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What do you get when you put a bunch of high school students who all have eccentric personalities and led difficult and short lives together in a high school in the afterlife? A series that inspires laughter and tears, or more specifically, Angel Beats.
The setting is quite interesting. A young man known only as Otonashi wakes up in a high school without his memories. He's joined by many teenagers, who, like him, have died, but have no desire to vanish from the afterlife after having endured so much hardship while alive. Otonashi initially agrees with them, but is forced to question that as he learns more about the world and his memories return.
The cast is fairly interesting and diverse, although only those who are main characters or the focus of an episode get much development. That said, they have a good amount of chemistry together, and their interactions often make for funny and touching moments, so they're quite enjoyable to watch.
As you can expect from the setting, the characters have a fair amount of heartbreakingly tragic lives and deaths. In the end, however, the overall message is life-affirming- to live your life to the fullest in spite of how hard or short it may be.
There's a good amount of action, and the battle scenes are fast-paced and well-animated, even if there wasn't much of a climactic opponent at the end.
The music nicely fits all of the various scenes, from battles to characters disappearing from the world. The presence of an in-universe band known as Girls Dead Monster gives quite a few opportunities to hear such songs, and you can see why large numbers of students turn out to hear them in-universe. On a personal note, I started watching the anime because I enjoyed the opening theme, a decision I don't regret at all.
All in all, Angel Beats is highly enjoyable and touching. Perhaps it might have been better had it received 26 episodes instead of 13, but I found little to complain about in the show that we got, and wholeheartedly recommend it.
...and I don't mean that in a good way.
This review contains spoilers. Continue reading at your own risk.
When reduced to its individual parts, Angel Beats is very, very good. Interesting setting, enjoyable characters, nice twists and being able to jump from hilarious to awesome to incredibly heartbreaking at the drop of a hat. It's primary strength lies in it's tearjerker scenes. When they hit, they hit hard, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved. Highlights would include Hinata's beautiful speech to Yui, Yuri's horrific backstory and Otonashi's desperate attempts to make Kanade stay with him.
Unfortunately, it is when these elements are thrown together in the main story that problems begin to arise. This series plays plot roulette like nobody's business, introducing new plots only to discard them with surprising regularity in the space of only thirteen episodes. And while these plots are very good, in of themselves, they sometimes don't even last longer than one or two episodes. For example: the main struggle between the SSS and Kanade is over halfway through the series, with Naoi taking over as main antagonist. Given how vicious he is in his first appearance, this promises to be awesome. Except no, he's switched sides and reduced to being a comic relief character literally minutes after his debut. Also, the clone saga only lasts two episodes, the plot of Kanade and Otonashi pretending to play opposite sides while helping the SSS members move on lasts one, the shadows plot lasts two, and then there's the finale. In addition, many interesting characters such as TK, Shiina and Noda receive absolutely no development and are literally written out with little explanation by the end.
So all in all, a beautiful series with some fantastic ideas, but it suffers heavily from They Wasted A Perfectly Good Plot and What Happened To The Mouse. This is a story that would definitely have worked better if it were stretched over a full two seasons, allowing for more character development and giving the plots some space to breathe.
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