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Angel Beats! – Review

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Angel Beats! - Review 1Title: Angel Beats!
Published by: Siren Visual (Australia / New Zealand)
Based on: An anime-exclusive series
Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Audio: English and Japanese
Subtitles: English Subtitles
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Runtime: 300 minutes
Cost: $49.95
Classification: This title has been classified M for Animated Violence and Infrequent Coarse Language
Blurb: Angel Beats brings in several of the staff and studios from previous KEY series (Eg. Clannad, Kanon etc) and is an anime exclusive series, rather then adaptations of visual novels. The storyline follows a group of teenagers/young-adults who are now dead, and awoken in a school of the afterlife filled with NPC students/teachers and a mysterious girl called Angel who punishes students who do not follow a happy student life. Of course, this wouldn’t be an anime series without the dead students rebelling, having means to fight back against Angel with the overall intention of rebelling against god. The storyline has its merits and is overall a pleasurable watch, however as it was with the series Air – it could have used an extra 12 episodes to extend the story. Design was of a consistently high standard and the music was also strong.
Special Thanks: Siren Visual PR Team for providing me with a review sample of this title.

Finally after many requests since its original Japanese release in the first half of last year,  Angel Beats has now been released in Australia. The KEY line of anime series, which encompass both visual novel adaptations such as Air, Kanon and Clannad and now anime-exclusive series such as this one have always been highly regarded as series of high quality storylines, music and design and as you would expect, Angel Beats is of no exception. If you want to know more, please read on for my review of the series.

 Angel Beats! - Review 2

Otonashi Yuzuru has one memory: he died.

He’s stuck in a high school of the afterlife, his own surreal purgaroey with two choices: give up his connection to life and submit to his fate… or fight against God! If he choses the latter option, the Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS) is here to help – they’re here to see that your untimely death is avenged. One problem though: Angel, the president of the student council.

Throw in an all-girl rock band called Girl’s Dead Monster, buckets of blacker than black comedy, more weapons than you can handle and you’re only half-way to heaven… but you’ve still gotta get through hell.

When you think of a KEY title, you automatically think of two things… the first being characters with some sort of backstory trauma which the protagonist has to help them deal with, and secondly that there is always some element of death in their stories without fail. So would you say that every character in the series being either dead or not real and in a school because of having a crappy youth fulfills both these criteria very well? The story follows three character primarily – Otonashi, the most recent addition to the Battlefront, Yuri, the leader of said battle front and Angel, the “enemy” of the Battlefront who is assumed to have a direct connection to god through her supernatural abilities and position as student council president.

Angel Beats! - Review 3

The series to me can be split up into three arcs, each of which deals with a different antagonist. The first which runs for a majority of the first half focuses on the battlefronts acts to rebel against the school, often resulting in them fighting or escaping from her. Going from the description supplied of the series, this is what most people would expect the series to be about and whilst there is quite a lot of gunplay, also begins the character development of a few of the characters – even if only one characters backstory is resolved. The second arc is more storyline then action driven, and introduces the character Naoi, who is originally undetermined as being either a human or an NPC, however holds a much more sadistic side to his personality. This arc also introduces Otonashi’s backstory which is a very interesting and emotional piece. The final arc however tries to cover other characters backstories but fails to get past a handful and soon decends into a violent battle against shadow beings with a happyish conclusion.

I think the storyline was well written, and looking at the series as a whole, did an satisfactory job of fitting in the entire story in just 13 episodes. But I refer to another title of KEY’s… Air. There might not have been enough original content to do a full two season run of that series, however by the end it felt that they rushed through the individual character arcs and came up with a less satisfying conclusion because of it. My thoughts remain the same about this series: despite the sizable character cast, only a handful had much of a storyline despite all of them having “issues” and whilst the storyline was really good, the rushed nature stopped it from being excellent.

Angel Beats! - Review 4

Looking at the characters, there are a hell of a lot of them split up into four main groups, with only two really being of importance to the story. First of all, you have the battlefront members which are a mixture of personalities that take part in the main field work for the group. These characters get more screentime then all the other groups, and this group shall encompass Angel as well. The second group is Girls Dead Monster, a group of four, later five females whose entire role in the series is for their music as a distraction. The other two groups are The Guild and other “dead students” who get less screentime then some of the NPC’s. The characters are deemed by some as a group of “idiots” and often have a comical edge to their actions which work well. As I mentioned above, only a handful of the characters get any sort of development, but what the do provide is successfully implemented as both interesting and emotional.

Look at it this way, the storytelling I don’t feel is up to par of their other titles such as Kanon and Clannad, but despite this I think they have still got a strong performing storyline that’s only limitation was how long they had to provide it. It is a mixture of action, comedy and backstory that should be well liked by all demographics of anime fans. On a side note, I did enjoy the entire concept of the series, a school setting is something that is frequently implemented but the addition of NPC characters, students of the dead, an “Angel” that can modify herself using a computer program and the overall intention of the story being to find god really works to its advantage.

Angel Beats! - Review 5

The overall character designs were well detailed with much effort being put into every element of the series to the credit of P.A. Works. The first thing you will notice upon the start of the series is that Yuri looks almost like a purple-haired replica of Haruhi Suzumiya (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya et al), however she is apparently modelled after Yukiko from Persona 4, a favorite character of lead writer Jun Maeda. The overall character designs might not differ much in terms of clothing (They are in a school environment after all), however but the detail to their appearances is above average with no quality degradation as the episodes continue – a strong point given how many characters there are. Environment designs are also up to a standard I would expect from KEY, with well detailed environments that suit the mood they are trying to put across, whether serious, comedical or just something you would expect in a school. Unfortunately this is a review of the DVD version, and would love to see how the Blu-ray edition will turn out.

Angel Beats! - Review 6Angel Beats! - Review 7Angel Beats! - Review 8

Opening Sequence
My Soul, Your Beats! by Lia

If there is only one thing you will remember about this series after finishing it, the opening sequence shall be that one thing. The animation included follows the normal KEY process of naming every single main and secondary character in the series, and that it does, but also does so with an extremely high degree of design quality – making it one of the better opening sequences you are likely to watch this year. The song is also very good, with a strong piano presence (In the context of the sequence, played by Angel). It is something you will need to watch to fully understand… but hey, it was one of the most successful anime soundtrack releases in Japan.

Ending Sequence
Brave Song by Aoi Tada

The animation is simple enough, it focuses upon all the “alive and confirmed” characters to the point of the episode ending, and has them appear next to Yuri has the screen pans out. The song is softer then what I would usually enjoy, but works well, and also appears in short segments during “slowed down” scenes in the series – often for comedic effect. The animation is simple, but it was fine enough.

Angel Beats! - Review 9

The music quality was up to a reasonable standard and had a nice collection of songs to suit the varying moods this series offered. More memorable to most would be the the five Girls Dead Monster vocal tracks that are played through the episodes, usually for an NPC distraction or in some plot element. Fortunately, Sentai Filmworks who were responsible for the English dub chose to leave the Japanese versions of the songs in – as they are really enjoyable to listen to and do a great job of setting the intended mood. In terms of voice acting, I at least thought the English dub was of a high standard, with many of the voice actors having some role in Clannad. Blake Shepard did a strong job of voicing Otonashi and managed to get his characters mood and personality down-pat from the beginning. Brittney Karbowski and Emily Neves also did suitable jobs as Yuri and Angel respectively. The rest of the dub cast were pretty much strong, with a few voice actor changes in the middle, but the only addition I might have questioned was of TK, a character that in the Japanese dub only spoke random English phrases. Personally, I would have chosen to leave the Japanese dub for that character in, but Adam Van Wagoner still fulfilled this role nicely.

Angel Beats! - Review 10Looking at the packaging now, this series comes in the obligatory slipcase which features the three main characters on the front and a dark themed background with the groups emblem and the normal screenshots and blurb. The actual DVD  case features Angel and whilst I think the slipcases cover is nicer, I do maintain that the back cover for the DVD case is better designed. As it is with the DVD, the use of what I consider visual novel style character portraits of the characters are a nice addition.

In terms of extra content, unfortunately we are not given all that much – not even a clean Opening and Ending sequence, which were seemingly included in the North American release. These may be applied to the Blu-ray edition released in November however. We are provided with however, a greater selection of trailers including the normal The Tatami Galaxy, House of Five Leaves and Durarara!! ones, but also ones for Welcome to the NHK and Clannad. Unfortunately, when they originally released the English dub, there was a short Epilogue that was omitted from any English release, which outlined what happened during the events since the ending. There is also what you could consider a “bonus” 14th episode which is a more comical episode placed around the timeframe of Episode 5 in which they try to trap Angel communicating with god, but I consider that part of the storyline.

Angel Beats! - Review 11

Judgement Time! Honestly, I think this is a series that has almost everything you could want in an anime series – violence, romance, backstory and so forth and besides the fact it really could have used more episodes to pan it all out, it was a series I could highly recommend. If you can wait around until November, I believe the Blu-ray edition will provide an even better quality of design, but if not… the series is not out on Blu-ray and is up to the standard I would have expected from a KEY and P.A. Animation series.

Final Score
Storyline/Character Development: B+
Design: A
OP/ED Sequences: A-
Music/Voice Acting: A-
Packaging/Extras: C
Personal Opinion: A
Overall Score: A-

Angel Beats! - Review 14
Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fourteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.

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