bathos n.– 1. An abrupt, unintended transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace, producing a ludicrous effect.
2. Insincere or grossly sentimental pathos
I’d say both definitions are fairly appropriate for Angel Beats – which isn’t a bad thing, by the way.
I’ve been looking forward to this show ever since I watched the first episode at the start of the season, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed – with the exception of some rocky moments (namely episode 4 and a lot of episode 5, which weren’t bad, just… rocky), I was impressed with every episode, and will come away from the series with vivid memories of events throughout. <- That sentence is about as much ‘review’ as I can give you, since I find this series hard to talk about in a straightforward way. This post will be somewhat disorganized, but I hope you’ll bear with it.
My impression of Angel Beats is that it does what any good parody does – fully embodies the tropes that it also subverts. I felt that it was a series where comedy characters were put in a dramatic setting, somewhat like Mai-Hime (which did it with harem characters), and quite similar to Futakoi Alternative. This was, I think, both the series’ greatest strength and it’s greatest weakness.
I wouldn’t have enjoyed this series as much had it been a serious drama. I’ve got nothing against series creator Maeda Jun (responsible for Air, Kanon, and Clannad), but I have a hard time getting attached to his shows, because I feel that each is ultimately a series of well-scripted and beautifully executed dramatic events that I don’t really care about. Air, Kanon, and Clannad were three of very few anime that made me cry, but not for the reasons I get emotional about other shows. I always cry during the last episodes of Eureka Seven because I’m moved by the resolutions of characters whom I love to death. However, in the case of the Fuuko arc from Clannad that made me cry for 5 minutes straight, I didn’t really care that much about the story, and while I liked Fuuko, she isn’t even in my top 100 as far as characters go.
The drama in those series works so well because it’s orchestrated so well. Every emotional scene is brilliantly directed to show you exactly what things will touch you from the story; the animation kicks into overdrive, creating a dramatic tone; the saddest music imaginable plays; a bunch of A-list seiyuu deliver stirring performances. Emotional scenes are extremely hard to pull off correctly, but Maeda Jun somehow supersedes all other anime drama writers time and again, while the studios producing his adaptions understand exactly how to make it work (we can’t give all the credit to Kyoto Animation anymore, since Angel Beats was done by my favorite up-and-coming studio, P.A. Works.)
And I respect all of that. In fact, I think it’s incredible – I have vivid memories of many moments from those shows, and that’s a powerful accomplishment. However, it’s not necessarily what I look for in anime. I’m not big on romance stories, for one. I’m not much for a series making you feel sorry for it’s characters and flinging pathos around – I have a pretty hard time feeling genuinely sorry for anyone to begin with. I didn’t cry over the Fuuko arc because I felt sad that she had a rough life and was going to fade away; I was effected by the emotions of the characters themselves, and not by emotions born within myself.
So here I get Angel Beats, which doesn’t even slightly take itself seriously. The traumatic histories of characters are bounced off of their carefree and silly nature. The gravity of any given situation is betrayed by the hilarious ways that events occur, which you’d never see in a normal drama. Angel Beats still tugged on my heartstrings; it still had plenty of those beautifully-made moments that sent chills through my body, and boy, I cried at the end. I was breaking up all through the last two episodes, and then the final scene opened the floodgates.
But what’s important is that those weren’t the only reasons I saw to care about the show. The portrayal of the dramatic events is the same as it is in Jun’s other works, but in this case, the story doesn’t exist just for those moments. There’s an actual plot running through, and one I found very interesting; and the ending was particularly strong because it felt like everything had led up to those moments, and it wasn’t the show forcing me to cry – I actually wanted to cry, because I genuinely felt those emotions to some extent.
However, as mentioned before, the comedic characters are also the show’s weakness, for the same reason that characters are a weakness of most comedies. Comedic characters in anime are almost one-dimensional by design. Because each character is the proponent of a certain type of joke, they will tend to have exactly one personality trait. For instance, the guy with the spear is always a muscleheaded idiot; the student council vice-president is always clingy to Otonashi and otherwise sarcastic towards everyone; Yurippe always acts like a war vet driven mad with post traumatic stress disorder – you get what I mean. In terms of my character definitions from this post, comedic characters lack ‘depth’ and usually don’t ‘develop’ much, since they always have to fulfill their comedic role. The saving grace of great comedies is excellent ‘chemistry’ between characters, but Angel Beats is lacking in this department. Some characters have stronger relationships with one-another, but a lot of them are just sort of there, no doubt because the drama, mystery, and action elements of the series don’t leave time to develop that many relationships.
That’s a pretty big thorn in the series for me. I love every other part of it: production values, acting, and a story that gripped me a lot more than most. However, characters are pretty much the biggest deal for me, especially in a series like this. Had I been able to care about them more, then Angel Beats could’ve easily been somewhere on my ever-expanding favorites list, but as it stands, I don’t feel attached enough to the series to let it through. There’s a chance that my feelings could change over time, though, so I’m going to hold off on scoring the series for now.
Pacing is another noteworthy facet of this show, as it’s rather strange. The lengthier comedic scenes sometimes felt like a drag in the plot, whereas at any other time the story moved like fucking lightning. However, it would usually turn out later that the comedic scenes were still important, so they look better as an afterthought. The rate at which plot twists were pumped out was crazy – what, like every fucking episode? Which I did enjoy, because it always kept me on my toes and held my attention, wondering what crazy shit would happen next.
I still had a bit of an issue, though, with the structure of events in the story. It felt as though the times and places wherein events occurred were ultimately inconsequential. In episode three, there’s a lot of focus on an episodic character, which is important to the story, but feels strange in that there aren’t any other episodes like it. Stranger still when the next episode doesn’t seem to advance the plot at all, and then every episode afterward takes the story in completely different directions. The revelations of Otonashi’s memories also felt very arbitrarily placed.
I feel that if a story’s going to have a unique structure, then it should serve a purpose. The mixed timeline in Haruhi, for example, was used to blend the important plot episodes in with the less important filler-type episodes, and put the dramatic climax at the end. There’s no meaning to the organization in Angel Beats – it just does shit, almost like a bunch of individual arcs being molded together into one continuing story.
Those issues matter most on the first viewing of the series and may be far less jarring on a rewatch, which is another reason that I want to hold off on scoring the series for now. I think it’d be somewhat silly to complain about these things if I ultimately liked how they all turned out, and I think the series will be easier to grasp with a prior knowledge of what I’m getting myself into.
What drew me to the story most was how over-the-top everything was. I really like immortal characters in stories, because I don’t really care much for character death, but I do love to see characters die. I was instantly excited that this show would have the characters get senselessly slaughtered again and again, and loved how even in dramatic scenes, the deaths were portrayed comically. I also really like guns, especially in the hands of girls, so that’s a boon. A lot of the events were unnecessarily excessive (they blew up the whole fucking base in the second episode!) which was, incidentally, why I loved every single one of them. So a lot of my interests were directly satisfied, and then the unpredictability of the plot never let me get bored.
Okay, now for individual notes and highlights~:
– Tenshi/Kanade was my favorite character, which I didn’t see coming, because I’m usually not big on the silent-girl archetype. Kana Hanazawa has also been very hit and miss with me because I didn’t care much for most of the characters I’ve seen her play (exception-Yuuka from Kyouran Kazoku), but I loved her voice as Tenshi, and it made me feel very a great moe. Her demeanor in the last episodes was adorable beyond words.
-Yuri really stole the show in episode twelve. I hadn’t cared much about her throughout the show, but her whole scene with destroying all the monitors was quite stirring. Her voice actress hasn’t had many roles, but I think this could be a breakthrough performance.
-Bonus points for daring to fill the show with dudes, and actually giving some of them major character status. TK is legend. GET CHANCE AND LUCK! The blue-haired best friend dude really came into his own as a character I cared enough about to feel for in the end (even if I can’t remember his name, lol.)
-I was indifferent about Otonashi. I didn’t dislike him at all, but his place in the story was just the usual bleeding-heart must-help-everyone guy, and there wasn’t much else to him. I like that he knew how to take action, but it’s more that if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have liked him. The subway scene was pretty cool though. I also liked his relationship with Tenshi, but that’s got more to do with her.
– Yui was really cute, but I wanted her to do something else – her constant confrontations with the others weren’t really funny to me (those gags never are) and I just wanted to see some variety from her. I liked her send-off episode, but I spent the whole time expecting some kind of message about how most people work exceedingly hard to achieve her lofty goals, and she should find something that she really cares about, etc., but I think I was reading a little too far into it. Nice ending scene.
– I wanted to give a special nod to a scene from episode 3. There was this spectacular piece of dialog where the original lead singer of Girls Dead Monster is describing the way that music had saved her life, and she says something to the effect of: “The vocals shouted for me. Complained for me. That the ones who pretended to be normal were the ones in the wrong, and the ones who were crying were the ones who were right. That those of us who were lonely were the ones who were more human. She shouted at the irrationalities, beat them, and destroyed them for me.” This has to be the best description of emotional music I’ve ever heard. You’ll hear many fans who believe that the lyrics are speaking the ultimate truth – that the lyrics have brought them to an understanding of the world. Of course, the truth is that the message is what the listener wants to hear and wants to believe in, not necessarily the truth, but the feeling that someone understands you and feels the same way that you do is nonetheless a powerful thing. I’d be lying my ass off if I said that when I can’t get my head straight, music can help turn things around.
-Did I mention I cried at the ending? The whole final episode was brilliant. It was such a thorough and solid set of events, and delivered the perfect amount of closure that I wanted. I was on the brink of tears the entire time, but OMG that last scene makes me want to cry just thinking about it. Very moving shit.
(Post title taken from the lyrics to Non-Objective Portrait of Karma by Circle Takes the Square)