While arriving at a train station in Tokyo from Wakayama, 12-year old Misaki Suzuhara catches a glimpse of people, who are actually remote-control dolls, in fierce battle. Amazed at how the white angel on the huge screen fights with such grace against a much larger opponent (and through the prompting of some weird lab technician), she eventually decides to go and buy a doll of her own in hope that she may one day participate in the games and even play the white angel that gave her a dream.
This wildly popular fighting game is known as Angelic Layer.
In Japan, toy companies sometimes take it upon themselves to take a product line of theirs and have an anime that incorporates it into the show as a means to market it better. The usual formula is to turn aforementioned toy into a cultural phenomenon in the context of the show and fuse it with the shounen sports genre as a basis for the entire plot to revolve around assuming it's a toy that can be used for competition between people that purchase it. They also mask the larger corporate agenda by having the games seem as sponsor free as possible, but I digress.
Angelic Layer is quite different from all that in a sense that it appeals to a different audience rather than the crowd you would normally sell your Happy Meals™ to, and as opposed to selling you on a toy that doesn't really exist, it sells you on the actual show instead. But then, we all know how truly corporate the world of anime is of course, but that's beside the point.
The show is mainly focused on the excerpts of a young (and very cute) female country bumpkin known as Misaki Suzuhara as she grows up, meets interesting people and works her way through the competitive world of Angelic Layer; a game that pits two dolls known as "angels" against each other inside a playing field known as a "layer".
Like most shounen sports shows, the logic of competing found here is quite debatable considering the very nature of professional competition. While both have an emphasis on continuous improvement, they still contradict each other to some extent.
Apparently, the pros in Angelic Layer find it best to trust solely in your angel's abilities, limited as they are, and in yourself in order to win (to the extent where you don't become full of it of course); the physical components and how they balance out with the competition are considered secondary to that fact since you actually work through them.
In a real-world sport like boxing, while a certain degree of confidence is needed, sheer faith is actually discouraged since it's primarily best to focus on knowing your limitations and how to work around them (such as draining the time and winning by points when strength isn't your key attribute). Such a thing, though, is looked down upon by the pros in Angelic Layer as it shows that you do not fully believe in the bond between that of deus and angel.
Unrealistic as it is, this disagreement with the "fight to win" logic works towards what is the very essence of Angelic Layer's philosophy and message in that Angelic Layer can be played by anyone and they can shine brilliantly at it regardless of physical limitations like age or height; this is all cleverly correlated by the contrasting qualities of the angels themselves. In the end, you really just need the right amount of heart, ambition, and enjoyment in order to succeed.
Talking about the angels, it occurs to me at one point that they can pretty much be considered the basis of chauvinistic intent in the show. I mean, you can say that they are somewhat representative of a deus's certain physical/personal qualities or even prevalent of a theme of empowerment, but then, why have one dressed like a belly dancer? Or even a dominatrix? I'm also fairly sure that I came across one dressed up as a nurse as well.
Do some of the girls in the show simply want to flaunt it? Or do they unconsciously aspire to eventually become portrayed in these very stereotypical women roles?
In fact, why are the vast majority of the angels all female?
Regardless, when you put these little questionable issues of possible male audience marketing aside, you walk away with a solid show in terms of production and style (as brought to you by CLAMP and Studio BONES).
In its totality, Angelic Layer isn't profoundly different from that of its roots in the shounen sports genre. The very goal of shounen sports shows is to demonstrate great feats of sportsmanship, friendship and ultimately see really sweaty men weep passionate tears after a brilliantly played game. And on the other side of the spectrum, the “off-the-court” action, you get insight on what inspires the characters to enthusiastically play the game and even how they use it as a means to resolve past or current social/family/emotional conflicts or otherwise.
The best thing is that you get all of that here and more, sans the excessive sweat and manliness and perhaps even a lot less angst.
In the end, Angelic Layer’s competent selection of the good points from other shows of its kind and adding its own little twist on things is probably what explains the appeal to a different audience and makes it much more enjoyable than the average toy marketing scheme. Simply put, it's jam-packed full of good fun, cute characters and interesting development that's really easy to get into since there's more than enough compelling substance outside of the flashy fight-scenes to carry the show a full 26 episodes.
While it doesn’t contemplate the existence of a soul inside of the angels or anything thought provoking like that, I'm fairly sure that doesn’t detract from the already excellent experience.
Oh yeah, and Jessica Boone is totally adorable as Misaki.
Deduct two stars if you prefer passionate men in your sports anime or if you think that the idea of using toys for professional competition is generally just a stupid concept (although, this series might change your mind). — Dominic Laeno
Recommended Audience: No blood, no sex, no swearing. There is a certain level of violence, but it is contained to the Layer. This is a good series for family viewing, as it should prove equally entertaining for younger children and teens and even adults.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Angelic Layer © 2001 CLAMP / avex mode / TV Tokyo
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