I guess this has spoilers.
I am not as allergic to works by Maeda Jun as some others can be. I can’t say I’m fan of his work, but I do appreciate what he does some of the time. To recap a bit, Kyoto Animation’s Air, despite at times no making sense, hit hard with raw emotional force. Their adaptation of Kanon, being longer and more polished, also did well to pull at my heart strings, even if I didn’t care for how it ended. Clannad was a bit of a misstep, this time being far too long and far too much of a re-hash. It was a solid production, put lacked the kind of highs the previous two works had.
Angel Beats, unlike those above-mentioned works, is not in fact animated by Kyoto Animation or an adaptation. It’s instead animated by P.A. Works and an original story. As far as I can tell, it’s penned by Maeda himself, rather than being another person’s interpretation of his work. Suffices to say, it’s a little different from the rest.
Before I lavish bits of praise upon the show, let me get the things I don’t like out of the way first. The character designs, despite having grown on me, are incredibly generic and unadventurous. They should take a page from SHAFT, who while only adapting character designs from manga or light novels, manage to make the most interesting looking characters out there these days. I also think there are too many characters, so many of them just come off as one-note gags. And not in the good Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei way.
However, those complaints have all become trivial now, as the show has some fairly strong story and humour elements that keep me relatively entertained. Maeda is usually content to just smother the audience in sob story after sob story, and that’ll be the whole story, but Angel Beats takes things a bit further. Since the characters are already dead, it would be lame for the show just to concentrate on why they all died, though that is a part of it. What drives the show–or drove it, I should say–to this point was an underlying sense of mystery.
I shifted into the past tense because in episode nine (the most recent one as of this writing) brought to light the truth behind a couple of unresolved matters, such as just why these dead people are being sent back to highschool (They had unfulfilled youths.) as well as Otonashi’s mysterious past before he died!
The former is what really kept things interesting between the moments of (mostly) well executed humour and questionable offensives by the SSS-Dan. The latter didn’t really nag you as much as the setting did, simply because they didn’t mention Otonashi’s amnesia all that much, but it hits pretty hard. I think the first half of Otonashi’s story, which focuses around his sick sister, is probably Maeda at his finest. Call me a sap, but I enjoy seeing characters being pushed to the edge by an unrelenting force, even if that unrelenting force is a magical dying girl. It’s kind of silly, but I choked up inside. It’s how I like it. The second half–the subway story–was a bit too far fetched for me, but Otonashi dying right as the rescue crews come in was a nice touch.
With some of the main threads taken care of, along with Otonashi teaming up with Angel/Tenshi/Kanade to help bring the rest of the SSS-dan to rest, the show is gearing up to conclude. The problem is, the prospect of Otonashi and Kanade trying to bring everyone to rest by having them spill their sob stories sounds pretty lame, so I hope Maeda has something really cool up his sleeve.