Yuzuru Otonashi awakens in a strange afterlife world with no memory of how he died. He is almost immediately recruited into an apparent battle-front made up of students his age with guns and other weapons. Their purpose, according to battlefront leader Yuri, is to fight a threat called Angel. Although the person they are calling Angel looks like a normal girl, there’s much more to her than meets the eye. Is she really a threat to life in this world? And what exactly is this strange world anyway? Otonashi must find the truths of this afterlife realm.
Welcome! For this post I’m doing both a series review of Angel Beats and an anime rant about what I like in the series. I tried very hard to be fair during the review, but there’s no getting around the fact that I love Angel Beats and I’m almost certainly biased. Still, even if the overall score I give is a little too high, Angel Beats would still be an anime worth watching. Let’s begin.
Warning: Spoilers for Angel Beats will appear in this article
The art style for Angel Beats is engaging, cute, and colorful. It’s the older type art common to the P.A. Works studio, which looks a lot like a visual novel or one of those games where you can make interactive choices. The characters are generally petite with big, colorful eyes and a clear-cut, detailed drawing style with good shading and highlights. The color pallet for Angel Beats is really nice, emphasizing pretty pastel colors for background, bright pinks and blues for character hair, and the more muted white-and-gold look of Angel/Kanade.
For the most part, I liked the character designs, although a few were a little bit bland or felt recycled. (Yuri looks a lot like Haruhi Suzumiya with purple hair.) The face expressions for the characters are always great, and while the action scenes are nothing stunning, they still look smooth enough for me. P.A. Works improved their visuals a bit by the time of Charlotte (2015), which had a very similar aesthetic. But Angel Beats still looks nice and polished. The visual style from the early 2010s is one I have grown to love, so it gets an 8/10 from me.
Ok, so although I love the story of Angel Beats, I have to be fair for a review. Angel Beats fell short in many ways in this category. The main issue is that everything is far too rushed. There isn’t enough time to flush out the story in the way that was needed. Partly as a result of that, the flow between episodes often feels choppy and rough. A great example is episode 6, which packs an enormous amount of content into 24 minutes in a rather chaotic way. The episode ends with Otonashi embracing Ayato after the bloodbath caused by the latter. Then episode 7 begins a few days later, when Ayato is already fully incorporated into the group. We have no idea what happened in between. Some detail would make everything smoother and more believable.
In addition to the above problems, Angel Beats doesn’t have the best plot structure either. It’s difficult to organize it like one usually would for a story (setting, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.). It’s too short to really have separate “arcs,” so dividing it that way won’t work either. It just feels messy. Another issue is that Yuri’s motivations for fighting Kanade can be hard to understand and easy to dismiss as “stupid” if you don’t get it. Since so much of the story focuses on thwarting Angel, some might say the plot is an exercise in how to waste time. I don’t agree, but that’s because I spent a lot of time and several re-watches analyzing Yuri and her thinking.
Finally, a potential issue for some viewers is that the afterlife world isn’t especially developed or explained. While we know roughly how it works, many details are missing from the picture. Additionally, we don’t know who created this world or how they got the power to start the dimension’s programming. For those who like exhaustive world lore, these things can be disappointing. However, I personally love the world lore in Angel Beats. The vagueness of it is good for someone such as myself, who likes room for personal interpretation. I have fun thinking about the world of Angel Beats and how it works. The creativity of this afterlife concept is actually a strong point for Angel Beats. Speaking of strong points, let’s go over the reasons why this anime still scored decently on the story category.
Angel Beats is a character-driven story in the truest sense. There’s no fate of the world at risk, and no real villains. It’s just about the emotional and psychological journeys of the characters. I believe this anime presents a strong and well-told character-driven narrative. The few most important characters have fascinating stories, and we also get to see interesting life stories for several minor characters. For example, take the intriguing and well-presented backstory for Otonashi. The anime did a great job showing us his life, its beauty, and how it ended.
Anytime we look at story category in my reviews, we’re also looking at things like whether the content is balanced, whether the story feels engaging, and the success of the narrative in evoking the desired emotions in viewers. For these considerations, Angel Beats holds up excellently well. There is a good balance of humor and serious moments. There’s wholesomeness and there’s darkness. The story is also engaging; it may not be well structured, but the chaos is kind of endearing in its own way. Lastly, this anime definitely succeeds in making viewers feel something. It’s great at eliciting emotion responses. If there’s one thing Angel Beats got right, it’s how to have an emotional story. I’ll never forget how much I cried at the end.
Ordinarily, a story with these flaws would get 5/10 or maybe even a 4/10 from me. However, Angel Beats has story strengths as well, which bumps up the score to 6/10.
Next we come to the category where Angel Beats inarguably shines the brightest. I don’t have a lot to say beyond the fact that the audio components– especially the songs– for Angel Beats are amazing. Still, let me try to discuss it a bit.
To start with, the Japanese voice-acting is excellent. (I haven’t seen the dub, so I don’t know if the English version is any good or not.) The famous and talented seiyuu Kana Hanazawa voices Kanade/Angel and while it isn’t her most stunning role, she does well as always. Hiroshi Kamiya is also an extremely talented and respected seiyuu, widely known in recent years for voicing Levi in Attack on Titan and Izaya in Durarara. Kamiya shows his talent in Angel Beats by playing a sweet-natured main character and pulling it off just as well as his other roles. Harumi Sakurai voices Yuri, and while you might not see her in many big roles, she’s well known for voicing supporting characters in a number of anime, including Fairy Tail. A few other awesome voice actors appear in supporting roles, like Megumi Ogata as Ayato. This cast is really something to get pumped about and enjoy hearing!
Let’s move on to music. Before we even get into songs, there’s also the instrumental scores to consider. I absolutely adore the instrumentals! They were all composed and arranged by Jun Maeda, who was also the creator of the concept of the anime itself. There are some really epic and emotional scores, as well as some that sound like good video game music excellent for BGM. Some of my favorites from the soundtrack are “Tactics,” “Theme of SSS,” “Unjust Life,” and “Angel’s Flight.” Angel Beats soundtrack videos on YouTube are constantly being uploaded and deleted, so linking the scores to this post would probably be pointless before long. But you should definitely look up the soundtrack and listen to it. It’s gorgeous and fun!
Finally, we get to the songs. Angel Beats’ music was so good and popular it spawned a fictional band called Girls Dead Monster. An entire album of GDM songs was later released to complement the songs heard in the anime. About the ones in the anime, there are several worth mentioning. “Crow Song,” plays during one of the concerts in the anime, when the SSS blows the cafeteria meal tickets to everyone with a confetti fan. It’s an exciting and inspiring song. There’s also “My Song,” an emotional ballad that’s bittersweet. Finally, there are two versions of my personal favorite Angel Beats song, “Ichiban no Takaramono” (“My Most Precious Treasure”). That song brings me to tears and its meaning and importance in my life can hardly be overstated. It’s a song about embracing life even though it hurts and you may want to die sometimes.
The opening and ending songs for Angel Beats are also just as wonderful (in my opinion) as the GDM songs. Opening song “My Soul, Your Beats” is a soothing and beautiful piano song by Lia. There is also another version of it in one episode where it is performed by the beloved Japanese rock band LiSA. The main ending theme song is “Brave Song,” by Aoi Tada, and it’s really relaxing but also sounds rather melancholy. I just can’t say enough how awesome the music is in Angel Beats!
The characters category is overall going to get a 7/10 from me, which is a good score. But it was a tough call to make. There are some serious issues with the characters category, which we’ll get into now. In the end, I admit the good rating is just because I love the characters of Kanade, Otonashi, Ayato, and Yuri.
All the starting concepts for the characters are good in Angel Beats, but the series is way too short to develop them properly. It can’t even come close to giving that many characters enough time with only 13 episodes. As a result, most of the supporting characters are one-dimensional. They might have a running joke or gag for a certain character– like the ninja girl who always says “how unwise,”– but there’s very little else. There are characters with cool traits, like the friendly and goofy best friend character Hinata. But again, there’s nothing deeper than that.
All that being said, the three central characters in Angel Beats are much better written and developed than the supporting cast. Kanade, Otonashi, and Yuri not only have interesting starting concepts, but are also multi-faceted characters with interesting backstories and plenty of growth to be had going forward. Yuri in particular is one character I have always sympathized with immensely, as well as admiring for her assertive personality. Otonashi seems a little bland at first, but wait until you get to know him. He’s full of surprises. And Kanade/Angel is the cutest character, hands-down. She’s kind, with beautiful design, and also kind of a dingus. Her clumsy way of communicating is just adorable.
As for the shallower supporting characters, the concepts are still excellent and memorable in some cases. Ayato had a great story about his need for recognition and identity growing up as a twin to his father’s favorite boy. The character story for Yui (that hyperactive guitar girl) was surprisingly emotional and touching, so the character writing was good there as well. Finally, even some of the less interesting characters are memorable because they are cute or funny. Take TK for example, the long-haired dude who only speaks in random catchphrases and song quotes in English. That character always brings a smile to my face and I can’t forget him if I tried. Because of excellent character content like this, and because of my immense love for Yuri, I consider the character category for Angel Beats “good.”
Personal Enjoyment: 9/10
Besides enjoying Angel Beats Angel Beats audio-visually, I also found many more reasons to love this anime. They are found in the anime rant below this review. Read if you’re curious to know what in particular I like so much. Other than that, suffice it to say that this category is outstanding!
Overall Score: 8.0/10.0
The overall score is calculated by taking the average of the five categories above (Audio, Visual, Story, Characters, and Enjoyment). I’m pretty happy with this score, though to me, it feels a little lower than I want it to be. Anime News Network shows that Angel Beats has a median rating of Excellent, which is roughly equivalent to 9/10. Meanwhile, the current score for Angel Beats on My Anime List is 8.08 out of 10. My score is closer to the MAL estimate as usual. Anyway, that wraps up the review portion. Let’s look at the details of why I love Angel Beats.
-Why I Love Angel Beats!-
Humor, Cast and Lore
Humor in its various forms is usually hit-or-miss, and it’s no different for the humor of Angel Beats. The style uses a lot of comedic violence which I suppose could be considered slapstick with extra steps. There’s also plenty of absurd humor as the members of the SSS make chaos in their own ways. Finally, there are a few repeated character gag jokes, like the one about Otonashi being gay for Hinata. Of all these, I found the absurd and chaotic humor the funniest. The comedic violence also got me laughing a few times. Anyway, while it may not be my usual preferred style of humor, I loved the funny stuff in Angel Beats. It brought many a smile to my face, and the occasional laugh out loud.
Besides comedy, I also love the voice acting cast in Angel Beats. But since I already talked about that in the review portion, I don’t need to say more. Let’s move on to a third thing that brings me enjoyment: thinking about the way the Angel Beats world works.
The limbo world is supernatural in nature, and yet it was made by a human (presumably someone with special supernatural powers or technology that is beyond understanding). A “programmer” wrote the world we see in Angel Beats, and made it modifiable. By changing the codes, you can change the way the world operates. This world exists as a safe place for the souls of those who did not experience happy student lives. Here, they can engage with NPCs as well as other dead humans and partake in a simulated school environment. When the soul of the person is satisfied, it passes on or ceases to exist (up to interpretation.)
What I’ve outlined here is just the basics of the Angel Beats world. To me, it’s all incredibly fascinating. I love thinking about the possibilities and filling in missing details about world lore with my own interpretations. It’s such a creative and captivating concept.
Character Appreciation: Yuri and Kanade
One big reason why I love Angel Beats is the excellent characters. I’d like to mention a few things about Yuri, Kanade, Otonashi, and Ayato. First, we have Yuri Nakamaura, the outspoken leader of the SSS battlefront. I’ve already written a lot about her on this blog, so check out some of my posts about her if you’re interested. As for now, I’ll just briefly explain that I admire her persistence, determination, and courage. She’s also a good leader. It was inspiring for me to watch her journey to come to grips with her tragic past. I hope I can be strong like her some day.
Then there’s Kanade. I love her because of her cuteness and kindness. Her strange quirks and trouble communicating also help to balance her out so she’s not too perfect of a character. In terms of personality types, I am most similar to Kanade. (Although I admire Yuri immensely, we are very different.) She is a surprisingly wise person with relatively simple needs and wants, and she treats others well while quietly leading them to accept improvement. But she’s also a deeply sad character. Let’s look at that for a moment.
Kanade made it to afterlife limbo world because she was not satisfied. Her life was not quite fulfilling because she never got to thank the person who donated their heart to her. Then in the afterlife world, Kanade became lonely and isolated as everyone around her slowly disappeared and passed on in peace. Anyone who got too close to her would cease to exist. That’s a pretty fucking heavy thing to deal with. And you know, Yuri was constantly demonizing her and sabotaging her efforts. Finally, when Kanade found that person who gave her the heart, it turned out to be Otonashi. In order to pass on to the next life in peace, Kanade was forced to leave Otonashi behind. That must have been extremely depressing.
I have a deep appreciation for characters like Kanade who do all they can to help others and who are also chronically melancholy. But that’s enough about Kanade and Yuri; let’s discuss the boys.
Character Appreciation: Otonashi and Ayato
Otonashi is a pretty solid main character. He’s mature, intelligent, and most of all, caring. The main reason I love this character is his almost endless supply of empathy and care for others. Remember when he embraced Ayato in the rain and recognized him for who he was? Otonashi did that for Ayato even though the unstable boy had caused his friends great pain and wreaked havoc on the limbo world. It’s really fitting that Otonashi would want to be a doctor, because that’s often a profession where you see altruistic and selfless people like him.
Interestingly, Otonashi was not always this driven to help others. He used to live an empty existence devoid of greater meaing. (I can empathize with that phase for sure. I’m still there.) I loved watching Otonashi come out of his shell and find his drive for life. I also loved how he never stopped trying to make friends with Kanade in the limbo world. Even if everyone else believed she was some kind of evil angel, Otanashi still reached out for her. He’s awesome.
Last my list of favorite Angel Beats characters is Ayato Naoi. I’m aware that he isn’t a very popular character among most Angel Beats fans, but I can’t help being fascinated by him. (He also has an awesome character little design.) In the future, I plan to write a post focused on Ayato’s backstory and his deep need to be recognized. But for now I’ll briefly go over why I like him. It’s mostly because I empathize with the identity confusion and inferiority complex he has with regards to his twin sibling. (I don’t have a twin, but I have several siblings close in age and similar in appearance, so I can understand some of the struggle.)
Ayato’s emptiness after his father became ill also spoke to me on a profound level. What do you after the goal you’ve been pursuing with all your being falls away from you so suddenly? How do you restart life? Maybe it would have been better if he died in his brother’s place. All this heavy stuff is why I love Ayato and feel for him, even though he’s a little shit sometimes. Also, his skill with hypnotism is amazing, and his admiration of Otonashi after the battle incident is endearing.
Themes and Series Ending
Other things I love about Angel Beats are the emotional and psychological themes found in the story. Rest assured– I’m not going to write a whole thematic analysis. I just want to mention a few of the themes in passing. The two biggest ones are probably personal fulfilment and second chances. The characters all get a second chance to have a happy student life. They must each find personal fulfillment or they can never pass on. Interrelated themes would include psychological trauma, grief and acceptance. Hope, persistence, and teamwork are also powerful messages found in the story.
Now, about that ending. As I mentioned in the review portion (I think?), the ending of Angel Beats is a little divisive. Some people need a happy ending for all the characters, but Angel Beats does not provide this. Kanade finds peace and passes on, leaving Otonashi behind a crying mess, empty and alone. What is he supposed to do after that? I have no idea what he’ll do and I feel bad for him. Nevertheless I really like the ending.
First of all, the final scene is incredibly well done. The visual art, music, and emotional story all come together perfectly for one of the most heartbreaking scenes in anime (in my opinion). I can appreciate a sad conclusion if it’s this excellently presented. Furthermore, it was actually a happy ending for most of the characters. Even the lonely and melancholy Angel found fulfilment in being able to thank the person who gave her a working heart. Only Otonashi suffers an unhappy ending. Finally, the ending is appropriate for an anime that explores themes of grief, life, and death. Even if you pretty it up, death still sucks. Loneliness and grief suck. Since the conclusion was so realistic in this regard, I enjoyed it.
Now at last I can say: rant over. We’ve finally reached the end of today’s post, both the review and the rants about what I love in this anime. I hope you’ll check out Angel Beats if you haven’t seen it already! Thank you so much for reading. And it may be in bad taste to end on a sad note, but just take this excuse to think about appreciating your loved ones while they are still alive. May we all find a sense of fulfillment in this one life we have.