Number of Episodes: 13
Production Company: P.A. Works
Brief Overview: In the afterlife, there are angels who rebel against the god who determined their destinies. Some angels utilize armed weaponry to fight against others who wield the power of magic.
Episode Summary: A young man awakens on the sidewalk in front of an unfamiliar school building at night with a bad case of amnesia. Beside him is a girl his age with a rifle trained on something below. She immediately goes into a spiel about her organization which is purportedly rising up against someone named Tenshi, and he soon finds out that this Tenshi person is a young-looking girl standing in the field below. Rather than blindly join this girl's organization, he descends the stairs to speak with Tenshi, who isn't the angel that her name suggests, but rather the Student Council President. She also mentions that she and everyone else in this world is dead. When the boy asks her to prove that she's telling the truth and that, as a dead person, he really can't be permanently injured, she produces a blade and stabs him through the heart. He wakes up hours later in the school infirmary, his shirt covered in blood but his body in one piece. Soon he's attacked by a supporter of the girl with the gun, and wakes up even later in a pool of his own blood. It becomes his mission to try and locate an adult to explain the mess that he's in, but when he reaches the headmaster's office, a booby trap knocks him out the window and onto the pavement below.
He wakes up a third time in the headmaster's office, where the girl he met earlier, Yuri, is surrounded by a group of comrades. Their organization doesn't have a proper name, but its purpose is to fight against Tenshi and resist being "obliterated" and reborn on earth as a lower life-form. They ask the boy, whose family name is "Otonashi," to join forces with them, and with few other options he agrees. Otonashi is given a firearm which he's told to use against Tenshi while the others execute a plan to steal meal tickets from the other students at the school (people who Yuri calls "NPCs" because they lack self-awareness). During a concert at the school, Yuri turns on some fans and opens the windows to the building to get the tickets from the hands of the students, while the other members of the group use all the firepower they can muster to keep Tenshi at bay. The next day, Otonashi thinks to himself how mundane it is that they're sitting there eating their food amongst the NPCs, and hopes that he can find a cure for his amnesia soon.
Thoughts: The animation production company P.A. Works leapt into my field of visions when they produced the erratically-plotted but brilliantly-animated series CANAAN. Since then I've been waiting with anticipation for their next outing as the studio in charge of a TV anime, and hoping that they could provide a similar level of character fluidity and well-choreographed action. Honestly, I'm a little disappointed. While the episode features some impressive moments - the opening pullback shot of Yuri and her rifle, and the entire concert sequence being two good examples - overall the majority of the episode's visuals aren't anything special. I'm worried that, by watching CANAAN first I may have simply spoiled myself; the visuals in this episode aren't bad by any means, and the use of effects like light bloom seems appropriate (if a bit overdone). But the fluidity of the character animation in P.A. Works' earlier series certainly puts to shame most of what this episode has to offer.
This episode managed to leave me with my head spinning, because so much information is introduced at one time and it's difficult to keep straight. This isn't an observation that I necessarily intend to be taken as an entirely negative statement, because the confusion that the viewer experiences establishes a sort of parallel with the main character's experience, since he's being bombarded with information as well. But trying to keep track of all the little nuances of this very atypical afterlife scenario while also attempting to keep all the characters straight and make sense of this episode's rather mundane (when you think about it) central plot is quite an ordeal.
What adds to the difficulty of wrapping one's head around it all is the fact that the show can't seem to pick a tone and stick to it. There are times when this episode feels very comedic, such as when Yuri introduces the quirky members of her ragtag group or individuals trigger the booby trap outside of her office. There are also very intense moments, mostly during Tenshi's approach as the music inside the school builds to a climax and bullets rain down on her. I find the juxtaposition of these elements a bit off-putting. In my opinion, the show could be well-served by keeping things on a more serious level. There's a certain mystery to this afterlife to begin with, because we're seeing it from the perspective of a character who arrives with as much knowledge as we have, but rather than embrace this feeling of discomfort and confusion and expanding upon it the creators spend too much time trying to use it as the basis for cartoonish gags. Much of the potential to maintain an air of intensity is squandered by this meaningless focus on goofiness; it reminds me a bit of the Full Metal Panic franchise, which would be so much better if it picked between action or comedy and then stuck to its guns rather than trying to force the two together and cheapening both.
I've noticed that there's been a tendency to compare this series to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and on the surface there are a lot of similarities. Yuri's assertive ways and immediate and enthusiastic attempts to adopt Otonashi into her gang of strange individuals at first makes her seem like a blatant Haruhi clone. Likewise, Otonashi's attitude of skepticism and disbelief makes him seem quite a bit like Kyon. And heck, there's even a musical performance by an all-girl rock band. Even though all these elements appearing in one place might trigger a knee-jerk reaction in many fans to denounce it as a copycat, one thing that having such a bombardment of information in the first episode helped to do in this case was to establish that, superficial similarities aside, the two series are less alike than one might think at first glance. Despite the humor, I have the gut feeling that this show is based less around the type of mundane hijinks that made Haruhi entertaining. There's also a clearer and more obvious sense of mystery and magic present in just the first episode, and while I might not be a huge fan of the tonal clashes that crop up, I will admit to being curious about the structure of Angel Beats' world. Haruhi tends to be more sly and subtle about the supernatural lean of its story, whereas this show is more forthcoming and hits me a lot harder because of it.
I'm not entirely pumped by this first episode, but I think the show has the potential to be entertaining. The joining of funny and serious content requires a very sensitive, skilled hand that I don't think the staff of this series has, but my hope is that they buckle down at some point and get to some of the more serious "meat" of the story that I hope exists. The animation quality might not be entirely what I was expecing, but even though I've seen better from P.A. Works in the past, this series is still above and beyond many of the cheaply-produced throwaway series that cram the airwaves each season. My recommendation may be based more on where I hope the series goes than where it's actually headed, but the premise and the setting offer a lot to consider and I'm hoping that this story of a group of rebels refusing to be reborn lives up to its potential.
- Though the first episode serves as an info dump at times, the info that's dumped offers a lot of possibilities.
- The juxtaposition between humor and serious content doesn't serve the series well.
- The quality of the animation doesn't live up to expectations.
Recommended? Surprisingly, yes. I may end up regretting it later on, but despite some off-putting qualities this is a world that intrigues me and certainly expect to sample the next few episodes.