I couldn’t have been the only one that felt having someone other Kyoto Animation doing a Key work was vaguely wrong; like some sort of cosmic law had been broken. Silly, I know but I still made sure I coached myself to remember to not fault P.A. Works for simply not being Kyoto Animation. (And by having P.A. Works do Angel Beats it probably cleared KyoAni’s schedule so they could do the Haruhi movie. Which I hear is great but will wait for a proper release before watching it.)
Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 10/12 A
Anticipation Level: 3.5/5 – Medium
Otonashi wakes up in a strange world of a sprawling high school campus, apparently dead, though he does not remember his previous life. He meets Yuri, the head of a rebel organization that seeks to find the answers behind this world and why they are there from God’s representative in this world – Angel (who acts as the school’s student council president). He initially doesn’t believe he’s dead but after suffering fatal injuries twice, he decides to accept Yuri’s offer and joins her group as the seek to find answers and do battle against the seemingly invincible Angel.
The Fine Print
I’ll hardily be original, at this point, if I point out the apparent similarities to Haibane Renmei or the Melancholy of Haruhi or other Key works. Many people have been covering this show already and even in my limited reading all these similarities have been brought up and I have to agree that I do see these similarities but I’m not sure if this is the most productive way of talking about this show.
If I had jumped early and written this impression post after the first or second episode I would have complained that Angel Beats felt completely derivative of other works but I didn’t and I’m glad. Five episodes in and I’ve come to conclusion that the most accurate way to relate Angel Beats to these other works is to compare Angel Beats to a Quentin Tarantino film such as Kill Bill. It’s possible to pick out the influences that Tarantino had bouncing around in his mind while he created Kill Bill but the film is just too creative and good to cheapen it by saying he just ripped off those earlier works.
I also think there’s another reason why Angel Beats is reminding people of Haruhi and K-On! and it doesn’t have anything to do with source material. I think P.A. Works not only sees Angel Beats as the vehicle that will catapult them into the top-tier of animation studios like Haruhi did to KyoAni but it’s also the golden opportunity for the very young P.A. Works to gain a great deal of respect by outdoing KyoAni at their own game. There’s nothing with this because anytime an animation studio succeeds at pushing the bar higher, it prods the other animation studios to improve their game or go out of business.
And so far, I’ve been pretty impressed with the effort by P.A. Works – easily the best work they’ve done to this point – they might just be ready for the big leagues but I don’t think they quite unseat KyoAni yet.
Going into the show I was most worried about how well P.A. Works would handle the characterization. In their previous two works, True Tears and Canaan, I was disappointed by their inability to really make the characters come alive and the resulting disconnect this caused made it hard to really get into the show and care what happened. For Angel Beats, P.A. Works was working with the master of characterization, Jun Maeda (AIR, Kanon, Clannad) so it should be impossible to screw it up but if watching anime has taught me anything shows that should be impossible to screw up are just as likely to fail as other shows. Therefore, P.A. Works deserves the full credit for creating an interesting bunch of characters. If I was looking to pick a fight I’d congratulate them for doing a better job in a couple of episodes to convince me that Iwasawa was a real musician then KyoAni has been with convince me any of the girls in K-On are real musicians with 16+ episodes. But I’m not looking to pick a fight :) .
The other slight worry I had for Angel Beats was it’s story; specifically, how well would Jun Maeda do when he wasn’t writing the story for a visual novel. In this department I’ve been very happy as well. Every episode unravels a little more of the story and it appears to be deliciously more complex then it did at first look. I don’t want to spoil the story here so the only other thing I’ll say about the story is that for those that have grown to like the sad stories that characters in Key works often have, you won’t be disappointed here.
There is one area that when I compare Clannad to Angel Beats in broad generalities I notice that Angel Beats comes up short to Clannad. That area is how well the comedy is handled in Angel Beats and how easily the show shifts from comedy to drama and back to comedy. Some of the comedy feels tacked on with Angel Beats so far and sometimes the comedy fills ill-timed and a few of the jokes in Angel Beats really feel lifted from other Key works. It’s hardily a big problem and I wonder if I noticed it because I so liked Clannad; also, not to slight Angel Beats but I do find the comedy is heavily weighted to the “hits” side with very few “misses”.
In conclusion, Angel Beats follows in the footsteps of the past Key works and at the same time it offers something different than it’s anime predecessors. I was worried that P.A. Works didn’t have the capability to pull this off but they’ve been doing a great job. I’ve already mentioned the characters and the story but I can’t finish without mentioning the very high quality animation and great voice work as well. In a season stuffed with quality titles, Angel Beats has been able to find a place as one of this season’s must watch shows.
Possible spoilers so I’m sticking it here. At the end of episodes 2-5 the cast picture at the end of show changes depending on what’s happened in the episode and I figured I’d put them here.