I suppose we should have seen it coming that Angel Beats! progression towards some kind of "happy ever after" ending wasn't going to last long... in fact, it didn't even last as along as the next episode preview.
So, despite this episode beginning with Otonashi finding himself joined by Hinata and Naoi, both of whom now know what he is trying to do alongside Kanade, things soon take a turn as Naoi finds himself attacked by some kind of strange, binary-coded shadow monster which appears out of nowhere. Otonashi and Hinata combined manage to fend off this assailant, but something clearly isn't right, and this clearly isn't the first time such an attack has occurred in recent days either...
After a meeting between Yuri and Kanade satisfies the former that Angel has nothing to do with this new appearance, an effective truce between the two comes into unspoken effect as more and more of these shadow creatures begin to appear, with Yuri realising that they appear to be "sprouting" from NPCs themselves. For all of their efforts, it's too late to save Takamatsu, who is "eaten" by one of these monsters only to reappear as an NPC, unaware of his past - A fate worse than death indeed.
With these attacks intensifying, Yuri eventually decides that her only course of action is to give everybody a choice in how to proceed, allowing Otonashi to reveal his and Kanade's thoughts on how to leave this odd world they're stuck in so every man (and girl) can decide for themselves. As for Yuri, she continues along her own path as her suspicions about the origin of these computer-generated creatures develop.
By rights, a series with as many twists, turns and complete 180 degree switches as should be a complete mess by this point, yet somehow this series has remained both gripping and entertaining throughout, with even this episode finding time to lace itself with a respectable dose of humour in the midst of its more serious plot progressions. Indeed, rather than Angel Beats! succeeding in spite of its twisting, tangled story, it's compelling viewing because of it - It's rare to find an anime where it's so difficult to second guess what's coming next, yet that's often exactly the case here and even when you do get it right it isn't before many moments of self-doubt about your guesswork.
My only concern at this juncture is how Angel Beats! can possible expect to close our its story in a satisfactory manner in just two more episodes - However they play things out from here surely one aspect of the story or another is going to end up rushed? Unless they're planning on a second season, we could be left disappointed, although having enjoyed the series so much to this point I really hope that isn't going to be the case.