Tuesday, January 16, 2018

REVIEW: Angelic Layer: Complete Collection (anime TV series)

Angelic Layer is a battle/science fiction series based on CLAMP's manga of the same title. From the little I've read of the manga, I'm guessing the anime isn't an exact adaptation. The anime is licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

This review includes major spoilers.

Review:

Twelve-year-old Misaki Suzuhara moves from the countryside to Tokyo to live with her aunt. It's a bit of a culture shock, but not long after arriving she discovers a new obsession: Angelic Layer. With the help of a mysterious man in a lab coat, she selects her first Angel, a doll that, with practice, can move around on a special Layer using only the player's thoughts. Misaki customizes her Angel that very night, and names her Hikaru.

It's not long before Misaki is participating in her first practice battles, and in a shockingly short amount of time she's registered for an official tournament. Her goal, although she isn't sure whether she can accomplish it, is to battle Athena, the small-but-powerful Angel that inspired her to try Angelic Layer in the first place.

If you've been reading my reviews for a while, you might know that this isn't the first time I've reviewed this series. I actually wrote a review several years ago. Unfortunately, an overzealous DMCA takedown bot got it taken down and I never got Google's permission to put it back up again, so it's been sitting in my drafts ever since. Ah well, I'm not really a fan of my early reviewing style anyway.

I picked this up because it was massively discounted and because I remembered mostly enjoying it. I knew it had issues but couldn't really recall what they were. As a matter of fact, I'd forgotten a huge chunk of what happened in the series.

Angelic Layer has a lot going for it: intense battles, rivalries that are either healthy and friendly or evolve to become that way, a cool toy that I wish existed (although it would be astronomically expensive if it did), humor, and lots of enjoyable characters. It's one of those series that's really good-hearted at its core, and I flew through much of the beginning.

The series' problems became clearer later on. Although most of the characters got some kind of emotional backstory, there were so many characters that their stories felt a bit shallow. I also disliked the attempts to shoehorn romance into the series. Misaki was 12 years old and, for the most part, seemed far more interested in Angelic Layer than she was in going on dates. Kotaro's clear interest in her made me wince, and Ohjiro's eventual confession of love felt really weird, especially considering that he was several years older than her and had recently confessed to having a years long crush on her mother. Seriously, who'd have thought that cool and calm Ohjiro, the Prince of Angelic Layer, would be one of the series' most emotionally messed up characters?

It would have been nice if the Angels could have been like mini Persocoms from CLAMP's Chobits, with personalities and feelings. It was disappointing that they were little more than high tech dolls, unable to do anything unless they were on a Layer. The way their players used them made a few of them feel like they had personalities, but it wasn't enough for me.

The thing that really dragged this series down, however, was Misaki's mom, Shuko. Viewers learned a bit about her early on. She left Misaki with Misaki's grandparents 7 years ago. Since that time, she never once called or wrote Misaki, and all Misaki knew was that her mother was busy working in Tokyo. It was an obviously fake excuse, and even Misaki probably knew that, although she didn't want to think through the implications.

Later in the series, viewers learned that Shuko was really the player behind Athena. Icchan was a researcher trying to help her with the medical condition that took away her ability to walk, a medical condition that Misaki was never told about. Icchan's research eventually turned to mind-operated prosthetics, which led to Angelic Layer as a way to raise money and provide him with more data. Shuko just sort of got bound up in the world of Angelic Layer and, whoops, suddenly 7 years had gone by. She had multiple opportunities to meet up with her daughter after seeing that she'd begun playing Angelic Layer, but she backed out each and every time until it was finally too late.

She cried as she tried to explain all of this to Misaki, and for some reason Misaki forgave her. The series gave viewers one last glimpse of the two of them: Shuko walking with the aid of Icchan's technology and Misaki happily beside her. All I could think was that this was garbage. Misaki had been abandoned by her mother for more than half of her life - it should have taken more than a brief confession and some crying for everything to be okay. A lot of people would have lifelong trust issues after what Misaki went through.

All in all, this series had some good moments, but it would have benefited from fewer tournament battles and more attention paid to dealing with the series' damaged mother-daughter relationship. An episode or two focused on how to start healing after something like that couldn't have hurt.

Additional Comments:

While I enjoyed the large variety of Angel character designs, I noticed lots of reused animations. At one point, I also caught a significant error in the animation. Hikaru had been drawn for a full-screen shot, with one of her dangling cable things curving slightly off screen. A zoomed out version of this shot showed the exact same drawing of Hikaru, with that curve of her cable thing literally missing.

Extras:
  • English Commentaries - I don't think I listened to all of these, and I forgot to write down who was involved in all of them. I know Jessica Boone (Misaki) was in the first one (she accidentally included a spoiler at the end of her commentary - viewers wouldn't have known that detail until after watching the next disc). I think Andy McAvin (Icchan), Chris Patton (Ohjiro), Sasha Paysinger (Hatoko), and Monica Rial (Tamayo) were in some of them as well, but I might be mistaken.
  • Production Artwork
  • Clean Opening Animation
  • Clean Closing Animation

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