And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. Joel 2:25
Note: serious spoilers here, so watch the series first if you haven’t already. It’s great, and can be watched on Netflix or Hulu.
As Christians, we really don’t think about heaven that much. It’s ironic, considering one of the points of our faith is eternal life when we die. But when you ask people about what exactly goes on there, you may get a lot of puzzled looks and frenzied thinking, as well as repeating of the few verses that actually deal with it. Angel Beats deals with the idea of heaven in an unusual way. While the idea is mildly Buddhist, there’s actually some serious things for the Christian to think about, and some things that made me wonder if it wasn’t done on purpose.
The premise is unique. One day a young man named Otonashi wakes up on the grounds of a school campus, looking up at the night sky. Next to him is a girl, cradling a sniper rifle and aiming it at something far below them. She tries to recruit him for an unknown organization. He’s confused, and even more so when he sees what she is aiming at; a tiny girl with silver hair. Despite protests, he goes down to talk to the silver-haired girl, who emotionlessly tells him that he is dead.
When asked to prove it, she stabs him in the chest. He wakes up later in the school’s infirmary.
This begins Angel Beats, where a group of rebels and misfits war in the afterlife to prevent their reincarnation, while slowly making peace with the real reason why they are there. It’s both sad and at times hilarious, and there’s some interesting truths to be found in it.
I quoted the Joel verse up top, because this is the true point of the school all the Angel Beats players are in. Every single real person in there has had their young lives stolen away from them, and were unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of growing up. Bratty Yui was paralyzed as a child, and unable to do a single thing. Hinata dropped the ball at a championship baseball game and possible descended into drug use due to this. Yuri has the harshest pain of them all; she had to watch burglars kill her young sisters in front of her because she couldn’t find anything worth stealing for them.
This is why Yuri created the SSS-the organization that fights against God in the afterlife. At first, you might resent the obvious implications. Like how they shouldn’t fight against God, or how they use 666 (SSS) in their call sign. But as you go on, you realize something:
Maybe God is letting her fight against him, so she can truly become healed.
Yuri’s big regret is that she failed others. She always saw herself as a cool big sister, but that belief was horribly, tragically torn away from her. But in fighting during the afterlife, she becomes a cool big sis to many people, and in a way is given power to fight against what she sees as an unjust world. This verse also comes to mind:
And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,
But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
While it isn’t the same, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps for us, part of being in heaven is just this-the restoration of all that we have sacrificed or had taken away from us. Also it needs to be said that the god of Angel Beats isn’t the God of Christianity; when Yuri does confront it, it’s more of a system than a person. But powerless Yuri is given power to fight, and this is the only way she can truly have peace.
The main character Otonashi as well. All of the teens at first have their memories hidden, and his at first seemed despairing. He originally was an apathetic, depressed young man who had a sister he loved a lot. That sister was sick, and one day, she finally succumbed to her disease, robbing the will for him to live. When he remembers it, he is down, until he suddenly remembers the rest.
You see, after he vowed to help others and make a purpose to his life. He turned it around, and studied to become a doctor until a train crash and cave-in stopped that. Even then, he selflessly gave of himself, keeping the fellow passengers alive through his leadership, and even donating his organs in death. When he awakens to his true memories, he vows to help all of the others pass on too. With an unlikely ally, the silver haired girl who persecutes the SSS in the first place.
Her name is Kanade, and her nickname is Angel. She also has a memory behind her, but if you look at her in one way, she symbolizes much more.
All Tenshi(Angel) wants to do is to help people move on, as well as fulfill her own request. She just has done a horrible job at it. You see, if all you do is just enjoy school there, you will one day make peace with your problems and move on. The SSS don’t want to, so they screw everything up in often hilarious ways. Tenshi tries to make them behave, because she knows it will lead to good, but she’s just unable to do so.
In a way, she’s kind of like the Christian church, or the average Christian.
In a way, we kind of do the same thing. While it’s not “be a model student and you’ll get to reincarnate,” we do have to bring a message of hope to a suffering world. But it’s so hard to do, and many times we really screw it up. There’s even one point where in order to deal with a threat, Tenshi clones herself to fight it. A glitch leads to battle hungry, violent Tenshi’s who forget her message of hope and live just to fight and impose the rules for their own sake. Sound a bit familiar?
It isn’t till Otonashi helps her that she even has a chance, and it’s here when the Christian parallels become very striking.
You see, Tenshi was one of the recipients from Otonashi’s organs. He gave her a new heart, and it enabled her to live. Her sole reason for not passing on? She wanted to thank him for it.
I can’t help but see a Christian side to this. While we may not get a new physical heart, the Christian is changed by the sacrifice of Christ and given a second chance at life through the cross in the same way Tenshi had a second chance to live her own, physical life. And like Christians and the church, we try to help others while being grateful to the One who saved us. Otonashi is the only one who can connect to the others to save them-Tenshi for all her powers quickly falls in at his side to help. And Tenshi screwing up before is very much at how Christians screw up-focusing on the wrong things while forgetting the true reasons why.
While this also is how a Bodhisattva acts, it feels a bit more Christian. A Bodhisattva in Buddhism is one who refuses to reincarnate or ascend in order to bring more people to the knowledge of the truth. But as I watched the series, I couldn’t help but think in a way, there were hints of more than just the whole karma thing. There was a focus on healing, and restoring the past that went beyond a mechanical “pay or be paid for your sins” idea. If it weren’t for a new heart, Tenshi would have been just as lost as the rest of them.
It’s something to think on. I’m not usually a fan of puzzling out Christian meanings to secular works. Just ask me about Tolkien some time. But there were odd hints and parallels that I kept noticing, and I thought I’d write them down here. Your thoughts?