This is, as far as I recall, the very first episode of Angel Beats! I ever saw. It was during a meeting of anime club in high school; they were screening Episodes 5-8. I missed the meeting where Episodes 1-4 was screen and I missed Episode 5 when I walked in and saw the show for the first time. This isn’t really a starting point per se but it nevertheless got me hooked, so much so that I went back back and watched what I missed and finished the rest with the anime club. Getting to this episode again, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic, remembering when I stumbled upon this show and became a fan of both it and anime in general.
The episode begins with the SSS walking out of a prison cell, having been thrown in there by Naoi in between episodes. Though wary of the new Student Council President, Yuri has the gang to do whatever in class to better test the waters. The wackiness goes without saying. Along the way however, you have Otonashi talking to Kanade in class and offering to treat her for mapo tofu. Not only does it allow him to make up for the meal ticket fiasco, it also shows that his attitude towards Kanade has changed. He’s starting to see her less as the so-called Angel and more just a person he wants to know better and maybe even befriend.
Once again, it’s the wonder of mapo tofu that allows us to get to know Kanade better. She instantly takes up on Otonashi’s offer and actually forgets that she’ll be breaking the rules about mealtimes in the process. Even when she gets caught by Naoi, she scarfs her meal down before allowing herself to be sent to prison. It’s cute and funny and most importantly, it shows a rarer side to Kanade’s personality, one outside the preconception placed on her. There’s also a bit where Otonashi comments on the dish being Kanade’s favorite and the latter reveals that she never really thought about it. To me, that subtly speaks to how being alone has affected the girl and the good that’s coming out of Otonashi hanging out with her.
The notion that Kanade is alone is directly brought up later in the episode when she and Otonashi need to bust out of prison. Otonashi ponders about being Kanade’s ally and the latter actually stops him from thinking that. From there, Otonashi learns that Kanade doesn’t seek anyone’s help because anyone who does disappears in the end. She works alone not because she chooses to but because she’s forced to. It’s an unfortunate conundrum and yet, despite the warning it brings, it seems to make Otonashi sympathize with the girl more and does little to deter him from wanting to grow closer to her
You know, watching Angel Beats! again all after these years, I’m realizing more and more how quickly its story goes by. This show truly didn’t deserve to be single cour. Case in point, this is the only episode where Naoi is the main villain of the story. That’s it. This show hyped him in a post credit scene and resolves the threat he poses half an hour later.
It’s a huge shame as Naoi works really well as a villain. Everyone assumes he’s just an unassuming NPC, only to find out he’s a real human being and that perhaps Kanade did them a favor by keeping him in check. On top of that, he fights dirtier and more aggressive than Kanade ever was. He games the system of the Afterlife by pretending to be a model student while secretly bullying students. He’s not afraid to use NPCs as meat shields. Most importantly, he has a God complex. Being the Student Council President now, he can enforce the rules. As silly and random as his hypnotism is, it gives him a dangerous and disturbing advantage. Not only can he control other people, if someone refuses to move on, he can force them to do so by implanting false memories, something he tries to on Yuri.
At the same time, Naoi has a terrific backstory that garners him some sympathy. He was the son of a famous potter and his father ignored him because his twin brother proved to be a prodigy in pottery. When his brother died, he’s forced to replace him and just when the strict training begins to pay off, his father suffers a career ending illness. In the end, Naoi feels his life was for nothing and he desires to become God just so that his existence is acknowledged. All things considered, this show honestly could’ve made him the real big bad and the fact it does away with it in just one episode does frustrate me.
At the very least, the resolution given to Naoi works pretty well. Otonashi being the one who smacks sense into him is perfect. To him, no matter how painful your memories are, they’re still proof that you lived your life. Seeing Naoi disregard his and plant false ones into others naturally frustrates Otonashi especially since he currently can’t remember his life. Conversely, I do think the part where Otonashi hugs Naoi and tells him that he acknowledges him is a bit much. I like that it has Naoi receiving the one thing he’s desperately been seeking his whole life but I can’t deny that it does look really sappy.
Fortunately, Naoi’s character doesn’t goes to complete waste. Without going too far ahead, I will say that Angel Beats! manages to give him something to do, including one very important scene in the very next episode. I do enjoy Naoi’s role for the remainder of the series but I must confess that I like him most when he’s antagonistic.
Thanks for reading!