• Titles: Battle Doll Angelic Layer; Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer
  • Genre: Drama, action, sports(?), school
  • Episodes: 26
  • Studio: BONES

Misaki Suzuhara is discovering a lot of new things. She’s in Tokyo for the first time for one. Ever since her mother left for work 6 years ago, she’s had to rely on others and now, her aunt has decided to take care of her in the exciting big city! Of course, she has to go to a new school and make all new friends. Thankfully, Misaki is a charming girl and she immediately finds a couple of best buds who are willing to stick with her and show her the ropes. Although the biggest change may be that Misaki has discovered Angelic Layer. A virtual fighting game where players control little dolls called angels with their minds and battle it out on the layer. Misaki may be small and she may be new to all of this but size and experience don’t matter on the layer. And now that she’s finally found something she’s good at, she isn’t going to quit until she makes it to the very top!

Angelic Layer is one of those shows that had a lot going for it before I even started watching. Some of you may know that I recently watched and then read all of xxxHOLiC which has awakened my inner CLAMP fangirl with a vengeance. So the simple fact that this was a CLAMP title already had me sold. Not only that though, I wrote a post a while ago about my Top 5 Sports Anime with Mostly Female Casts and the comments were full of people naming this show as their pick. So I knew going in that Angelic Layer would be nothing less than great.

sorry guys, I got tool lazy to crop all the screencaps

You have to keep in mind that this isn’t a recent series and it shows. Even the aspect ratio is old school after all. The art style is a bit outdated. It does look a lot like Cardcaptor Sakura though but it doesn’t have any of the eccentric CLAMP flares of other titles. This is not to say that angelic Layer looks bad. It was made by BONES so the animation is solid and even though the colour palette is a bit dull, the colours themselves are supersaturated which makes me wonder why so many older shows look washed out.

Unlike what I said about xxxHOLiC where I heaped on the praise for both the Japanese and English voice care, I personally did not care for the Angelic Layer dub at all. To be fair, even the Japanese version sounded stilted at times, especially Hatoko, but it was generally fine. The English version brought me back to the days of distributors paying a random guy’s niece to voice a show over an afternoon so they could send it out the next day.

Now I have to say that if it wasn’t for the fact that the characters look like they belong to the CCS universe, I wouldn’t have known that this was a CLAMP series. Then again, if my readers hadn’t called this one of their favourite Sports! anime, I wouldn’t have known that it’s a Sports! show. It really did remind me of Pokemon most.

Misaki wants to be the no. 1

The basic premise is that people, mostly girls, by these pretty dolls then train with them and have them attack each other in tournaments. Maybe because they were trying to fit specific events in the episode count or something but the series is structured to pretty much only show battles interspersed with Misaki’s family and romantic drama.

There is no real screen time at all dedicated to training or showing Misaki learn about the game. There aren’t a few multi-episode arcs having her try to figure out a new skill or move to increase her chances of winning. And because Angelic Layer is a solo activity (although Misaki does eventually get a second which is something like a coach), there is no need to dedicate time for teams to figure out how to work together and overcome their differences.

Misaki is also not the traditional underdog. This is an ultimate chosen one story. Misaki sees Angelic Layer for the first time on a TV screen then immediately goes to buy an angel before even finding out what the rules are. After that, she plays one practice game I believe, ends up in a tournament and just keeps winning until she is declared the best in the world. From what we are shown, she doesn’t really practice that much compared to all the other players, she puts in much less study time as well and she doesn’t really know any techniques.

I actually don’t know if these are people or dolls

There’s an oft-repeated phrase in the show that size and experience don’t matter in Angelic Layer. a sort of anyone from anywhere can make it! And that’s cool. A fighting show where the hero is really bad at fighting and physically weak does have a very nice appeal. The problem comes when you realize that we are never really told what does matter in Angelic Layer. If it’s not physical attributes, is it mental ones? Like I said, Misaki isn’t the most knowledgeable, she’s not dumb but she is very young and not a genius either. So is it heart? Lots of other contestants put a lot of passion and have more personal and emotional reasons to want to win. In the end, Misaki wins because she’s Misaki and that’s it.

Because of all this, I would say Angelic Layer resembles a magical Girl show most in both tropes and structure. Even the sporadic bursts of romance are reminiscent of classics like Sailor Moon.

unfortunately there’s no real time to explore this story

The other thing I noticed is that Angelic Layer seems to have been written for a very young audience. Hatoko is arguably the second most important character and she is either 4 or 5 years old. Misaki is the same age as her older brother and the two are on equal footing in their relationship. Misaki doesn’t have any sort of mothering behaviour or anything. So I’m guessing our main character is somewhere between 7 and 10 at most. There is nothing wrong with having characters that are very young, but it does limit the type of story you can tell and it’s often a sign that you are aiming for an audience in a similar age range.

The characters are very simple and don’t have that much development to go on, The events are linear and easy to follow. What I’m saying is that this is a kid’s show. A primarily action-based one with some dramatic moments. And well, that’s just not really my jam, you know. It’s cute and I’m sure I would have loved it if I watched it when I was in Misaki’s age. In fact, if you have a young kid you want to watch anime with, this might be worth a try. But it was not what I was hoping for I guess. Which is more on me.

Favourite character : Icchan (that’s not a picture of him…)

Suggested drink: a Satin Doll

  • Every time Misaki talks to Hikaru – take a sip
  • Every time Tomayo assaults Kotaru – take a sip
  • Every time Misaki wins a match – breath in, it happens a lot
  • Every time Mr. Icchan disappears – take a sip
  • Every time Misaki’s friends cheer from the stands – cheers!
  • Every time anyone’s angel looks like them – take a sip
  • Every time the show gets weirdly intense – wonder what’s going on
  • Every time a boy controls an angel – gasp
  • Every time anyone mentions size – take a sip
  • Every time Mr. Icchan abuses his staff – take a sip
  • Every time anyone says “Deus” – take a sip (I honestly thought they were saying “duce”)
  • Every time Misaki loses a match – switch to water
  • Every time an angel gets repaired – take a sip
  • Every time Kotaru gets teased – take a sip
  • Every time the Angelic Layer host is stunned by a turn of events – take a sip

In case you’re new here, I have a Pinterest with all my screencaps (there are a lot!). If you can’t find a show you are looking for in my main boards, just go to Anime Screenshots. I move the shows I have reviewed there. Of course, I’m still going to add a few images here!

14 thoughts

  1. This was CLAMP’s first attempt at shounen (and with the simpler artstyle), and you can see it being a prototype for later works, especially Tsubasa.

    For me, this is one of those series where I both really like and dislike aspects from both the anime and the manga. Hard to say which one I like better since whenever I get to parts I don’t like, I wish I was in the other version instead.

    1. I just started Tsubasa and I love it. I’m only one volume in but I don’t see the influence at all so far. In Story structure it is closest to X among the stuff I have read and the characetr archetypes are closer to CCS. It’s references CCS, xxxHOLiCs, X, Chobits, RG Vega and Rayneth so far. I look forward to seeing how Angel Layer will fit in there.

  2. I think I’m about to conclude I am a huge XXXholic fan, but not necessarily a CLAMP fan. Is that weird? I started Angelic Layer and very quickly lost interest. I’ve tried a couple of times now and just can’t sustain enough interest to remember to finish it. I think I had some believability issues with it here and there, which says I didn’t get drawn into the world very much and well, there ya go. Maybe it’s just the age thing.

    1. I love xxxHOLiC. I jus started Tsubasa reservoir, I only finished volume 1 so far and it’s fantastic.

  3. I remember watching the whole series a long time ago. This was definitely better than a lot of other Pokemon-type shows. While I wouldn’t say it’s as good as Hikaru no Go (fun fact: HAL did themes to both series) despite having better animation and a more complete story, this was a good watch from what I remember. It was interesting being a shonen work, yet subverting typical themes there.

    1. I really didn’t see why this would be more aimed at boys that CCS, it has the same characetr archetypes. I learned something new.

      1. I can see that. Besides the fighting aspect, it isn’t that much different from other Clamp archetypes and not just because Hikaru is directly based on a Rayerath character of the same name or how Tomayo is named after one of the members of that manga creator circle.

  4. This was published as a Shonen, and was actually CLAMP’s first attempt at a Shonen series. It was also one of the very first Shonen tournament battle-type shows to feature a female protagonist.

    Owning both the anime and the manga, I feel like the anime mostly improved on the manga, personally, especially with the subplot involving Misaki’s mother. *spoilers* By far the most powerful scene in the whole series for me was in the next-to-last episode when Misaki finally gets a chance to let out some of the hurt and pain and loneliness she’s been bottling up for seven years, but at least Mom had the excuse of being busy with trying to find a cure for the illness that was afflicting her. In the manga her mother doesn’t have an illness, she’s just been avoiding Misaki for seven years because she’s extremely shy, which is incredibly lame. If I were Misaki and heard that excuse, I wouldn’t want to cry about it, I’d want to punch her in the face first (and then we can cry afterwards), you know? Of course, deadbeat parents aren’t anything unusual for Shonen either, not just this series but old favorites like FMA and Hunter x Hunter too, though it feels like it’s usually the Dad who does the abandoning.

    1. That’s quite the groundbreaking history, I didn’t know that. Although I didn’t really see the demographic difference

  5. I don’t know about Pokemon, but Angelic Layer apparently takes place in the same universe as Chobits, which I always found interesting.

    1. Hmmm xxxHOLiC also takes place in the same universe so guess that connects CCS as well

  6. I did not know the circle CLAMP had created this. As for the pokemon inspiration, I don’t really think there’s much of a connection, I mean the concept of collecting different ‘items’ or ‘creatures’ is pretty old, very noticeably becoming popular with the rise of baseball cards in 1950s USA. Even a full blown TCG like Magic The Gathering is three years older than pokemon, though i can see how people would make the connection with pokemon. To me, this seems closer to Zatchbell than Pokemon.

  7. I really liked the show, but I’m already fuzzy about the details. 7-10 seemed to young for our main character, so I looked it up. She’s 12 (and 12-13 seems to be the most common age range for main characters). I also never really made the Pokemon connection, though now I can’t unsee it. The main difference is that the Pokemon are alive, while the show makes a point of calling them dolls, and keep riffing off “playing with dolls”. As such there’s an emphasis on personification: the dolls aren’t treated like people in their own right (as they are in other shows, like, say Busou Shinki). I thought it felt like girl-targeted mecha tournaments or something like that.

Leave me a comment and make my day!