Judge Sandra Dozier doesn't often buy anime merchandise, but would pay a shocking amount of money to have a Shirahime doll.
Misaki's last chance!
Angelic Layer is a game that is played with lifelike dolls called Angels. A battle doll that stands less than one foot in height is controlled by the electronically transmitted thought waves of her owner, known as the "Deus" (spelled like the Latin word for "god" but pronounced "Deuce" in the anime). When immersed in a special game field called the Layer, the dolls come to life and engage in combat with their opponent. The skill of the doll is directly related to the skill and reflexes of her operator (both dolls and Deuses are typically girls, but there are a few male Deuses and Angels).
In Volume Four of the Angelic Layer series, Misaki is battling her final opponents in the Kanto Regional Tournament, which will decide whether she can advance to the Nationals. She goes up against the lovely Blanche, a small and light-on-her-feet Angel operated by the kind-hearted Kaede. We also get a peek into the past of Sai, who operates the icy Shirahime, and get an indication of why she is so reserved and stoic. Misaki must come to the aid of a friend in need of comfort, and the final battle in the regional tournament begins.
It seems that we get more bang for our buck as far as flashback sequences and character development in this suite of episodes, and it is nice that they finally integrate some of the more mysterious "lurkers" in this anime, Kaede and Sai. Both have their own little fan followings among the Layer groupies, especially the super-cool Sai. It's kind of funny to watch her refuse autographs, only to have the girls who ask squeal that she is more cool than ever as they run away, delighted to have been in her presence for a minute or so.
The adorable and ever-optimistic Misaki is tasked with finding Hikaru's weak spot, and she spends most of her time worrying about it. Icchan (Ichiro) would like to intervene but feels that she should discover it on her own. Perhaps most interesting for Misaki's character development is the growing triangle between her, Kotaro, and the "young nobleman" of Angelic Layer, Ohjiro Mihara, who has taken an interest in Misaki that is a little ambiguous—is it love, or something else? Kotaro and his best friend, Tamayo, think it's love, all right.
It's impossible to talk about Angelic Layer without noticing the social network that overlays the goings-on. As a girl-oriented anime, this makes sense, but it is a little unusual for a game anime, which normally has a "fight, practice, sleep, fight" routine. Ultimately, this makes Angelic Layer both an interesting and a thrilling show, with the social and fighting scenes carefully balanced. In Volume Four in particular, where Misaki squares off against some of the best in her area, the fighting is fast and furious, and one loss disqualifies the player, so the stakes are high. These are some of the best battle sequences in the series so far, with enough variation to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
I love the animation and music for Angelic Layer, both of which are gorgeous and help to establish mood very well. With a clear and color-rich transfer, each episode looks terrific. The sound mix is also high quality, with a clear transfer that takes full advantage of stereo channels in both the 2.0 and 5.1 modes. Extras include a poster insert with character bios, clean opening and closing sequences, production sketches, and a commentary on "Shirahime vs. Suzuka! Secret of the Ice Machine!" by Tiffany Terrell, who plays Kaede, and Tiffany Grant, who plays Sai and is also the script writer for the series. This is a particularly interesting commentary, as Grant fills in some of the translation details and choices made for the series. As in previous volumes, this is one of the better anime commentaries I have heard: The goofing around is kept to a minimum, and there are scene-specific comments and great information. Best line: "Hi! Welcome to the totally Tiff-errific commentary for Angelic Layer!" (Tiffany Grant, joking about their shared first name).
Angelic Layer benefits from a complex, yet sweet, story line and lead character Misaki's seemingly inexhaustible supply of fierce determination and quiet optimism. It is a delight to watch her navigate her way through the Angelic Layer games, and through her adolescence. Anyone who has ever dreamed of their doll coming alive, whether a Barbie doll driving around in her convertible or G.I. Joe down in the trenches, will love this show.
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• Actor Commentary on "Shirahime vs. Suzuka!"
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