Though I wish the Harmonics scenario lasted a little bit longer, the immediate follow up depicted in Episode 9 isn’t half-bad. Otonashi stays by Kanade’s side as she rests in the infirmary. Yuri blames herself for overlooking the effects of the countermeasure she programmed in. The entirety of the SSS waits to find out which Kanade will awaken, the one whom they were starting to get along with or the one who’s more than happy to cut them down. They do prepare for worst case scenario but they don’t sound terribly confident in said preparations to last. The whole opening scene effectively comes across as anxious.
Surprisingly though, the looming question of which Kanade will emerge is not the focal point of Episode 9. Instead, it’s a continuation of Otonashi’s past, revealing that he actually survived the train accident. Having seen Angel Beats! multiple times before, I knew this was coming but I had to play dumb about it to be on the safe side. Otonashi and a few other survivors find themselves trapped in a collapsed tunnel with barely any food and water. He also discovers his abdomen to be severely bruised. I think you can take a guess what that implies.
One advantage I think this flashback has over the others is that it’s allowed to play out. I haven’t brought it up before but as I kept rewatching Angel Beats!, I noticed that there’s a lot of exposition in these backstories. Characters narrate their lives and flat out tell the viewer what exactly they regret about them. I get that it’s for the sake of brevity and there is justification in that the narrations are technically conversations the characters are having with Otonashi (or in Otonashi’s case, inner monologue). This is also not to say that visual storytelling or the voice acting is bad either. Still, it’s a bit blunt for my liking which is why I find it refreshing that Episode 9 does away with it. No narration. No inner monologue. It just plays out Otonashi’s seven day struggle to survive.
Obviously, Otonashi still dies and never becomes a doctor but he at least makes his last seven days count. He uses his medical knowledge to help the other survivors, thus making him the de facto leader of the group. When someone tries to hog the supplies for himself, Otonashi willingly cuts his own portion down to compensate. There is no indication that he brings up his bruised abdomen to anyone which implies that he chose not to keep morale up. It doesn’t go perfectly. Some individuals don’t like that Otonashi has assumed the role of leader and despite his efforts, one person ultimately succumbs to his injuries. But all things considered, I don’t think those survivors would’ve last as long as they did if Otonashi wasn’t there.
Of course, we can’t talk about making something count without bringing up Otonashi’s final action in life. On the last day, Otonashi remembers how Hatsune wished she had a donor. This gives Otonashi the idea to sign on his insurance card his consent for his organs to be used as donors when he dies. That way, his life at least means something and he could still help save someone else’s even in death. For me, this is one of my favorite moments in Angel Beats!. It puts a nice bow on the entire backstory. Whereas Episode 7 make it seem like Otonashi kept losing his purpose in life, Episode 9 reveals he was able to obtain it in some form right before he dies. Furthermore, it’s just a really bittersweet moment. The uplifting music, seeing the other survivors get inspired and follow Otonashi’s example, the fact that Otonashi dies right before rescue finally arrives. It’s a huge punch to the gut.
After the flashback, we return to the present. Kanade wakes up, revealing that the original personality has triumphed over all those clones. Again, I think it’s a huge shame that this plot is resolved so quickly. I know she fought against her clones in her sleep but come on, at least show that in a dream sequence or something. Don’t have it happen off screen. That being said, Angel Beats! does use the whole Harmonics plot one last time and in a very neat manner at that.
While telling Kanade about his flashback, Otonashi realizes that despite now feeling content with how his life went, he’s still in the afterlife. He then concludes that it’s because he doesn’t want to leave while he knows he has friends who are still holding onto their regrets. Thus, him and Kanade now share the same goal (though it somehow takes Otonashi a while to realize that they do) and the two decide to team up. Kanade pretends her evil clones now control her and gets reinstated as the student council president. Her and the SSS are now enemies once again (I do love that the ones who sabotaged her tests get forced to do retakes). Otonashi now acts as a sort of double agent, staying in the SSS side but secretly working with Kanade in helping everyone move on.
All things considered, this is a superb set up for the remainder of the series. There’s a lot of risk at play here and there’s no denying that some characters will resist to Otonashi and Kanade’s efforts, Yuri especially. There’s just one problem: we’re at Episode 9 out of 13 in Angel Beats!. This set up feels more befitting for the second half of a story, not the endgame. And if the past couple of episodes are anything to go by, the odds of any new idea lasting for very long have been horribly low.
Thanks for reading!