Imagine that you wake up outdoors and crouched down in front of you is a school girl pointing a sniper rifle at a fellow student, who apparently is the enemy, standing across the courtyard. This same girl who’s wielding said sniper rifle then tries to recruit you for a group she fronts during which time you have been informed that you’re now in the afterlife. This is exactly what you can expect in the opening scene of Angel Beats as you follow the (very unique) journey of Otonashi who has no clue what’s going on coupled with the fact he has amnesia & doesn’t remember anything about himself. (Not exactly the greatest condition to be in given the circumstances.)
As you may have guessed Angel Beats surrounds a group of students trying maintain a strong opposing force against Angel, the girl I mentioned who was having a sniper rifle (unbeknownst to her) waiting to deliver a shot to her cranium, in a world that could be best described as unique version of the afterlife that is confined to the grounds a high school. The goal of the students is simple: remain in that world. If they cause an imbalance on how the things should run or perhaps how they conduct themselves in certain situations, they will likely be met with consequences (usually Angel, who coincidentally is the student council leader, coming along to dish out some punishment) or perhaps even being ‘obliterated’.
The main protagonists in this tale are Otonashi and Yuri, the two who were in the opening scene I described earlier. They help drive the plot in a clearly defined way with Otonashi, especially in the early going, questioning everything because (like the viewer) he has no clue what is going. It is this descriptive style of narrative, keeping in mind it is executed without ever breaking the fourth wall, that makes this thirteen episode series so easily digestible and one you can really sink your teeth into that made it an absolute pleasure to watch. If you’re someone who likes a fair share of comedy combined with violence & death all the while coupled with great storytelling then there is sure to be a series you need to pick up.
You have a whole cast of characters adding a splendid variety of personalities to this entirely unique scenario. Not a single character feels out of place despite the many clashing personalities. As time progresses we do get to learn about them on a more personal level than just what we see on the surface and how they ultimately fit into this universe of seemingly constant struggle. It’s this that ultimately plays a large role with the progression of the story.
Earlier I glossed over the fact there is some death & violence involved. What you’ll come to realise very quickly is that this is a very integral part of the series. You will be seeing characters perish is part and parcel with this anime and a very regular occurrence at that. A key point raised very early on in the series is that in this world nobody one dies, meaning you can expect plenty of death. Be it through the use of bullets of perhaps even through stupidity, you will grow accustomed to multiple characters perishing in a variety of ways that either shock you or have laughing out loud. But in saying no one dies, the overall goal as mentioned is to remain in that world. The quandary that appears here is that should a character ‘find peace’ they will leave the world. As you may expect this is quite the dilemma and does certainly play into the story.
The programme is also filled with lots of comedy that blends seamlessly. From one-liners to recurring jokes from previous endeavours, even some form of perishing, I defy anyone to watch this and not laugh at multiple points. This comedy is emphasised within both language options available on this release, the English dub and the original Japanese audio. The English dub does a fantastic job of capturing all the emotions present, the comedy elements and establishing the many personalities present in this series. Making them as clearly defined as they are in the Japanese version. Having watched both dubs I can’t declare an outright winner in terms of which I preferred. There are always going to be some elements of an anime that won’t completely transfer over to English, but the English audio does a great job of making the story very digestible and enjoyable as it was in it’s native language.
This release also comes with an OVA episode set during the series that is sure to make you laugh out loud with the pretty outrageous scenario involved for the characters. Though throughout the series it was executed very well, if anything the OVA is the perfect example of how well the English audio cast did when it came to emphasising the comedic elements contained within this universe.
In conclusion Angel Beats is definitely worth picking up as it’s a series that takes you away from the usual type of stories that focus around deities, death and battling and takes you on a journey that is very memorable for the various left turns it will throw at you all the while not alienating what has already been established. Looking back I am really craving for more of this universe, that’s how enjoyable it was, and it’s certainly a series I would be more than willing to indulge in again & again. The fact it’s received a Blu-Ray release here in the UK is a real plus as it’s a series that takes full advantage of being in high definition. If you’re wanting an engaging & emotional story, many comedic elements, death, fighting and unique personalities all wrapped up in thirteen episodes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better series in my opinion.
– Jeremy Graves