Angelic Layer

Angelic LayerType: TV Series
Episode Count: 26
Genre: Tournament / Drama / Sci-Fi
Vintage: 2001

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 17 Mar 2006

Grade: A+

CLAMP does it again… this time with the tournament genre.

Plot Summary
Twelve year old Misaki Suzuhara has come to Tokyo to start middle school and be closer to her mother, who has been living and working in Tokyo since Misaki was very small. As Misaki steps out of the train station upon arriving in Tokyo, she is immediately mesmerized by a battle on a giant television screen on the building across the street. Two people seem to be fighting, and the smaller one is winning. Misaki finds out that this battle is a game called ‘Angelic Layer’ and anyone can take part in it. Misaki, being small herself, is inspired by what she has seen and decides that she wants to learn how to play.

The Review
First things first. Of the CLAMP shows I have seen so far, Angelic Layer is my favorite. Only Cardcaptor Sakura rivals it, and that’s mostly due to its being nearly three times as long, which lets it get incredibly deep. But that’s another review!

Angelic Layer excels in many ways, not the least of which is that while it’s a tournament show (on the surface anyway, more on that shortly), unlike nearly every other tournament show in existence, the game being played does not exist in real life! No Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards, or Beyblade tops ‘available-at-your-local-comic-and-game-shop!’ here folks! The game of Angelic Layer exists purely in the realm of fantasy, which means one thing… it is not a glorified commercial for toys or cards (actual show marketing notwithstanding). This very important element is what allows the show to go beyond being a mere tournament where you root for the hero to win and nothing more. You see, Angelic Layer is in fact the story of a girl growing up and learning to be more confident in herself, and how the people she meets while playing the game affect her, and how she affects others. Telling the most important part of the story would be revealing too much, so you’ll just have to watch the series for that.

The game of Angelic Layer itself is very interesting. First, you buy what’s called an Angel Egg. This contains a blank Angel, which is a doll that can be programmed in any way. Some like to emphasize speed, others strength, and even the size and weight of an Angel is decided by its owner, who in the game is called the Deus. By itself, the Angel is just a doll; it can’t move on its own. This is where the Layer comes in. The Layer is the stage on which the game is played. Each Deus throws their Angel onto the Layer, and with the helmets worn by the players, the Angels are controlled by the thoughts of their Deuses. Games are 10 minutes long, and the winner is the one who puts their opponent’s status bar to zero, or knocks their opponent out of the Layer, called a Layer Out, whichever comes first.

Now, the Angelic Layer game itself is indeed captivating, and the way the game plays out on screen provides plenty of action to watch, but when you realize that it’s primarily the vehicle for a character drama, that makes it even better. This is CLAMP, after all. Misaki is probably the tiniest 12 year old I’ve ever watched in an animated show, and this is what provides her motiviation during the show and in the game of Angelic Layer. She is out to prove that age and height don’t matter when it comes to the game. The friends and opponents Misaki meets while playing help her to understand why she’s decided to play Angelic Layer, what motivates others, and how that knowledge can help all parties involved become better people.

CLAMP has a field day with crossovers in this series, mostly on the part of the Angels. Hikaru is based on a character from Magic Knight Rayearth (guess who), Shirahime comes from, you guessed it, Shirahime-Syo. Misaki goes to Eriol (CCS anyone?) Middle School, and the CLAMP favorite shop Piffle Princess is here too. Undoubtedly there are some more I haven’t been able to catch yet. I noted a possible Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland sighting, but I’m not sure, since I do not yet have everything of CLAMP’s.

As you can tell, Angelic Layer is near the top of my list of favorites, so it comes with no surprise that I highly recommend it.

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