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Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Stories of the Top 80 Anime: Angel Beats

16. Angel Beats is an impressive effort by Key (the same company behind Clannad and Kanon) to answer the big questions: Is there a God? If so, why is there injustice in the world? Is there an afterlife? If so, what would it look like? What would its purpose be? How could it recompense those who suffered in the original world? How is there any meaning to life if there is an afterlife just waiting in the wings that's strictly superior to life the moment you die?

Key understands that the normal religions of the Earth have no satisfactory answers to these questions, so they go about crafting their own. In Angel Beats, the only people who have an afterlife are precisely those who were treated unjustly in their original lives. It is these people who are given an environment in which they can heal their souls. They can live an ordinary life, where evil can no longer touch them, and come to terms with what happened in the past -- until they want to live again -- at which point they reincarnate as the souls of newborns back on to Earth. This answers so many questions -- yes, there is injustice, but it is eventually balanced out by giving a special afterlife to those unfairly affected. Everyone alive in the world today was born by a conscious choice, so it isn't unjust no matter what happens to them, they agreed to life knowing the risks. The afterlife is not a replacement for this life, but a necessary counterpart to it. God's existence or non-existence is unimportant, all we really care about is happiness. In a way, happiness is God enough for anyone.

Does this mean Angel Beats is some sort of bookish anime where everyone sits around a campfire and debates these things? No. Key is too smart for a tactic like that. Instead it's a world of fighting, comedy, music, and drama. Everything is perfectly interwoven and no element dominates. You never feel preached to, because the philosophy is always stuck between grenades going off and rock band performances. Even if you don't want to learn anything from Angel Beats, it's still entertaining.

But why wouldn't you want to learn? Angel Beats, visually, is beautiful. The music, in a show named 'angel BEATS,' is a masterpiece. The voice acting is perfect. The back stories of the main characters -- Otonashi and his younger sister and the train wreck, Yurippe and her younger siblings and the robbers, Yui and her paralysis and her unachievable dreams. . . if you don't learn anything from these stories, there's something wrong with you. If you can't sympathize for these people, if you can't cry for them, if you can't realize what they are saying and what they are implying from their life stories is true, what is wrong with you?

From Yui we learn that bedridden people are people too, unlike what libertarians say, who want to kill all unproductive members of society, Yui has value. She has more value than almost anyone on Earth. Why? Because she can still smile, and she can still suffer. But she has the heart to try to smile even though she's suffering so much. Who else can say that? Who else is as heroic as she is, every day of her life? This is why I hate libertarians. Because of Nunnally from Code Geass, and Yui from Angel Beats. They are the enemy of these helpless unfortunate girls, and therefore I am their enemy in turn.

When Yurippe says that the life of her siblings were snuffed out, lives that took lifetimes to create, in just ten minutes, she isn't just narrating her own horrific story, about how unjust and terrible this world can be. She's also pointing out that for good to prevail, it can't just be 'slightly more common' than evil. It has to be so much more common that a lifetime of good is more common than ten minutes of evil -- evil can destroy much more easily than good can create, therefore how can good still prevail despite this handicap? How, except by crushing any evil anywhere it ever appears? For anyone who talks about how 'only a tiny minority of muslims are terrorists,' they should watch Angel Beats. If a tiny minority of muslim terrorists can, in ten minutes, undo everything the vast majority of muslim moderates do during their entire lives, then it doesn't really matter how tiny a minority they are, does it? What matters is their impact on the world, not their numbers. Not a minority, nor a tiny minority, nor an infinitesimal minority of evildoers can be allowed. If a group spawns these types, even just 1% of the time, that's an unacceptably large amount of the time, that threatens the survival and well-being of mankind at an existential level.

When Otonashi realizes the entire meaning and joy of his life was receiving the words 'thank you' from his little sister when he went to visit her at the hospital, something he only realizes after she's dead and he really is alone, he decides to become someone who can help others, and thus receive more thank yous. He decides to become a doctor. And suddenly, things that looked impossible because he lacked the motivation, became possible, like graduating from college and working hard. This is another reason to hate libertarians. People don't do stuff for money, they do it for 'thank yous.' They do it for gratitude, and they do it because it makes people happy to help others. Libertarians seem to lack all of these emotions, they never want to help others, they have no gratitude for any help they've ever received, and they just want to be cut off from the rest of mankind, like lone wolves. Even if money is liberally redistributed, people would continue working at hard jobs, because of the gratitude of the community for their effort. This is called various things, like prestige, status, or pride. But however it is described, people who earn very little compared to their education levels are working as teachers, non-profit organizations, in the military, as priests, and elsewhere because they would rather have helped their community and be loved for it, than earn money that was gained through not helping anyone in a field most people despise.

Someday, the whole world should pay for goods and services through status and gratitude, money shouldn't even come into it. One day, machines will automatically produce all material goods, and no one will ever be able to claim they 'created' our livelihood and that we 'owe' them something for it. Currently, machines, animals, plants, and the sun generate 99% of the wealth in the world. It's only a matter of time before AI becomes sufficiently competent to bridge that last 1% gap, and humans stop ruling other humans as quasi-slaves through their vast riches and repugnant sneering snobbish elite attitudes. Someday, we won't need the 'rich,' or the 'taxpayers,' and they will no longer have any claim or grievance against us. At that point, I hope we sail all these libertarians out to a desert island and let them live their joyous tax free lives without us. Meanwhile, most intelligent, hard-working, and productive people will still live in the same country they've always lived in, because they love their country and their people, and were always content to be paid in gratitude. In Angel Beats, its the only currency there is.

There is everything to be learned from Angel Beats, if you just think about it hard enough. Yurippe's line to a supercomputer asking her to rethink her decision answers with a beautiful line, "Didn't you know? Humans are impatient, they won't wait even ten minutes for something they want!" Then smashes the entire system to pieces. When Yui says every woman's dream is to marry, Hinata steps in and, in full openhearted honesty, promises her that too, whether she's paralyzed for life or not. The beautiful scene where Iwasawa disappears because she's finally sung a song that expresses herself fully. . . or when Kanade thanks Otonashi again and again for the organ donation of his heart he gave her during life, then disappears because she was finally able to express her gratitude, the only possible payment for someone's own heart ((what could it be sold for??)). . . It has to be watched. Sometimes it's impossible just to write the scenes down.

If I have this much praise for Angel Beats, why is it stuck at #16? Two things: It's too short, it's far too short. At just 13 episodes, it's like one of those fancy restaurants that serves tiny portions for hundreds of dollars. The second problem is related to the shortness -- it feels rushed and incomplete. It has a huge array of characters, many of whom we never get to know and whose story is never told. The story feels rushed, with dangers appearing out of nowhere just seconds after a previous danger is dealt with. Some mysteries are left unexplained, like what really happened to the people who were reborn. And Otonashi is incarnated not at the beginning of the story, but dead smack in the middle, or more like near the end. This is unsatisfying, because I'd really like to know how everything reached the point Otonashi was born into, as well as what happened afterwards, both stories seem just as compelling. Jun Maeda realized this, and started a manga that is telling the back stories of the other characters, and the prologue before Otonashi is born, in greater detail. The manga isn't done yet, though, and there's no reason to believe it will ever be animated either. Which means Angel Beats will always remain an incomplete, and thus an imperfect, anime.

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