Angel Beats! Episode 4 – Pop Flies and Errors
The last episode of Angel Beats! typified the upward climb the show has been making from its somewhat uneven start. The questions raised by Iwasawa’s disappearance and the seeming fallibility of Angel undermined everything we’d been led to believe about the setting of the show, and I for one was looking forward to seeing how the plot would move forward. The answer is that it doesn’t.
Angel’s possible lack of a celestial backer goes completely unreferenced this episode, as if Yuri had forbid everyone from thinking about it. (Actually, knowing Yuri, this would not be all that surprising, but still.) Instead P.A. Works is choosing to give us a comic relief episode to completely destroy any tension that had built from last time. You can tell my joy, I’m sure.
This episode, Yuri, deciding to take advantage of the upcoming sports competitions, comes up with a new way to spite Angel through rule-breaking: enter a bunch of teams into the baseball competition unofficially, and make sure one of them wins. Having a non-official team win will undermine Angel’s authority or some other thing; the real purpose as far as I can tell is to have a baseball episode just because the creators want one. So off everyone goes.
Otonashi promptly pairs off with the closest thing he has to a friend, Hinata, who—at least compared to the rest of the idiots that make up Yuri’s flunkies—seems like a fairly decent guy. Unfortunately the other good players get snapped up by some other teams quickly, so Hinata has to scrape from the bottom of the barrel, recruiting Noda (who carries a pickaxe around all the time and is constantly threatening to use it on Otonashi), Shiina (who died to the toy dog trap in episode two and commits herself to balancing a broom on a finger to make up for it—your guess is as good as mine as to how that’s supposed to work), and Yui (the perky goth introduced last episode who looks to be replacing Iwasawa as lead singer for the diversionary unit).
Although Hinata really doesn’t like Yui and spends most of the episode putting her in various strangleholds, he can’t reject her from the team as she brings with her some groupie NPC friends to round out the roster, even if they can’t really play. The team gets off to a good start, anyway. Apparently NPCs in general just aren’t as good as “players,” with Otonashi being a surprisingly effective pitcher and the other named characters also doing quite well, even if they are working under absurd self-imposed handicaps. They, and the other “player” teams, easily progress further and further in the tournament.
Sure enough, Angel does give notice of all this and introduces her own team (made entirely of NPCs from the baseball club) to counter them. Very quickly two of Yuri’s three infiltrating teams are eliminated and then it’s Otonashi and Hinata’s turn. Hinata in particular is keen on making it further thanks to his own past, where his high school team in his old life failed to make it to Koshien because he missed an easy fly ball.
The real downer for him is that he can’t even remember missing the catch, or why he missed it, but only remembers the resentment and anger his teammates felt. It’s implied that his death was related to drug use that started after losing the game, although the details are as always unclear. It’s interesting that we’ve never once seen one the characters die in the real world, no matter how many times they get slaughtered in this afterlife.
Now, although the discoveries about Angel are conveniently forgotten this episode, what happened to Iwasawa wasn’t. The episode started, after all, with Yui auditioning for her position as lead singer, and when a crucial play comes down to Hinata catching a fly ball and ending the game, a direct parallel of his failed play in his former life, very quickly both Hinata and Otonashi realize that success in this game might mean the end for Hinata. As Otonashi moves, too late to keep Hinata from catching the ball, Hinata reflects that making this play just feels so right.
Of course, this is a humor episode, so he misses this catch too. Just as he would catch it, and possibly disappear as a result, Yui tackles him to the ground for all the beatings he gave out to her throughout the entire episode. Why she would wait until the moment where it would lose them the game is not explained, but Hinata doesn’t disappear as a consequence and everyone can go home happy. Except Yuri.
How funny this episode is depends on how much (or little) emotion has been invested in the characters; generally speaking, those who enjoyed the humor of episode two will find much to smile at here, with plenty of violent slapstick to be had. It’s the antics during the game that go a bit overboard, even by the standards of the show. Having Noda interject himself into Otonashi’s batting and pitching routines just to show him up, Shiina doing impressive fieldwork despite having one hand unrealistically occupied, or the fateful Yui tackle of Hinata at the key moment, all undermine the idea that these guys actually want to win. There’s a limit between idiocy and open self-sabotage.
I understand that establishing a precedent that any character who gets development also disappears in the same episode would be bad, and further that it is occasionally useful for shows, particularly serial ones, to occasionally provide comic relief episodes after moments of high tension and drama. This episode didn’t provide relief so much as whiplash, with the exact same devices used last episode to advance the plot now being employed as a gag. We do have another hint, with Hinata seeming to welcome the means of his own disappearance, that maybe working for Yuri isn’t a good way to achieve peace and happiness, but that’s about as far as the plot advances this episode.
Bear, in his initial review of the show, claimed that Yuri and company represented not so much a resistance movement as “a bunch of mischievous kids out to have a good time.” Never has that been as true as in this episode. Angel’s need to intervene in their antics is as inexplicable as their antics are in the first place; it’s just a baseball tournament, and there are far more disruptive things that they could be doing instead. Really, doesn’t anyone have better things to do with themselves?
You can watch the episode here.