Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Angel Beats

Back in 2005, a budding animation studio known as Kyoto Animation joined arms with visual novel developer Key in a partnership that would cause a colossal wave of moe to bury everything in its sugary path for the next four years straight. In 2009, KyoAni decided to test the theory that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and started dabbling with experiments such as K-On! and franchise-dismemberment (Haruhi 2009). Unfortunately for Key, KyoAni then decided that sculpting elegant, meaningful works of art out of the moe lumps of Play-Doh wasn't worth the effort when they could just stick four ditzy school girls in a light music sweets club and call it quits for the foreseeable future. Thus, Key turned its attention to yet another budding studio known as P. A. Works for the production of creative guru Jun Maeda's newest brainchild: Angel Beats.

It's pretty obvious from the get-go, however, that Angel Beats is going to be a completely different beast than anything like Clannad or Kanon. The series opens with a confused high school student named Otonashi blinking into existence right behind a mysterious girl staring down the sights of a high-powered sniper rifle and firing at a white-haired albino girl who is referred to as “Angel” 'crost the way. The sniper girl, known as Yuri, tells Otonashi that he's dead and that the world he's in is some sort of Purgatory for lost souls. For some bizarre reason, Otonashi gets over his bewilderment in about five seconds and dismisses this lubricious scenario as trivial by waltzing towards the white-haired girl who's in danger of being turned into Angel Food cake and trying to talk things out. She then stabs him and he dies.

Yes, if there's anything Angel Beats knows how to do, it's how to cast that initial hook, because while there are already blatant lapses in logic, the series is unforgivingly gripping right from the outset. Otonashi eventually recovers from his untimely demise because people don’t stay dead for long after they’re…well, already dead and is recruited by Yuri into an organization known as the SSS with the goal of bullying Angel through asinine high school antics presumably until she needs to see her guidance counselor for some psychological TLC.

You might have realized that the first distinction between Angel Beats and Key series #1064 is that there's already a central storyline in place and it's not going to involve curing supernatural ailments through messiac intervention. It certainly helps obscure the stench of moe and shake things up a bit from the usual grind, so thumbs-up, say I. As for the rest of the distinctions...not so much.

Harp on Key series #1064 all you want, but at least those series possessed and made the most of a cast of well-rounded and highly-imaginative characters, emotionally-exhausting highs and lows, and a plot that wasn't as f*cking hard to follow as the bastard child of Neon Genesis Evangelion and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

If Durarara!! had the direction sense of a leaf in the wind, Angel Beats is a leaf in a Category 5 Hurricane. You could be chuckling at the dorky pratfalls of a group of teenagers embroiled in a prank parade one moment and be lassoed into a pool of melodramatic tears the next with little to no warning or justification. The series is just so obnoxiously inconsistent that trying to get yourself immersed is like trying to swim across a f*cking moat to reach a barricaded stronghold as boiling stupid is being dumped on you from the battlements.

And I swear the series has a thing for shoehorned emotional climaxes if I hadn't stressed that to death. A character who shows up for five minutes gets a Shower of Angst as a welcoming present and later on, a character who up until that point had been played completely for laughs receives a heartwarming tribute out of nowhere before getting unceremoniously booted out the door. Even the last episode, which is where caught myself actually giving a toss about some of the characters is guilty of forcing valentines down our throats in a way that left me half teary-eyed and half glazy-eyed.

That's not to say there aren't some touching scenes sprinkled throughout. Anything dealing with Otonashi's backstory such as his little sister was sufficiently sentimental, mostly due to its relevance to the plot and the fact that the atmosphere was both soothing and emotionally striking, which should be second nature to the Key production team by now. But it's just not enough and the way it's clumsily incorporated makes uncovering it like sifting through a trough of cow manure to find a gold-encrusted earring.

The general consensus is that 13 episode was simply not enough to contain a properly structured story, and maybe Angel Beats's overambitious, labyrinthine coil would have unraveled more elegantly in 26. As it stands, however, the series is an exercise in mental multitasking like no other; it's like playing Bully on the PS2 with one hand and scrolling through a visual novel with the other while someone tickles your feet and applies eyedrops every ten seconds.

1 comment:

  1. I just want to say: that was an awesomely hilarious scathing review of Angel Beats! :D

    I found the anime to be a decently enjoyable watch, but you nailed all of its weaknesses, and with quite a bit of wit too.

    I also liked how you incorporated that bearded man into a few pics. Is that a drawing of yourself, by the way?

    Thanks for following my own blog, by the way. I'll make a point to follow yours as well.