Guns and Angel: Angel Beats!

Stuck in a world after death, faced with a deadly “angel”, armed with an array of high standard weapons created out of thin air… I forgive you for thinking “hardcore fantasy Matrix-style action” according to what I gave you above, but reality of Angel Beats! is approximately 250 miles away from that description. There are indeed satisfying action scenes involving lots of guns and ammunition, yet mostly Angel Beats! is a story about fulfilling wishes and the subsequent acceptance of death, and tons following tons following tons of typical Japanese/East Asian kind of nostalgia over life in high school.

How awesome is waking up in a huge high school beside a girl aiming down a CheyTac M-200 Intervention?

Aired between April and June, 2010, Angel Beats! received high popularity and recommendation from the Bureau of Culture. Although hardly able to enter the top list for excellent anime titles, Angel Beats! no doubt has its unique charm and makes a pleasant viewing experience. The story is typically Maeda Jyun (the multi-talented scenario writer who is credited for much of Key Visual’s brand value): a peaceful, almost comic opening, gradually picks up intensity and ends with an emotional grand finale. The quality of animation is over the top, with smooth combination of 2D-3D illustration and a world full of beautifully presented details. Action scenes are sparse (except for the last several episodes) but superbly arranged, gun actions are depicted with painstaking details (along the line of Gunslinger Girl, etc.) that you can almost feel the weight of metal and the power of bullets on impact. Of course, it is always a mystery how high school students would learn to handle guns like pros… By guns here I mean pistols, ARs, sniper rifles, SMGs, etc. But considering the fact that even a sweet little girl like Kanade (aka The Angel) uses a pair of over-the-top, Assassin’s Creed style wrist/arm blades… can’t complain.

You gotta love it when shiny pistols are properly cocked with a “click”…

Still, the core of Angel Beats! is an atypical school romance on youth, regret and memories. The “real” students (excluding NPCs that is) at Tenjyou High (literally, Heaven/Paradise High) each has a certain regret when they die, and are stuck here for their inability to accept fate’s “injustice” (rifujin) such as a lost baseball game, passion for music, life stranded on sickbed and loss of family members. From this perspective, Tenjyou High itself is a world of “never ending dream” in which school life goes on forever, and one has got all the time to reflect on life,  get over things, and eventually accept his/her early death. On acceptance, one shall disappear without a trace from Tenjyou — something feared (for right or wrong) by Yuri and her comrades. Unable to die twice (though getting shot up, drowned alive, cut to pieces is an everyday norm…), their daily life becomes an almost playful game against Angel (Kanade), a misunderstood girl who’s actually trying to help them go beyond the present.

Yuri-ppe’s last stand against “shadows”, the main enemy late in the show. Now you wonder where do those MW2 Vector geeks come from? 

High school/Junior High (cyuugaku, koukou)  has a rather special place in the modern culture of Japan and also that of the broader East Asia. Loosely speaking that particular period of life is seen as “the summer of life”, when people are simple and form friendship in its purest form. The idea of Tenjyou High, a dream of never ending life in a perfect (i.e. stereotypical) high school definitely provokes the sense of nostalgia and yearning in many. Eventually, it is common for people to hope from time to time that they could return to the past and relive the old days, especially when faced with troubles and difficulties: the main difference between us and the heroes in Angel Beats! is that they died, and we grow up. A veteran producer of “cry game” (naki-ge), Maeda’s script skillfully combines all the “tear factors” organically. In short, for those who are terminal into “nostalgia sickness” or enjoy getting emotional over stuff, please add Angel Beats! to your watch list, NOW.

(one second into op.) “oh come on, not another school anime!…” (good thing it’s worth watching after all : )

The moving nature of Angel Beats! doesn’t mean it is a cry-cry-show like Clannad or Air. As a matter of fact, the first 4, 5 episodes is basically a comedy fest. Parody on emotional death scenes (be reminded that no one in Tenjyou High actually dies, even when reduced to bits), “epic” slow motion with replay, “spicy tofu”, gay joke… Maeda obviously doesn’t give up easily on making you burst into laughter, even at the risk of misleading the audience in regard to the nature of the show. Talking about misleading, the greatest detractor of Angel Beats! would be its sheer amount of characters and the minimal appearance of most of them. By the end of the show, the names of most characters remain vague to me, since there are simply too many of them appearing in no more than a handful of scenes.

Yuri-ppe’s rocket chair ride, an extremely rare case of injury (instead of death) in Angel Beats!

Another thing worth mention is the soundtrack. Thanks to Girls Dead Monsters (GDM), a fictional 4-girl rock-pop band in the show, there is a collection of great hits originating from Angel beats!. Singles featuring hits including  Op/Ed song My Soul, Your Beats!/Brave Song, GDM’s Crow Song, Thousand Enemies, Little Braver and Last Song have all ranked within top 3 of Oricon. On top of usual Japanese rock-pop for animes, GDM songs have a twist of depth in both composition and lyrics. Under the right mood, songs like Little Braver and Crow Song belong to the kind that could be put on repeat for hours. Strongly recommended.

Practically everyone from the show. Angel Beats! has a universe of characters but regrettably fails at developing most of them

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