[Anime] Angel Beats: Death is War

Monday, February 14, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

I finally got the chance to see the second epilogue of Angel Beats and the special bonus episode last week. It's been a couple months now since I've seen the bulk of the episodes, but I'll try to review the show from memory as best I can.

Summary: High school student Yuzuru Otonashi wakes up in a strange new school with no memories of his recent past.  The school turns out to be a purgatory for the souls of teens who have died but are unable to pass on to be reincarnated on Earth.  At the school the students are expected to fulfill their youthful dreams and come to terms with their deaths; however, there is a group of students called the Shinda Sekai Sensen (The Afterlife Warfront or SSS) who rebel against these expectations.  Afraid that when they are reincarnated they'll loose their personality and thus truly die, the SSS create havoc on the campus on an almost daily basis.  The theory is that by resorting to delinquency and by spurning all the rules they'll never have to face their unfulfilled dreams.  There is a single student with the ability to transform her body into a weapon that is trying to restore peace at the school.  It is believed by the other students that she is an Angel sent by God to force them to cross over, and they want none of that.

My Thoughts: Angel Beats is an exceedingly high-energy show, almost annoyingly so at times; however, the high-energy hi-jinks work most of the time. The cast is purposefully stocked with various anime cliches, but the creators are aware of this and frequently poke fun at these tropes which I always like to see.

The soundtrack of Angel Beats is also pretty awesome. The opening and closing endings are appropriately haunting, but the real stars of the show are the songs released by in-story band, Girls Dead Monster.  They are so much fun!  My favorite song from the soundtrack was the one called Alchemy (in-story) or Crow Song  in the real world which is sung by Marina.

You get the picture.  It's pretty catchy.

I know I make this sound like a light-hearted comedy, but there are two things that I would like to point out.  The first of which is the sheer amount of blood and cartoony violence that each episode brings.  This is a world in which you can be hurt, maimed, killed and you will always wake up in the nurse's office completely uninjured. Despite this obvious fact (that everyone is perfectly aware of) every death is treated as dramatically as possible.  The show gets points for creativity too.  I think the only thing that I didn't see was someone getting thrown into a wood chipper.  There's not a lot of gore so the faint of heart and stomach need not worry; however, expect to see some comical blood fountains and nosebleeds.

And secondly, over the course of the thirteen episodes and one special, Angel Beats takes on a level of depth that I wouldn't have expected from the show based on the first three episodes.  The students are forced to grapple with some pretty big issues.  What does it mean to be alive?  Do we exist as merely the sum of our experience or is there a more permanent quality to the human soul that endures? Are our dreams worth everything?  What is God?  What does it mean to rebel against him?  They have to deal with death on multiple levels: their own and the grief they feel after the disappearances of their close friends whenever one of them accidentally finds peace.  There are typical teenage struggles but many darker problems too.  Some of these children remember exactly how they died, and it isn't usually pretty.  There is so much going on beneath the surface of Angel Beats, and yet amazingly it never loses the fun factor. 

I'm shocked by how long this review has gotten.  As I said it has been months since I've seen all thirteen episodes, but it's the kind of show that does stick with you for a little while at least.  I don't believe the show has been licensed yet, but it was rumored that Aniplex was expected to bring out the North American release.


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