A White Dwarf
Much like the galactical mega-stars that occupy the distant worlds far from us, Angel Beats! was seen as one of the brightest anime shows this season, with enough spiritual intrigue and mystery to pique everyone’s interest and bay the critics’ initial impressions. Then episode 6 came along and ruined everything. The series started out as a quest for identity, transformed into a rescue mission, and then ended as a mawkish, drippy, and cheesy yearning for ascension and belonging. But I will admit, I am a sucker for drippy melodrama, given that the context surrounding it is merited; Clannad does this well.
On the other hand, Angel Beats! tried to do the impossible—cram an emotionally meaningful, soul-searching, love story into 13 episodes and staple on action, comedy, and over 10 characters. Unless the story author is as talented as Ryohgo Narita (Baccano!, Durarara!!) and the animation director is Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters per Second), then there’s no way you’d be able to pull that off—not in 13 episodes, at least.
But what exactly went wrong? The series was the bellwether of promise for the early summer anime; nothing else posed as a serious threat to the popularity of the show, save Durarara!!, Maid-sama!, K-On!!…OK, never mind. Here’s the point: when Angel Beats! premiered in April, everyone panned it as a crisp and refreshing change from everything else, but what we got was a maudlin semi-love-story, semi-quest-for-identity where neither of the two make it past the larval stage. For a series that’s been in production since 2007, it’s a real shame to see such a tenuous product.
Does that mean that Angel Beats! had the wrong idea about its plot? No, not necessarily. In fact, I really liked the direction the series was going in. I just wish that the animation studio opted for a second season so that they could flesh out all of the different modules of the plot. You can’t possibly expect to cram so many different avenues of the story into a short 13-episode mini-series. The authors asked for so much and the animators gave so little. There was no way this series could’ve explored all the different aspects of the characters and their struggles using so little airtime.
What made Clannad and Kanon so great was the ability for gradual character growth, not door-slamming character heel face turns, whiny, half-baked deliveries, or abrupt character derailments. Angel Beats! tried to accelerate the development of the cast by changing the circumstances around them drastically and often, hoping that the audience would simply accept that everyone in this world just lives in the fast-lane. Most of the fanbase is complacent with this series, but I wasn’t sold on the piece. I felt that the series could’ve been orders of magnitude better if the studio would just opt to do a 24 episode series instead of a 13 episode one.
One might argue that it doesn’t take 24 episodes to make a great story— or 13 as a matter of fact. The art of cinematography has to deal with the most limited amount of resources when it comes to storytelling. In, at most, three hours, a film has to portray the characters, depict the setting, advance the plot, and, optionally, make meaningful statements about the real world. That’s quite a bit of stuff to do in a mere three hours, whereas a mini-series has six and a half hours to do the same—approximately four and a half hours if you deduct the commercials, the OP, and the ED. But on the other hand, a show has to cope with the changing dynamics of executive meddling, occasionally recap previous events, progress the story in such a way that allows segmentation to occur between major plot events, and hook the audience at the end of each episode. That’s a lot to ask for.
It’s not reasonable to compare the two different mediums because they both deal with different challenges in order to meet the same goal: tell a good story—and make some money.
Unfortunately, Angel Beats! couldn’t completely convince me to suspend my disbelief. I really would’ve liked to see and feel the tenderness that was between Otonashi and Angel at the very end. I really would’ve liked to truly understand the neglect and pain that Naoi felt when he was forced to take on his brother’s identity. I really would’ve liked to truly understand Yui’s joy when Hinata proposed to her. None of these wishes were fulfilled. Never, not once, did I ever feel as emotionally connected with this series as I did with Clannad, Kanon, 5 Centimeter’s per Second, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Toradora, True Tears, Valkyria Chronicles, Voices of a Distant Star, or Evangelion.
This anime falls somewhere between Full Metal Panic! and Shakugan no Shana. Angel Beats! comes off half-finished and rushed, scrambling to find every excuse to compress as much plot advancement into every second of airtime. Despite its lack of story-flow, I feel that Angel Beats! was worth watching. It doesn’t compare to any of the great dramas in recent memory or any of the more mindless action shows that are still on television. But Angel Beats! does deliver a refreshing change of pace with its dark, slapstick humor, its Haruhi-like characters, and original concept.