Home > Angel Beats!, Episode Reviews > Angel Beats! Episode 13 – Life is Worth Living

Angel Beats! Episode 13 – Life is Worth Living

So, after the latest and last arbitrarily added external threat finally has been smacked down, Angel Beats! is coming to an end. And despite all my complaints about the poor choices this series has been making from the start of its run, I really can’t find anything to criticize about the finale. I’ve argued for some time that the show is at its best when it focuses on the simple drama of wounded individuals coming to terms with their life and moving on in hope, and this episode delivers on that, with interest.

Yuri, as was seen at the end of last episode, wakes up to find a small remnant still left waiting for her. While most of her followers have moved on by now (including Takematsu, who in one of the episode’s few cop-outs managed to escape from being an NPC for not particularly well-explained reasons), Otonashi, Naoi, Hinata, and Tachibana have remained behind. It’s time for all of them to graduate from this afterlife, and they want to do it together.

Everyone noticed a little too late that Kanade made the replacement school anthem about eating spicy tofu. I thought the humor worked in this episode, probably because it was sparsely employed and felt more “in character”

The four of them put together a little graduation ceremony for the occasion while Yuri is sleeping, which they go through despite certain irregularities. The event hits all the right notes all the same, and after it is over Naoi, Yuri, and Hinata in turn bid their farewells. I must admit I still don’t quite like that just choosing to move on is a viable method of leaving in place of a critical cathartic moment, but since these particular people have all had that moment in some respect, it’s not as annoying as it was in previous cases.

It’s not an accident that the particular participants are who they are. Naoi, Hinata, and Yuri are the only people left who had revealed backstories, and Otonashi and Tachibana (or Yuzuru and Kanade, as they are now on a given name basis) are both the heroes of the show and the main couple. More to the point, all of them have finally made their peace with the world—Yuri, the last hold-out, admits at the start of the show that the last confrontation helped her to move past the guilt she felt about her siblings—so, even more than the rest of the cast, that they move on carries meaning.

Yuri absent the responsibilities of leadership is decidedly more feminine than she used to be, although she doesn’t like to admit it

There are still a few issues, particularly with Yuri, that I would have liked to see cleared up. It was hinted at one point that her death might have been something a little less than normal, after all, and I’m also curious if her newly expressed friendliness for Kanade (whom she also starts calling by her given name) is related to a previous history the two once had, before Yuri came to call her Angel. There’s also various plot holes like how Kanade got her hands on the Angel Player software or why Otonashi lost his memory if he didn’t die from a head injury but—let’s face it—such details were never that important to the writers.

The real emotional core of the series, of course, has been the relationship between Kanade and Otonashi, so it’s not a surprise that, when all others have passed on, he stalls and offers a counter proposal. Surely, he argues, new souls coming here without anyone to guide them might become confused or embittered like Yuri did. If the two of them stayed together, they could continue to help the poor lost souls to understand the purpose of their life.

Yuri’s easy friendliness toward Kanade suggests that there was some history between them before they started fighting. That, and not an army of clones, would have been a side plot worth exploring

Thus the irony: For all of Otonashi’s encouraging others to move on and graduate from the world, when it comes to doing it himself, he balks. He knows the relationship he’s formed with Kanade is precious, and he knows that by moving on to his next life he might lose it forever. That fear causes him to come up with any number of reasonable sounding excuses why the two of them should remain “in school” forever, even though a part of him must know that’s not why they’ve come here.

And that is the theme of Angel Beats!, however buried it might have been in unnecessary action and bizarre hi-jinks. This peculiar afterlife exists to let those denied a regular high school life to have another shot at it, but also to allow them to learn that their life was not wasted, and what they carry with them from that experience will guide them, however subconsciously, in what is to come. It exists so that, once the students have had their fill of childhood, they can finally grow up.

Otonashi’s argument isn’t unreasonable, but you can tell he’s giving it for the wrong reasons

Otonashi is falling into the same trap Yuri fell into, albeit from a different direction: Yuri didn’t want to move on because that would give some acknowledgment to the system she feels betrayed her. Her childish rebellion (childish in every sense of the world) was fueled by rage. Otonashi, by contrast, is guided by fear of the unknown; first afraid of being reincarnated as an animal, and now afraid that by moving on he will lose all he gained in “life,” including what may be his first and only love.

High school means different things to different people, but by graduation everyone knows that things have changed forever. Legally adults, and moving perhaps to different parts of the world for education and careers, graduates find that friendships formed over the course of childhood will be tested and perhaps be lost. The comfort of parental support dwindles, the responsibilities of work loom, and—particularly in Japan—the pressures of the ordinary day-to-day cause many to retreat more and more into fantasy worlds and infantile behavior. Growing up, they think, just isn’t worth it.

It’s obvious that Otonashi’s cold feet doesn’t make this any easier for Kanade, but she says what she must all the same

To all that, Angel Beats! responds, “But it is worth it.” Life is worth living, childhood exists to learn how to grow up, and there is a joy in the simple works of helping others and being and making a family. This is a message that countless otaku in Japan need to hear, and it’s delivered with enough grace and subtlety so as not to offend the target audience. No one ever says “Stay in school, kids” or “Get a life”—and it would be really bad if someone did—but there’s just enough of the underlying theme to plant the seed of the idea.

So, after all the help Otonashi has given Kanade, it’s up to her to give one thing back. Like Otonashi, Kanade really shouldn’t have come into this world, as her life, however short it was, was meaningful. (How, we aren’t told.) But she had one lingering regret, that she never was able to thank the man who donated his heart, saving her life at some point in the past. Than man, she has come to realize, was Otonashi, who regained his last memories while lying next to her listening to her heartbeat, and who, when she sliced him open in their very first meeting, had no heart of his own. Otonashi is someone who is forever giving his heart away, and for that gift of life and of love, Kanade thanks him, one last time.

It seems there’s more than one way to have a heart-to-heart conversation

It’s another stunning revelation that demonstrates, however impromptu and tacked on some of the subplots felt, the core of the story has been very carefully crafted from day one. (Actually, that makes the arbitrary feeling and general mediocrity of those subplots less forgivable, not more.) With Kanade now having resolved her final regret, she moves on, leaving a devastated Otonashi with no remaining reason to keep himself forever trapped in adolescence. He, too, is finally free to move on, even as his sobs reveal that this freedom isn’t entirely free.

The tragedy of their parting is ameliorated somewhat with the ending tease that the two reconnect in their next lives—reincarnation is great for providing escape routes like that—but that doesn’t negate the emotional impact of the show’s final moments. I’ve been rather critical of the show during its uneven run, but I will give credit when credit is due: At its best, Angel Beats! provides a life-affirming story which tugs at the heartstrings with the skill of a master guitarist, and this episode brings that performance to a wonderful crescendo.

The final version of the ending credits has the cast disappear instead of appear, and puts Kanade front and center

Series Review: Angel Beats! is a very moving drama, assisted by a low-key but genuine romance, which conveys a rather important theme without being too preachy about it. It is also a average-to-weak action comedy marred by poor planning and an unfortunate tendency to confuse being randomly zany with being genuinely funny. For every touching scene, there is poor and ill-timed attempt at comedy; for every brilliant plot twist there was a forced contrivance; and for every developed character there were at least two one-note wonders, whose only purpose was to display their sole defining characteristic over and over again. Despite having near-perfect conclusion, it’s hard for me to view the overall effort with anything other than a jaundiced eye.

Ultimately, it’s hard for me to predict whether the good will outweigh the bad for most watchers. While I can recommend certain episodes wholeheartedly (3, 5, 6, 9, and 13), even those which are mostly a waste  of time typically fit in one or two key plot points, and as often as not the quality scenes and the dreck are mixed in equal measure. I am ultimately happy I watched it, although when compared to previous works by Jun Maeda (I’m thinking particularly of Air and Kanon, both of which were briefly mentioned on this site before) it’s hard not find this one lacking by comparison.

The epilogue wisely stops at suggesting that Kanade and Otonashi reunite, which is all we really need

Of course, this show is absurdly popular both in Japan and, as far as I can tell, among much of American anime fandom—and given my thoughts on the themes of the show, that popularity is a good thing—so odds are my own gripes about the show make up a minority opinion. It certainly isn’t a show I’d recommend to anyone not already familiar and comfortable with basic anime tropes; this is not the show to use to introduce someone to the medium. For those who have come to know and enjoy anime, even while understanding some common foibles, I’d say this show is worth watching—but I don’t think it warrants purchase.

Speaking of watching, you can watch the episode here.

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  1. David
    October 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Great in depth review! i agree with many of your points and your thoughts on the plot holes. I too wondered the same thing.

    There was one thing i was rather confused about (and couldn’t find other people’s opinions on it), was how is it that Tenchi, or Kanade rather, arrived in that world before Otonashi? If she was there to say “thank you” to him and that was her sole purpose. Otonashi died first right? that is how he is able to donate his heart to her.

    Second, it mentioned in the earlier episodes that she has some past history with Yuri. And everything was a big misunderstanding due to Kanade’s inability to communicate very well, but that her actual goal was to help everyone “move on”. Isn’t this a very different purpose than the one stated above? Mainly it’s the timeline that confuses me. Your thoughts?

    Thanks,

    • threeheadedmonkeys
      October 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm

      her actual goal was to help everyone “move on”. Isn’t this a very different purpose than the one stated above?

      Well, yes, but I think helping everyone move on was just how she was killing time. Kanade’s a really nice person, so once she figured out that the school was meant as a very nice form of purgatory, of course she’d try to help people out. But her end desire was to meet and thank Otanashi, which is why doing that, and now helping other people move on, is what allowed her to move on in the end.

      As for the other problem … I’m guessing they are just pleading “time is funky in the afterlife, particularly when the souls aren’t supposed to come here in the first place.” That’s not really a good excuse, but it was the best one they could use.

  1. October 2, 2011 at 11:12 pm

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