The brilliant minds behind Angel Beats and Akame ga Kill joined forces in an attempt to capitalize on their respective "talents" and made what some people call "one of the most underrated masterpieces of the season" without an ounce of irony. This series is pretty much everything wrong with modern anime, and there are plenty of reasons as to why. It's just so up its own ass pretending to be not a grimdark show in a vain attempt to fake out the audience for so long that it ends up boring, and when it actually gets to the grimdark it was leading up to, it does in the most hilariously incompetent way possible. Many of its other problems include the asinine pacing, lack of character interaction and development, and complete lack of subtlety, which all seem to go under the radar because apparently everyone is too busy crying over ham-fisted drama.
That being said, there are some positives about this show- Mainly the visuals. Despite some heavy usage of CG in some parts, it really doesn't look that bad at all in motion, and the colors do not make your eyes bleed like NGNL does. Character designs are pretty neat and I do appreciate how they don't look like something out of Precure. Not that Precure designs are necessarily bad, but the designs here make thematic sense and at least don't look generic by its genre standards- Instead they look like something out of Sword Art Online, not that it's a bad thing either. The music is pretty decent- There are two to three tracks that were actually memorable and were reminiscent of something out of Madoka and whatever Akiko Shikata makes, but the overuse of those tracks made them a bit stale.
Speaking of Madoka, there's a lot of people who compare this show to Madoka and even call it a rip-off. But honestly, it's hard to blame them- Shady magical girl contract with a supernatural being? Check. Enemies that appear in a strange world that do not actually offer actual character interaction due to lack of any dialogue whatsoever? Check. Main title character being over optimistic and the most underdeveloped character out of the main cast? Check. Mentor-like character that later goes nuts after reading the fine lines in the said shady contract? Check. The questionable magical girl system existing to prevent the end of the world? Check. This show's really got everything. But because this show shares so many similarities with Madoka, it also shares the flaws- And those flaws become more evident with poor direction and pacing.
Apparently when Takahiro was writing for this show, he thought he'd change it up from Akame ga Kill's pointless gorefest and decided to turn it into a pointless borefest. This wise decision turned the first half of this show incredibly painful to sit through. The main problem is the lack of characters- The villains and even the fairies are absolutely silent. Therefore, there is no character interaction whatsoever with the opposing side aside from fighting and more fighting. This wasn't a problem in Madoka due to the existence of Kyubey, who delivered some form of drama whenever necessary for conflicting character interaction, but that role is severely lacking here. Taishas do little more than send out phone messages whenever they aren't busy catering to the crippled, and the supernatural being that gives magical power is a poorly drawn magical tree always obscured in fog. This narrows down all character interaction whatsoever to the five main characters, and everyone else might as well be a cardboard in the background. This effectively turns the series into a Slice-of-Life type of show, which is actually in the description for this series. But then the problem comes from attempting to mix this element with grimdark setting, which was basically the gimmick with Akame ga Kill. But even then, mixing the two isn't the problem- It's the execution. There needs to be some form of consistent flow in the tone, and this series handles it very poorly by going from one scene to the other with incredibly sudden transition. Having a tea party? Suddenly phone call and everyone's warped to fight the giant floating monster thing. Then lots of yelling and chanting in the background, and suddenly they're in space. And when they're not doing that, they're busy being very angsty about something else introduced later in the series.
The first few episodes followed the aforementioned formula incredibly precisely, while occasionally increasing the number of enemies to mix it up a little although it didn't really hinder the protagonists in the slightest. After managing to kill twelve of these things, the protagonists conclude that their battles are over because the Taishas said so, which is an obvious fake-out halfway into the series. It's also odd that the protagonists didn't suspect anything strange about Taishas informing them that there were supposedly arbitrary number of these things, which would mean that the Taishas somehow did not manage to defeat any of them at all despite having a detailed sealing process to defeat one. That aside, this formulaic plot progression didn't really serve to develop any of the characters at all. Sure, there was some character interaction between the main cast, but character interaction doesn't necessarily lead to character development. These particular interactions were just wacky hijinx and comedy, so it did absolutely nothing.
After halfway into the series, our good director Seiji decides that he needs to start including actual plot, and the grimdark elements start being introduced. Whenever the girls use their magical powers, they occasionally enter this super mode known as Mankai. The show never explains whether these girls enter the state willingly or whether it's done automatically- And even the official website claims that it's half and half. Basically, it's whenever the plot fucking wants it to happen. Why? Because this is the aforementioned grimdark plot element. Whenever the girls enter this state, they lose a certain bodily function and gain a fairy in the process. The series attempts to fake the audience out by claiming it's temporary, and then it spends several episodes that arrive at a not-so shocking conclusion that it's permanent. Yuna loses her taste, Mimori loses hearing on one ear, Fuu goes blind in one eye, and Itsuki loses her voice. What does this all lead to? Forced drama. Apparently Itsuki entered a singing audition, which everyone knew nothing about, and suddenly the whole thing gets dumped at the audience's face in the most convenient way possible when Fuu is trying to deal with the whole permanent body function sacrifice thing. If that wasn't enough, Itsuki goes on a long speech in the recording about how she loves her friends so Fuu can go on a full guilt trip for getting her to tag along on the Hero Club before actually singing for the audition because the judges were too busy looking for their non-existent script, as with every other character in the show. A proper, subtle way to handle this scene would've been to establish the singing audition thing before this happened, and then flash back to it briefly after the realization hit home, instead of just being embarrassingly blatant about it. But I guess subtlety is lost art.
Meanwhile, Tougou decides to be dangerous and attempts to test her theory by playing sudoku with a blade, and comes to a horrifying realization that fairies are "forcibly" keeping them alive. Apparently it's supposed to be terrifying that these tiny things keep the girls alive while they're on a dangerous duty that they're not being forced to do. Obviously there are huge consequences for not doing magical girl things since it has been established in the first episode that Shinju-sama is protecting the world and these aliens who are for some reason named after zodiac signs are trying to destroy it, but the job itself is still technically optional. They're not being forced to do it at gunpoint or whatever, so the supposed horror factor they were going for is completely invalid. Furthermore, Tougou apparently attempted to play sudoku multiple times because once wasn't enough and goes on about all these different methods she tried to kill herself for almost no reason other than sounding edgy. But then I realized this was Takahiro's specialty- Hammering the exact same point and over and over to arouse some form of emotion. These two brilliant men's talents really do shine in this series.
Afterwards, Tougou gets warped into the cripple gold medalist's room, who was their predecessor and now has over twenty disabilities and the equal amount of fairies. Then the audience is informed during their second meeting about the shocking truth that everything outside Shinju's territory is red vomit with white aliens swarming about. It's been known that Shinju was protecting humanity from getting fucked up by something since the first episode, so what's the shock here? Why does it matter that the villains are aliens or gods who decided humanity sucked? Whatever it was, it drives Tougou insane and makes her come to an ingenious conclusion. Apparently the best way to protect her friends and stop their sacrifices altogether was to blow a hole in the barrier, get the tree killed, and then get everyone sacrificed as a result of her decision. Maybe her ability to form proper reason was taken during one of her Mankai sessions. Would've been better if she actually consulted with her friends first-hand, but clearly that sounded too uninteresting and sensible for the writers. Most of the conflicts in this series also seem self-made, so it's also incredibly difficult to actually relate to any of these characters especially when they make stupid decisions such as Fuu attempting to kill the Taishas after the aforementioned forced drama sequence.
When the evil tofus attack, suddenly Yuuna is incapable of transforming because of her distressed emotional state despite Fuu being completely capable of doing so during her rage. Then Karin suddenly wakes up from being unconscious and activates Mankai multiple times in a span of few seconds coupled with too much yelling in an attempt to win the "most crippled" award in the show. After that, Yuuna manages to punch some sense into Tougou, destroys the Final Boss Vertex, then decides to become Jesus by taking everyone's disabilities onto herself by becoming a vegetable. Then suddenly the audience is supposed to accept that the enemies just stopped attacking because either they are really gone for good or they just got bored trying to kill a tree.
It later turns out that every fairy represented a physical function the girls lost, so when the fairies disappear, they regain everything they lost and stop being heroes. This may be because Shinju figured that keeping emotionally unstable girls who almost got it killed as its guardians was a terrible idea. Yuuna stays a vegetable for a while because Takahiro figured he could cram in some more sad scenes near the end, but then she gets better through the power of friendship. As stupid as that sounded, the ending isn't the issue- Even if the ending resulted in everyone becoming a vegetable, this would've been still a very poorly written series.
The happy ending can at least be explained with how since all threatening Vertices are supposedly gone, assuming the sun-shaped Vertex was the last of its kind for a while, Shinju doesn't need to exert as much energy to keep the barrier up since there's nothing much left to keep out, so it just gave everything it took back. It would explain how nobody is giving a shit about that part of the barrier Tougou blew up earlier.
The point is, if there is no actual threat left and the Taishas aren't being lying dicks about it this time and Mr. Tree is actually a benevolent god that everyone claims it is, then there really should be no point for it to keep what it took unless it's a dick too, which is probably what most people were guessing. And it's not like it was ever established that it couldn't give back what it took, so all the more reason for it to do what it did. And to the show's credit, it did briefly mention through one SoL segment that it was "alright to eat the offerings if they were there for a while" so maybe either it was foreshadowing or maybe I'm giving the show way too much credit. I'm actually surprised Takahiro managed to learn how to make use of mundane segments instead of cramming them in for the sake of just having them as a contrast to his edgy grimdark parts.
There's a lot of hate for the ending of the show, but most of that hate seems to be misdirected since it mostly involves "It had a happy ending, so it sucked." While it's not that having some plot elements that lead to a depressing ending is inherently bad- It's that when it does happen, it needs to be well-paced and give the audience enough time to feel actually attached to the characters in question. But with the lack of actual villains to provide any form of conflicting character interaction, there's next to no character development, and everything just ends up being a snooze-fest because these characters are just hard to care for outside of them looking cute. Unfortunately, this particular writing style has become quite popular with modern anime (Attack on Titans, AgK, or even Kotoura-san, etc), and for some reason, everyone seems to eat it up. Here's a possibility: People are just so used to badly written happy endings that they'd rather have badly written sad endings, while deluding themselves that sad endings are apparently inherently better than happy endings because they think they are more mature. Something about teaching a moral lesson about heroes not always winning or some shit, I don't know. In that case, the preference is determined not by the actual quality of the writing, but just by the inherent difference of definition. It's like preferring black shit over brown shit. "They're both shit, but at least it's not brown." While this is no longer applicable for this show since it had a happy ending, it doesn't change the fact that it was the direction the series was leading people towards, and it's obviously the main reason behind people eating it up.
All in all, this show is just yet another attempt at the ever-popular modern formula which involves characters going through depression in one way or the other, whether or not the characters were likeable or the depression relatable and the plot behind it well-written. It was practically tailored to the type of people who ate up the likes of AgK and Attack on Titans, and it did just that right before the end. I guess at least their reactions were entertaining.