Angel Beats sucks.
Like, it’s really awful. A 3/10 trainwreck and that’s if I’m being generous with my scores. Nothing makes sense in this stupid show, all the characters are one-note stereotypes, and the attempts at tragedy are so over-the-top they make me literally laugh out loud.
Anyone watching the show in 2021 would surely say the same. Just recently I watched Angel Beats with friends, one episode a week for a couple months, and we had a riot just riffing on every groan-worthy attempt at emotion and every idiotic plot twist. I recommend it for all those who seek so-bad-it’s-good entertainment.
The popularity of Angel Beats
Angel Beats was REALLY popular back when it came out. If you were around in anime fandom circles in the early 2010s, you no doubt had some encounters with Angel Beats fanatics. It was an outright phenomenon.
The opening theme song, that “playing the piano to a setting sun with lens flare” aesthetic, carried over to a lot of other shows. Both in Japan and the West, it was a smashing success.
People considered it one of the greatest shows in modern anime and had universal acclaim on sites like My Anime List, where it once held one of the top spots in the overall rankings. I don’t get it at all. When I first watched this show in 2015, I despised it. The last episode made me livid for having wasted five hours on this confounding mystery box dud.
It’s gone down a bit over time. Angel Beats is no longer considered THE CLASSIC or anything. A lot of animes go like this, actually; they’ll be ultra popular, treated like the best pieces of media ever, like Top 10 ever, then sink back to Earth. We’ve seen this all across the 2010s: Made in Abyss is down to #98; Bunny Girl Senpai is down to #178; and Erased is down to #185. All three were at the top of the top at one point, but as more people watched and more time passed, they fell away.
Angel Beats, though, has fallen a whole lot harder… As of this writing, it’s down to rank #378 on My Anime List. “Only” an 8.13 rating. On a site where anything less than a 7.5 is mediocre and anything less than a 7 is a death sentence, this is significant. The longer time passes, the more people realize… This show is shit!
At least, to an extent.
I still struggle to find much rabid criticism of this series. Or much discussion at all, really. For as popular as this show was ten years ago, you just don’t see it around anymore. No fandom, no character goods, nobody recommending it to anime newbies.
It’s not like the show pulled an Avatar and disappeared from the culutral consciousness; Angel Beats got a visual novel adaptation in 2015, and that sold really well in Japan. Although, it was only supposed to be the first of six installments… and the rest never came. So maybe it was an Avatar after all…
In Recent Years
So, in ten years, Angel Beats has gone from a major hit to a forgotten blip. Why? I don’t know.
Anime fans haven’t gotten better taste since 2010, that’s for sure. The fandom as a whole still loves shallow edgy crap that pantomimes emotional resonance. They also love goofy comedies, and Angel Beats is one for 75% of its runtime. So… why has it disappeared?
One part could be Clannad. You see, Angel Beats was made by Key, the visual novel studio behind many big hits of the 00s: Kanon, Air, Clannad, Planetarian, and Little Busters. Aside from Planeterian, they all got anime adaptations, and they were all big successes. These shows cemented Kyoto Animation’s place in the industry and helped bring us some of the best Japanese animation out there. And for anime fans, Clannad: After Story is still in the top 15 overall on My Anime List!
My hypothesis is that Angel Beats just coasted off Kyoto Animation (despite being P.A. Works). It’s got a Haruhi ripoff in the main cast, a rock band like K-On!, and a bunch of glossy side characters that try really hard to be relateable. Especially to younger fans, Angel Beats was close enough in aesthetic and themes that it fed off that KyoAni energy and propelled itself to popularity. When those 00s shows faded, though, so too did Angel Beats.
I have one more hypothesis. A few years after Angel Beats, Key released another sci-fi school anime: Charlotte. This time, reception was a whole lot more mixed, and the bizarre plot turns were much more badly received. Just last year, they released a new fantasy series, The Day I Became a God, and reception was even worse. It’s even below Punchline, an infamously divisive (and highly recommended) anime.
Maybe people saw these new shows, got angry at them, and realized that Angel Beats wasn’t so great after all?
I don’t know the answers, but I’m fascinated. Because this show is absolutely horrible, and it’s baffling to me that it’s still well-received at all. But the fact that it’s getting less popular over time… is even MORE baffling, somehow.
If someone knows the answer, please let me know.
Hey, I wrote a whole book about Madoka Magica, my favorite anime, and its influence on the world and on my life. Please check it out!