I've gotten anime to watch from quite a few sources over the years but I do believe this is the first time I've ever had a friend come up to me, shove a dvd at me and tell me to watch it. Fine by me, I've wanted to check out the series for a while, I'd heard plenty of great things about the series but it never got legal streaming on hulu/netflix/crunchyroll so I hadn't had a chance to watch it. I was a bit hesitant since it's an original story by PA Works (although it sounds like the prequel Light Novel series was completed shortly before the show started airing) and I haven't seen a ton of their works, actually I don't think I've completely seen another of theirs since I keep dropping them (Hanasaku Iroha, Another). Again, I just had a DVD set shoved at me, of course I was going to try it out.
Summary: Otonashi has just woken up outside a school with no memory of who he is, never mind where he is, when he's greeted by the spunky Yuri who informs him that he is dead, this is the afterlife, and as such he cannot die. That last part is important since Yuri and her friends, the SSS, are all also dead, lived crappy lives, and in an effort to not reincarnate are fighting against a girl they call Angel and not being able to die really helps in the fight. Otonashi doesn't believe them, walks up to Angel, and is promptly "killed" again. After this he is dragged into the SSS activities as they rebel a god who seems to care nothing about them.
The Good: This was a surprisingly touching story about, as one might expect, coming to terms with passing on and the plot progression feels very natural. It's hard to say much without spoilers but the progression of events which leads Otonashi to a very different conclusion work quite well, possibly since I was expecting something similar to be the case, and I was really a fan of seeing how the characters reacted. This show stands on it's characters and by the end of the show you could think of any two reoccurring cast members and know exactly how they would interact with each other. That's no to say that everyone got a lot, or even any, character development but the show nicely balanced out who got screen time and few of the characters were boring or annoying.
The Bad: I've heard that the show was originally supposed to be two cour but got reduced down to one and at times the show does feel a bit rushed. The story writers do an admirable job with the time they have but out of the huge cast (a few wide shots make it look like there were 20-30 people in the SSS and there were about 16 regularly reoccurring characters) and only six of them really get a resolution. Truthfully I have a hard time imagining the show filling up a full 26 episodes but I can see them easily expanding out to 18 and then throwing in a few fillers to hit 22 episodes, especially since I think there was a bit plot point that never got covered. Again, the show did work the way it was but it's not hard to see how it could have been even better and that makes me sad and loose plot threads like that are really it's weakest point.
The Audio: When my friend gave me the DVD she also told me to watch the dub and normally I would but this dub has gotten a ton of flack. A few months ago I did see the first episode dubbed (Sentai Filmworks had it on itunes as a free preview) and there it was fine but I've heard after that the directing/re-writing gets really odd which most people blamed on the director, Steven Foster*. So I watched the Japanese dub which worked just fine in all areas. The acting was good, the singing bits were good, and the opening and ending songs worked nicely. I wasn't as impressed by the "changing" opening as many people were, mostly it was similar to Baccano! or Durarara!! where scenes from the episode were inserted in, but the music still worked nicely.
The Good: From the other bits of PA Works shows I've seen they look pretty good and Angel Beats looks quite nice. All of the fight scenes look smooth and well-choreographed and even the slice of life moments still look visually interesting. There's not much else to say, it looks nice on DVD and I'm sure it looks even greater on Blu-Ray.
I really ended up enjoying this show, quite a bit more than I expected, and I was surprised that it made me tear up a few times as well, that's fairly rare for anything. As a quick note, it doesn't seem to have been on the English DVDs but there's a 3 minute short called "Another Afterlife" and if you're in the mood for a more somber take on the ending check it out, by this point I have no idea which ending (especially if you count the OVA as an ending, I thought of it as a filler episode) is the "canon" one. So Angel Beats is now on my to-buy list for when I get a Blu-Ray player. Oh, on an unrelated note, next week's anime review is going to be the last one for a while since in March I'm just reviewing webcomics, I'll make a post about that in the next few days.
*I think the only work I've seen him work on is Red Garden which I remember since it was apparently his decision to make all the singing sound awful since, apparently, it was done on purpose like that in the Japanese so I am a bit skeptical of his, interpretation, of stories and it sounds like he's best known for making dubs just really crass these days.