Angelic Layer

As something to do while copying a stack of DVDs (the data kind, of course), I watched fansubs of Angelic Layer. (That’s an animé series for those not in the know.) As happens on occasion, I feel the need to post a sort of review. Those of you who are at all concerned about spoilers maybe shouldn’t read further. In any event, here goes with the review.

The basic premise is somewhat sicence fiction. A new toy is taking the world by storm. You purchase an Angel’s Egg and create an angel. Then you join fights with other angels in a playing field called an angelic layer. And, to make things even more cool, you control your angel using a helmet and your own thoughts.

On the surface, it looks like a simple beginner gets hooked into some sort of game and we follow that beginner through a journey of self-discovery as he works his way up the rankings of the game, collecting fans and friends along the way. And, certainly, we do have that in the character of Misaki and her angel Hikaru. In fact, for the first few episodes, I was reminded of several other series including Hikaru no Go and Rockman EXE. Indeed, the similarity with Rockman is marked.

It only takes a few episodes, however, before it becomes clear that there is a much deeper story involved. We don’t have the details of the backstory dumped on us all at once either. As the story unfolds, we get clues about the backstory but it isn’t all tied together until the final few tense episodes when we find out that Misaki’s mother has Multiple Schlerosis and this was the reason she left home. We find out that she and a rather odd man who goes by the name Icchan are the creators of Angelic Layer. We find out that Misaki is really looked for her mother but is afraid she won’t measure up. We find out her mother has the same fears in reverse. It is a truly emotional moment when this particular story line comes to a conclusion in an epic angel battle and then later the summary over the closing credits of the final episode.

But Angelic Layer does not fall into the trap of concentrating on backstory over current story. The main characters are well developed and over the course of the series, we see how Misaki and Hikaru touch the hearts and minds of everyone they come in contact with from oponents in battle to classmates to family to fans. As we watch Misaki work her way through the tournament all the way to the championship match with only a single loss, and that early on, we see how the people around her react and change. But we also see how the very changes in the people around her change Misaki herself. By the end of the series, she is no more the same person she started as than any of the other characters.

Perhaps that is what makes the series so compelling. It is told as a human story about the people rather than events. While this is not all that unusual in animé, it is unusual to see such masterful storytelling and execution. It is a difficult task to write a story of such epic proportions and keep from slipping into episodic formulae and old, tired plot devices. Sure, the clichés are there, but they aren’t used quite the same way. And, even though we know what the outcome of the human story is, we still don’t know how the series will end, exactly. The story is too complex.

Overall, Angelic Layer is up there with Saikano and Full Moon wo Sagashite for emotional impact. I found myself laughing and crying with the events of the series as it progressed. During the latter half of the series at the national finals in the tournament, I might as well have been there in the stadium for how involved in the events I felt. And, in contract to Saikano but similar to Full Moon, the ending is an unambigously positive one for all involved.

The final verdict is that Angelic Layer provides emotional ups and downs with the usual comedy, clichés, and downright painful to watch moments of stupidy, but it will leave you with a sense of satisfaction with the ending. The end leaves nothing hanging; the story feels finished. And, above all, the ending is an agreeable one. I think it is safe to say that anyone who enjoys the series will agree.

So ends the somewhat incoherent review of Angelic Layer.

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