Angel Beats is a new anime series written by Jun Maeda, the writer who created Air, Kanon and Clannad. This one however is not being done by Kyoto Animation. It comes from an obscure studio called P.A. Works, which has previous mostly done in-between work for more established studios.
Fans of the earlier shows may well wish that Kyoto Animation were doing this one. The animation would certainly be better (though more moe-ified.) However if this were a Kyo-Ani production we would probably need to call it something like Haruhi Suzumiya Goes to Purgatory. (High School of the Dead might also be a good title, but that one’s already taken.)
In this story teenagers who died in our world find themselves in a mysterious high school in a creepy, silent twilight world. The first thing they learn is that you can’t die in this place. If you are stabbed or cut to pieces it will really hurt, but you will revive a few minutes later with all your wounds healed.
No adults seem to be present. The school is run with an iron hand by the self-styled Student Council President, a cute girl with white hair and a cold voice, whom the others call Tenshi (angel). She tells them to attend classes, study hard and join appropriate clubs. Trouble-making students get run through with her magic sword.
Good students who follow the rules soon disappear. The remaining ones whisper that they have gone to be reincarnated. Perhaps as barnacles.
Naturally some of them rebel. Yuri, an arrogant but charismatic girl, organizes disaffected students into a group called the SSS, which originally stood for Shinda Sekai Sensen (Afterlife Battle Front) although she changes the name daily. With the motto “No God, No Buddha, No Angel” they fight against the system by staging elaborate pranks and trying to kill Tenshi.
None of this does much good, of course, but as long as they are making trouble they won’t disappear, and don’t need to worry about becoming barnacles.
The references to Haruhi Suzumiya seem obvious and deliberate. Not only does Yuri look, sound and act rather like Haruhi, but the first episode contains a tribute (or knock-off) of the “God Knows” number.
So this is an interesting premise, but the big question is whether there is actually a good story here. Too many anime series start with an intriguing idea but then descend into unimaginative episodes and an insipid ending.
Given Jun Maeda’s involvement, we can probably count on an ending that’s a real tear-jerker. But will it be satisfying?