Angel Beats! Episode 6 – The Devil You Don’t Know
Last time ended with a cliff-hanger, with newly-minted Student Council President Naoi employing a level of thuggery replace Tachibana’s solo act. While that particular crisis resolves almost immediately (the protagonists are first shown leaving detention), it’s clear that getting Tachibana booted has changed the status quo in different ways than initially expected.
Once released, Yuri decides to test the limits of the new order, having her crew attend class only to goof off and see what happens. While Tachibana doesn’t lift a finger to stop them, Naoi shows up mid-class with a set of NPC goons, so the group splits. Otonashi, wondering if there’s any point to this sort of thing, decides to strike up a conversation with Tachibana during a class break. Suggesting that he might treat her to her favorite meal, mapou dofu (spicy tofu), she promptly drops everything and heads with him to the cafeteria.
While eating, Otonashi notes that Tachibana must really like the dish, and Tachibana seems mildly confused at the concept, as if she’d never considered what her own emotions meant. Their conversation is interrupted by Naoi, who arrives and points out that eating during class breaks is against school rules. Tachibana had forgotten this in her rush to her meal, but meekly goes along to detention after scarfing down the rest of her plate.
The detention room actually seems like a maximum security prison (Naoi later reveals he spent years building a cell that could contain Tachibana, but I’m getting ahead of myself), but while Otonashi is fuming about being locked up, Tachibana calmly puts herself down for a nap. Their sleep is interrupted by distant explosions, and Otonashi checks the radio Yuri gave him earlier in the episode to discover that Naoi is using Tachibana’s incarceration to launch an all-out war against them, with hypnotized NPCs serving as untouchable foot soldiers.
Naoi himself, it is finally revealed, is a human, who has been keeping himself from disappearing by beating up NPCs in secret, thus offsetting the “good” he has done as Student Council Vice-President. Yuri and company are getting massacred because they can’t fight back against NPCs, and she asks him to get Tachibana to them as fast as possible, as she’s only one who was able to hold Naoi in check.
Leaving obvious ironies aside, Otonashi asks Tachibana to help, but her weapon isn’t capable of breaking through the door, as it’s only meant for self-defense. Otonashi recalls their initial meeting and realizes that she only attacked him because he all but begged her to, and he falsely concluded that she was an enemy because of it. But when he says that, had the conversation gone differently, they could have been friends, she rejects the idea outright. All of her friends wind up disappearing.
At this point Otonashi and the viewer together come to a rather horrid realization: Since following the rules leads to disappearance, everyone whom has sided with Tachibana over the past has eventually vanished. She’s not just alone because everyone sides with Yuri; she’s alone because the rules of this world ensure she’s alone.
Tachibana begins to alternate between versions of her weapon to see if any of them are better at busting through the door, but it’s only with the rather unlikely flower version that Otonashi gets an idea. Wedging the ultra-thin version two blade into the door frame, Tachibana switches to flowery version four, which knocks the door off its hinges as it expands. The way cleared, the two then make for the surface.
By this time, Naoi has reduced basically everyone to the mortally wounded stage. While the wounds can’t permanently kill them, Naoi knows that happiness can trigger disappearance, and plans to use his hypnosis to implant happy memories in the other humans, thus permanently removing them. He’s come to the conclusion that this world exists to choose God, and thinks that giving everyone else the peace of oblivion is the proper way to show that’s he’s qualified.
He starts with Yuri, but before he can really begin Otonashi tackles him, yelling that however horrible the memories of their past lives were, they are still memories of the lives they lived as best they could, and they shouldn’t be ended with false ones. (That Otonashi has no memories to call his own adds a certain degree of force to the matter.) He also declares that Naoi’s life was also lived as best as it could, which happens to strike a particular chord with him.
Naoi, it seems, was the son of a famous potter, who always ignored him in favor of his twin, who was much more talented at the family business. When that son dies in an accident, they act as if it was Naoi who died, and treat him in all respects as his brother, including for producing the pottery works his brother did so effortlessly. After untold effort, he finally seems to start to catch up, only to have his father fall ill, unable to further train him to continue the family legacy. Naoi has never felt like he has lived his own life, and was even unable to live out his brother’s.
Having Otonashi accept him as himself, and his life as his own to live, is a major psychological break for him, and the episode ends with him breaking down and crying. Regardless of whether this is enough happiness and life fulfillment to make him to disappear (I’m hoping yes), I don’t think he’ll serve as a major antagonist in this future. This means we’re six episodes in without a real hint of how the show is going progress in the future, but that’s not the takeaway from this episode.
My co-blogger originally called this a “moe” show, and at first I didn’t see the reason besides the pedigree. If moe is something “created to be as endearing or adorable as possible” then the first couple episodes didn’t really qualify. But slowly I’ve come to realize that maybe he was right in his initial call. While there is certainly the “create something really cute and sweet” model of moe, there is another model, just as commonly used by the creators of this show, based on the “sad lonely girl.”
In the sad lonely girl model, the audience is presented with a character who, for whatever reason, is facing a bad turn of luck, or otherwise is facing a major crisis, and she (always she) is doing it alone. The protagonist (with whom the audience is supposed to identify) helps out with her problems, but also gets to know her and becomes her only real friend. The point is to create such an incredibly sympathetic character that the watcher feels an uncontrollable urge to jump through the screen into the story, give the girl a great big hug, and tell her everything is going to be fine. Here, that girl is Tachibana.
That it winds up being Tachibana is not something I would have guessed two episodes in, but it makes sense in context. Ordinarily this sort of moe is triggered by a tragic backstory—but everyone has a tragic backstory here. (Naoi even mentions that it’s a prerequisite for being in this world, but he’s crazy, so he might be wrong.) But since coming here, Yuri and her crew have acquired a purpose and companionship, albeit of the slightly insane variety. Tachibana hasn’t, and quite possibly can’t. And we have no idea how many decades or centuries she’s been alone.
It helps that Tachibana also has her cute side on display throughout the episode. From forgetting everything in pursuit of her favorite meal, to having a handsonic weapon that look like a flower, to her decision that being incarcerated calls for a nap, she doesn’t act at all in a way consistent with a girl who can bend the laws of time and space and face several armed assailants simultaneously. Naoi’s backstory gets revealed this episode, but it’s really Tachibana who is taking the lead—and I’m perfectly fine with that.
Aside from Naoi’s fate, there are still some lingering questions about the world. Why hasn’t Tachibana, the rule-follower par excellence, disappeared yet? Is there still a greater link to “disappearing by realizing your purpose” and “disappearing by being a model student” than everything thinks? And why, exactly, is Yuri so keen on not harming the NPCs, even when the NPCs are harming them back? It’s not like she’s been light on the violence in other areas.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect or even want them to answer all of these questions immediately, particularly since whatever the final conflict of the show will be has yet to be revealed. I’m willing to take my time to find out, though. Angel Beats! may have taken some time to find its stride, but it’s at a full gallop right now. Here’s hoping it’s a Thoroughbred and not a Quarter Horse.
You can watch the episode here.