I’ll be covering parts of the anime, Angel Beats, that are most certainly spoiler-ific. So. If you haven’t seen this series, and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read! D:
Angel Beats, although it has received some reputation for having plot holes, and being just decent among the feely anime out there, is very close to me, being the very first anime I’ve ever watched. It has its share of heartwrenching moments, and, yes, even if it has its flaws, it still covered the theme of appreciation of life pretty well, in my opinion. That being said, many people focus on scenes such as the disappearance of Kanade, Otonashi’s painful backstory, or the graduation scene, as the saddest moments of Angel Beats.
As one might be able to tell from the title, I’d like to just focus on a character I personally hear hardly anything about: Masami Iwasawa, her story, and what it meant for the series. So yeah. Let’s go!
1. Who is She?
Iwasawa, like the other characters of Angel Beats, is one of those who have come to reside in the afterlife, and is the frontliner of the band, Girls Dead Monster; by extension, making her a member of the SSS. Before she passed away however, she suffered a simple, painful, and tragic life, trapped with her dysfunctional family from birth to death. Finding an escape in the band, Sad Machine, she began to play guitar and sing, harboring dreams of creating a musical career. Working harder and harder, Iwasawa was gaining traction, going to auditions, working part-time jobs, on the precipice of escaping her family. As if to spite her, a cerebral stroke left her mute, and unable to speak, the result of an old wound from her parents’ heated fights. Unable to sing or play, she passed away on a hospital bed, a simple end to her life.
Heavy-handed, tragic backstory aside, if you’ve ever known that one, super chill, guitar-playing friend that seems deeper than they let on, that’s essentially Iwasawa. For the three episodes that she was in, she was a simple side character, one of many new faces that the protagonist interacts with while he gets situated in the Afterlife. So, for those who know the character, you got a fresh reminder of who she is, and for those who don’t know, now you do. But, that being said, the important thing to focus on here is that she was only ever in three episodes, with a huge focus on her story in the third. So what does that mean? Why is her character delegated to such a short role?
2. What Role Does She Play?
So for those who haven’t watched the series, Iwasawa is that side character who metaphorically bites the bullet, to foreshadow what has yet to be revealed later down the line. In episode three, Girls Dead Monster is used as a distraction, playing music in order to keep the student council president, “Angel,” away, while the SSS run their own mission. While doing so, the band gets shut down, and in order to keep the distraction going, Iwasawa takes hold of her guitar, and sings her own ballad for the first time. In the first real heartbreaker of the series (because there are certainly more to come), Iwasawa sings “My Song,” speaking of the unfairness of the world, and beyond that, how humans choose to hope, live, and dream in such a world. She disappears then, having believed that she has “finally found it,” foreshadowing the fact that the fulfillment of dreams is what causes people to move on from the Afterlife, to whatever is next.
Although certainly a sad moment, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the importance of this moment. Iwasawa’s disappearance leaves a lasting mark on the series, being the first unexplained event that the main cast simply doesn’t know how to explain. She is rarely mentioned, and it is only many episodes later when the nature of her disappearance is revealed. Apart from revealing the true nature of the show, expressing the theme of the importance of human desires and dreams, this event kickstarts the plot of the show. Up until this point, there is no concrete information that is provided, apart from the SSS existing in defiance of God. Even then, that information is in itself vague, not providing answers to why the characters are in the Afterlife, and what concrete goal there is to be had later.
That being said: Iwasawa’s disappearance gives a goal, or rather, drives up intrigue. It provides an event that is unexplained, gives the viewer the thought that there is finally a concrete event to be elaborated on, and gives the characters of Angel Beats a mystery that eventually has to be solved. That’s the role of Iwasawa’s character in a nutshell- foreshadowing, and thematic establishment. But man, I just really love how it’s done. This could have been done in many ways, but the focus on a character that so blatantly reflects the thematic tone the show creates was, in my opinion, a pretty good way to start things off.
3. Lasting Significance/Personal Thoughts
This wasn’t the most in-depth thing to look at, true. Perhaps I’m just elaborating on a concept people already know about. But having looked around, I feel like so many people have talked about the sadness behind Kanade, Otanashi’s backstory, Yui’s disappearance, and more, but not many seem to appreciate Iwasawa so much.
Without the story she provided, and her initial disappearance, I personally believe that the latter half of the anime would have lost much thematic significance, or at the very least, would not have been set up in the same way as it was. Angel Beats, being an extremely character-based show, needed those sad, dramatic backstories, and a way to merge them together into a cohesive unit. Iwasawa, in my opinion, is the character that allowed that to happen, showing very early that even when the other main characters began to reveal their lives, their stories mattered. Their stories became significant in a very unique way, tying the sad lives of the main characters directly to the plot, in a manner that, at the same time, drives up curiosity, about what the show will continue to bring..
Of course that doesn’t discount the flaws of Angel Beats, but man, I thought Iwasawa was done well at the very least. She was great, very personally relatable, and the anime wouldn’t be the same without her, despite her lack of screen time. I would have liked to see her around for a bit longer, but hey, what can ya do.