Review for Angelic Layer Collector's Edition
I briefly turned to the dark side. In between my belatedly getting a broadband connection, and Crunchyroll going legit with The Tower of Druaga and Blassreiter, I dabbled in illicit streaming. I say dabbled, it’s more like I consumed as much as I could before the world ended. After all, for all the anime I had reviewed, and all the anime I had purchased to that point, there was a hundred times as much anime that I had never seen, and I wanted to catch up. In those few months, I consumed anime by the gigabyte, but once Crunchyroll started, I got the guilt. All those crummy pixellated streams that I watched, all that potential malware that I tempted fate with, all the fractions of pennies that I denied to the creators; I did what I could to alleviate that guilt, helped by a dream exchange rate. I went on an anime spending spree, buying those shows that I had streamed, often regardless of how much I had enjoyed them. It’s how I ended up with shows like Baccano, Welcome to the NHK, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Gilgamesh and many more in my collection. But there were a handful of shows that I never got around to buying, and for shows like Bubblegum Crisis 2040 the reason is obvious. I’d feel guiltier about owning that train-wreck than I did illicitly streaming it. Angelic Layer is another title that I never bothered to get on DVD. That doesn’t bode well for this review.
Angelic Layer is a CLAMP title, and can be seen as a prequel to Chobits if you’re into continuity. It was originally released in the US and the UK on DVD by ADV Films. A couple of years ago, Sentai Filmworks (who used to be ADV) gave the show a re-mastered release on DVD, and also created a Blu-ray up-scale version (this is a digipaint show from the mid-2000s when SD was the order of the day.), and Anime Limited now bring that Blu-ray version to the UK.
Misaki Suzuhara was raised by her grandparents for the last seven years after her mother left for Tokyo to work. She hasn’t seen her since. But now that she’s starting middle school, she has the independence to move to Tokyo herself and live with her reporter aunt Shoko. But the first thing that Misaki sees when she steps outside the train station is an advert for Angelic Layer, the big new doll craze to sweep the nation. She’s instantly inspired, and coincidentally meets a mysterious scientist in a white coat named Icchan who clues her in on how Angelic Layer works.
You buy an Angel Egg which hatches in the bath, revealing a featureless mannequin of a doll, and you spend time and money customising the doll to your preference, both in terms of visual aesthetic and in terms of stats. Misaki’s doll becomes an athletic girl named Hikaru. And then you’re ready to compete in Angelic Layer. The Angels are placed on the Layer, a specific field where they become energised and ‘alive’, responsive to thought controls sent by their ‘Deus’ wearing a special helmet. The aim of the game is to have the dolls fight in the Angelic Layer tournament, and it’s a massive spectator sport.
With the help of her new friends from middle school, Tamayo and Kotaro, as well as Kotaro’s little sister Hatoko, herself an accomplished Angelic Layer gamer, Misaki might just have it in her to become one of the best in the country. What she doesn’t know is that the prize that she’s actually fighting for is something that she has always wanted...
26 episodes of Angelic Layer are presented across 3 Blu-ray discs from All the Anime.
1. How Do You Do? My Very Own Angel
2. Do Your Best, Hikaru! It’s Your First Fight!!
3. Who Are You? Misaki’s Nervous Lesson
4. The Day an Angel Flew Down
5. I Don’t Want to Lose! I’m Believing in Hikaru
6. Suzuka, The Speed of Light! Hatoko’s Declaration of Rivalry!
7. Fight at the Edge... Misaki’s Last Chance
8. Misaki vs. Misaki? A Dangerous Classmate
9. Sing, Misaki! Is the Deus an Idol?!
10. Mean Sisters! Hikaru, The Target
11. Finish It Off! Hikaru & Mao’s Important Game
12. Misaki & Kotaro! Their Exciting Date
13. Pure White Blanche. Kaede’s Smile
14. I Won’t Give Up! And an Angel Was Born
15. Shirahime vs. Suzuka! Secret of the Ice Machine
16. The Final Game! Hikaru’s Last Attack
17. I’ve Made My Mind Up On You! The One Misaki Selected
18. Many Strong Opponents! The National Games of Everyone’s Dreams
19. System Down! Decisive Fight on a Ship in a Storm!
20. Is Icchan the Enemy? The Puzzling Second Game
21. Summertime at the Sea! Someone is in Love with Someone!
22. Suddenly Just the Two of Us. Secret Double Dates
23. Break Up the Magic Wall! Misaki versus Ohjiro
24. Reach Misaki! This Thought Goes Over the Rainbow!
25. Reunion of Destiny. Angels Wet with Tears
26. Angel Wings! Please Guide Me and Hikaru!
This is good. This is really good. Most anime upscales from SD to HD come from the DVD masters, the NTSC master tapes that are supplied for broadcast and to distributors to create their DVDs from. But that’s actually a step down the process chain. If you want the animators’ true intent, the original colours and the line-art as crisp as possible, you want the original digital animation before it was converted to NTSC format for distribution, and it looks as if that is what has happened with Angelic Layer. It most certainly is an SD upscale, but the colours have a richness, are vivid in a way that goes beyond the comparatively limited NTSC colour space, while the quality of the line art is crisp and perfectly defined. It’s a good thing too, as while Angelic Layer’s character designs are limited, and much of the animation is similarly simple, the show really does come to life for its action sequences on the Layer. And it’s here you want the animation to be smooth and problem free. In fact the only problem with Angelic Layer is the perennial digital banding.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with subtitles and signs locked during playback. I passed on the English dub to stick with the original language track, and was happy with the experience. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos, and the actors are suited to their roles. The action comes across well enough, while the show’s music really drives the pace of the story well.
The discs present their content with static menus. Each episode is followed by translated English credit reels.
Disc 1 has two commentaries on it. Episode 1 has Jessica Boone (Misaki), and Andy McAvin (Icchan). The second is that controversial one with Monica Rial (Tamayo) and Kevin Corn (Kotaro) that fell afoul of the BBFC when originally released on DVD. Not anymore. So if the word “retard” spoken in jest offends, avoid.
Disc 2 has three commentaries. Episode 11’s yak track comes from Shelley Calene-Black (Madoka), and ADR Director David Williams. Episode 15 sees a commentary from Tiffany Grant (Sai), and Tiffany Terrel (Kaede). Episode 17’s commentary has Sasha Paysinger (Hatoko) alongside Mariela Ortiz (Ringo).
Disc 3 has the rest of the extras, beginning with two commentaries. Episode 23 gets an audio commentary with Christopher Patton (Ohjiro), and ADR Director David Williams.
Episode 25 gets one of those picture-in-picture video commentaries with Christine Auten (Shuko), and Kelly Manison (Shoko). It’s from the ADV DVD release, presented at 480i and with the English credit rolls runs to 24:13. It’s also a great chance to compare and contrast the difference in image quality.
You get a 9:40 slideshow of Production Artwork.
You get one textless opening and two textless closings, and finally there are trailers for Little Busters EX, Gatchaman Crowds Insight, RE-KAN!, and RIN-NE.
I had an unsettling wake-up call earlier this year when I re-watched Chobits and found it to have diminished in my estimation. It wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be. Now, I had no such illusions about Angelic Layer, and certainly didn’t expect it to turn into a gem just by appearing on Blu-ray, but I did have a niggling worry that it might be even worse. But it actually stands up pretty well. It’s still not as good as its ‘sequel’ but it hangs together as a piece and once you know its raison d'être, it even provides some entertainment.
Angelic Layer is a classic form of anime, the Saturday morning cartoon, ideal for the same sort of slot as Pokemon and Digimon, although it’s more satisfying than those mass market tie-ins. It’s almost as fulfilling as Oban Star Racers. It’s an anime show aimed at a broad, but predominantly young audience, used to routine and simplistic characters. It somehow manages to blend characters and story aimed at young girls, with action and a story structure that works best for young boys, and it pulls it off. But deep, meaningful and complex is hardly this show’s strong suit, and ultimately its story only works if you can buy the conceit of a mother so ashamed of her illness that she refuses to see her own daughter for seven years. The show does its best to sell the idea, layering emotional context upon emotional context, but it’s not the easiest character motivation to grasp.
But really, Angelic Layer is about the battles, as you can see from its priorities. It saves the emotional climax of the series for the penultimate episode, but the final episode is devoted to another ‘Robot Wars’ match. Angelic Layer is the game that Misaki Suzuhara falls in love with, where players ‘raise’ dolls to do battle on the Layer, an area where the little robots become energised and able to move. The first thing she sees when she arrives in Tokyo is an advert for the game, featuring the champion’s doll, Athena, and she’s inspired by seeing something so small having such an impact, her insecurities about her height a factor. With the help of a mysterious man in a white coat, Icchan, she’s got her doll, Hikaru and she’s playing Angelic Layer, a natural talent who quickly climbs the rankings.
It seems every episode has a good five or ten minutes devoted to an Angelic Layer match, and especially in the first half of the series, the game really dominates proceedings. It doesn’t seem quite as important to see Misaki’s home and school life, the friends she makes, the people that she encounters. But in the second half of the series, these relationships start to be developed more, the characters become more defined, and the emotional weight to the story has more of an influence. But it all unfolds with a somewhat juvenile and simplistic intent, no doubt aimed at that young, Saturday morning audience I mentioned. In the end, I did feel for Misaki and her mother, but the show really made me work at it to make it feel effective.
Angelic Layer is an entertaining 26 episode Pretty Robot Wars series, repetitive, formulaic, another tournament fighting anime but one that a broad audience can appreciate, or it’s the longest mother-daughter reconciliation ever animated. If you can manage to see it both ways simultaneously, then maybe Angelic Layer is for you.