Blow-up dolls have come a long way since Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger's day.
Angel Wings! Please guide me and Hikaru!—Misaki's entry cry
ADV continues their onslaught of Thinpak complete collections for popular anime titles with the Battle Doll Angelic Layer Collection. Like their similar offerings, this collection includes all of the Angelic Layer episodes in a slim cardboard case, sans extras, for a reduced price. It's a great way to enhance your DVD collection without paying a premium.
Angelic Layer is crafted by CLAMP, which suggests a girl-centric story with enough edge and action to draw in male viewers. Like Rayearth and Chobits: My Only Person (Volume 6), that was indeed the case with Angelic Layer. The premise of robotic doll avatars fighting each other in a cylindrical stadium stems directly from the testosterone-soaked tradition of the Roman Coliseum. Yet the protagonists and dolls are almost exclusively female. The net result is a feminine-centric tale with crossover appeal.
Former Judge Sandra Dozier (best regards, Sandra!) has already graced DVD Verdict readers with extensive reviews of Angelic Layer (links in sidebar). Because these discs are functionally equivalent to those DVDs—minus extras, which allows ADV to fit more episodes per disc—I will not go into great detail about the plot and characters, but will give overall comments about the series.
Games and anime go hand in hand. Perhaps the most popular example is Pokemon, but countless examples exist. Heck, I once reviewed an anime about wars with spinning tops! The genre is well-established: mano a mano, blazing lights, hushed crowds—and always some electronic gizmo or another in the ring with its own special stats and abilities. The "fighters" pour the totality of their concentration and poise into manipulating their toy to kick your toy's ass, with great acclaim for the victor and anonymity for the loser.
Given this carefully proscribed genre, nothing in Angelic Layer is entirely unexpected. Within the first handful of episodes, you know what young Misaki Suzuhara's true quest is going to be, who she'll probably face on the way, and which adversaries will convert to friends (and vice versa).
But this is a CLAMP story, so the tale isn't entirely predictable, either. From the creepy punishments that Misaki's mentor Icchan dishes out, to the quirky parade of adversaries, enough color exists to add a blush Angelic Layer's vanilla cheeks.
In fact, CLAMP's touch is just deft enough to maintain my interest, even when Angelic Layer is at its most predictable. I'm in no hurry to buy an Angelic Layer T-shirt, but they maintained my urge to see what happens next. That's high praise when the tournament format of the story leaves little room for digression.
Angelic Layer suffers in a marathon viewing. That's one side effect of reviewing a complete collection: there's no time to step away, allow the formula to reset. The episodes became rhythmic, if not precisely repetitive, such that the recycled snippets of music and animation wore on me a little. The unflappable demeanor of each character was another source of tedium, as little real conflict emerged between the central characters until late in the game. Nonetheless, CLAMP has delivered yet another familiar-seeming anime series that is a shade different than the rest.
The DVD handling is the same as the previously released versions. The English dub is quite good with involving surround speaker action, while the 2.0 Japanese audio is clean. Crisp lines and strong colors give the show a polished visual touch, even if the animation stalls every once in awhile.
The fight scenes are aided the most by the audio and visuals. These exciting matches give us lots of detailed action. The best part is our sense of what the combatants are thinking. You're practically sidecar in Misaki's brain as she buckles down to meet each challenge.
If I didn't detest game-oriented anime, and if I were female, I'd probably love this series. Even with those roadblocks, I enjoyed it. If the premise of learning about life while playing an intense game with robotic dolls is even remotely interesting to you, Angelic Layer delivers in style. Not guilty!
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