Last week, I posted a lengthy review of Angel Beats, a very popular series that’s considered by many to be something of a modern classic. I mentioned several times during my review that, while I was holding back in the interest of not releasing any spoilers, I WOULD be taking the time this week to take a spoiler-filled look at the deeper problems and plot holes existing within this short yet long-loved series. You can skip this post entirely if you haven’t seen Angel Beats, but if you have, and you’re wondering just what the big deal is, then let’s continue.
First of all, I should probably address the elephant in the room… Whenever you bring up the topic of Angel Beats plot holes, there’s one particular plot hole near the end that always gets brought up first. It’s the first plot hole anybody ever notices, and yes, that includes me… I’m shaking my head with you, not at you. That plot hole has to do with the timeline in which Kanade and Otonashi wind up in purgatory.
The concept goes like this… By signing an organ donor card before his death, Yuzuru Otonashi lent his body to medical purposes… This is a problem in and of itself, as organs can only be successfully harvested from brain-dead patients, but no movie ever follows that rule, so we’ll ignore it here. Instead, we’ll focus on the fact that his donated heart went towards the purpose of saving the life of a teenage girl named Kanade Tachibana… And yet, somehow, she reaches purgatory before he does. But this doesn’t make any sense, does it? If he died to save her, how did she die before him? It’s a pretty big plot hole, when you think about it.
Well, no, it’s really not. I was on this horse for a long time, before somebody suggested to me that there was no rule stating that purgatory had to follow linear timelines. It’s another plane of existence, and there’s no data proving how it actually would work. This was all well and good, but I still held onto my precious plot hole, claiming that if they didn’t confirm this as fact in the show, then it was just a theory, and wasn’t substantial enough to actually fix the damage done to the story.
But as it turns out, this concept is indirectly addressed… Not in the actual series, but in a light novel, released about a year before the series, and to this day, never released in English. According to a quick throwaway line in that book (or so I’m told, I haven’t read the thing), the character of Eri Shiina… You know, the female ninja who’s constantly testing her concentration, calling things stupid, and is obsessed with cute things? Eri Shiina is actually from a point in the timeline of feudal Japan… Which explains a lot about her character. It also throws one of the most notorious plot holes this series has to offer right under the bus, although I would have preferred this fact to have been mentioned at some point in the series. Seriously, it couldn’t have been that hard to do.
Instead, the part of that reveal that I find suspicious is the fact that while we know how Otonashi SAVED Angel, we don’t know how she died… And she died at roughly the same age as him. He couldn’t have given his heart to her if she was still a child, as she would have required a child’s heart… No, the simple fact of the matter is that his heart… While it saved her life… Didn’t buy her very much time. Yeah, I know, the fact that she’d be eternally grateful to him for the few years (maximum) that he gave her is kind of beautiful, but there’s still the lingering question of what it was that killed her… And the very real possibility that it was his heart that did it. That possibility kind of turns her quest to thank him a little darker, doesn’t it? Especially considering the fact that after his sister, Angel would only be the second person whom his heart killed.
We’ll… We’ll get to that later. But for right now, with the biggest plothole out of the way, I’d like to get to the meat of this discussion… There are two elements of Angel Beats that are never explained, and they actually work together to create the biggest plot holes of the series. The first element is the nature and rules of the purgatory world… And the second is Angel herself.
I mentioned earlier that we never find out how Angel died. But aside from her heart surgery, we never find out anything else about her, either… And there are a few key details that we really should have been told. In a world where you can supposedly only build something out of dirt if you know how it works, she somehow built a computer that gives her super powers… Was she a computer nerd in life, or something? We never find out why she decides to help the people around her cross over, either. We also never find out how she became a Student Council President… She’d have had to get really good grades and take school seriously, which… As we know… Should have caused her to cross over.
Which brings me to the plot. We’re told right from the gate that you disappear if you take school too seriously. This is why the members of the Battlefront deviate as hard as possible from order and good behavior. The problems? Many. We never see this happen to anybody, and even from what summaries I’ve read of the Track Zero light novel, it’s never explained how anybody got the idea of it. The fact that Angel managed to become the Student Council President without disappearing would suggest it’s entirely false, but her actions throughout the story… Like trying to interrupt a concert, and trying to rally the battlefront into acting like normal students… Would suggest that SHE believes it. And it’s never officially disproven in the story.
Well, it’s eventually revealed that in order to cross over, you have to overcome some sort of personal tragedy… A sort of ‘unfinished business’ deal. We see this happen with the two leading members of GirlDeMo, which all but confirms it as the truth of the story. Well, this revelation brings me to the biggest plothole of the series. It’s that big, destructive plot hole that I mentioned last week, and it will not disappoint.
After the ever-perceptive Yuri becomes wise to Otonashi and Angel’s plans, she manipulates the former into talking about them to an auditorium full of active humans. We don’t get to hear a word of this speech, but afterwards, he’s confronted in the hallway by about fifty people. You can only see the faces of three of them, the remaining members of GirlsDeMo. They have a small chat, and since they know that Otonashi and the other leads have the situation under control, they all cross over at the same time.
Now, there are several points I’d like to bring up about this. First of all, the surviving premise of the show is that people have to overcome their unfinished business to cross over. So… how the hell did these students all cross over at the same time? For each individual person, what was their unfinished business? Did they even have any? The only way this makes any sense is if they all died while trying to come to terms with the fact that they were pointless stock characters. “Yeah, the audience doesn’t know any of our names, so we’re just going to leave now and save the writers any more trouble. We all feel at peace with that. You, main characters… You go handle everything from here!”
If we’re to take this scene at face value, then we have to accept that the people stuck in this purgatory can literally just cross over whenever they damn well please, just by deciding to do so. This development isn’t just stupid, it’s destructive to the anime. Remember episodes three and ten? Those were the strongest episodes of the entire series. They were well written, emotionally powerful, very well acted in both dubs, and damn near poignant to boot. But now that we know how easy it is to cross over, these episodes are rendered entirely pointless. We wasted all of that time on Yui when she could have just waited two episodes and disappeared without having to resolve a damn thing. Maybe I’m getting too worked up over this, but from where I’m sitting, if you’re going to permanently take the two best actors out of the series, you’d better have a damn good reason for doing so.
And speaking of entirely pointless, if it’s that easy to just cross over, why doesn’t everyone do it? Because the world’s under attack? They’re not even going to stay in this world, so why risk life and limb to try and save it? Dr. Manhattan brought up a damn good point… Why save a world you have no stake in? They had no reason to fight the shadows, and no reason to confront the weird guy with glasses under the school… They didn’t have to do a damn thing, they all could have just blinked out of existence with no consequences whatsoever! I’ve had arguments with my brother over lawn mowing duty that had more stakes to them than this does! They lose absolutely nothing by getting the hell out of there! Well, they lose the chance to spend the rest of your lives in the world’s only fully-immersive sandbox game, but that really doesn’t seem to dissuade anyone anyway, so whatever.
And we’re not even done here. Let me ask you this. If it’s so easy to overcome your tragedies and your traumas and your unfinished business that you can just choose to do so, why the hell were any of the characters even brought here in the first place? Seems kind of pointless to me. That’s why I’m not worried about any more people coming to this world without guidance… You don’t need to leave anybody behind just to guide them, you can just put up billboards and signs around the school saying “This is purgatory, tap your heels together and say “There’s no place like home” in order to pass on!”
That’s where the series truly shoots itself in the foot, folks. There are a ton of other dumb moments… Like the fact that Otonashi didn’t get arrested after breaking into a hospital and accidentally killing his sister, or how he and Angel put tons of effort into trying to bust down a steel door when they could have just cut through the wall, or how Angel’s clones were so damn weak… But yeah, like I said last week, this show is a complete mess. An okay show, but a complete mess.