When the previews for the shows airing in Spring 2010 hit, it was a little surprising to see the usual overabundance of worthless moe replaced with numerous shows that promised good art and an interesting premise. The show that would eventually define this season would have its work cut out for it.
A single episode in, I’m not quite ready to hand that mantle to Angel Beats just yet, but I will say it’s getting off to a strong start. You see, Angel Beats already has a fair bit of anticipation surrounding it as the story / screenplay and character designs were conceived by visual novel developer Key’s Jun Maeda and Na-Ga respectively. Given that both previously worked on Clannad, Kanon and Air, there was reason to be excited.
Like several of the past year’s best shows, Angel Beats is associated with a light novel — which is a prequel in this case — and is a little confusing when you begin to watch the first episode; but really, that’s part of its appeal. Unlike a lot of other shows, this one actually remembers to keep you entertained while it’s making you scratch your head, which I appreciated immensely. I’ll try to keep my impressions short and leave out the finer details for those that want to watch this for themselves.
Highschooler Otonashi wakes up flat on his back in the middle of a school courtyard one fine evening. In front of him is a schoolgirl with a sniper rifle. She welcomes him to to the “To Hell With Dying Warfront,” which is the name of a group of students in the afterlife, trying to keep their souls alive…or something to that effect. The “afterlife” world they inhabit following their deaths is a school, which operates sort of like a videogame. The Warfront — previously named Afterlife Warfront, You’re Going to Die Warfront, and a bunch of other names the members didn’t like — are its “protagonists.”
Everyone else is an NPC. They — at least so far — appear to follow set rules and patterns and go about their daily lives. The protagonists aren’t supposed to exist in this world, so they have to go about activities like acquiring food in illegal or inconspicuous ways. However, there also exists a student council of law enforcers — the Angels — who are essentially this world’s “bad guys” or “boss characters.” The enforcers will seemingly only trouble you if you’re doing something wrong, but will leave you alone otherwise, regardless of if you belong in this world or not. Oh, and they’re supernatural with special moves like “Hand Sonic” and “Distortion.”
The Afterlife Warfront try to sustain their existence and hold off the Angels at the same time in an attempt to make this world their own keep themselves from being reincarnated or…whatever happens when your soul “moves on.” It’s an interesting premise and I love the idea of a world that appears to operate like a game. People have compared the character design and archetypes to Haruhi and Ouran — and while, admittedly, there is some truth to this — Angel Beats appears to have a solid enough mix of laugh-out-loud humour, action sequences and premise to stand by itself.
I also want to point out that while I’m usually not a fan of the caught-between-moe-and-grown-up art style, Angel Beats walks that line well, and I like the characters enough so far to stick with it. You have your stereotypes — violent girl; silent, mysterious girl; smart guy with glasses; older, responsible guy; knee-jerk reactionist idiot etc. — but they’re presented rather entertainingly within the context of the story. Even the girl band performance. We’re off to a good start!