12-year-old Misaki Suzuhara has just gotten involved in Angelic Layer, a battling game using electronic dolls called angels. Even as a newbie, Misaki shows advanced skills as she meets new friends and enters Angelic Layer tournaments to fight the greatest Angelic Layer champions of the nation.
What Angelic Layer does have going for it is that it launches itself straight away into the action. We don’t see episode after episode of Misaki training and trying to get to grips with the basics. She learns her own sense of style and technique quickly and identifies with her angel, Hikaru. It also helps that she is a quick study and manages to pick up on the skills and techniques of her opponents and adds them to her arsenal. CLAMP is essentially taking the standard shounen fighting tournament setup and retools it into a series for girls. Partly it does this by making the tournament a fighter between customisable dolls, and making most of the competitors young females.
In her first tournament, Misaki quickly becomes something of a ‘lucky rookie’ Angelic Layer player and becomes a favourite amongst the audience. It’s here that she discovers that her young friend Hatoko is also a serious player within Angelic Layer. In fact, Hatoko is practically a prodigy and is known for having the fastest, practically unbeatable angel on the circuit, Suzuka.
Even though the anime is based around small, battling dolls and a lot of the animation is dedicated to their fights and movements, the episodes don’t really become tedious or same-y. There’s a variation of angels, techniques and tactics and I always enjoyed seeing the sheer breadth of angels that appear alongside their Deus’ (i.e. their owners). And the further into the Angelic Layer tournament we get, the more we see of the secrets surrounding the manufacturing corporation and why they are so interested in Misaki in particular.
Shuko, Misaki’s mother, is quite possibly one of the most ridiculous anime mothers I have ever seen. What kind of mother leaves her young daughter for seven years, lies about where she’s going and doesn’t make any effort to contact her in any way? So she lost the use of her legs and wanted to help work on a way to give her the ability to walk again. Was there any need to cut Misaki out of her life? Considering some of the backstories from some of the other Angelic Layer participants, Shuko didn’t appear to be a sympathetic character to me at all, even though she was supposed to be. And no one around Misaki who knew Shuko was avoiding her thought to tell her that her mother was so close! By my estimations, Misaki should have been more traumatised by her mother’s big reveal towards the end.
The quality of the animation, in general, is quite basic. And it’s quite a shame to see a story written and drawn by CLAMP to have such rudimentary artwork when they are known for their beautiful detail when it comes to characters and their outfits. The art is simple, reflective of the times during which this anime was created. There were a few frames I noticed that had evidence of being in-betweens – clearly not polished enough for closeups; some scenes the faces seemed too lumpy. I noticed this less and less as the episodes went on and the quaity of the artwork did improve. The ending was also very predictable, but this didn’t make it completely unsatisfying. We see Misaki’s final face-off against her mother and, though the odds were against her, she manages to pull through.
All-in-all, it’s a nice show. It’s got a good message and will generally provide a warm and cuddly feeling with a few chuckles along the way. There’s nothing really ground-breaking here, but it’s a friendly show with a splash of humour and good characters that you enjoy watching and can root for. Surprisingly, there’s very little in the way of romance for a CLAMP series, but it wasn’t particularly missed because all the action carried the storyline through well.