Saturday, August 14, 2010

Angel Beats!

Angel Beats! takes place at a high school in the after life and all the main characters are dead. Somehow, the creators turn that premise into an awesome anime. The story starts as a basic action/comedy anime, then turns a little depressing as the characters' histories are told, but finally becomes uplifting once the true purpose of the school is revealed.

Otonashi Yuzuru is the latest arrival and is immediately recruited by Yuri. She has organised a group called the Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS), which is rebelling against the god who gave her such a sad life and then dumped her in this after life school. Her opponent is Tenshi, the chair of the student council which naturally wants to keep order in the school. The nature of Tenshi's super powers cause the other characters to mistakenly assume she is an angel ("tenshi" in Japanese) sent by the god to control the rebellion. Yuri hatches a plan to oust Tenshi off the student council. The plan works but the vice-chair, Naoi Ayato, turns out to be much worse, and so the rebellion continues.

When Yuzuru arrives, he has no memories of his life. Yuri tells him this is normal but everyone eventually remembers. In between the action, some characters tell their history to Yuzuru. Although the events all different, it's clear there is a common theme: they all had unfulfilled lives, even Tenshi who is turns out to be human. When Yuzuru recalls parts of is own life, the memories suggest he is the same as everyone else. Later, however, he remembers that he died while saving the lives of others, which aligns with his goal to become a doctor.

This revelation is a turning point in the story as Yuzuru decides to help the others achieve their goals. The characters actually avoid reaching their goals because, once satisfied, the character just disappears, which is frightening since this is the only way characters can permanently "die." Yuzuru realizes that the true purpose of the school is to give someone a last chance to achieve something they never had while alive. Fighting against it, as Yuri's rebellion does, means you are stuck at the school forever.

There's an interesting aspect of the story that I wish could have been explored further, namely, that there is technology behind everything at the school. There are computer controlled "non-player characters" that fill out the student body. Tenshi's powers are a computer program that she wrote herself. The SSS makes all its weapons in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, the series is too short to delve into a side story about the origin of the school. It might make a good second season, though.

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