Andrew Osmond says if you liked thatâ€¦ you might like thisâ€¦
So, youâ€™ve finished Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Good, wasnâ€™t it? Donâ€™t be too depressed that itâ€™s over. A new story is being prepared as a feature film (not to be confused with the two-part compilation recently released in Japan). Moreover, writer Gen Urobuchi revealed in October that a further TV incarnation of the show is on the cards. But if youâ€™re looking for something to watch till then, consider Angel Beats, out on Blu-ray and DVD.
Granted, Madoka Magica and Angel Beats arenâ€™t obvious siblings, apart from their upfront fantasy premises. Angel Beats is an afterlife story, in which an amnesiac teen boy finds himself in a strange school where a small student resistance holds out against their deadly class president, the petite, imperturbable girl Angel, who might serve God Himself. Like Madoka Magica, part of Angel Beatsâ€™ appeal is the showâ€™s ideas, which frequently take familiar fantasy tropes and twist them around. In the opening episodes, for example, Angel is set up as a Scary Supernatural Girl, advancing remorselessly on the terrified hero a la Sadako in the Ringu films or a little-girl Terminator, but thereâ€™s far more to her than that.
More deeply, Angel Beats and Magica Madoka both play knowing games with their audience, never concealing their manipulations. Theyâ€™re anime that let you see their tricks (well, some of them), even while seducing you with story. Magica Madoka plays with a definite genre, the magic girl show, initially pretending to be one more of that type. Angel Beasts plays more with tones. Its second episode, for example, has a hilarious Indiana Jones pastiche where the student rebels go down an underground tunnel of death-traps, being sliced or splatted while the survivors brush past (because deathâ€™s only temporary in Angel Beatsâ€™ world). Then with just the amnesiac boy and the rebel leader left, she tells him a ghastly story about her past, involving child murder, to explain why she fights God.
Angel Beats and Magica Madoka are in the business of wrong-footing viewers (â€śAnd you thought it was this kind of anime?â€ť) and changing the plot (â€śAnd you thought it was this kind of story?â€ť). In these shows, the viewpoint character may not be the true hero, and the stories donâ€™t come into true focus until their triumphal last scenes, both classics of the form. Finally â€“ and this is something that Angel Beats and Magica Madoka share with Evangelion â€“ theyâ€™re titles whose tricksiness plays to both fans and newbies. In other words, theyâ€™re anime that a new viewer can â€śgetâ€ť just as much as a fan who knows the clichĂ©s they subvert.
Angel Beats shifts blithely between emotions, and between different kinds of story, making no effort to hides its manipulations from the viewer; and yet it still manages to be charming, touching and heart-rending. The showâ€™s motored along by genuinely good pop songs; its emotional peaks play up the absurdly contrived scenarios with gusto. Like Lost, Angel Beats packs in mini-stories from the â€śrealâ€ť world, from misery memoirs to disaster dramas, and its final outrageous revelation is among the best in anime. Donâ€™t expect it to be â€śanotherâ€ť Magica Madoka, but if you enjoy twisty journeys and surprise destinations, give Angel Beats a whirl.
Angel Beats is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.