Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $69.98 US
Running Time: 350 minutes
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now
Welcome to high school Purgatory.
On the surface, Angel Beats! has all the appearances of light-hearted high school-themed anime series but the very minute we see one of the main characters looking down the scope of a sniper rifle to kill a cute classmate you know you’re in for an interesting ride in a different direction. Although the series is 13-episodes long (plus an OVA episode), the Complete Collection of Angel Beats! tells a great story of life, death, acceptance and guns … lots of guns.
The story begins interestingly enough as a young man named Yuzuru Otonashi waking up in the courtyard of a high school he’s not familiar with as he wonders just how he got here. Not too far from him is a cute girl named Yuri Nakamura holding a sniper rifle aiming it at another schoolgirl the other calls Angel. You see, Yuri (or Yurippe) tells Otonashi that he is dead and this school setting is really a battlefield in the Afterlife. The enemy is the petite schoolgirl who – despite her cute appearance – is really a formidable opponent that will kill without hesitation.
As it turns out, Yuri is not exaggerating as Angel kills Otonashi on the spot when the boy asks her to prove that he really is dead. Of course, you cannot die in the Afterlife but – as Yuri explains – if you give into Angel’s demands, you will be eradicated from the world only to be reincarnated into a mindless sea creature or whatever God has in store. Otonashi wakes up to this reality as he realizes that Yuri is leader of a Battlefront group composed of young people who also defy God by fighting back against Angel … who happens to be Student Council President in this school filled with random soulless students. Thing of it as a Role-Playing Game filled with NPCs (Non-Playing Characters).
Otonashi joins Yuri and her group that comes with an assortment of students with their own problems and reasons for fighting Angel. Some, like the impulsive Noda (who carries a staff with an axe-shaped blade), joined the group just to please Yuri. Another, a girl named Iwasawa, joined because she’s the singer/songwriter/guitarist for an all-girl band called Girls Dead Monster (who rock, by the way) that perform on stage as something of a distraction so they could carry out their missions.
Soon, Otonashi finds himself participating in a number of insane missions that have them fighting Angel or attempting to get one-step ahead of the girl. As it turns out, Angel is a seemingly fearless, emotionless person with the power to call up blades and a sonic distortion shield. The Battlefront group fights using their guns that they can only use to slow Angel down. Unfortunately, this also means that they require the help of a guild made up of students in charge of creating bullets and gun parts to make repairs.
While they’re not able to take Angel out of the picture, Yuri makes an interesting discovery that makes her believe that perhaps the Afterlife is all programmed like computer software. She begins a series of missions aimed at discrediting Angel before the eyes of the NPCs in hopes that it would throw off the program in the ultimate act of rebellion. Each member helps out in getting Angel to lose her position as Student Council President and thus shattering her confidence.
It is right there and then that Otonashi thinks that maybe Angel isn’t what they or Yuri believe her to be and he makes an effort in getting to know the girl that he had also considered an enemy. After all, when they first met she skewered him. He even goes as far as getting her to reveal her real name as well as having her to participate in fun activities. Little by little, Otonashi learns the truth about her and his himself as he regains the memories he lost.
It is also then that one of the Battlefront members, Iwasawa, makes peace with herself and the life she lived. Otonashi and the girl they had once known as Angel join together in helping the others finally come to terms with their lives and deaths so they can finally move on to the next life that awaits each one. Together they help the others fulfill their dreams such as Hinata needing to catch a pop fly ball during a baseball game or the bubbly Yui finally find that one person who will love her no matter what.
The series has no shortage of great action sequences in this series and when things finally change between the Battlefront group and Angel a new threat really pushes the dramatic tension just perfectly. This Afterlife world is an interesting one and the series makes good use of the setting whether it’s to display the strangeness of the situation or push the comedic elements that are genuinely funny. The OVA episode gets the biggest laughs as Yuri gets everyone to get amped up about every little thing in hopes of confusing Angel.
It’s also a touching series most of the characters whose pasts are revealed hold the key to the mystery behind why they are here. Otonashi’s life is particularly lovely and tragic as is the life and death of Ayato Naoir who started as a villain and ends up being Otonashi’s biggest fans. While not as tear-jerkingly emotional as shows like Clannad or Kanon, the finale is so beautiful that I did come dangerously close to crying.
Unfortunately, 13-episodes aren’t enough for a series this good. We would have loved to see into the lives of the rest of the great cast such as the silent Shiina, the hip dancing dude called TK and the big guy named Matsushita. Just skipping out on their story when the show does a great job presenting these characters definitely feels like a missed opportunity that would have made this series even more fun. Even the English dub cast is great with talents like Greg Ayres, Hillary Haag and Brittney Karbowski (who voices Yuki perfectly).
The Complete Collection of Angel Beats! will take you by surprise in the best possible way and it will not fail to keep you entertained thanks to its great story and even greater cast of characters. This is definitely a series that could have benefited from being a bit longer and, as a result; we miss the opportunity to learn more about the characters. Still, make no mistake; Angel Beats! is an interesting, funny and occasionally emotionally powerful series well worth watching.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Waking up in the courtyard of a seemingly normal high school Otonashi discovers that he’s dead and the Afterlife consists of a battle between a group of young people his age and a girl the group’s leader calls an Angel. Joining this band of armed youths, Otonashi comes to find that each one of them has a reason they haven’t moved on to the next life and sets out to help them.
VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Despite the fact that the series has a very familiar look, it is also absolutely gorgeous and more so on Blu-ray that does a great job of bring out the sharp colors and beautiful backgrounds. The animation flows good enough to make all the action scenes and visual effects work.
AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The original Japanese voice cast is stellar but I have to hand it to the English dub cast that does a great job making the dialogue flow and capturing the emotional tones that show up in the later episodes. This is thanks to top talent like Brittney Karbowski, Luci Christian, Blake Sheppard and Greg Ayres just to name a few. Then there’s the score and opening and closing theme songs that make this one of the biggest reasons to watch this with a good sound system hooked up.
The second disc contains Sentai Filmworks trailers and the clean opening and closing animation but the real treat is the inclusion of the hilarious OVA episode, “Stairway to Heaven” and the fact that it’s available on Blu-ray.
A thoroughly enjoyable series with a lot of heart and a cast of charming characters to boot, the Complete Collection of Angel Beats! does not disappoint in the very least. Comical, action-packed and even moving, you will find yourself falling under its thoroughly engaging and intriguing spell. This is definitely one series you shouldn’t miss.
Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks