To be honest, I consider the stuff with the Shadows the weakest part of Angel Beats‘ story. The reason is that it is so blatantly set up as the endgame. Like, Jun Maeda or someone else in the staff realize that there’s only three episodes left and they need to wrap things up so they came up with monsters that threaten the SSS’s way of “life”. It’s also possible they just wanted to end on something flashier. Character development? Screw that, let’s just show characters hitting stuff some more. How else are we going to show off Kanade’s new wings?
…Those wings are nice, to be fair…
In the interest of fairness, I will say that the concept of the Shadows is great. They’re monsters that turn their targets into NPCs, rendering them subservient to the world but also denying them the one thing they’re supposed to gain in the afterlife. You see this demonstrated with Takamatsu. It’s creepy, making the afterlife the purgatory that it really is. Furthermore, it throws a serious wrench to the SSS’s operations, their days now numbered. That’s the odd thing with Angel Beats!. I can’t deny that it rushes through its plot elements but whatever execution it manages to pull off has been pretty respectable.
Of course, I’m still frustrated that there’s no more of Otonashi and Kanade helping people move on. If Yui’s episode was any indication, I wish all the other characters, or at least a couple of them, got that same treatment. Episode 11 does little to make me get over it as it begins with Hinata and Naoi offering a helping hand to the plan. That would’ve been great. Those two continue to bicker over who’s really Otonashi’s best friend. Maybe have them get to know Kanade; the only meaningful relationship she has is with Otonashi (I’m surprised how little they explore her relationship with Naoi). You get a couple of glimpses of what could’ve been, Naoi particularly shows how helpful(?) he can be, but that’s about it.
The climax of the episode does incorporate Otonashi and Kanade’s goal in some way. Yuri gathers the SSS and reveals that she has caught onto what the two were up to (she does seem smart enough to figure it out) and asks Otonashi to advocate for moving on as it’s everyone’s best chance at surviving the Shadows. I suppose it’s a decent comprise but the scene doesn’t really strike that emotionally. Hinata and Naoi backing Otonashi would matter more if Otonashi got to do more with his plan. The most vocal objections actually come from the extras which doesn’t matter since they’re extras. All the named characters just listen and they’re even shoved into the background of the scene. Most importantly, I don’t know how I feel about the way everyone is getting encouraged to move on. It remains a choice but in this case, it’s more about risking to become an NPC than reconciling with your regrets in life. By having characters decide so freely and necessarily, you undermine whatever it was that held them in this world. Not to mention, this move is clearly done so the staff don’t have to develop anyone’s character further.
With that taken care of, Angel Beats! sets off for the final battle. Yuri and Otonashi ask for Kanade’s help in fending off the Shadows, to which she obliges. As an aside, keep in mind the part where Otonashi remembers that Kanade isn’t a real angel and realizes she must have her own regret keeping her in the afterlife. Everyone in the SSS weigh their options. Hinata, in particular, decides to stay as he’s worried about Yuri (the Track Zero novels and Heaven’s Door manga expands on the two’s apparent history with one another). As for Yuri, she decides to investigate the cause of the Shadows, figuring that they must be created by a program in similar vein to Kanade’s abilities. It’s a little silly that she just waltzes into a computer lab for clues, pointing her gun at a custodian no less, but it does end up paying off. There’s a secret hatch that leads down to the Old Guild. I do love how Yuri calls out on how many times she keeps coming back to the place. At this point, she must be tired of it.
Thanks for reading!