What if Haibane Renmei was set in a high school and every character was really annoying?
Angel Beats is Maeda Jun distilled to his core essence. I watched Kanon and Clannad, but there were actually some things I liked in those. Angel Beats fills most its screentime with painful, repetitive comedy, and uses what little time remains to rush through all the drama. Here’s a character, here’s their tragic backstory, let’s move on. And the cast is way too big, so most of them are just one-dimensional gimmicks. One of them says “Call me Christ” a lot. That’s it, that’s the whole joke. It gets repeated about twenty times throughout the series.
The main character is your typical Anime Nice Guy with no other defining features, other than being extremely stupid when the plot calls for it. How did he never figure out Kanade was a regular human and not an angel? How did he fail to realize what the purpose of afterlife high school is, and why people disappear once they’ve come to terms with their fate? He acts really surprised when Kanade tells him, as if this isn’t the most obvious explanation.
I also feel like Maeda never fully committed to the basic premise. The school is a purgatory for kids who died young and generally lived shitty lives. One of them was paralyzed and never got to do all the things she wanted, another came from a broken home and died from an injury inflicted during an argument between her parents. But then Yuri’s backstory is that her siblings were brutally murdered in front of her. Yuri survived that event, and she never tells us how she died. The same goes for Naoi. He ‘died’ in the sense that he was forced to take on his brother’s identity, but he didn’t actually die. Is it supposed to imply that they both still just happened to die young, just later, for unrelated reasons? Or did Yuri live to age 75 and still end up back in high school with her lingering regrets and she never bothered to bring it up?
And there are other situations where the story seems to contradict itself. People disappear when they’ve resolved their lingering regrets. It’s clearly established that this means different things to different people. But then at the end of the show, all the remaining side characters just vanished at the same time, like none of them had any personal issues. And at another point, it’s claimed that anyone who experiences love should automatically disappear, which is absurd and not supported by anything. What, is falling in love supposed to fix someone’s crushing depression over watching their family die? In that same scene, Yuri is offered the chance to effectively become the world’s god and it’s treated like that was her goal all along, instead of wanting to confront god over her unfair fate. A supernatural story doesn’t need clearly established rules, but if you want to pretend that rules exist you can’t just break them whenever it’s convenient.
There really wasn’t anything in Angel Beats that I enjoyed, except a few unintentionally funny moments. It’s not that I completely hate Maeda Jun’s brand of melodrama, but Angel Beats is too messy, rushed and unfocused to do anything for me.