What They Say:
It sucks being dead. It sucks even more to be trapped in a surreal afterlife where you’re caught between the living and the dead – where a mysterious, violent Angel is trying to pull you over to… somewhere. What do you do? Well, if you’re this group of rough-and-tumble teens, you grab every weapon you can get your hands on and give Heaven hell!
The audio options contained on this release are an English and Japanese 2.0 mix. For the purpose of the review the Japanese track was used and it is an acceptable track that uses the front two speakers and splits the work well between them when the action is center focused and contains some directionality. The track is usually fairly well balanced with no dropouts or distortions noticed but it can be weak when it comes to secondary dialogue as some lines can be lost in delivery. Also like some other Sentai releases there is noticeable pop at end of previews before going into the English credit roll. It is really a bit of a shame that Japanese TV animation doesn’t regularly make use of 5.1 sound mixes as this is a title that it would really work well with and its lack of a presence hinders the ability to have one for the English dub as well.
Angel Beats! originally aired on Japanese TV in 2010 and is presented in its original 16:9 anamorphic widescreen ratio and the video is also acceptable though not jaw dropping as it is not an HD production. The video contains some grain that doesn’t completely cover the noise as well as having some motion blur in addition to instances of dot crawl, occasional minor ghosting , color bleed with strong reds and pinks plus some odd noise that presents as spackles on trees and the video has a bit of a soft look to it. There are also some issues with the English credit roll after episode as the letters run very fast, are a bit jumpy, have blurry lines and also has dot crawl present.
The packaging for the release is a black DVD keep case that contains a white double sided flipper to accommodate the fact that Sentai spread the 13 episodes and OVA over 3 discs rather than the customary two discs. The front cover features an image of the main three characters as Yuri is in the center with her gun held firmly in both hands in a position in front of her where it can quickly be raised and fired. To her left stands Otonashi with his shirt untucked and hands in his pockets as he looks forward while Tenshi sits on the railing located the roof of the school looking rather flat in her affect. The background sky is a gorgeous blue with white clouds that helps set a serine mood. The title is written in red and white at the top of the cover with the line running under the title across the cover looking like an EKG line with a single blip. The back cover features the copy in a white-grey corner of the upper right side as a tagline written in red runs parallel to the copy’s angle under that. The main image on the left side has a wistful Yuri looking up as she stands still though very heavily armed. There are seven stills from the feature posted along an acute angle that runs parallel to the cover on the base and under the tagline. The spine has an image of Yuri kneeling with her arms crossed along her lower body and a gun in each hand as the title is written in red on white at the top and the red beat line runs from the end of the logo to Yuri.
The first disc uses an image of Yuri in her school battle uniform as she fires a gun using her right hand while holding her hat on her head with her left on the stone brick plaza present on the school campus grounds. The second disc features an image of Yui holding her guitar and looking like she is playing in Girls Dead Monster complete with a large video screen with her image on the left side of the disc. The final disc contains an image of Tenshi as she stands looking over her right shoulder with the moon in front of her and blades extending from her uniform sleeves over her hands.
The menu features an image of Yuri and Tenshi standing almost back to back in the top part of the screen against a blue and black grid with the bottom half of the screen being a bright pink with a pink red EKG beat line separating the two parts. The menu uses images unique to the menu showing various members of the cast in everyday life. The current menu selection is shown by a white blue uptick line being present above the current choice for the items on the submenus and present next to the language and special features options as well when highlighted. The language menu also uses a series of three half circular lines to indicate which option is currently selected. The menus are responsive to changes in selection and are quick to implement choices selected and parts of either the open or close play on the menu screens.
The only extras present on this release are clean open and closing animations though numerous opens and closing animations variations are used in the series and both options contain just over 20 minutes worth of the clean animation.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While being a product of some of the main players at the Japanese visual novel studio Key (Air, Kannon, Clannad) Angel Beats! is an original story not adapted from an existing visual novel and it starts where other stories stop, and that is with the death of the main character, Otonashi. While the series doesn’t show us his death immediately it is pressed upon him that it has in fact occurred though he is finding it more than a little hard to believe. He has just woken up on the pavement outside a school building on its campus grounds and finds he has no memory of himself, though he still has general knowledge-like that a girl (Yuri) at the operating end of a sniper rifle welcoming him into the “Not Dead Yet Battlefront” is out of place.
It turns out the name of the group is actually a misnomer as Yuri explains to him that he is in fact dead and in the afterlife and that if he doesn’t want to be obliterated he must join the fight against Tenshi (Japanese for Angel) who looks to be a girl of small build with white hair and god. Otonashi doesn’t believe Yuri and walks up to Tenshi to clarify the situation for himself. When asked she denies that she is an angel but states she is actually the student body president. Otonashi accepts this as truth as it seems to match his belief in reality though when he makes a comment that he needs a hospital for his amnesia as he turns to walk away he is stopped when she says there are no hospitals as everyone there is dead. Otonashi feels like he has been taken in by both girls and confronts the girl, asking her to prove he can’t die. The phrase “Be careful what you wish for” is suddenly made manifest before him as a blade materializes over her hand and she lunges forward, impaling him through his chest with it.
When Otonashi awakens in the empty school infirmary with no injury present on his body the memory of the pain of being stabbed and his bloody shirt with the hole in the chest soaked in blood convince him he wasn’t just having an impressively realistic dream. As he attempts to figure out what is going on he goes to the principles’ office to find that Yuri and the group she leads have taken it over. As he listens he overhears them talking about how if someone fails to fight back they will eventually be obliterated and leave this bizarre high school of the dead. When the chance that he may reincarnate as something other than human is raised he decides he will cast his lot with this band of determined, though not terribly bright, group of rebels in their fight against Tenshi and god.
In the pursuit of this cause he will join in the activities of the group which include looking like they are going along with the program by day but engaging in guerrilla warfare at night. Yuri tells him most of the students and teachers are the equivalent of video game Non Player Characters though to keep their activities as on the down low as possible they engage in two front operations. The first part of this front is a popular all girls band known as Girls Dead Monster who throw impromptu concerts to attract the attention of the NPCs and leave Yuri’s group free to engage their main goal-confronting their true enemy, Tenshi with as little disturbance to the surrounding area’s inhabitants as possible. These activities will range from trying to acquire food tickets, additional weapon supplies as well as attempts to undercut Tenshi’s standing on campus, though events don’t always work out as well as Yuri had hoped for.
The thing is that events can often be made to fit into ones preconceived ideas but that doesn’t make them true. As Otonashi travels this odd landscape he will learn more about many of the people who inhabit it as well as many of the heavy burdens they carry with them. As he moves through the world he will discover that there may be a reason for everyone to be there that relates to the weight of the load they shoulder. As he meets people he will also find that a number of his memories will come back to him, though they may put him into the same boat as his friends in terms of now carrying past baggage. But the question that needs to be asked is, why does this world exist and why do people who look like they finally have acceptance of it suddenly disappear from it? As he investigates Otonashi will discover the true purpose of this land but when a new and sinister menace moves forward what will become of these determined fighters, and will they find the strength to accomplish that which seems truly insurmountable in their most personal task of their afterlife?
Angel Beats! pedigree is one that had me really looking forward to it as I have a decent amount of experience with Key titles and seeing some of their staff attached to the project really got my expectations up. This turned out to not be for the best however as Angel Beats! isn’t quite what I have come to hope for from the writer. Probably the series has two really greatest flaw, first of which is that many of the early episodes feel like they are trying to synchronize with other popular franchises (specifically I got a very strong Haruhi Suzumiya vibe initially) which caused for some issues in connecting with the world the creators were attempting to establish. The other major flaw with the story is the size of the cast as a few members get fleshed out very well but a good number of the characters feel like they are missed opportunities in terms of development and it makes empathizing with them more of a challenge then it should be. Most stories work hard at building a solid foundation and building up from there but in Angel Beats! case it seems like it was built more like the creators used a Japanese ladder game to decide how the story would progress from the start to its finish and so it doesn’t build up on its early foundation very well. Along the way the title hits many of the Japanese anime staples with gags and stereotypical situations that might sink a title into the realm of the forgotten generic show. What makes this title succeed where others could be swallowed by the shadow of its flaws is that the writer brings the talents he has honed on other Key productions to bring some very sharp and powerful gravitas to a couple of the main characters who are by and large the focus of the story. The emotional payoff of the series can cause one to overlook the long and winding road taken to get there and softens a bit of the disappointment more of the series couldn’t have worked as powerfully. Angel Beats! is a title that may take some effort to get through the early episodes but the payoff for the journey is well worth the investment in effort and time.
Angel Beats! is a series that has some rather sharp and glaring flaws but largely papers over these gaps by using the extraordinary amount of heart that lies at the core of the story. The story feels like it attempts to take too many ideas and meld them together when using its unique and powerful storytelling may have produced better, or at least even more memorable, results. In the end it is a series that will probably make most viewers want to overlook and forgive most of the flaws because the underlying soul of the piece is so powerful, but it is not going to be a series for everyone due to these flaws.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 26th, 2011
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.