Angel Beats Complete Series Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 344 minutes approx.
A high school student awakens in an unfamiliar place which looks a school building with no memory of who he is or how he got there. His first contact with another being is an excitable purple haired girl armed with a machine gun, who tells the lad to arm himself and help take out the enemy, God, and his representative Angel, a meek looking, wan faced girl with silver hair standing lone in the centre of a playing field. No, the lad hasn’t been drinking nor is he experiencing a surreal dream; he is dead and this is Purgatory.
Angel Beats doesn’t waste any time throwing the viewer into the same deep end as our amnesiac protagonist, who we learn is Yuzuru Otonashi, setting us all off on a journey of personal discovery, lost memories and emotional closure in a world in which the dead youngsters with residual issues unresolved from their shortened life times are given a final chance for fulfilment before being allowed to pass on to the afterlife. This somewhat ambitious and multi-layered concept should convince anyone that creator Jun Maeda (who also gave us Clannad) isn’t one to do things by halves but there’s more – not only did he write the original light novels, manga and screenplay for this thirteen episode adaptation he also composed the music too! No surprises then that his creation covers quite a lot of ground from theological discursion to existentialist heartbreak, wrapped up in a colourful, action packed and often humorous package.
The girl with the machine gun Otonashi encounters first is Yuri Nakamura, nicknamed Yurippe, the leader of the Afterlife Battlefront (a name which is settled on after a multitude of previous name changes) who appears to have a personal grievance against God for the cruelty she and other experienced in their short time alive. The nominal opposition, Angel, is in fact Student Council President Kanade Tachibana, assigned the task of suppressing any anarchic behaviour from the students such as Yuri and co. The truth however is completely different as we learn later on in the show but the channels of communication between both parties rarely extend beyond gunfire. Tachibana has self made weapons which are created by a computer programme called Angel Player, which Yuri hacks into and tampers with, often with disastrous results.
The Afterlife Battlefront is small group of disparate personalities – including stoic female ninja Shiina, dance obsessed TK, stripping honour student Takamatsu, Yuri devotee Noda, nice guy Hinata and computer hacker Takeyama, whose requests to be called “Christ” are routinely ignored. Offering external support is the Guild, a literal underground movement who build weapons for Yuri, and all girl rock group Girls Dead Monster (aka GrlDeMo) whose guerilla concerts provide sufficient distraction for Yuri to launch her next attack campaign. The rest of the students are referred to as NPC (non-Player Characters) and are basically non-human seat fillers.
With Otonashi acting as the conscience of the show for the viewer’s sake, it befalls upon him to help others regain their memories after he slowly does and help them fulfil their dreams in order to finally pass over into the real afterlife. This is where the bulk of the character exploration comes into play with some tragic back stories unfolding in the process that flesh out the characters, offering a revealing insight to their post life actions. In particular, Yuri’s tale and that of Yui, the hyperactive number one fan of GrlDeMo who later becomes their lead singer, are especially touching and upsetting in equal measures but provide interesting case studies into the darker and unfair sides of human life. One of the more potent and emotional moments for this reviewer would come at the end of episode three when GrlDeMo lead singer/guitarist Masami Iwasawa – a promising musician in her previous life – is cornered by the school staff during a gig. Iwasawa delivers her final act of defiance, a solo performance with all her heart and just an acoustic guitar of a power ballad she wrote before passing on for good. The sheer emotion and passion in the vocal performance from voice actress and singer Miyuki Sawashiro is beautifully captured in this scene and is an early highlight of this series.
It’s not all doom and gloom though – humour is another prominent key to the show’s success which is just as well, as some of the absurdities a fantasy show like this breeds need to be taken with a pinch of salt. If it isn’t breakdancing TK talking only in English soundbites, it is that bundle of energy Yui’s teasing of Hinata or some of the less successful attempts to irk Tachibana. The bonus OVA episode which closes this disc (and fits in between episodes four and five) is an all out comic affair as Yuri orders Operation High Tension hoping their hyperactive behaviour will force Angle to lead them to God. Manic doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Angel Beats is a very much a sum of its parts and a unique blend of fantasy, humour action, drama and intelligent storytelling. Studio PA Works also deserve a tip of the hat for their animation which offers some slick battle scenes, authentic looking concert scenes and beautifully rendered artwork, with a combination of bold backgrounds and lush colours, all of which look fabulous on the BluRay release of this title. Complimented by a rocking soundtrack and a group of likeable and entertaining characters there is little else to say except make sure you have your hankies ready for the final episode.
A lot of familiar elements make up this series but the unique setting and ideas behind the story make this a fresh and rewarding experience for all anime fans regardless of their tastes.
English Language DTS-HD Master Audio (BluRay)
Japanese Language DTS-HD Master Audio with English Subtitles (BluRay)
Disc 2 Only:
Ratings – ****
Man In Black