I have to admit that I first started watching Angel Beats because of two main reasons: the pretty visuals, and the presence of guitars. But once I began watching the show in earnest, I found a lot more here than I expected. Angel Beats is a show that keeps me guessing, and consistently tugs at strings I didn't know existed until they were pulled.
Basically, Angel Beats is about an afterlife in which a group of dead students refuse to 'move on' to the next life, because they have some sort of peace to make with the world and themselves. There's a unique mix of common school life against the supernatural. It's a setting that I found to be original enough; I also expected it to be a simple tear-jerker, but that isn't the case.
Angel Beats has a duality about it. One part of it is comedy - most of it is well timed, and on several occasions, had me laughing out loud at my screen like a nutcase. The English-speaking, nonsensical TK doesn't even need an introduction anymore. Even the slapstick comedy is quite well done, and usually timed with unfitting music which (for the most part) heightens the comedy.
The other part would be the melodrama. Most of the important characters have a back story to them, which are revealed piece by piece. And, as to be expected, many are torturous, depressing tales. These stories aren't your stereotypical 'my puppy died' stories; in fact, I've found that most of the stories that have been revealed are all original in some way or another, and interesting as well. Their common theme seems to be 'regrets' - especially those of teenagers struggling with family, society and life in general.
Topping it all off and decorating the whole package is a very clean, crisp presentation, and music that can move you from the first time you hear it. The rock concert scenes are some of the finest I've ever seen, with spectacular animation and crisp lighting effects. The music alone made me re-watch the concert episodes over and over. The art is also very pleasant on the eyes, with soft but vibrant colors and simple but effective character styles.
The greatest problem that many people make an issue out of is the transition between the two previously mentioned parts of comedy and drama. Sometimes, the parts can seem fragmented and poorly transitioned. But I only noticed this after I heard the criticisms and look for such inappropriateness. I'm a fan of such shows that mix in different types of enjoyment. Angel Beats also isn't a stupid show; I never felt that my emotions were being toyed with in a rudimentary or heavy handed manner.
What I'm trying to say is that while this may seem contradictory and schizophrenic to some, overall, it seems to be a fairly successful blend to me. I found I actually liked being proven wrong about my guesses as to 'what kind of show this will end up being'. And I know that many scenes will evoke familiar memories from other shows, but really, this show deserves to be considered as it is, by itself.
Let me do some breaking down:
The story is revealed irregularly; some episodes teach you various things about the world, while others spend their time screwing around. I had fun watching those anyway, but I can see how others would think it's a waste of time.
The art is beautiful. Beyond what we've come to expect, the animation is amazing (especially for the concerts), and the lighting effects give the show a slightly washed-out, surreal look - which I'm sure was the intended effect.
It's been a while since I've liked every song in a show. Some of the BGMs are repeated a bit often, but the feature songs are all brilliant. The seiyuu also do a fine job. No voices will annoy you - unless it was intentional.
This one's tricky, as many of the characters' back stories are still veiled. Some characters seem to follow the usual anime tropes, but they work. I definitely felt more interested in a character once I learned more about their past.
There's a very obvious sign as to how much I'm enjoying a show; I get antsy and check for updates every hour. The more I see, the more I want. The concert scenes alone are worth the watch.
I guess in the end, your enjoyment of Angel Beats will depend on whether its various aspects strike a chord with you or not (pardon the pun). For my part, I'm glad to have found a series that keeps me guessing, interests me with its premise, dazzles my eyes, while making me laugh and sniffle in the same episode.
This one's definitely worth your attention, at least until you're absolutely sure you don't like everything about it. Check it out.
After having finished this series, I needed to add a short addendum - because it helped me realize the potential problem of this series. In short, it's a little messy. If you watch the final episode, you'll probably come to realize the main theme of the series (the entire first half of the final episode is dedicated to it). But when you do, you start thinking of ways in which certain story elements could have been developed and presented a little better.
I can't help but compare it to Clannad, a series that expertly manages the drama and the waves of emotion from the viewer. It's almost like the show is psychic, and knows exactly when to say or show something in order to get the maximum emotional impact and reaction. Compared to that, Angel Beats is more than a little awkward; in particular, the final scene - it just didn't hit me as hard as I thought it should. I was affected, but was distracted at the same time by the clumsy dialogue and the sense of too many unexplained factors.
All in all, I'm very glad I spent time with Angel Beats, and will surely miss its presence. At the same time, it pains me to think of how much better it could have been if the show didn't feel so rushed, and if the writers had put a bit more planning and effort into the final moments.