My apologies to anyone who was expecting this review a lot sooner. The fall semester at my college is in full swing, so my time is limited . However, I am still committed to the social-life-suicide that is the Year of Sentai (as if I had a social life to speak of before hand). This show was 26 episodes long, and I had… motivational problems in trying to complete it. Despite my issues I was able to power through this show for you guys though. With that, please allow me to introduce…
Director: Hiroshi Nishikiori
Aired: 4/1/01 – 9/23/01
Episode Count: 26
Languages: Japanese with English subtitles, English
Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Shounen, Shoujo, Sports
Streaming: Nowhere, On Sale HERE (and HERE)
Price(s): $34.99 (DVD), $41.99 (BD)
Angelic Layer came out in the early 2000’s when many of us were starting to enjoy more anime content coming to the west. Despite the era it came out in, it did not make it to the west in the form that many other anime did (Toonami), so I missed it’s first release in 2003. Normally if I hear that there’s a CLAMP anime produced by studio Bones I am expecting a show I’ll really enjoy. However, I was sorely disappointed by the overall quality of this show. Perhaps I was expecting too much, but if you read on (or watch it yourself) I think you’ll agree that this was a flop for all involved.
The story begins with young Misaki Suzuhara moving to Tokyo for school. Upon looking for her aunts home, she is struck by the sight of a pseudo-sport called Angelic Layer being played on a big screen TV. This spectacle involves two dolls, controlled by the brain waves of humans, fighting in an arena filled with fans. After watching an Angelic Layer match, a mysterious scientist (Icchan or Ichiro) leads Misaki to the local Angelic Layer (AL) store where he all but forces her to purchase everything she’ll need to play the game. After finding her aunts house, Misaki follows the directions on all her new gear and develops her Angel and names her Hikaru.
Misaki quickly becomes friends with Tamayo Kizuki, and Kotaro Kobayashi from her school who will become her support in her new home. She also becomes fast friends with Hakoto (Kotaro’s sister) who is a kindergarten prodigy in AL. From here Misaki accidentally gets into some random AL matches, and she proves to be something of a prodigy herself. She get’s entered into the regional Angelic Layer Tournament with the possibility to make it to the National Tournament. The tournament begins around episode 4, and from there we spend the vast majority of the show in the same venue. In this venue we see Misaki constantly winning at AL despite being an absolute rookie, which earns her the nickname “Miracle Rookie”.
[Spoilers] Little does Misaki know that her estranged mother (Shuko) is actually the very AL champion that she had watched in the first match she saw upon entering Tokyo. She has [Insert Anime Disease Here], which affects her legs and somehow makes her unable to parent efficiently. With her diagnosis she left Misaki with her grandparents in order to seek a cure in Tokyo, because (you know) paraplegics can’t raise children all that well. In Tokyo Shuko meets Icchiro (the scientist), who creates angels to test new prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the brain. However, he loses funding before the prosthetics can be finished, so he pitches Angelic Layer to a toy company to come up with the money for his research. Unable to bear the shame of being an absentee mother, Shuko doesn’t correspond with Misaki at all.
Shuko eventually learns that Misaki is playing AL on a professional level, but still keeps her distance out of shame. Meanwhile Misaki has several 1 to 2 episode conflicts that wrap up very quickly. Near the end of the series a few love triangles pop up, but almost nothing is resolved in all but one of them. In the last two episodes Shuko reveals herself to Misaki, and in one of the most disappointing dramatic reunions of all time the conflict is over after a rather awkward crying scene. The last episode features Shuko fighting Misaki in AL, and Misaki taking home the championship from her mom. In the end it shows Shuko walking (presumably with her new prosthetic legs) alongside a very happy Misaki.
Being that the show is clearly a shounen adapted to appeal to a young female audience I shouldn’t be so hard on it. However, the poor lessons given in the show irked me to no end. For example in one episode Misaki is chastised by Hakoto for not believing in Hikaru when she decided to play it safe in a match (essentially taking less damage and letting the timer run out). It’s that silly pride nonsense that bugged me in the show. Even the child abandoning mother was forgiven on the grounds of, “Hey she’s got to have her pride right?” These little moments of blaming Misaki for being a human, while pardoning others (mostly her mother) for being terrible humans compounded to make me really hate this story.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t bright spots in this otherwise abysmal pile of shounen. I found Icchan’s ambition to create controllable prosthetic limbs entirely admirable, and his pretty boy brother (Ohjiro) was a pretty stand-up-guy. Some of the fights were well done as well, and I particularly enjoyed the Ohjiro (Wizard) vs. Misaki (Hikaru) match near the end. Apart from that I somewhat enjoyed the flow of the love triangle between Tamayo, Kotaro, and Misaki, but Misaki seemed entirely unaware of Kotaro’s affection. Still, at least Tamayo and Kotaro seemed to get together in the end credits of episode 26, which is more than can be said about some of the other romance sub-plots. Unfortunately for these scant good points, there are far too many negatives in this story for me to approve of it in any way.
Angelic layer doesn’t boast a massive cast, but if every one-episode-chump is counted the supporting cast is decently large. We understandably spend the majority of the time with Misaki, who seems completely oblivious to anything that isn’t Hikaru, Hakoto, her mother, or Icchan. She’s fairly air-headed, with just a touch of genki. Despite my usual aversion to genki characters I found Misaki endearing, and I really had no problem with her aside from the fact that she has no concept of stranger-danger as a 12 year old. For example, Icchan just showed up out of nowhere and forceed her to buy an expensive toy, and she was just fine with it. Her survival instincts and powers of deduction were pretty bad, even by 12-year-old standards. Sherlock Holmes, this girl is not.
Speaking of Icchan, I mentioned that I found his goals admirable. However, he is one of the creepiest of creepers in any anime that isn’t darker themed. He quite literally slithers like a snake in some scenes, and has a somewhat disturbingly child like demeanor when dealing with his employees. One aspect of his character that got old quick was the “punishment games” he levied on one junior employee. These games ranged from silly (eat udon without making noise), to downright criminal (lay under the summer sun in your underwear). These happened frequently enough to get old and annoying, and painted Icchan as something of a sadist.
Misaki’s main friends (Tamayo, Kotaro, and Hakoto) are all kind of boring. They establish their persona’s early on, and they rarely deviate from them. Tamayo is genki and likes beating Kotaro, Kotaro has a thing for Misaki and takes punishment from Tamayo, and Hakoto pursues AL out some sort of kindergarten height complex she’s suffering from. Tamayo and Kotaro get a little romance side plot, which is nice since until that point it seems their entire lives revolve around Misaki’s AL tournament. Hakoto on the other hand gets no such side plot and is forced to live her life as Misaki’s sidekick.
Finally Shuko (Misaki’s mother) is one of my least favorite characters in this anime. Her appearances for the first three fourths of the show are merely teases, as she gets so close to talking to her daughter but wusses out every time. It’s infuriating that she’s supposed to be a sympathetic character, and insulting to the disabled community that they are incapable of raising children. I can understand Misaki letting her off, after all she is only 12, but I will admit I was hoping that Misaki would give her the business end of her hand for her abandonment. I was happy for Misaki at the end, because she finally got her wish to be with her mother. However, that doesn’t mean I will relent on my disdain for Shuko. She is scum, and her character story is a slap in the face to people living with disabilities and/or depression.
Visuals and Music
Being that Angelic Layer is over a decade old, it definitely shows its age in it’s animation style. There isn’t a lot to be said about the background animation, as about 75% of it takes place in the arena where AL is played. The few times when they venture outside of the arena the backgrounds are static, but vibrant in somewhat bright colors. Character designs are all fairly unique in the human characters, but where it really shines is in the Angels themselves. Each angel is styled differently, and their looks vary wildly compared to the human characters of the show. It’s just a shame that the angels didn’t talk or interact outside of fighting in AL.
Angelic Layer’s soundtrack really isn’t anything to write home about. It’s not that it’s bad by any means, but it’s not outstanding by any stretch of the imagination. The one area where the music shines is in the opening theme. The OP is very reminiscent of 90’s anime openings, and it’s probably the one reason I looked forward to watching the show. The ending theme wasn’t bad, and it did help to wind down after some of the worse episodes, but overall the OP was much better in my humble opinion. Check the OP out when you get a chance, it’s called “Be My Angel” by Enomoto Atsuko.
When all is said and done I cannot in good conciseness recommend this show. It’s full of illogical plot lines, that lead to loose ends, that get little in the way of meaningful resolution. I will admit that I am not the biggest shounen anime fan, and this might play into my distaste for this show. However, it was more the lessons presented in the subtext (mainly “pride is greater than your mental/physical well being”) that bothered me more than the genre of this anime. I can deal with some levels of shounen anime, and even enjoy some on occasion (like Fairy Tale). However, Angelic Layer’s laughably short conflict resolution, compounded by it’s mediocre character development land this show firmly on my do not watch list.
TL;DR: While it’s not the worst anime I’ve ever seen (Po-Po-Tan is still champ there), Angelic Layer isn’t far removed from the worst. Poor character development, weak conflicts, and somewhat idiotic subtext made my head hurt while reviewing this show. This was a poor showing by Studio Bones that I can’t recommend to anyone with the capacity for critical reasoning.
Recommended Audiences: Children to young teens. The fight sequences and cutesy characters might be enough to hold their attention, and if nothing else it will be a decent introduction to anime tropes if that’s what you’re going for.
Angelic Layer is stricken with anime convenient leg disease and becomes a useless 1/5 HP show.