Angelic Layer

Twelve-year-old Misaki comes to Tokyo to live with her aunt and go to school. When she arrives, she discovers the high-tech game “Angelic Layer.” A player customizes and costumes her “angel,” a doll about eight inches to a foot in height. When the angel is on an electronic table, or “layer,” the player, or “deus,” controls its movements by wearing a special headset and visualizing what she wants the doll to do. Generally, what the angels do is fight; an Angelic Layer competion is a fierce martial arts tournament. Most of the deuses are girls, but there are a few boys.
Before she ever arrives at her aunt’s home, Misaki, advised by a strange man in a lab coat who calls himself “Icchan,” spends her New Year’s money on the materials necessary to design her own Angel. She chooses to make Hikaru, her angel, small like herself, fast and agile. Unathletic Misaki turns out to have a real talent for angelic combat, and soon the “miracle rookie” is competing in the regional tournament.
Although Misaki feels awkward and unsure of herself, she is friendly and optimistic (and an excellent cook), and she quickly makes friends at school and playing Angelic Layer. However, there is something missing from her life. Misaki’s mother, Shuko, left her with her grandparents when Misaki was five, and Misaki hasn’t seen her since. Misaki knows that her mother is in Tokyo, but even though Shuko sends her money for school, she never calls, writes or visits Misaki.
Sound like a ghastly combination of Barbie and Pokemon? Actually, Angelic Layer is an excellent series, one of the best I’ve come across. I initially ordered it to see if it might be a suitable Christmas gift for my nephews and nieces, but I’m going to hang on to the set and find them something else. Everything is done well. The story is well-paced and makes good use of all twenty-six episodes. The characters are interesting, and the major ones are three-dimensional. Most of them grow in the course of the story. The angelic battles are varied and suspenseful, and they become progressively more exciting as Misaki becomes more skillful and meets stronger opponents. Nevertheless, the fighting always remains subordinate to Misaki’s story.
The production is of high quality. The characters are attractively drawn and the animation is smooth. There’s little super-deformed nonsense. The actress who voices Misaki sounds too young, particularly in the second half of the series, but otherwise the Japanese voice actors perform well. The background music is melodious and often charming, and the closing theme from the first half of the series, “The Starry Sky,” is hummable.
I do have a few reservations. Some of the physics is unconvincing, even in an anime context. There’s a surprise in the last episode that was not adequately prepared for, wonderful though it is (spoiler warning: try not to look at the pictures on the backs of the DVD cases if you can help it). I also have problems with Misaki’s friend and mentor, Hatoko. She is suppposed to be a five-year-old, albeit a prodigy, but I just can’t believe it; no kindergartener is that mature and wise. She’s a twenty-five-year-old dwarf.
I’m also a bit puzzled by the world of Angelic Layer. The players control their angels with mental imagery. This is stupendous technology: machines controlled by thought. Think of the possible applications…. Yet in Misaki’s Tokyo, its only use is for battle dolls.
A more serious problem is the way “Icchan” is presented. It soon becomes clear that his intentions are benign, if complicated, but if I saw a man behaving the way he does with Misaki in the first few episodes, I’d call the police. If your children watch the series, be sure to caution them not to volunteer their names and ages to strangers in lab coats.
There’s a little bit that’s off-color in the first few episodes. It’s slight, but parents might want to preview the first episode or two before letting their children watch. I’m also not quite happy with the quasi-religious terminology of the game and the titles of the individual DVD’s: “Divine Inspiration,” “Idol Worship,” etc. It’s possible that some people might find the angelic battles too violent; this is another reason why parents might want to preview the first few episodes.
These are minor complaints, though. Overall, Angelic Layer‘s virtues greatly outweigh its flaws.