Clamp’s Angelic Layer holds the honour of being the very last anime series I ever watched on VHS all those years ago. Now with Madman re-releasing the series on DVD it seemed like a good time to revisit the series.
Angelic Layer centres around 12 year old Misaki Suzuhara, who has just moved to Tokyo to live with her aunt and attend middle school. Upon arriving in Toyko and making her way out of the trans station, she lays eyes on a giant screen playing a battle between two fantastical beings. A strange scientist looking dude, Icchan, informs her that this is ‘Angelic Layer’ – A battle game where people known as ‘Deus’ control customised battle dolls known as ‘Angels’. After laying eyes on the Angel Athena, the excited Misaki is captivated and upon learning she can buy her own rushes off to do so. That night at her aunt’s house she creates her angel, the small but fast and powerful Hikaru.
As the series progresses, we see more of the screw-loose Icchan, meet Hatoko – The ‘Miracle Kindergartner’ and Misaki’s much younger mentor with her lightning-fast Angel Suzuka and various other characters, as well as learning the origin of the Angels and Angelic Layer, as well as delving into the relationship between Misaki and her wheelchair-bound Mother, who she has not seen since she was a small child, which is the main motivation for Misaki throughout the series.
The series follows what are now pretty standard battle-anime tropes – the fresh-faced contender with a lot to learn jumps in, gets some wins, suffers some crushing defeats and learns lessons along the way as they progress in skill and up the ranks against a variety of highly specialised opponents. Misaki is a very sweet and earnest girl, and you can’t help but share her highs and lows both on the Layer and in her everyday life. The animation has a fairly simplistic style, in keeping with the stripped-back style Clamp used for the manga. The character designs are nice, and still very Clamp-y, and the Angel battles are fantastically animated. As the series ramps up and up towards the inevitable final showdown the series proves that many years later it still holds up.
It’s interesting to go back and watch this series again after being such a big fan of Gundam Build Fighters over the last couple of years, which took a similar concept of people building customised Gundam models and controlling them in a fight. The Build Fighters shows and their predecessor Gunpla Builders Beginning G borrowed very heavily and built upon the foundation Clamp built all those years earlier with the human-controlled battling toys, the virtual battlefield and the relationships behind it all – There was always something in the back of my mind that was familiar about the premise that I never did put my finger on, but watching Angelic Layer again 14 years later it’s suddenly massively obvious to me what the influence was and I don’t know how I missed it.
This seven-disc DVD set is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio in both subtitled and English dubbed form, with the dub done by the now-defunct ADV Films. I watched this in its subbed form, but must admit in spot-checking the dub it did bring back a strange nostalgia for the ADV-produced dubbed full screen VHS tapes that filled my formative years as a weeaboo youngling. If you’ve never seen it before, Angelic Layer will be a great watch, and you’ll get to see the foundations being laid for several series that came later. If you’ve watched it years ago it will provide a pretty sizable hit of nostalgia, and a series that still holds up well today. Angelic Layer is a heap of fun, and behind the battles there is also a story with a lot of heart as a Misaki reconnects with her mother. It’s highly recommended, and the kind of top notch stuff you’d expect from a Clamp work.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.