Title: Angelic Layer aka Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 1 Apr 2001 - 30 Sep 2001
Synopsis: After moving from Wakayama to her aunt’s residence in Tokyo, Suzuhara Misaki discovers a highly popular game named “Angelic Layer” where players control robot dolls called “Angels” and send them to battle one another in arenas called “layers”. Creating her own Angel named Hikaru, she quickly finds out that she is probably one of the most talented players ever. Little does she know that there is much more to “Angelic Layer” than just a game… and that her own mother whom she sorely misses is part of the mystery behind it…
Choreography: Great combat choreography.
Setting: Authentic and believable.
Plot: Prefers drama over logic in crucial places.
Ending: Too predictable.
When I saw the first episodes of Angelic Layer, my initial reaction was “My God, it’s Pokédoll.” The whole concept of players controlling small cute creatures in “gladiator battles” seemed so similar to Pokémon to me that I had almost stopped watching it early on. What kept me going were the beautifully done combat scenes, which had fantastic editing and animation, both combining to make the fights memorable. And so I decided to give the series a little more time.
I wasn’t disappointed when, during the second third of the series, the plot suddenly became more interesting as more and more details about the origins of the “Angelic Layer” game were revealed. All of a sudden, what seemed like your stereotypical “pocket gladiator” series became something deeper. Rarely have I seen such a well thought-out plot twist like the one about the meaning behind that game–it gave credibility to the entire backstory.
Unfortunately, what seemed to be a solid plot was seriously weakened by logical flaws in the progression of the story, which were obviously meant to increase the drama but mostly confused me about the seriousness of a huge commerical game like “Angelic Layer”. Rather often, for instance, Misaki’s opponents would possess Angels superior to her little Hikaru, with abilities like ranged attacks, mystical energy shields, flight or even “berserker run” options while Hikaru was limited to classical martial arts. In a game that apparently attracts millions of fans, why would you allow such blatant mismatches? It’s like boxing without the weight classes–who’d want to see a welterweight having to take on a heavyweight?
There is also a huge plot hole when Misaki qualifies for the national championship by winning a regional tournament. In that championship, the winners of all regional tournaments fight for the national title… yet a player who was defeated in the regional tournament is back in the national championship. If only tournament winners qualify, how did that opponent get her place? It is never explained and obviously only for the drama of including the other player into the story a second time. Another detail of Angelic Layer that is also annoying is the relationship between Misaki and her mother. Early in the series, Misaki is shown to dearly miss her mother, and her mother also hopes to see her daughter again, yet she refrains from contacting her because of personal reasons. As the plot progresses, there are too many situations where Misaki’s mother decides to approach her but pulls back at the last moment, and after this has happened for the third time, the consecutive situations make you yawn because you know they won’t be meeting.
Even the great orchestral music can’t save Angelic Layer from sinking deeper and deeper into mediocrity - it certainly doesn’t help that the ending of the story proceeds exactly as one suspects from the first time Misaki tries “Angelic Layer”. That’s not to say the series isn’t entertaining - it’s just not suspenseful, and any attempts at building suspense are thwarted by the high degree of predictability.
CLAMP fans will probably not be disappointed with Angelic Layer. High-quality animation and choreography provide for quite some eye candy, and the main plot twist is well thought-out. However, it’s difficult to overlook the gaping plot holes and the predictable outcome that seem to accompany CLAMP in every of their anime projects. If you’re not a fan, you’re probably going to have to lower your standards a little to enjoy Angelic Layer.
The Rating: 6
Reviewed by: Taleweaver