Angel Beats! (Kirbyfan66)
Angel Beats!, one of the more popular animé in recent memory, is a 2010 series from Key Visual Arts, the same company behind Kanon, Air, and animé classic Clannad. Unlike most of their other works, though, this one was not originally a visual novel, meaning that they had no foreground to work with – everything was completely original this time. While popular, that isn't a sign of quality, so the question must be asked: Is Angel Beats! good?
Well, the easiest way to answer the question is to look at the story and go from there. Our main character is Otonashi (whose first name is unknown for reasons soon to be explained), who wakes up one day to find that he's apparently dead. Woah. Well, he doesn't think he's dead, but he's told this by a girl named Yuri (or her full name, Yurippe) Nakamura, who is also fighting off a supposed angel sent by God, named... well, Angel. That's what Yuri calls her, at least. She explains to Otonashi that she's a part of a group of people who have grouped together to fight against God, and that they're in an afterlife style place where they keep on... “living” after death. Otonashi believes none of it, confronts Angel, and is killed...
...But not really! Because he's already dead, he can't die again! In this world, when you die, you are simply reborn shortly after. Otonashi, with the knowledge that he has, eventually agrees to join Yuri and her group of fighters... at least until he can find an explanation for everything that he believes.
Angel Beats! has a very interesting story, but it does have a crippling problem: They try to explain far too much in the span of 13 episodes. Yes, Angel Beats! only lasts for 13 episodes, and the series just loves to throw several ideas and mini-stories at the viewer... only to leave them unanswered due to the series' small episode total. The series really needed to be longer so they could explain more about the world, the characters, and of course, the story itself.
With that said, the story is still very good, just... condensed. It's very interesting, the characters in the story are likable and despite everything being condensed, the way the story is told is still good. You can rally behind Yuri's gang because they're fun, and as you find out in the series, they were cheated out of an actual life at a very young age. The story itself is never forgotten by at least one character throughout, so while it's far too short, at least it all adds together in the end.
Angel Beats! is a character driven story. It focuses more on developing its characters and making you grow attached to them (namely so they can “rip your heart out”, which is something Key loves to do) than focusing on the story and the plot points it loves to drop. Our main character, Otonashi, isn't the best, though. He's really just there to be a Straight Man – the one who points out all of the absurdities that occur and question every little thing he doesn't understand. This is fine, but there's nothing to him aside from that. While he is a character who the viewer can find themselves relating to, it's only because he's a blank slate.
Our two other leads, Yuri and Angel, fare much better. Yuri is a fun, mischievous character who, while can go overboard at a few points, is enjoyable and has a very good motivation to chase after God. While a very good leader, she isn't always the best under pressure, and while everyone supports her, she isn't above being a little mean every once in a while for a good laugh. Think Haruhi Suzumiya and, while they have their major differences, you'd at least be on the right track.
Angel, while a standard Rei Ayanami clone at first, develops into a fantastic character. She doesn't have the most tragic backstory (plus it leads into a pretty big plot hole, but one that can at least be explained) but, even more so than Otonashi, starts out very mysterious and blank, and as the series goes on, more of her personality traits are filled in. Unlike Otonashi, she is put into many different story roles throughout the series (ranging from antagonist to some other spoiler heavy roles), and they all help show different sides of her, helping you feel for her situation while still seeing her as a threat. Definitely the best of the leads.
With that said, the side characters are where the series shines. Hinata, Yui, Iwasawa, Matsushita, Noda, Takamatsu, Naoi, and of course, TK are only some of the fantastic side characters shown throughout the series. Everybody should love TK. I think that, on a whole, these are what make Angel Beats! such a fun series to watch. Aside from TK, the stand outs depend on what you want – if you want more funny, then characters like Noda and TK are your best options. For cute, characters like Yui work best, or for the more series, Iwasawa would probably be the favorite. Or the all around character who works for all of those, in this case, would probably be Hinata.
You really do grow an attachment to these characters, so when bad things happen, you feel bad for them. With that said, the primary problem with Angel Beats! is that, in many different ways, the emotional scenes aren't always the best. Pacing problems, overly vague dialogue, or the fact that, plain and simply, there are other, much better scenes are a few of the problems that they have. The exception to this is definitely Episode 10 – this review is unfortunately spoiler free, but those who have watched the series know what it's about, and it's the primary example of how the emotional scenes could have worked. So what are the best scenes in Angel Beats!, if the emotional scenes aren't?
The funnier scenes. The comedy in this show is stellar, especially as far as pacing goes, which is weird since the emotional scenes aren't as well paced. The timing on the jokes is impeccable, and since this is a character driven show, the situations that the characters are in and how the react to them are what make it such a blast. This may drive some people away, but if amazing comedy and above average emotion (with occasional bliss) sound good to you, Angel Beats! will deliver.
The animation for the show, done by P.A. Works (remember Another? That's them), looks very polished and very pretty. The action scenes are fast and fun, the slapstick is full of life and has more than enough “oomph” to get the feeling of wonderful, comedic pain across, and simpler things like lighting for emotional scenes and little background details really make it stand out. It isn't as pretty as the stuff Kyoto Animation has done for Key, but it covers a lot more ground than that one does, and is certainly much more full of life, so it deserves some points for that, at least.
Sadly, the music doesn't stand out very much. The vocal tracks are great, and very well done, but as far as the actual background music goes, it's... okay. It's hard to comment on because it really is just there. The vocals, which are much better, are also much easier to talk about – they're varied, they're well performed, and in many cases, the songs themselves stick with you. The opening and ending are both fantastic, with the opening hyping you up for each episode and the ending being sure to hit you right in the feels.
With this being a dub website, it should be noted that Angel Beats! Does have an English Dub, and it's good. It seems to be a case of Your Mileage May Vary, with some people not liking the changes to voices and general “Americanization” of it, but on a whole, it's a good dub. It's well acted, and even if it's different, the voices fit the characters very well. Hilary Hagg as Yui is the standout here, doing a great job of being loyal to the original while still bringing something new to the table. Emily Neves as Angel was a big surprise, delivering an extremely powerful, fitting, and even cute performance when it was called for (having noted that she actually cried during the last episode). Other veteran voice actors such as Brittney Karbowski (Yuri), David Matranga (Hinata), and Luci Christian (Iwasawa) do excellent jobs, although the rest of the dub ranges from okay to “oh my goodness why did they re-dub TK, you guys are terrible for this”.
So... what's the answer to our question? Is Angel Beats! any good? Well, it's certainly good, no doubt about that, but... how good? This answer will strongly vary depending on who you ask, and what kind of show that person was both expecting from the show and what kinds of shows that person likes. You need to go into Angel Beats! knowing that it leaves many questions unanswered and that, while they can be explained, it doesn't take time to explain all of its surprisingly many plotholes. The style of show it is might not work for many people since, instead of having some light comedy and heavy drama, it mostly has light drama and stronger comedy. And, of course, our main character is boring, even though the other characters are very well done. The animation and music are both very good, and while it has its problems, the dub is good. The comedy is great, the series is resolved and wrapped up nicely (plot holes notwithstanding), and on a whole, entertains. Speaking technically, as a form of entertainment, Angel Beats! is definitely a great watch. Whether or not it actually is a great watch depends on who you ask.
Overall, Angel Beats! gets a Solid Recommendation – while not the best recommendation, it's still a series worth watching in the long run. Plus, a visual novel is coming out, so it could get a resurgence in popularity, and having an animé to talk to many people about is never a bad thing. The series is available for download on JustDubs, so if you're interested, give it a shot! Thanks for reading!