Judge Sandra Dozier scoffs at those who think that an anime about playing with dolls must involve lifelike diaper-wetting action or Pepto-pink fashion accessories.
The Angel descends!
Angelic Layer is a game that is played with lifelike dolls called Angels. A battle doll standing less than one foot in height, the Angel is controlled by the electronically transmitted thought waves of her owner, known as the "Deus" (spelled like the Latin 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).
Probably the most interesting thing about Angelic Layer, and the thing that sets it apart from most other anime in the gaming genre, is the social underpinning in the series, which forms a strong foundation for the individual episodes. Each character is enriched by his or her social contacts—the friends they make and the colleagues they rely on. There are no real loners in this series; even Idol Singer Ringo works her way into the group and seeks out their company. The adults and kids interact as well, with kid-at-heart Icchan transitioning smoothly between those two worlds and his little bro Ojiro seeming older than his 17 years suggests.
In Volume Five, the National Games are about to start, and Misaki and friends get a short break to rest and celebrate. Misaki also has the task of choosing her second, the person who will check her during the tournament, provide advice, and analyze strategy. She needs to choose someone who is knowledgeable and confident, and on whom she can rely entirely. Hatoko, who has been to the Nationals before, hopes it will be her, but Misaki is being pulled in all directions. Meanwhile, the champion must appear at the opening of the games to acknowledge the players, but her previous reluctance to appear in front of Misaki gives everyone some concern that she may not show at all, which would look bad for the games. Some new players are introduced here, and a charming little story involving a tall girl with a large Angel finishes up the episodes on this volume, balancing out the "I'm sick of being small" perspective. I enjoyed this arc quite a bit.
In between matches and meeting new people is more character development. Notably, Icchan makes his first attempt to communicate his feelings to Shoko, and fails sweetly. He asks her if, when the Nationals are over, she will "live with…me…Mi…saki?" Of course she says yes, since being with Misaki is what she wants the most. Better luck next time, Ichiro-san.
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 "I've Made My Mind Up on You!" by Mariela Ortiz, who plays Ringo and is the DVD coordinator for Layer, and Sasha Paysinger, who plays little Hatoko. This is another excellent commentary, with Ortiz filling in some information on CLAMP, swooning a little over handsome Ojiro, and talking about the show's history in Japan. For instance, I was suprised to learn that this was CLAMP's first show marketed toward boys. It makes sense, since this is a gaming anime type, but since it has such a strong network of girls and a complex social matrix, it feels much more like an anime for girls.
Angelic Layer has an engaging story that pulls in many characters, and a lead character who never seems to lose her determination and optimism. Misaki may be somewhat formulaic, but her kind and inclusive nature is endearing, and you know she will go far.
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