I am NOT an NPC! I am a Free Man!
I can believe how much of an idiot I am. It took me TWELVE GODDAMN EPISODES to realize the truth behind Angel Beats:
It’s a moe remake of The Prisoner.
If you’ve never watched The Prisoner (The 60’s original, not the bland-as-all-gets-out remake from last year.), shame on you. Seriously. Shame. Bad dog, no biscuit! To educate you on the matter, the series boils down to a man being held on a paradise-like island against his will. Said man just happens to be a former secret agent for British intelligence or something like that, and he’s being held on this island by “someone” in order to extract information from him. What that information is, why it is important, and who wants it is never revealed and is pretty irrelevant to the overall idea behind the series.
The series is all about all that good existential crisis stuff. “Why does stuff happen to me, seemingly without reason?” “Who am I and what’s my true purpose here, if any?” There’s a lot to do about futility and self-defeat and paranoia in The Prisoner, which makes sense given the fact that it was made during the height of the Cold War. It’s all about the journey towards discovering “the truth” behind one’s life and the events that happens in one’s life.
The main character, Number 6, refuses to play along with this game. He knows why he’s here on this island. He knows that he’s being given everything his heart could desire if he just cooperates and lives the life prescribed to him by his captors. He can have fame, women, luxury, whatever he wants. All on this island. But what he wants to know is why he is here. He wants to know who the hidden “Number 1” is that controls this operation. He wants to escape from this fucking island and live his life the way he wants to live it. It doesn’t matter that he can have “everything” on this island. What matters is that he have control of his on life and do things on his own terms.
Number 6 and Yuri are very much alike. While Yuri’s reasons for being in “paradise” may differ from Number 6’s, she’s just as mad as he is about her circumstances. She doesn’t want to live by the standards put before her. She doesn’t want to play the game and get rewarded in a prescribed manner. That might work for others, but she doesn’t want any of that shit. She doesn’t want that idyllic high school life to replace her memories, she just wants the means to protect those that she cares about.
We find out in the latest episode of Angel Beats (episode 12) that this feeling of love that Yuri has for her fellow “PCs” is forbidden by the “laws” of the Purgatory they live within. No one knows who set these rules in place, but they know that “love” is a force that works counter to the nature of Purgatory, since it’d allow someone to claim it as their own and turn it into something that the “creator” did not desire. What Yuri wants is essentially the one thing that the rules of her “paradise’ forbids.
The same goes for Number 6. While his personal crisis is different, his desire for freedom and individuality is the very thing that the powers behind The Village wish to deny him. In freedom and individuality he will find power, and it’s that very power that will allow him to deny them that which they want. A powerful man is a man unwilling to share his secrets, and they want the secrets within his mind.
Both series are about living in a world where one’s desires are absurdly denied. It isn’t that one’s desires are impossible to fulfil, it’s simply a matter of the world seemingly denying one of those desires. The world is a nasty, uncaring, spiteful place at times, and often one finds that even the simplest desires are outright denied for no damn good reason other than “shit happens.” Both series manifest that harshness into scenarios where that immaterial, nonexistent force of “denial’ is given form. Angel Beats has it in the form of a program written by someone who wished to impose their will upon Purgatory while The Prisoner has it in the form of a clandestine organization.
The catch is that the two series diverge when it comes to their intended destinations. This is where the “moe” factor comes into play with Angel Beats. The Prisoner ends with Number 6 finally discovering who Number 1 is: Number 1 is himself. The series simply ends with that revelation, allowing the viewer to formulate their own feelings about what just transpired. One could take it as Number 6 ultimately being a prisoner of his own making, with his actions in life causing his loss of freedom. He has no one to blame but himself.
Angel Beats is obviously not shooting for that kind of resolution. Yuri is faced with her own “Number 1” in the form of full access to the program that allows one to shape Purgatory. She ponders the idea of becoming “God” and rewriting the world to fit her own image. It’s like she’s given the same choice John Murdoch was given at the end of Dark City: she can recreate this world into her own idealized world, granting her that which she most desires.
She turns it down and riddles the computer system with a barrage of bullets, realizing that what she wants is to express her love for others. She is granted her truest wish: True Love.
Moe/Slice of Life/etc isn’t concerned about existential crises and the like. Ambiguity of intentions isn’t the goal of such anime series. It’s all about expressing that feeling of love and devotion to one’s object of affection, and Yuri does just that. She conquers the big bad world and lets her heart prevail.
It may not be the ending I want, and it may be a little cheesy, but it fits the bill. It makes Angel Beats the moe equivalent of The Prisoner.