One of those series where you desperately wished there was more of, this 13 episode tale of characters, death, history, tragedy, comedy – they condense it so much to the point that you know it was meant to be a longer series. And yet they still come out with an amazing show.
What They Say:
In a world after death, angels fight for their fate and their future. Yuri, the leader of the Shinda Sekai Sensen, rebels against the god who destined her to have an unreasonable life. On the other hand, Tenshi, the chairperson of the student council for the world after death, battles against the SSS members. SSS members utilize armed weaponry to battle it out against the angels harnessing supernatural powers.
The audio will be mentioned, because it’s set up in a different audio setting than I’m used to, under English and Japanese in DTS-HD Master Audio. With my previous Blu-Ray reviews it was still a standard 5.1/2.0 format, but here this was a new system specifically for the Blu-Ray. To be honest, in terms of effect, it wasn’t really that much difference between any previous reviews, but it was a bit quieter and a bit muted, with more focus on the actual foley and sound effects coming through better. It still was an excellent effect and there weren’t any transition problems between audio and visual, just wondering if there was any specific differences than any previous releases, and didn’t seem to be outside the main audio being a bit muted. There are no video issues so this will not be commented on the review, overall it was fantastic and gorgeous presented, with no problems with subtitles, general video freezes, and overall workmanship.
The menu is set up nicely as most Blu-Ray menus do – here we have background pictures if Yuri and Kanade on a strong dark background, with the selection of episodes on the bottom (no play all feature), with Disc 1 having Languages and Disc 2 with Special Features (Disc 2 have Otonashi, Naoi and Hinata on the background instead). Like most Blu-Ray set up, the navigation is simple and straight forward, though there aren’t any popup windows and instead you can simply press left or right after the selections to go back to the main menu, which was a little confusing at first.
The only extras on this release was the clean opening and ending, whilst always welcome, was still a big disappointment for a show like this.
I was well aware of this series before reviewing this. Being a huge Key fan, Angel Beats was the 4th series I was aware of after Air, Kanon and one of my all time favourites, Clannad. This one is very different in terms of how its set despite a modified version of the supernatural theme Key’s releases tend to have. Tragedy is the name of the day, but considering the cast and storylines, they crammed it into 13 episodes (it was said that the show was supposed to be originally 26, but it was cut in half) making it either a masterpiece of doing so or a bit of a troubled mess. So which does it fit into in my opinion?
We are introduced to our three main characters in quite a big cast in the first episode, our main protagonist is Otonashi, a young man who has awoke in a strange world, outside a school…where he sees a pretty young girl – aiming a sniper rifle into the great unknown. This girl is our female protagonist Yuri, who cheerfully explains to Otonashi that he is in fact, dead. He has been brought to this world which is an apparent limbo, which doesn’t help Otonashi as he has amnesia. Yuri immediately tries to recruit him into her group, which is apparently like an army against God so they can fulfill their lives here before they cross over – with the villain in question a young girl named ‘Angel’. Seeing Angel, a rather pretty young girl in a school uniform, makes Otonashi skeptical and he actually goes down there to explain what is going on. Angel definitely seems harmless enough until Otonashi asks for proof about his situation. Which she does…with a knife to the gut.
We then see that the world is indeed a unique afterlife where you can get killed but recover a while after that. Otonashi actually gets killed a couple more times through amusing methods after this, but it leads to him joining Yuri’s group the Shinda Sekai Sensen(Afterlife Battlefront) which has a host of characters to say the least. Each of them have their own quirks, whether it’s being crazy, a sardonic female ninja with a fondness for cute things, a bookworm with a tremendous physique, a hacker who insists of being called ‘Christ’, a judo expert and a foreigner who speaks mostly English and just dances a lot. It’s definitely a real crack job of people.
The focus is mainly on Otonashi as he tries to recollect his memories. The journey is him going through his new class/teammates and learning their histories, with some of them crossing over after plots to foil ‘Angel’ go through. The interesting thing is Angel’s reasons for stopping them are never fully explained, but through Yuri’s monologue is that she is the representation of what stuff happened in their past lives. We learn that everyone who has died and come to this life, died with regrets and/or tragedy. This hits quickly in episode 3, where one of the guitarists for their diversion group Iwasawa, talks with him about her life which leads to her crossing over when she finally hits peace. Yuri’s back-story on the other hand…let’s just say it is going to take a lot more to convince her to make peace with God…
The interactions with Angel however are what drives the plot. As they don’t know who she is, just that she is this near all mighty representation of God – she has powers which are directly integrated with a computer system, which are far stronger than anyone else has got…but at the same time she’s a student council president who just wants her favourite tofu dish. Her real name is Kanade, and you just know she is only doing this because it’s her role, and she just wants to make friends, which is why it’s interested when a plan of the SSS works and she’s taken off the presidency…only to be replaced by a guy named Naoi, who is much more psychotic in that he sees himself as God but doesn’t have Kanade’s powers. Instead, he used human cruelty, which is part of the show’s message – that humans have the power to be crueler than gods, especially considering the past’s of characters like Yuri, Iwasami, the plucky comic relief character Yui, Otonashi, and even Naoi himself.
This is where you can say if this show fails or succeeds. They manage to cram in 13 episodes, a plot of life vs. death, some real tragic back-story for a few characters (even when said character only appears in one or two episodes), an amnesia storyline when Otonashi realizes who he is, how he died, and what he now needs to do – make sure everyone can crossover peacefully. The episode with Yui which also leads to some good development for their friend Hinata is both incredibly funny, but also well told and leads to a sad but smiling conclusion. It does lead to an end which I will admit is a bit confusing at first when they discover what God really is in this world, and Yuri is actually offered the choice to become God. However, the final episode (specifically the last 3 minutes) had me in bawling tears. Seriously, it was Clannad levels of bawling…
…the strange is though it also really worked in other areas. Comedy – it was really high on that. The OVA after my crying then had me crying in giggle fits when Yuri forces the group to be on high tension throughout the episode to see if that can get God to come to them, characters like T.K are just hilarious, Naoi and Hinata’s almost crushing on Otonashi to see who is his main helper, some of the deaths as wrong as it sounds and how it comes about as death is something they get used to, and the episode where they have to try and switch Kanade’s papers to make her lose face as the council president, they had some classic moments. Characterization, as difficult as it seemed, they did a good job. Otonashi is a very well developed character – skeptical at first, but helping and once his past is brought up, you really get an understanding of him. His relationship with Kanade in the second half of the series is adorable, Kanade’s developing emotions are a joy to watch (she and Yuri in the final episode started the tears) and the twist in the relationship between Otonashi and Kanade I refuse to spoil but let’s just say they actually wrap up a plot line surprisingly well considering the time frame.
The major problem with the series is obvious though. They try to cram way, WAY too much in 13 episodes. This looks prime billing for a 26 episode show, yet for some reason it’s only 13. This makes it very hard to keep a tab on any other character other than Yuri, Otonashi, Kanade, and to a lesser extent Hinata, Yui and Naoi. Iwasaka had her moment in the spotlight, but everyone else is pretty much an afterthought, so barring everything TK saying being memorable and the few moments of the characters in the above mentioned test swapping episode, it’s hard to say what the other characters brought to the table aside from their respective skills during their raids and attacks on Angel. They do their best with the above characters with their flashbacks, but whilst the others go gets a moment or two of fun, you can’t identify with them that well because of how much plot, story and drama they want to add in combination with the silly stuff, the music performances, etc.
This is a shame, because for the 13 episodes we get, it very nearly succeeds in creating a masterpiece. If it was even 3 episodes longer it might have helped, but they do their best in creating an atmospheric, character driven show whilst putting in back-story as best as they can for the main cast, created some good characterization on the main leads, and wrap up as best as they can for a very satisfying finale. Throwing in some great comedy, and it’s a series that is a joy to watch…but you just wish there was more, it would have made everything so much better and so much easier.
Personally, I love this series. It has some engaging leads in Otonashi, Yuri and Kanade, some great back-story for a number of the major characters showcasing the unusual but well worked plot – some gorgeous animation, music, plus some comedy (Yui is a very fun character), tragedy and plenty of tears for the end, it’s a fantastic series that I have both on US DVD and UK Blu-Ray. Sadly, I cannot recommend this to everyone because it does indeed have a rushed feel to try and cram a 26 episode series to 13 episodes, and it is quite noticeable considering the wealth of characters. That said, it’s still fantastic, and a Key series so I’d still recommend giving it a try and forming your opinion. A gorgeous mess or a rushed masterpiece, you decide.
Japanese DTS-HD MA Language, English DTS-HD MA Language, English Subtitles, Clean oOpening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: June 25th, 2012
Running Time: 330 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.