「Stairway to Heaven」
When Angel Beats finished airing six months ago, the December release of the last DVD/BD volume containing this bonus episode felt like an eternity. Well now the wait is finally over, we can have a final taste of the series that is undoubtedly one of the best this year. As a completely comedic extra akin to the rocket chairs seen in episode five, the more relevant bonus actually came in the form of a short alternate epilogue.
The emphasis of course was on the tear-filled conclusion without the happy ending where Otonashi and Kanade are eventually reborn and reunited. Instead, Otonashi stays behind and becomes the new student council president, helping other people move on if that’s what they’re seeking. The subtle twist is that Otonashi could very well be perceived the “bug” in the system that led to the ultimate problem the SSS had to overcome in episode twelve. I gather it’s no coincidence that the description of the programmer who arrived without his memories, devoted himself to another person, became unable to bear waiting for her return after she moved on, and developed the shadow program to erase his own consciousness fits Otonashi perfectly. The only thing that made it hard to grasp was the perception of a time line, which the finale seemed to suggest isn’t even a factor in this world with Kanade arriving before Otonashi. The other possibility is that this alternate ending is meant to depict Otonashi following in the footsteps of that previous programmer, which is what gave a bit of an unsettling feeling knowing how that played out. Whatever the case, the short two minute bonus sparked some very interesting thoughts.
As a result, the “Stairway to Heaven” title in the OVA episode was pretty deceiving. I was originally expecting it to be about the aforementioned alternate epilogue and supplement the story in some way, so I was pretty surprised when I heard Yuri talking about another one of her crazy operations — High Tension Syndrome. Surprised yes, disappointed no, as this wacky episode reminded me of all the funnier moments of the series leading up to the more serious conclusion. After all, seeing the entire gang get into a lot of idiotic scenarios was next on my list of things I’d like to see in the bonus episode, after one about the reincarnated Otonashi and Kanade. With more of Hinata and Yui at odds, Noda being psychotic as usual, Takematsu flexing his muscles, TK doing what he does best with a bunch of fatties (Ooyama and Fujimaki), and even Girls Dead Monster fighting amongst themselves, the only real things missing were Takeyama telling everyone to call him Christ, and Iwasawa having a cameo of some sorts. I also would’ve loved to see the making of this episode with everyone in the recording studio screaming at the top of their lungs with expressionless faces, but was otherwise pretty content with Yurippe being the evil leader that she is, and Shiina going over 9000 yelling “CUUUTE!!!” I just love it when anime episodes depict cavalry battles as well, especially in completely insane ways like they did here, because it’s something that I wish I had a chance to partake in when I was younger. It still blows my mind how Japanese school festivals actually have such a physical, head-on event.
After all the slapstick stupidity, I can’t imagine anyone expecting Yuri’s plan to actually succeed with Kanade opening the way to God and reporting how people are enjoying the afterlife yet not moving on. The fact that we know she isn’t an angel eliminated that possibility even before Yuri finished explaining the operation. I did enjoy how they played up the possibility at the end though, plus Kanade quickly shooting them down in her underground hydroponics garden, leading to the bad ending where everyone dies from being forced to fast for a week. I don’t know if I can call it fasting if Yuri won’t even let them drink water, but it sure made for a quirky conclusion at the end. I’m assuming everyone will eventually rise up some hours later since they’re immortal in this world, so this episode could have very well slotted in anywhere in the first half of the season. Anyway, now all we need to hear is an announcement about Maeda Jun‘s next original project, which I’m inclined to believe would be budgeted for two cours after Angel Beats’ success.
* Note: This post is later than I would’ve liked since I had trouble getting a hold of good screen captures.