It’s time for a classic battle series that may not be the most popular series that Clamp has done, but it makes a solid argument for being their best. The series is only 5 volumes, but it’s essentially comprised of nonstop fights. That’s a winning formula if I ever heard of one and it comes close to 9 star territory, but it does stumble a little along the way to victory.
Misaki is the main character of the series and she grew up in a world that has become engrossed in a new game called Angelic Layer. Essentially, it’s like the Bionicle Meta game in real life, but with a bit more intensity. You buy a doll and then you customize her to be a speed, power, or defense fighter. After that, you can buy her equipment and accessories so that she can be a distinct fighter. Now that you’ve completed all of the steps, you’re ready to enter the tournaments! Misaki witnesses an incredible battle between the angels on TV and decides to enter one with her new doll. What’s the harm right? Maybe she’ll actually end up being the world champ by the time this is all over!
You can argue that Misaki’s road to the top is a little more lonely than the average main character. The reason being that she does have two friends who are main supporting characters, but they don’t play Angelic Layer. Most leads get to spar with their friends, but that isn’t the case for Misaki. I don’t mind the fact that the friends can’t fight though because they just aren’t very good characters. One of the friends is Tamayo and she’s definitely very annoying. She’s constantly beating up Misaki’s other friend and talking about romance when there is no need for it. Her over the top theatrics are not amusing and I would be able to take her a little more seriously if she could actually fight. She actually involves the one big negative for the series so we may as well get it over with as soon as possible.
It’s a running gag that Misaki’s undergarments are mentioned when Tamayo or Ohjiro is around. It’s completely unnecessary and definitely not a good way to throw in some comedy scenes. It’s safe to say that this prevented the series from getting 9 stars. It’s not bad compared to most other series since you never actually see anything, (There is basically no fanservice in the series, which is pretty exceptional) but it’s still not something that you want to see in a series. It just helps to make Tamayo even more unlikable than she already is and it also stops Ohjiro from being a good character.
Kotaro is the other main character and he’s much better than Tamayo. He’s pretty generic and he’s certainly not one of the best characters out there, but he tries hard to be cool. He knows how to fight in the real world and it comes in handy at the very end of the series, but he really needs to learn how to fight in Angelic Layer. He spends the series just getting beaten up on so this doesn’t do wonders for his character either.
Misaki is a pretty decent main character. She always fights to the end while never giving up. Misaki’s instincts for battle are typically spot on and she can decipher the weak point of any opponent that she faces. On the other hand, she can certainly be a little on the generic side and she gets flustered way too often. Misaki isn’t going to be the next Ichigo or Kirito, but I’ll accept her as a decent enough lead to hold the series up. If she was a little more hot headed with some trash talking to back it up, I think that I would probably like her a little more. As it stands, she’s pretty polite and she keeps everyone in the friend zone so I can admire that. Misaki’s other trait that can get to you is that she’s way too gullible. The scientist tries to help her get through this, but it’s a difficult task.
Icchan is the scientist in question and he’s definitely all over the place. He likes to make remarks that don’t make sense and he’s constantly ditching his job to help Misaki. He definitely plays favorites throughout the tournament, but it all comes down to Misaki’s cheerful demeanor. All of her opponents end up rooting for the main character after they lose because Misaki doesn’t want to win for the money, she wants to win for the love of the game. Icchan gives her the angel and he also helps Misaki customize her during the earlier stages of the manga. He’s definitely a decent character, but his almost literally all talk as he never actually fights even though he knows so much about the game. Ah well, he’s definitely a nice guy and he knows that ice cream is one of the best desserts.
Hikaru is Misaki’s angel and she’s one of the strongest fighters in the series. She is a speed fighter so she relies on a lot of quick hits and sudden moves to knock the opponents out of the stage. It’s good that she can do this since she usually starts the battle on the losing end. Her health goes into the red zone before she counters and typically she wins with a one hit KO or some quick attacks. She’s definitely a great angel and one who will certainly remind you of Megaman. She may not have a lot of flashy techniques at her disposal, but she gets the job done. She’s definitely the most likable angel in the tournament.
Hatoko is one of Misaki’s friends and her angel is named Suzuka. Hatoko seems to have a pretty good reputation as a very good Angelic Layer fighter and many thought that she would ultimately win the big tournament. Her angel is a powerful defense fighter so she is able to repel just about any blow with ease. Suzuka’s design is definitely pretty good and she shows that defense types can still match up against speed fighters when necessary. Her final fight in the series isn’t very satisfying since she loses in a single blow, but Hatoko made it pretty far. She’s definitely the best friend from Misaki’s supporting cast and Suzuka is probably the third best angel.
Ohjiro and his angel, The Wizard, are not some of the best characters here. The Wizard is actually a pretty good angel and he’s another defense type. He can block an opponent’s attack by reflecting their energy and making a barrier. He is said to have never been hit by an opponent before so his opponents have a lot of explaining to do. Naturally, it’s up to Hikaru to give him a pretty good fight and prove that speed really does trump everything else. The Wizard looks a lot like Syaoran or Fai from Tsubasa, which is cool since Clamp loves borrowing characters and designs from their other series. The Wizard is pretty likable even if he seems to be pretty weak once you get past his barrier. On the other hand, Ohjiro is definitely not cool. He talks a lot from the shadows about how cool he is and on Hikaru’s potential, but it never goes anywhere. Once he starts to make random comments about under garments that have no relevance to the plot, he immediately lost any chance that he may have had on being a likable character. Sometimes, that’s all that it takes to make a character plummet down the ranks.
Shuko and her angel, Athena, are known as the strongest fighters in Angelic Layer. After Hikaru wins the tournament, they have a quick clash. Athena is technically a speed type, but she’s also one of the strongest fighters in the series. I was pretty glad to see that after all of the defense and speed fighters that were featured throughout the tournament, it was a good change of pace. I did think that Hikaru was probably doomed though since attack power is probably the most important factor in a match like this. Not to mention that Athena still has enough speed to match Hikaru’s. Athena also comes equipped with a giant energy blast that really tips the scales in her favor. Athena is probably the second best angel in the series. It’s too bad that I can’t say the same for Shuko. Shuko has a pretty big twist that is pretty obvious once you see her, but I guess I’ll refrain from saying it just in case. It explains why she isn’t very likable, but it’s still pretty overdone. Shuko is incredibly shy so that she’s constantly blushing in just about every scene and she can barely talk to someone without looking away. She gets tricked at the end into finally seeing the main characters again and maybe this will help her as a character, but we never really get to see this.
Arisu and her angel Alice are the final fighters to face Hikaru in the tournament. It’s actually pretty anticlimactic since I would argue that Alice is much weaker than all of the other opponents that Hikaru faced. (Not counting one shot characters) Alice doesn’t really have any gimmicks and her special trait is that she has great balance. That’s nice and all, but it seriously doesn’t help in most battles. She just gets lucky because the stage is an ice rink so Hikaru’s balance is off for the whole fight. She quickly figures out a way around this though so Alice was doomed. Alice is all right, but she’s not one of the better angels. You could really say the same about Arisu. Arisu just doesn’t have a whole lot of character and she’s simply not that likable. I think that the Wizard probably should have been the final boss.
Sai and her angel, Shirahime, are pretty similar to Hatoko and Suzuka. Sai fights with complete seriousness and poise as she faces her opponents. Shirahime is also a defense type of Angel and her stats are almost identical to Suzuka’s. Their match was extremely close and she puts up a very good fight against Haruka. Once she sheds her protective gear, Shirahime is able to move at speeds similar to a speed type’s, but then she must lose her defensive edge. It’s a gamble, but one that I would definitely make since defense usually doesn’t trump a good speed character. Sai seems to be a little full of herself, but she is a good fighter and I like Shirahime. This is another fearsome pair who could have defeated most of the other opponents in the series.
There are a few other characters like a wind doll and one who could use Hyper Mode, but you get the jist of the series. It’s basically one battle after the next and the fast pace is one of the reasons why the series is so fun. It’s like a good ole Megaman manga and it never gets dull. The action scenes look very impressive and I have to say that it’ll be tough to adapt in animation. They’ll probably tone down the speed feats so that it’s lower tier, but maybe they’ll be able to do a good job.
Clamp just outdid themselves with the action this time. The fight scenes are similar to Megaman NT Warrior and DBZ. The constant hand to hand combos mixed in with the occasional special technique just makes the battles so exciting. The art for them is excellent and I can see why Clamp has such a good reputation. It may not be as impressive for the normal scenes, but they still look good. There’s a rough edge to it that will remind you of their other titles, but you can always clearly see what is happening. I’m not a huge fan of their art gags like the characters turning into octopuses all the time, but they’re not bad either. If they could just tone it down with the blushing, it would be even better.
Angelic Layer is just a very fun series to read. It’s pretty light natured and you could almost picture it in the real world. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’ll finally have virtual reality games like this one within the next 50-60 years. I may be too old to really enjoy them by then, but it would be pretty awesome to have a realistic simulator like this. It would probably be a bit more complex here and I doubt that a newcomer would become the world champ after a day of practice, but we can let that slide since Misaki may be the chosen one. She has a better battle record than most main characters since she wins just about every battle that she enters. The final battle may be unsatisfying to a lot of people, but you can argue that Hikaru was still battle fatigued. The actual ending to the series is better than most of the other manga titles that have ended and there is certainly lots of room for a direct sequel (So Chobits doesn’t count) if Clamp really wants too someday. That would definitely be exciting.
How does it compare to other toyetic franchises? Well, it definitely loses to Megaman and the Yugioh franchise is too massive to lose here. Aside from that, I dare say that it takes down Bakugan, Beyblade, and most of the rest. It loses to Cardfight Vanguard as well, but it puts up a brave fight. Power level wise, it’s probably above all of them and only Yugioh/Megaman could hope to stand up to them. Angelic Layer’s biggest advantage over most series is just how absurdly fast the angels are. Catching up to them is nearly impossible and their attacks have lethal amounts of power behind them.
Overall, Angelic Layer may only be 5 volumes, but it’s a great series to check out. This is definitely Clamp’s best work as it even takes out Tsubasa. It’ll be hard for them to top it, but it’s always possible. The nonstop action can rival any series since the fights are so good. In terms of speed, you could probably pit the angels against just anyone short of Goku and they could probably hold their own. Most of the characters are pretty likable and the art is solid. If not for the lines of the two annoying characters, this could easily be top 5 material. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this title if you like action and it could end up being one of your favorite titles.