Suzuhara Misaki has just moved to Tokyo from Wakayama Prefecture to attend junior high school. As she is leaving the train station, she sees a fight being broadcast on a large public screen between two women. A strange man in a lab coat explains to her that the two "women" aren't actually human at all, but small dolls being controlled by human players in a game called "Angelic Layer". Enthralled by the game, Misaki buys her own doll, called an "Angel", and begins to learn how to play. Through Angelic Layer, she meets many interesting people and makes several new friends, but does she have the skill to become strong enough to face her idol, Shuu, and her Angel, Athena? Will she finally get to meet her mother again after so many years apart? What *is* Angelic Layer anyway?
This is one of CLAMP's very best. For starters, no one dies! The angst level and/or general fluff content is kept to a reasonable minimum, and story is all at once exciting, funny, and touching.
Some of the T.H.E.M. members who have seen this refer to it as "Rock'em Sock'em Barbie Dolls", which for all its sarcastic intent, isn't really too far from the truth. The central story revolves around the young girls (and boys) who play Angelic Layer, which is something of a cross between Dress-up Sally and Battlebots. The kids buy pre-made robot dolls called "angels" and customize and dress them to their tastes...then beat each others' dolls up with them by way of a magnetic table (called the "Layer") and an advanced control system that reads the user's thoughts to give the angel commands. Most of the action in the show focuses around these bouts on the Layer and the different techniques the players use to defeat their opponents.
Comic relief from the somewhat serious sport of Angelic Layer is provided by Icchan and his assistant Ogata, who torment each other with their psychotic "Punishment Game" whenever one of them screws something up (admittedly, poor Ogata gets the short end of the stick most often in this regard). Situational comedy abounds, from Tamayo's slapstick relationship with her childhood sweetheart, Koutarou, to the kindergartener Hatoko's precocious comments about her older brother's love life. And finally, some of the characters are just plain goofy (like Ringo, the idol singer who plays Angelic Layer).
The artwork is colorful and the character designs, while typically CLAMPish, are very well done. Especially fun are the different Angels themselves, who, since they are created and controlled directly by their "Deus" (The term used for a person who moves the angel), are nearly perfect reflections of their players' personalities (Hatoko is going to be a scary woman when she grows up). Little personality quirks (such as Misaki's nervous habit of saying "Naa" whenever she's surprised by something, or Icchan's spastic usage of the Osaka dialect) make the characters even more memorable and enjoyable to watch.
But what really pulls Angelic Layer together and makes it so great is the story of the game itself. Angelic Layer is not just the game that the children play, nor is it just about mecha and fighting and slapstick gags. It's a story of friendship, and how through their common interest, even very different people can be friends. It's about courage and love and all the other things that make films about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity so enjoyable to watch. Angelic Layer is a must see for any serious anime fan, no matter what genre you may prefer. Highly recommended.
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: digital source
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Angelic Layer © 2001 CLAMP / avex mode / TV Tokyo
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