To be blunt, this is not a good show. Not in the Texhnolyze or Eva sense of it being an expertly sculpted masterpiece of animation that'll most likely stand the test of time for the coming thousands of years. But it's certainly a good show nonetheless. Not making a lick of sense? Then bear with my ravings for the next few paragraphs please.
"お前の人生だって、本物だっただろォゥ. . ."
Key, oh Key, the glorious bastards that make a solid living of off making millions of otakus shed endless streams of manly tears, manly sweat and manly cum, and god damn me to hell if they aren't professionals at tugging at people's heart-strings . And now that I say it, whenever I think back on the weird and hectic days of the previous decade, Key, Vocaloid and 4chan all prominently come to my mind. That really speaks of the lasting, emotional impact works like Clannad had on my psyche, but they stop at that really. Emotional impact, many tears and many more tears and a wet pillow but nothing really more. That's my thoughts about Key's visual novels and anime in a succinct few words.
Jun Maeda and co's works are certainly famous for delivering solid, merciless punchs to the gut with their works, making hairy grown men bawl their eyes out like little babbies and making them love every second of it. Excellently well done character design meticulously tailored to fit the other elements of the show like character dynamics and the general thematics whilst still making them easily recognizable and memorable, which is pretty fucking helpful when there's usually a metric fuckton of them per show :
Music that ranges from being pretty damn good to threading on the territory of the entertainment of gods in terms of being gratifying. And It sure feels to like heaven coming down to bless my ears every time I put on a playlist with tracks of theirs in it, I'll tell you that much. In Angel Beats' case in particular, and due to the setting being a lot less anchored in reality than his previous works, they went all out and blatantly inserted an entire band into the setting that plays legitimate tracks whilst the rest of the cast go about their armed shenanigans. And fuck me sideways and make me wear a garter belt if the concept of a post-humous rock band of JKs didn't tickle my fancy. Seriously, it's a nice touch.
And usually excellent production values orchestrated almost always by great directors (Well, except for 2002 Kanon, but that one stays in the dark corners of the basement where it belongs) all contributed to putting Key's name on the map and carving a serious impression into the minds of everybody that watched their shows.
But the music and looks of the characters and visual quality are all just supplements to the main part really, detrimental some might even claim if you're not that into the praying mantis eyes of Key's characters from Clannad and down. The main attraction, the thing that jolts into everybody's minds and makes them pop a stiffy whenever they hear that Jun's working on something new are the tales of each and all of their shows. A certain structure keeps popping up whenever you put Key's VNs, anime and written works' stories under scrutiny. With the notable exception of Clannad After Story, they usually star an initially apathetic but deep-down kind young man with no real, concrete aim in life and who feels like he's a transient, somewhat meaningless existence and so doesn't really give a shit about anything other making ends meet without pursuing any serious prospect in life. This protagonist, usually through the convenient powers of anime circumstances, meets a girl, and in a daze, feels compelled to keep hanging around her for a while, and through his contact with said girl, the protagonist meets the rest of the cast. Expositions thereon-out, their shows and games turn into a succession of self-contained arcs speaking of the psychological mess of each of the side-characters with the protagonist and main heroine acting as impetus to said side characters getting over their problems and finding solutions for the plethora of trauma that plague their minds.
Angel beats employs somewhat of an accelerated version of this formula due its rather short length of just one cour (which seems to be commonly accepted as its greatest weakness), with the protagonist starting as a totally blank page and the longest heart-wrenching background expo not lasting longer than 20 minutes, with one of the sadder ones just ending with a stupid homo hug. But, that's not necessarily bad. Sure, it took Sartre and Dostoevsky thousands of pages spanning dozens of essays and novels to express adequately even a fraction of what human suffering is and how to handle it, but this is no grandiose attempt at dissecting human suffering, it's a simple show made to scratch this anomalous itch all 21st century men came to have that makes us yearn for drama and sadness. Easily understandable and one dimensional stories of an up-and-coming rock star getting stabbed in the back by the circumstances of the past when they've had finally mustered the courage to reach out to their dream, stories of people not understanding what they had valued dearly until said precious things slip between their hands into the abyss of oblivion and death, stories of momentary failures causing an entire human being to crumble into a mess of self-pity and drugs, stories of people with potential getting nipped in the bud before they can even understand the tragedy of their fate, all these kinds of stories are touching. We, you, and I as viewers watch these stories and find parallels in between some of their ideas and themes and between what makes us stay up at night. I find in their pain a sense of comradery, and the sense of comfort that entails with it, and in the cathartic climaxes a simple, honest hope that fills my chest with this fuzzy feeling, a simple hope that makes me think that I can handle my problems or that I could do better regarding this or that. It's simple, admittedly shallow, doesn't offer exceptional character development but is effective emotional stimulus. Doesn't need you to go around reading Freudian psychoanalysis and dissecting it frame by frame to get a proper taste of it. In that respect, Key's works in general do not differ much from say, K-on or Boku no Pico, in that it's there to satisfy a simple urge without making you rake your brain too hard, be it simply wanting to cry your manliness away, wanting to watch cute girls drink tea, or wanting to watch shotas going balls deep into each others' holes.
And you see, this kind of entertainment value usually gets shunned in critical anime circles, since people usually put deep symbolism and production value above all else in terms of critical criteria and falsely correlate dumb, simple fun with being some kind of prostitute that's too braindead to discern what she wants in her mouth and what she doesn't, their heads too up their own fancy asses and e-peen rubbing, pseudo-intellectual circlerjerks to remember that a simple, short and shallow tear-jerker has its own entertainment value that is in no way inferior to what Eva or Tex or the other names that get brought up when talking about godly anime have to bring to the table. That alone warrants the score I gave it.
The fundamentals out of the way, it still stands that even if a show doesn't strive to be too thought provoking that it still might fuck up it all up, the promise that it'll make you cry, laugh or cum breaking under the crushing weight of it just being plain bad. A good example of this would be Umaru or whatever other lazy moeshit that gets shat out of the anals of the industry every week, whilst they still very much administer you your weekly dose of cute girls doing cute things or clinically retarded battle shonen-ry, the sheer bad quality of the animation, music and humor and various variables of this function turn what would be another session of you pumping liquid cuteness or whatever into your veins into a neuron-slaughtering chore of a borefest.
Angel Beats, thankfully, doesn't fall short on this front. Whilst it gets a tad bit rough during the middle like most shows do, the animation quality stays very much above presentable throughout the length of the show. I already orgasmed all over how great the music is, and in between the serious, emotional scenes and events, it also employs a rather nice and gratuitous amount of well-timed slapstick comedy to keep you watching in between the doses of tragedy without causing any real dissonance that'd spoil the humor or the drama.
To cut my incoherent ramblings short; Angel Beats' characters suffer from the lack of enough time to flesh them out into real, tangible characters and from the general weak points present in most of Keys' works, but the base amount of exposure they get is enough to evoke sympathy in me and it's in a good enough packaging that the job was done in my opinion.
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