Angel Beats! Episode 7 – Find Your Purpose
If there is one thing that it seems Angel Beats! is consistent about, it’s being inconsistent: in tone, in content, and in quality. We’ve had a good run as of late, so we were bound to get another half-worthless episode to counter-balance things. The series has earned quite a bit of good will from me over the past couple weeks, so I’m not going to abandon it just for another descent into mediocrity, but the show really needs to consider what it actually wants to accomplish. Oddly enough, that’s the exact theme that carries through in this episode, on multiple levels.
I mentioned last time that I was hoping that Naoi would be sufficiently satisfied by Otonashi’s heroic shouting last episode so as to disappear—no such luck. Instead, Naoi, despite having been Tachibana’s right hand man for who knows how many years (one of these days I’d like for the show to give a clear chronology for how long all this has been going on), despite having brutally massacred them just days prior, and despite having gotten closer than Tachibana ever has in forcibly erasing people from the world, has been fully integrated into Yuri’s crew, right down to having the single one-note insanity that characterizes most everyone else. Apparently, he still thinks he’s God, which makes me wonder how he’s going to get along with the guy who insists on being called Christ.
Leaving aside about how, aside from sardonic asides, no one really seems to care about recent activities, Naoi does serve a major purpose in this episode, as Yuri suggests that he use his hypnosis to restore Otonashi’s memories. As Otonashi seems to be the only person who Naoi actually likes, he readily agrees.
Thus, we finally get Otonashi’s back story, that of a listless and unmotivated teenager, who only enjoys visiting with his sickly sister in the hospital. After she, predictably, dies as he takes her on a Christmas excursion, he reflects on how spending time with her was the only thing that made his life meaningful. In the midst of his melancholy, he spies another young girl being released, healthy, from a hospital.
This suddenly fills Otonashi with new purpose, and he devotes himself to his classes in order to become a doctor. While in the midst of preparing to enter a university, however, the train he is on derails, killing him. His goals of helping others is thus as crushed as he is, just as his goal of helping his sister was.
Frustrated dreams and goals seem to be the common and unifying thread among the characters, from missing the chance to rise to the top of baseball, to failing to fulfill a father’s legacy, to saving alienated teens through music, to being a good and protective older sister to one’s siblings. Each of the children thought they had a purpose, often gained only through hardship, only to fail to achieve that purpose due to accident, misfortune, or death. (Yuri’s failure to protect her siblings is the closest to an exception, which means it’s possible we haven’t seen the end of her backstory yet.)
Otonashi is noticeably distraught by learning his entire earthy life came to nothing; Yuri and Naoi discern he isn’t taking the realization well, but don’t press him on what he learned. Not that it really matters, however, as his backstory only takes the first half of the show, which means we need another nine minutes of filler. Which the writers decide to devote to comedy. Oh, joy.
Back in operation mode, Yuri notes that everyone is running low on food tickets (so it seems that they do need to use Operation Tornado to get them), but rather than reprise the old standby, she has them go fishing instead. Yes, fishing—it turns out there’s a stream in a canyon close to the campus grounds. This turns into a chance for everyone to demonstrate their comic potential by reusing the same gags they’ve pulled out for the last several episodes. They’re mostly one-note characters, and the ones who aren’t are conveniently reduced to one-note characters for the purposes of this episode. If you’ve been following the series for any length of time, you’ll know if this is appealing to you by now; whatever enjoyment I might have gotten from it went away some time ago.
I can’t call this segment a total loss either, however, because it does provide some further development of Otonashi and Tachibana’s relationship. It’s not clear yet whether Otonashi is interested in Tachibana romantically or is simply expressing his general desire (given new purpose by his memories) to help others—although I am sort of leaning toward the former option, if only by projection—but he sees her as they head off fishing and decides to drag her along. He faces some objection from everyone else in the process, but ultimately Yuri does something unusual and decides to be decent, letting her come.
Tachibana’s presence proves both a blessing and a curse, as apparently her one-note comedy routine is that she doesn’t realize how strong she is and winds up injuring several people by accident. Later she catches the “God of the River” (think a fish the size of a whale) and engages in some fancy guard skills to kill it. Left with far too much food to utilize for themselves before it rots, everyone decides to cook it and serve it to the NPCs.
While serving seafood to the NPCs, Otonashi asks Tachibana if he can call her by her given name, Kanade—which is not an automatic thing in Japan and typically implies some degree of friendship—and reveals his own given name, Yuzuru, for the first time. Odds are he only remembered it with Naoi’s hypnosis, so it’s possible that she’s the only one who knows, again implying that he sees her as something more than just a charity case.
The romantic build-up, if that is indeed what is happening, is nice, but not enough to carry the episode. Neither is the humor or what passed for action in the slaying of the fish. Otonashi’s back story was suitably engaging for the first half, but couldn’t be stretched any further than that. The main problem the show has right now is that with both Naoi and Tachibana no longer actively opposing them, Yuri and Otonashi no longer have anyone to fight or struggle against. There is, for the majority of this episode, no plot to speak of.
This is actually lampshaded by one of the secondary characters, who notes that they really shouldn’t be called a battlefront anymore since they aren’t fighting anyone, and are just trying to goof off enough to avoid being obliterated. This might actually make for a (very quirky) slice-of-life show—sort of like K-On with decapitation-level slapstick in play—if a) they hadn’t already primed the audience for something more dramatic and emotional, and b) they were capable of being funny on more than an occasional basis. The characters just aren’t deep enough, and the writers aren’t clever enough, to produce good situational humor.
As such, it was a welcome relief to have Yuri stumble on screen by the end of the episode, having been beaten half to death by Angel. Not Tachibana, who was helping out with Otonashi the entire time, but Angel, a red-eyed replica of Tachibana who stares at everyone menacingly as the credits start to roll. What exactly this means is, of course, yet to be revealed—although I suspect it has something to do with the trick Tachibana pulled in killing off the big fish—but what really matters is that next episode will have some conflict attached to it.
It’s actually quite ironic that the main problem for the characters is the main problem for Angel Beats! as a whole. The first couple episode reviews noted that the show hadn’t decided what it wanted to be, and that still seems to be the case. What Angel Beats! needs more than anything else is a purpose for being—and having decided on one, for the creators to stick with it.
You can watch the episode here.