly what it is, it doesn’t do a great job of conveying that to the audience for a long time – A bit like LOST if the creators hadn’t just been largely making it up as they went along. The series is one part action, one part comedy, one part music video and one part philosophical pondering. The series ends in a very different place than it starts story-wise, in large part due to the misunderstandings of various characters as to their actual situation and as they begin to understand things the story evolves. The action is fluid and a blast to watch, the humour whilst overdone at times is still pretty good and the bits focusing on the GirlsDeMo band playing to distract Angel are reminiscent of the fun bits of K-ON when the band actually gets round to playing something. These different parts don’t always gel together entirely well in the greater narrative which holds the philosophical overtones.
Much like Kiddy Grade (recently reviewed here), the story does hold together in the end and barring a bunch of people’s backstories glossed over due to the series short length, all holds together well. The problem is that it takes about two thirds of the episodes before it becomes clear exactly what the world is for and what the motivations and parts to play are for the major characters. Due to the series short length a number of things that could have been repetitive are cut down or happen off-screen.
The animation for the series is uniformly excellent with great detail. Although there are no really stand out vocal performances, all the dub cast are good. The only extras are clean openings and closing, which are nice to have, but pretty weak as far as extras go, especially as this is a Blu Ray release so it’s not as if the discs are lacking in space for them.
In the end Angel Beats is certainly well worth a viewing, its something a bit different and the series boasts some genuinely touching moments and scenes dispersed within a plot that may feel hodgepodge to begin with but develops into something very interesting and compelling.