Angelic Layer

Angelic Layer

ANGELIC LAYER

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Angelic Layer is an anime adaptation of a shounen manga series, by the wildly popular group known as Clamp. What sets this series apart from all other shounen shows, is that the story appeals first and foremost to young girls. Rather than having a young male lead, Angelic Layer instead focuses on the training of a young middle school girl, Misaki. New to Tokyo, she stumbles upon the latest fad in toys and technology, “Angelic Layer”. I love how meta the show is, and how the actual toys are shown as toys in the series, just as much in real life. If anything, I can imagine the idea of being able to own a toy like this would make a young child want to play with the toys even more than if they were just featured characters in a show.

Right from the start of the series, Misaki runs off to buy her very own “Angel” and all of the needed accessories, without really understanding what she’s gotten herself into. A mysterious scientist randomly pops up from time to time to assist her with this initial purchase, and others down the line. His role of course is facilitator of the show, like Professor Oak from Pokemon. Once she’s completely run out of money, she realizes she’s lost and can’t find her aunt’s house. Eventually Misaki finds her way to her new home, and settles in nicely with her aunt, and makes quite a few friends at school, including a few who are also interested in Angelic Layer.

Wanting to be more like her idol player, Misaki decides to train, only to discover that she is quite the natural at controlling her Angel. She winds up in a tournament, fighting to become the best, with a chance to fight against her idol at the end. The battles show Misaki’s dedication and development, and on the side she is shown bonding with her friends. In addition to the main story line, we slowly see another story unravel and find out the mystery of what happened to Misaki’s mother, and what she’s doing now.

Man, I hadn’t even thought about going that far in applying standard shounen logic to Angelic Layer. Icchan really is that necessary-but-random facilitator character, which explains why CLAMP decided to make him goofy into order to increase his appeal.

PLOT: Seventh-grader Misaki has just moved to Tokyo to live with her aunt, who will raise her in the place of her mother, who Misaki hasn’t seen since she was in pre-school. While waiting for her aunt, Misaki watches a battle between dolls, a sport called “Angelic Layer,” on a large TV and decides to look into it. Misaki learns that dolls, called “Angels,” are mentally operated by their owners, called “Deus,” in order to fight in a special area, called the “layer.” Misaki promptly buys her own doll and names her Hikaru, in reference to a character from Magic Knight Rayearth, another CLAMP series.

Though Misaki’s a newbie to the world of Angelic Layer, she’s a natural and soon begins competing in tournaments and distinguishing herself by incorporating fighting moves and techniques that she witnesses others using. Of course, there are setbacks and training montages along the way, but overall there’s a strong sense that Misaki’s going to be great at Angelic Layer, as befits the main character of a shounen anime, even if it does feature fighting dolls.

To balance out the combat side of the show, Angelic Layer also develops Misaki’s friends and family in an interesting way. Early on, she makes friends with Hatoko, a kindergartener who’s also an excellent Deus, along with Hatoko’s older brother Kotaro and Kotaro’s best friend, Tamayo. Additionally, Misaki’s aunt makes appearances, while there’s constant interest in what happened with Misaki’s mother to make her be absent from her daughter’s life. Finally, the harebrained scientist Icchan plays fairy godmother to Misaki, helping her out with Angelic Layer throughout the series. Overall, the show does a good job of mixing these ideas together and connecting them so that they don’t feel disjointed in any way. The show also has good pacing, with frequent battles, though you can tell it’s been drawn out a little in places.

Angelic Layer takes a decent manga, and turns it into an even better anime. It may have a couple of flaws, but I think the flow and make of the show works much better than the original content, which wasn’t able to flesh out ideas and battles as much.

SETTING: Angelic Layer takes place in a slightly futuristic Tokyo, where an individual’s brain waves can be read over technology to control an Angel. This concept really isn’t that crazy, and that’s what makes it so easy to relate with. The characters purchase and customize their dolls however they want and build them up differently to fight in battles. Each has their own costume and accessories, which can then develop their skills differently. Physics do apply in the arena, but creativity can beat physics out when the pilot (Deus) is clever enough.

The technology to connect with one’s Angel doesn’t exist everywhere, and like with any game in real life, you have to pay to play. There are arcades and cafes where people can meet up to play with each other or train, and then individuals can enter tournaments. It’s all very well realized and has a nice Capitalist ring to it which makes it all the more realistic. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but the game franchising itself ends up having a purpose which ties the whole story and world together nicely in the end. I like that the creators went the extra mile to explain why a game like this would exist, and what the other added benefits are to having this sort of technology. It really shows that entertainment and science go hand in hand and help develop one another for other purposes.

SETTING: Like many an anime for young viewers, Angelic Layer takes place in Tokyo, a place that many viewers can identify with, while the main character attends an unusual school with grades from kindergarten through high school. This school allows characters of different ages to interact while also allowing for the cute, distinctive uniforms that CLAMP loves. Despite the slight twist on the school, though, the setting is still basic enough that most viewers should be able to feel at home with this setting right away.

The more distinct part of Angelic Layer’s setting comes with the Angelic Layer portion of it, which suggests that the show takes place in the near future, given the technology of mentally manipulating dolls while they fight. The concept here is well developed, with players needing to rent time at a layer from a place like a cybercafe or arcade where they can practice individually or play against other Deus. This concept of renting layer time makes sense, since the technology behind a layer would surely be too complicated to be easily replicated at home, and the tournament setup of the show works well with the idea behind Angelic Layer. Essentially, this feels like a reasonable direction for this technology to take, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar developed in the real world.

XD I wish this really did exist. Ever since I’ve seen this show I wanted it to be a video game. I suppose it’s a bit too simple to really merchandize, but I love the way the game world is designed.

CHARACTERS: Out of the Clamp universe, I think Angelic Layer has one of the best casts of characters and worlds. Perhaps that is why several later series seem to tie back into this world. Anyways, for a children’s show, this array of characters seem to do fairly well.

Misaki is your typical every girl who means well, loves her doll and the game whole heartedly. Of course she has to overcome her naivety at one point, but that just makes her stronger. She and her doll are both small and plucky, but they are also creative, and it’s their quick thinking and problem solving which help them to develop their skills so quickly.

Misaki’s family is a bit mysterious. It’s a little boring at first, having the absent parent angle, until we slowly peel back the layers to her mother’s story. Her aunt serves as a good stand-in, and shows that family can be the people you’re around the most. Icchan, the crazy scientist, also serves as a sort of parent/guardian-type figure though mostly he’s around for comic relief. I loved the way he’d pop in and out of a moment. Misaki’s blind trust of him also helps flesh her out as a character.

Then there are of course Misaki’s friends. She goes to school with Tamayo and Kotaro, and Kotaro’s little sister, Hatoko. Though Hatoko is quite a bit younger than the older kids, she acts as a guide to Angelic Layer for Misaki and helps give her advice and explains the rules of the game to her. Tamayo and Kotaro know martial arts, and use their training to help teach Misaki new moves. In addition to them, Misaki also befriends a weird and talented Deus, Ohjiro, who is somehow connected to Icchan and Misaki’s mother.

CHARACTERS: Angelic Layer is full of a cast of likable, familiar characters who immediately make you feel at home as a viewer. Misaki, for example, is a cookie-cutter chipper-but-stubborn heroine who doesn’t know everything about Angelic Layer but wants to give it a shot. She’s easy to root for, with her dedication and latent talent, and she’s distinguished from other similar characters by her backstory involving her absent mother. Though it doesn’t feel like CLAMP did anything revolutionary with Misaki, she’s definitely easy to get behind and fun to watch as she gets better at fighting with Hikaru.

Misaki’s friends also fulfill comfortable types found within children’s anime, with slight adjustments to make them feel a little original. For example, the kindergartener Misaki befriends is your classic child genius, though she’s also very humble and not quite as mature as she seems. Misaki’s other friends are both supportive, though the girl is very clearly the loud, tomboyish type who’s very into martial arts. Finally, the people Misaki fights against run the gamut of shounen anime stereotypes, as you might expect, without anyone being outright dislikable.

The adults present a little more variety, though they aren’t developed as much as I’d like, since this is a children’s show. Icchan is a goofy character on the surface, but he has his mysterious reasons for everything he does, making him a lot more than a mentor or comic relief character. Misaki’s aunt is easy to like, too, while it’s tough to like Misaki’s mother for abandoning her daughter until you understand more about her backstory.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: This series was one of the first by Clamp to utilize a new drawing style. Personally, I like it a lot better than their earlier stuff, at least anatomically. The designs are bold, pared down, and easy to differentiate. Misaki’s friends all look rather ordinary without looking typecast. Misaki’s probably the weirdest looking character, with her strange ponytail-like side burns. Aside from that, and the highly stylized school uniforms, the rest of the universe looks fairly standard. I think the original creators and studio did a great job designing the world and characters in a way that would be appealing to young children. There are bright colors and cute designs everywhere. However the styles aren’t so over the top to be trashy.

The angels are what shine the most, and that’s where people’s inner personality begins to show through. I really liked how Clamp used this opportunity to bring in some designs from their other series, like Magic Knight Rayearth. As Crystal states, it really shows how someone might design their avatar if they were playing a game online, and what better way than to base your doll after another show you like?

The animation is pretty good in battles, but just like with the manga, there is a lot of audience shots that could easily be glossed over. There are also some budget cuts in other areas, like when characters are out of the arena talking, but ultimately I don’t think it’ll be an issue, specially with the younger crowds watching this.

I also prefer this simplified art style to CLAMP’s earlier works, especially because it makes the transition to anime more smoothly than the flowery, ornate style of Cardcaptor Sakura and X/1999 which ends up looking a little too harsh when animated.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Angelic Layer is an early show from Studio Bones, meaning it has fluid fight scenes, but the series doesn’t have as high of a budget as later Studio Bones shows. There are a lot of noticeable uses of budget-saving tricks, like pans over an unmoving audience or lingering shots of main characters or repeat animation. Granted, the show still looks good, especially when compared with longer-running shounen anime, but it’s clear that the studio was saving its budget for the fight scenes. The fight scenes involve a lot of solid choreography, and the show is careful to give each Angel its own fighting style and special techniques, which makes the series even more fun to watch.

The character designs here stand out from the norm in small ways that boil down to CLAMP taking their trademark style and simplifying it to fit in with this shounen world. The style is really similar to that of Chobits, which is set in the same world, giving the two series some fun continuity. The character designs, as you might expect from CLAMP, mainly distinguish characters through hairstyles, which is most obvious with Misaki’s ridiculous hair that involves long bits at the front and it being short everywhere else. The rest of the characters have normal enough hair, and there isn’t much cause here for crazy costuming, except with the Angels, which is where characters can really let their personalities shine. And to be fair, it is pretty cool to see what characters make their Angels look like, since they’re almost like designing your avatar for use online.

OVERALL: Like I said before, what I love about Angelic Layer is how it takes the great aspects of shounen series but adapts them to fit into a more shoujo-type mold. Even the fact that the show is so short, and the plot so basic shows how the creators knew how far to take it down the shounen road before getting in too deep. There is just enough of a story and premise to get one excited about it but not have to waste hours and hours finding out the answers to everything. Sure it does make it a bit too simple, but it’s still great fun and the characters are interesting. I think this is probably the best manga adaptation that Clamp has done so far, and that’s including Cardcaptor Sakura. Both series do well to play to the ideals of children’s entertainment. Angelic Layer just takes it a notch further by turning it into a game.

I wouldn’t recommend this show to everyone, but I think it’s a must watch for Clamp fans, shoujo fans, and those who’d like to see shounen get stirred up a little.

OVERALL: Angelic Layer, while not being a revolutionary anime by any means, is a very solid shounen fighting anime with a fairly unique concept for the genre. Though the show unfolds as you’d expect, with Misaki consistently being a great Deus and there being a secret connection between her mother and Angelic Layer, I still found this intriguing and pleasant to watch. The characters are all likable, and the world, while familiar, is different enough to hold my attention.

If you must, think of Angelic Layer as Cardcaptor Sakura’s shounen cousin. It’s just as welcoming and likable, with a cast that’s easy to get along with and a lot of fun battles. Furthermore, the plot’s not as drawn out as many shounen shows, and there’s a real conclusion at the end of things. It’s not a show that I think everyone should seek out, but if you want a slightly girly shounen anime or are a fan of CLAMP, go ahead and watch this. It’s really good for what it is, making it a satisfying watch if you don’t want more than a straightforward shounen anime.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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