I read the Angelic Layer manga a long time ago. It was really fun with its constant action and was something that I didn’t really expect Clamp to do. The action scenes hold up as some of the best drawn ones out there. The only thing holding it back was some of the annoying characters who had a running gag of trying to embarrass the main character. The anime did a good job of fixing that although it came at the expense of the fight scenes. They’re still around, but the characters have been nerfed. It’s definitely a trade off I can live with and the anime definitely ended up being a great title.
Misaki has always lived a cheerful life with her grandparents as she went through school and made some friends. That being said, she’s always wanted to see her Mom again after being separated across the country. The Mom is busy with her work so she’s never had time to visit or write or phone so Misaki figures that going to Tokyo could solve this. Once she arrives, she sees an Angelic Layer battle being presented on a TV screen. It is essentially a sport where you fight using telepathically controlled mini robots called Angels. A mysterious man named Icchan helps her pick one out and get introduced to the sport. Along the way she makes a few friends like Kotaro, Tamayo, and Hatoko. Can Misaki make it all the way to the world championships and take the crown? If she does, then maybe she can work up the courage to find her mother, but perhaps she won’t have to look very far.
Right away you can tell that the show has aged well. The visuals are nice and crisp with all of the characters and backgrounds looking sharp. This is great for the fight scenes since they are pretty fluid and you can get into the show immediately. The directing and writing are just on point as some shows take a few episodes to get going, but this one catches fire immediately. The soundtrack is also quite good. The opening is fun and iconic and the ending is excellent. It’s a very emotional yet hype theme that plays during the final 30-40 seconds of each episode. It is especially powerful in episode 13 with the DBZ esque cliffhanger but works well in all of them. Sadly they change the ending for the second half of the show. It’s not a bad ending, but it’s a lot happier so it no longer works well with the cliffhangers. The rest of the soundtrack is also pretty good with some nice battle themes in there. One of them even sounds a whole lot like a Toonami promo theme from back in the day. It’s pretty nostalgic. A minor detail that is also fun to notice is how each tournament stage gets grander and grander. The National Tournament stage is easily the most prestigious one of all and the show did a good job of making them all different.
As I mentioned earlier, the fights are a little different than in the manga. Instead of the more intense blows like DBZ where characters are smashing each other into the ground with enormous force, they’re played out more like if they are dolls or angels. They attack but not with enough force to make you think the stadium is going to fall over and that’s because the show acts a little more like a Shojo the whole time. I’d prefer the manga fights, but these are still good as well. You just don’t want to compare them all that much. The actual hand to hand is still really good and we do get one really intense battle with a lot of craters in episode 13. The Champion’s angel also has a very impressive showing during her first round as she moves so fast that she can dodge while appearing to be in the same place. That may have been a little too exaggerated since she was nerfed heavily after that, but it’s how it has to be I suppose.
There is a little more romance in the show than the manga. I suppose that’s to be expected and at one point the show has quite a few people trying to get in on the action. Person A likes B, but B likes C, C likes E, D likes A. We even get a whole episode for this which of course takes place at the beach. One good thing about this being a Shojo is that the beach isn’t used for fanservice which is great. The show completely dodges that speedbump which is awesome. Many titles struggle there, but not this one. As far as romances go, it’s not all that bad either. Tsubasa was still the best in this area, but at least it’s not too drawn out. Take that episode away and the rest of the series barely messes with that. I think there were only 2 episodes total which focused on it.
Another area where the series excels is its pacing. It never drags on and there are fights in virtually every single episode. It’s always nice to see and while I doubt any title has a big fight in all of its episodes (Probably some exception somewhere) this one came close. The birthday celebration episode didn’t have a fight, but it had a cool hammer and plate minigame that was fun because I remember it from another show, but can’t recall where. It seems like a pretty fun game where you definitely need solid reflexes.
Misaki is a great character and someone that most other leads can learn from. She’s a very happy character who is always trying to make the best of things. She enters every battle with a smile and doesn’t hold grudges against any of the bullies. She simply wins them over to her side and keeps on going. Misaki tries not to let other characters worry either and keeps everything to herself. Of course, that ultimately puts more of a strain on her, but she is definitely a noble character through and through. Unfortunately because of her happy nature, she is also highly susceptible to mind games from her opponents and is a little too trusting. I suppose these traits were bound to occur though and it’s still a good thing that she is such an optimistic person. I believe that I liked her a lot in the manga as well, but the anime did an even better job of developing her character. She’s easily one of the most heroic ones I’ve seen.
Her Angel Hikaru makes for a perfect partner. Her design is on point and the fact that she is a speed model with solid attacks is an added bonus. She even reminds me of Megaman.exe because of the chest emblem she has. I’d swear that it’s practically the same. Hikaru is also so strong that the show constantly has to write excuses to have the opponents even stand a chance against her. Misaki only has 2-3 fair fights during the whole series as in just about every bout Misaki is either distracted or the opponent is cheating to the main character doesn’t just steamroll the opponent. It’s definitely a good change of pace and I rather like main characters who are pros as opposed to just barely winning each time. It can be annoying as these gimmicks keep almost stopping Misaki, but she always gets through.
Icchan is one of the main supporting characters. He’s the head scientist involved with creating Angelic Layer, but he makes sure not to tell Misaki this. He discreetly helps her from the shadows as she progresses in the game and knows more than he lets on. The character has been improved from the manga although he still acts a little iffy near the beginning. He’s a decent character I suppose although his mean pranks can go way too far at some points. It’s always hard to know what to think of him, but at the very least he is a charismatic boss.
Hatoko is Misaki’s first rival and one of the stronger characters in the series. She is sort of like the Chaud and Protoman of the series as she defeats her opponents in an instant and is known as one of the best players in the league. Her Angel is another speed type who is also very powerful. Her fight with Misaki was definitely a lot of fun and it’s just a shame that she didn’t really get to do anything for the second half of the series. Her fight against Shirahime was also very anticlimactic and disappointing. I never really like 1 hit KO matches since it’s hard to do anything epic in that time compared to a more prolonged fight. That’s why Shirahime vs Hikaru is probably the best fight of the series although Kaede’s battle with Misaki is very close. The fact that Hatoko is only around 5-8 years old makes her even more fun since she is such a little kid but can still fight it out with these professionals. She shows that age really doesn’t matter in this game as it’s all about the skills.
Kotaru is the main guy in the series, but he doesn’t have an Angel of his own so that makes things a little tricky for him. He’s Hatoko’s big brother though so that helps him stay relevant. I’m not much of a fan of his to be honest as he spends the whole show getting pushed around by just about everyone. He does get his own romance plot twice as he goes after Misaki but ultimately allows himself to fall behind to the rival and goes with the childhood friend. This felt a bit like a rebound as he was clearly losing the battle for Misaki and went from not even acknowledging Tamayo as anything other than a friend to completely getting over Misaki (Aside from a brief relapse during the fight) in the course of a day or 2. That romance was a little rushed to be honest, but we’ll roll with it.
Tamayo is definitely more likable than Kotaru. She’s a good friend who constantly roots for Misaki during the tournament and also isn’t petty. She realizes that her chances of getting Kotaru grew slimmer when Misaki joined up, but never resented her for it. Tamayo even told herself that blaming Misaki wouldn’t be fair and she stayed true to herself with that. So even if I didn’t really buy into the romance, Tamayo handled the situation as best as possible so she deserves some points for that. I’m also glad that she can fight and doesn’t take any nonsense from the bullies.
Ohjiro is one of the hype characters as he was the tournament runner up the year before the series started. His Angel Wizard is incredibly powerful because of his seemingly impervious defense. That being said, while I like Wizard, I don’t like Ohjiro. He comes off as too much of a flirt at times and it’s hard to ever know if he’s actually here to help. His prank to Misaki to build up her courage was just bizarre. The guy just rubbed me the wrong way from the start.
Aunt Shoko is a recurring character, but her role never gets that major. Since she is a reporter she is able to follow Misaki around discreetly as she keeps up with the tournament. She’s a nice character and helps support Misaki when possible. Misaki’s mother Shuko has a pretty different personality which causes the two to differ quite a bit. Shuko’s plot was vastly expanded in the anime compared to the manga and certainly made her a better character. I definitely still don’t agree with Shuko’s decisions, but at least they had a decent rationale to them and Shuko did manage to win in a pretty hype way most of the time.
Shuko basically decided to abandon Misaki because her legs were going bad and she decided not to return until they were fixed. The problem is that nothing could fix them in their current state so she kept pushing off the reunion over and over again. Eventually it got up to the point where she couldn’t work up the nerve to meet her. She suddenly decides to do it right before the finals which may not have been a good move. Honestly she probably could have handled it a lot better, but it was definitely an intense way to start the ball rolling, that’s for sure. I’m glad that the show doesn’t even try to hide the fact that she’s Misaki’s Mom from the start because the plot point just seems very clear. Even when the Angel first appears on the screen as Misaki arrives in Tokyo to find her Mom you can basically guess where this is going. The plot could possibly get a little over dramatic at times, but all in all it was a fun little subplot and while Misaki took it pretty hard I can almost guarantee that most characters would have taken it a lot worse. Misaki still handled the situation with her usual dignity and politeness even being the one to ultimately break the ice.
Sai is another one of the big rivals and became the second major threat to Misaki after she defeated Hatoko. Her ice Angel is pretty good since it is a power type but can still move with great speed. It was one of the best fights in the series because there were no gimmicks or mind games. It was simply a really good fight with both characters doing their best to adapt to the situation. Well…actually I kind of forgot about this, but there was a sand gimmick now that I think about it. Still a great fight, but once again the opponent needed an edge to stand a chance against Hikaru. Sai’s a pretty likable character as well as she stays tough and tries to win the tournament for her late sister. Her motives are definitely a lot better than half of the characters in this tournament and she always keeps up a tough exterior.
There’s also Kaede who is Sai’s friend, but a lot more morally dubious. Kaede believes in winning no matter the cost so she allows her Angel to overheat in the hopes of winning the battle. It can permanently damage her angel, but she doesn’t care as long as she wins. While this does make for a great fight, I have to say that I lost a lot of respect for her after that. Kaede’s a little too brutal and forgets that this is just a game. Misaki probably should have called her out on this a little more, but maybe the loss was enough of a message to send. Kaede’s Angel is definitely cool with its neat fighting skills and good dodging abilities. It reminded me of Rosalina quite a bit.
Ringo is a celebrity who fights Misaki early on and has some pretty good abilities. She can fire off invisible blasts of wind and is good in close quarters as well. She’s a pretty fun character to have even if she starts quite the panic during Misaki’s Birthday. The circumstances were only iffy because Misaki didn’t announce her decision in time though so I can’t blame Ringo for it. Ringo’s a fairly minor character in the series, but she appeared enough to be mentioned. There’s also a random boy named Misaki who decides to fight Misaki to prove that boys are superior, but he definitely doesn’t look too good. That was back before Misaki (the main character) could beat everyone with ease so that was his best chance and he still couldn’t take the win. The guy is comically petty to the point where he was an amusing character. You knew that he was doomed from the start though as Misaki was able to beat him while dancing. On that note, I have to say that the show knew when to pour on the disrespect. The heroes including Misaki can be absolutely brutal to their opponents at times. They don’t mean to show off, but it just ends up happening.
Madoka is another one of Misaki’s opponents who acts like a bully and resorts to cheating. It’s a shame since she seemed like a decent fighter, but this proved that she wasn’t actually all that tough. Her sister was just as bad if not worse. Misaki fought quite a few bullies or at least mean spirited characters like this. Another one complained that being tall was annoying and short people always got to have their victories. Misaki promptly beat her and then converted the bully. It’s great how Misaki turns so many lives around just by beating people in front of a national audience. Misaki has definitely made the country a better place.
Finally we have Ogata. He’s the main comic relief of the series, but I had to give him a mention because you can’t help but feel bad for the guy sometimes. I mean, he does ask for it on a few occasions as he accuses Icchan of iffy stuff and makes some big mistakes, but other times he means well and still gets into trouble. Inviting the main characters to the BBQ seems totally innocent..he didn’t realize that Misaki’s Mom would be there and that things could be tricky. The punishments can also be pretty mean like being attacked by an alien or getting tied up. He didn’t ask for this!
I suppose it should be mentioned that the ending of the show is a little cheesy. For once I wouldn’t call it rushed or anything and I was glad that the final episode was basically just one big fight, but they went overboard with trying to make it seem hopeless. Hikaru lost about 80% of her health in a flash and then got hit by a super blast. That should have finished off Hikaru and she stayed down for several minutes. Somehow her health didn’t hit 0 though…then she got hit again…and still had more health while the final boss lost. I would have been okay with that if Hikaru had activated a barrier or had a health regeneration abilitty, but it made no sense in context. She just doesn’t have that much health. Athena was just hyped to no return and it cost the writers a bit. Even in her first fight when she was moving at insane speeds, Athena lost that ability for all of her future fights. It was there for shock value, but then the writers realized that this would be too overpowered. It’s definitely something to watch out for as shows tend to bite off more than they can chew. Sai’s fight with Shuko was also cheesy, but just because neither one of them decided to fight seriously so Shuko won with ease. Isn’t that a little disrespectful to the contestants who lost to these two fighters earlier? I mean, it happens in Super Smash tournaments so it is slightly realistic, but just annoying to watch.
Overall, Angelic Layer is a great show. It’s a lot of fun right from the start. There is constant action throughout it and the pacing is always on point. The main cast is very strong and I could have easily seen this show going over 50 episodes. I definitely wouldn’t mind a sequel series someday where the characters have to fight new opponents or defend the world from evil Angels. I’d also like a sequel since Misaki is past the point of having any doubts so the villains would have to get stronger to deal with her since they can’t play with her psyche anymore. There’s a lot of potential here and a crossover with Megaman.EXE would also be fun since the two titles have so many similarities. If you haven’t seen the show yet, I’d highly recommend doing so. It’s aged phenomenally well and is probably one of the more underrated titles out there. After all, when was the last time you heard this show mentioned in any capacity?