Angel Beats! and attitudes and behaviours towards organ donation

Anime and manga are my second interests and I was meditating on its academic merits in communication science and media studies during my first year of graduate shool. Anime is becoming popular in the West with anime conventions popping up across the States and Canada (there’s one in Montreal) and that had me thinking its cultural impact in the relationship between the West, Japan, East Asia and the world. Furthermore, Japanese videogame companies (e.g. Nintendo, Sony, Square-Enix) have a strong mark in history and continues to have a strong transnational influence in gamer culture.

I stumbled upon a Journal of Communication article by Susan E. Morgan (Purdue University) and colleagues who examined episodes of TV dramas’ depictions of organ donations impacts on viewers. Later at a departmental colloquium, a senior grad student was discussing his findings of a similar nature. I couldn’t help making connections between this line of research and the anime Angel Beats!


Drawing on theories of social learning, social representations and the organ donation model, online surveys were used to examine the impact of organ donation storylines of 4 U.S. television dramas (CSI: NY, Numb3rs, House, and Grey’s Anatomy) on viewers’ attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors. Results revealed that viewers acquired knowledge from the content of each drama, despite the fact that some content was inaccurate. Viewers who were not organ donors prior to exposure to the dramas were more likely to decide to donate organs if the drama explicitly encouraged donation, portrayed characters revealing how they had become donors and discussed the merits of donating. Viewers were also more likely to become an organ donor if they were emotionally involved in the narrative. Implications for using dramas to educate and motivate the public were discussed.

I know it is not videogame-related, but since nobody made any sort of connections I mentioned earlier I just had to do it. 

Morgan et al. discussed how the media formed the public’s perception of organ transplantation. Looking into TV Tropes, there are quite a few positive depictions of organ donations relative to the more numerous negative depictions. These negative perceptions, such as a black market for organs, can be a barrier for individuals from signing on to become organ donors because they fear that their organs will be used for ill purposes. Social learning theory explains why individuals would donate or not their organs.

Transportation is defined as “a convergent process, where all mental systems and capacities become focused on events occurring in the narrative”. Basically, you are immersed in the story regardless if it is complete fantasy or reality. They discussed several factors of transportation and created hypotheses for each one

Emotional involvement, perceived realism, and the content presented in the narrative would lead to increases in transportation which they hypothesized that greater emotional involvement would lead to greater curiosity about organ donations and motivations to become one. Likewise, greater perceived accuracy in depicting organ donation, the greater the motivation towards learning about it.  Finally, Participants’ knowledge and beliefs on organ donation would be correlated to the content in the shows’ narrative.

The authors discussed another theory called social representation theory. The theory follows the representational development of a new phenomenon, such as organ donation or twitter in its early days. In the first stage, the media frames the phenomenon in one or more ways. At the second stage, these frames would shape attitudes about it, especially if personal experience is lacking. At the third stage, talking about the phenomenon would solidify these media-framed attitudes. Thus, the authors hypothesized that dramatic narratives would promote organ donation knowledge and willingness to become one .


They conducted an online survey in collaboration with numerous organizations. They advertised the survey on the shows’ website, online chat rooms and fan sites. They collected data over the spring of 2006.

The shows’ episode

  • CSI: New York: “Live or Let Die” episode had 374 respondents.
  • Numb3rs: “Harvest” episode had 290 respondents.
  • House: “Sex Kills” and “Sleeping Dogs Lie” episodes had 5340 respondents with 3541 who viewed both episodes.
  • Grey’s Anatomy: “Enough is Enough (No More Tears)” and “Band-Aid Covers the Bullet Hole” “Under Pressure” and “17 seconds” had 354 respondents with 340 having seen all the episodes.

The sample consisted of female viewers (79.1%); average age is 29.01; Caucasian (81.5%); college graduate (28.1%), some college or trade school (27.9%); most were single (54.7%), although whether they are in a romantic relationship is not determined. 41.6% claimed to be organ donors before watching the episodes, whereas 58.4% were not.


Emotional involvement: one item on a 5-point likert scale.

Perceive accuracy: one item on a 5-point scale.

Learning about organ donation: two items on a 5-point agreement scale.

Perceived motivation: two-items on a 5-point agreement scale.

Knowledge of beliefs: seven items on a 5-point agreement scale. This assesses viewers’ belief about accurate and inaccurate knowledge about organ donations.

How to become an organ donor: Yes/No statements to various methods of becoming one. E.g. “One can sign up at a computer registry or when one renews a driver’s licence to become a donor”.

That’s quite a short survey, but then I think it was done in such a short notice, given the episodes’ broadcast schedules.


There are so many numbers that I nearly blacked out… and I got lost. Here’s a table that I understood.

The differences may be due to plot content between the shows where the accuracy of organ donation varied. The authors discussed whilst emotional involvement may have a strong effect, it can be hampered by the “unethical” (IMO) directorial decisions. For example, Gray’s Anatomy used negative myths of organ donation as a device to drive conflicts between characters.

Limitations about the study is the self-selection bias due to the online survey’s virtual location (i.e. show’s website and fan sites) which hampers generalizability by the sample’s characteristics which consisted of the show’s female fans. The need for an experiment is warranted to further support their results (which I can understand from the abstract).

Angel Beats! was first broadcast in the Spring 2010 season with much anticipation because the narrative was written by Jun Maeda, a visual novel author famous for writing tear jerking stories. Check the anime’s Wikipedia article for plot, character list and themes. I compared the shows’ plot summaries as provided by the authors and my viewing experience of Angel Beats!’ 13 episodes, specifically the 7th, 9th and final episodes, and I find Angel Beats! more emotionally and personally persuasive than the television dramas.

I will explain by dissecting the study’s abstract and cryptically relate it to the anime (I hate spoiling the story, really watch it please and buy the DVDs).

“if the drama explicitly encouraged donation” the 9th episode showed Otonashi signing his card, driven by his motivation to become a doctor, even when deprived of the chance, thus such act inspired other survivors following his example, a final and meaningful before death. The final episode had a plot twist that surely made everyone cry. The television dramas, especially Grey’s Anatomy, mixed sweetness and vinegar just to create moral dilemmas rather than making a sweet and meaningful story (Inspired by Mary Beth Oliver’s focus on meaningfulness).

portrayed characters revealing how they had become donors” the 9th episode showed how to become an organ donor, well at least in Japan by signing the form on the back of his medical card. In contrast, most of the TV dramas did not depict such manner, with the exception of numb3rs. Otonashi was a high school student whereas the characters are professionals (e.g. doctors), perhaps the audience have a harder time forming a paraosocial relationship with individuals who represent a minority in the population whereas a student is someone that everyone can relate to. However, I don’t believe that the anime depict organ donation in any realistic manner, but I guess I could say that it touched the audience’s emotional buttons (somehow I’m thinking of Touched by an Angel which I never saw an episode of it).

“discussed the merits of donating” none at all, but being in purgatory has its advantages. Numb3rs is the only one so far that had the characters discussing the merits of organ donation.

“Viewers were also more likely to become an organ donor if they were emotionally involved in the narrative.” The entire series sets the stage where the audience form parasocial relationships with the characters (e.g. quirks, personality, aspirations, regrets, fears, etc.), especially the growing relationship between Otonashi and Kanade. As for the TV dramas, I don’t watch these shows.

So, I googled around to see how powerfully persuasive is Angel Beats! in promoting organ donation. I found a poll in a myanimelist forum where 60.85% out of 189 voted in favour to be an organ donor. The percentage seemed overwhelmingly larger compared to the TV dramas, but the poll shared the same limitations (i.e. self-selection bias) and more, such as the lack of demographic data and emotional involvement data (unless I content analyze the responses). Here’s reddit thread about Angel Beats! [1].

What is interesting about Angel Beats! is how a short series of 13 episode could have a strong impact on attitudes towards organ donation. One simply wonders how a movie producer can work this out with a two-hour original movie.  Furthermore, anime may be an excellent medium to reach younger generations to discuss mature subjects within the safe confines of fantasy.

Morgan, S. E., Movius, L., & Cody, M. J. (2009). The power of narratives: The effect of entertainment television organ donation storylines on the attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors of donors and nondonors. Journal of Communication , 59 (1), 135-151. URL

2 thoughts on “Angel Beats! and attitudes and behaviours towards organ donation

  1. Watching Angel Beats made me make sure I was an Organ donor, it was such a powerful message of how you can save a life and how much it would mean to that person.

  2. Im young and after watching Angle Beats! I was inspired to become an organ donor but i cant legally be on yet :( Its such a strong message and meant alot to me.

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