Home > Angel Beats!, Episode Reviews > Angel Beats! Episode 10 – A Key Confusion

Angel Beats! Episode 10 – A Key Confusion

I’ve mentioned on several occasions that the great failing of Angel Beats! is that it never quite knows what to do with itself. Without any overall goal for the show, it’s bounced between one storyline to another every two or three episodes, with occasional descents into total non-sequiturs on special occasions. It’s as if the entire creative staff has ADD.

I had hoped that last episode had finally provided for the end plot of the series; certainly, there was enough content built into “get the dozen or so cast members to find peace with the world and with themselves” to easily fill up the last episodes of the series. And this episode has the grace to follow through with that model … well, not perfectly, but at least well. And then it goes and blows it all at the end.

Tachibana’s acting skills are not exactly Oscar-worthy. Fortunately, Yui’s an idiot

With Otonashi playing the inside man for Tachibana—or Tachibana playing the outside man for Otonashi, depending on how you want to look at it—the two decide to go after Yui first, on the grounds that she seems sort of fulfilled already being the singer for Girls Dead Monster, and therefore will be an easy place to begin. After a few false starts, they manage to contrive a situation where Otonashi earns Yui’s gratitude, only to learn that Yui won’t be as easy to sway as they thought.

Yui, in real life, had the misfortune of being hit by a car as a child, being paralyzed from the waist down. Apparently they don’t have much in the way of special accommodations for such children in Japan (or the writers just want to milk the situation for emotional content), so she spends the rest of her life at home in bed, unable to go to school or do anything besides watch TV. With her mother as her overworked caretaker, she gets to dream about all the things she wants to do, but is unable to be anything but a burden to her mother.

Crippled girl with childish behavior? Just what the staff writers at Key are known for

Yui, therefore, wants to do everything: be a rock star, a stellar athlete in at least three sports, and to have a dreamlike romance. Otonashi can’t do all of that for her (and she did the first bit herself), but he does his best to try. The sports sections take up most of the episode, although in very different fashions: Yui does learn how to do a German suplex, is deceived into thinking that she scored a goal in soccer against five opponents, and ultimately settles for an honest effort when training to hit a home run.

Yui’s main issue, of course, isn’t any of these things: it’s her feeling of uselessness, of being a burden. Her “real life” experience taught her that she could never give anything, never deserve anything, never be more than a leech on others. All her accomplishments don’t really help her to shake the feeling that at the end of the day no one could really love her, because how could anyone love someone with nothing to give in return?

Otonashi really should have done some research before deciding who the “easiest” person to help would be

All of this casts Yui’s previous actions, often narcissistic and childish, into a new light. Before coming to this world, she never had friends to grow up with, achievements to call her own, or any belief in her own worth. Now, she’s seemingly freed from her crippled body, but inside she still regards herself as the unwanted burden. And it’s with that mindset in place that she asks if Otonashi would marry her.

Otonashi is dumbfounded by the request, but before he can respond one way or the other, he’s interrupted by Hinata, who takes up the call. No more content then she would be to merely affirm his love for her as she is now, he goes on to argue that he would love her even if he found her in the real world, and spins out a plausible counter-factual reality where he did. Overwhelmed by this, Yui achieves happiness and vanishes.

The alternate reality scenes are helped immeasurably by the inset music, which might be going away now that we’ve lost another singer

How abrupt Hinata’s declaration of love for Yui seems depends on how much of that love you’ve been reading into their love-hate relationship (for me, until episode eight, there wasn’t a hint of anything but hate), but there was enough foreshadowing in this episode to keep it from coming as a complete shock. Likewise, Hinata coming to support Otonashi’s plan to help their friends move on is a bit of a surprise, but makes sense as he nearly moved on himself and thus knows how it’s really a good thing.

The original post for this series noted the relationship of some of the staff to Key, a software company known for making visual novels based first on the relationships of the characters, and for creating impossibly sympathetic heroines in impressively dire situations from which the protagonist would rescue them. While we’ve had hints of that sort of set-up in Otonashi’s relationship with Tachibana—and, to a much lesser extent, Yuri—it’s not until this episode that there’s the equivalent of a full character arc, including completion.

Yui says her experience was “fun, like being in a club,” which made this early scene more meaningful. At least they can plan within an episode

Of course, the show would have been far better served by building this up for a longer period: better emphasizing the affection underlying Hinata’s harassment of Yui, providing hints about Yui’s background, and so forth. All of this would have required a level of planning and foreshadowing that the show has been unable to deliver for anything not directly related to Tachibana. That lack of focus is what is keeping what could be a great series from being more than a set of emotionally moving moments interspersed between long periods of beautifully animated dreck.

It is for this reason that I am dreading the next episode of Angel Beats! In the last few minutes, we see two students attacked by a shadow creature, which sends Yuri and crew back into combat mode. That is, after just announcing what the rest of the show was going to be about, and actually executing it as well as they could with the prep time that they had, the writers are changing the subject and tone of the series. Again.

The question isn’t what the shadow thing is, but why we should care

I’m all for subverting audience expectations. I’ll be discussing some great examples of this in some future posts, and I’ve even had cause to praise certain moves that Angel Beats! has done in this regard. (Making Tachibana into the good guy was an inspired choice.) But there’s a difference between surprising the audience and not making up your mind. The sort of emotional payoff that Key products traditionally achieve requires a fair amount of build-up to create, and we can’t get that while being interrupted by monster-of-the-week plots with three episodes to go. And the maddening part is that a monster-of-the-week plot is the best we can reasonably hope for.

You can watch this episode here.

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