Freshman year of high school is when I started getting super into anime but if I had to credit one show that sparked my love for it, I’d say it was Angel Beats!. I remember stopping by my school’s anime club one day and saw them watch Episode 6 of the show and immediately got hooked. Soon after, I went back and watched the episodes prior and joined the club in watching the remainder of the show. After that, I went to my first con, Anime Boston 2011, just so I could see Sentai Filmworks premiere the English dub for the show. I got the show’s DVD as a Christmas present (I later got the Blu-ray because why not) and the first anime figurine I ever got was of Angel/Tenshi (I had a crush on the character…). Suffice to say, I was a huge fan of this show and it’s because of this show that I watch anime and follow the medium as a whole.
I bring up Angel Beats! because this year marks its 10th anniversary. In fact, the show premiered exactly ten years ago today on April 3rd, 2010 (never mind the timezone discrepancy). It also has been a couple of years since I last watched the show and by now, I’ve seen a lot more anime and my taste in the medium is different than how it was when I was 14. I’m curious how I’ll feel about the show now. So to celebrate the occasion, I’ll be rewatching the show again and cover the experience in episode reviews.
I think what first drew me to Angel Beats! was its premise. High school anime are a dime a dozen but there’s very few that I can think of where everyone in it is dead. That’s right, Angel Beats! takes place in the afterlife. More specifically, the show follows the Afterlife Battlefront/Shinda Sekai Sensen, a group who refuses to move on and fights against the student council president and the one in charge of the realm, the titular Angel/Tenshi (Kana Hanazawa), as an act of rebellion. It’s a pretty novel concept, one that sets itself apart from other anime involving the afterlife as well as your average anime set in high school. It also makes for a potentially interesting inversion of what high school anime is normally about. Normally, these shows are about growing up and coming of age but with everyone in Angel Beats! being dead, the characters face the reality that they died young and will never reach adulthood. How do they feel about their lives getting cut short? Were there still things they wanted to do in life? Angel Beats! explores those questions with some of its characters.
Speaking of characters, there’s a lot of them…far too many in fact. I’m willing to bet that I won’t even mention some of them by name by end of these reviews. You’ll get no argument from me, this is Angel Beats‘s biggest problem — tons of characters and not enough time to give most if not all of them proper spotlight (and no, the two OVAs don’t help in that regard). It’s a shame because the few stories you do get in the show are pretty darn good and the characters who end up getting the short of the stick have enough potential to merit their own episodes. And before any super fan of Angel Beats! pitches in, I am aware that the various spin-offs such as the Heaven’s Door manga do shed light on some of the characters the show fails to get to. Even so, a flaw is a flaw and as both its own thing and as the main body of work in the franchise, it’s a very big flaw.
Two characters who definitely get plenty of attention are the leading duo: Otonashi (Hiroshi Kamiya) and Yuri (Harumi Sakurai). Otonashi is the very first character introduced in the show. Upon arriving in the afterlife, he discovers he has amnesia. Yuri (nicknamed Yurippe by some of her teammates) is the leader of the SSS who invites Otonashi to join the group which the latter eventually accepts. I like Otonashi. He’s the everyman in the cast but given the show’s premise, you definitely need one. His reactions to everything from being dead to Tenshi’s supernatural abilities is believable and allows the viewer to buy into the story. And without spoiling, his character does go in a very interesting direction as time goes on. As for Yuri, during the show’s prime in popularity, I’ve seen comparisons between Yuri and Haruhi Suzumiya and…yeah, those aren’t wrong. Yuri very much reminds me of Haruhi with her leadership role and ridiculous plans (the one shown in this episode is having a rock band distract students so that the SSS can steal meal tickets from them). You even have Otonashi acting a bit as the Kyon in the duo, reacting to Yuri’s plan with bafflement and disapproval. While the similarity is a point of contention for some, I never minded it and as I watched the show, I found Yuri distinguishable enough.
One thing I think the first episode does extraordinarily well is showcase Angel Beats‘s versatility, both in tone and in its use of various elements in its story. One moment could be serious, the next could be extremely funny. As an example, let’s look at the first third of the episode where Otonashi finds out he’s dead. He wakes up in the middle of a courtyard, amnesiac and confused, starting the story on a mysterious note. The tone becomes intense when he asks Tenshi to prove that he’s dead and the latter proves it by stabbing him, thus creating an air of terror on her character. But after all that, the show takes a considerably more comical tone with Otonashi getting killed in brutal, over the top ways such as getting pushed out of a window by a giant mallet. All of this establishes that, in the afterlife, anything that’s supposed to kill someone simply incapacitates them but it also sets varying tone of the show (and surprisingly, it’s rarely ever jarring).
The same can be said about the fight scene at the climax of the episode. Tenshi arrives to stop the rock band concert and the SSS from stealing meal tickets and the action starts with a fairly suspenseful encounter between her and Otonashi. Soon after though, everyone arrives and fires on Tenshi. The amount of firepower being used combined with Tenshi’s supernatural abilities and the sheer amount of destruction occurring as a result is downright ridiculous. And keep in mind that this is happening while there’s a rock concert happening (and by the way, the song is killer and the animation for the scene still holds up). And keep in mind that this is happening because everyone needs to eat dinner. There’s all sorts of elements at play here and it creates such a ridiculous, chaotic scene…and I still have a blast watching it unfold.
We’ll see about the rest of the show but honestly, I still think the first episode of Angel Beats! is quite good. If had I watched it when aired, I’d think it checks all the boxes I’d want in a premiere — intriguing, exciting, and it makes me want to watch more. Perhaps there’s nostalgia kicking in it, watching this again does remind me of what I loved about the show, but even that aside, I still had a lot of fun with the episode. Hopefully, the rest of the show will follow suit.
OP: “My Soul, Your Beats” by Lia
I confess: As soon as the first few notes of this song plays, I couldn’t help but smile and feel super nostalgic. Ten years later and “My Soul, Your Beats” is still the best. The visual sequence of the OP is also great. I’ll always love the image of Tenshi playing on the piano as we see various introductory shots of the characters as well as a quick preview of the incoming episode.
Thanks for reading!