Apr 11, 2009
Dorcas_Aurelia (All reviews)
CLAMP decides to take the standard shonen fighting tournament setup and retools it into a series for girls. Partly it does this by making the tournament a fighter between customizable dolls, and making most of the competitors young females.

Like most tournament shows, the themes of doing your best and friendship pervade the experience. A doll used in the Angelic Fights is usually treated by her (or rarely, his) owner (deus) as though it were a dear friend, with concerned cries going out when they are injured. Unlike most competition shows, however, Angelic Layer isn't treated as the be-all-end-all of life. Characters who take it too seriously end up losing to Misaki and come to see that winning is less important than making friends and having fun. That's not to say the entire show is light-hearted and gay; Misaki's personal mantra seems to be: I'll do my best in spite of my tiny size!

The plot is mostly simple enough: Misaki arrives in Tokyo, since she'll be going to a new school there and sees an exhibition Angelic Layer fight. When the pretty, smaller Angel wins, Misaki is immediately enamored and wants to create her very own Angel. After winning her very first fight, she enters the annual tournament, and proceeds to advance round after round, with help and encouragement from her friends, growing as both a person and a deus. Along the way, she makes new friends, and they occasionally stop by for a picnic or a trip to the beach.

Misaki herself is an adorable girl, and a virtuous heroine, but, unfortunately, somewhat shallow as a character for most of the story. Her motive of being strong is dedicated to not being a burden for her mother, whom she hasn't seen in years and has been away in Tokyo for work; or so she believes. The truth about her mother is revealed about halfway through, and eventually that plot thread allows for Misaki to rise above her basic role as the talented newcomer at the end of the show, but until then, she fails to be much more than an enjoyable stereotype.

The supporting cast lend a great deal of charm to the show, most notably from Icchan, the goofy, eccentric creator of Angelic Layer who hides his role as such from Misaki while guiding her into the game. Aside from tormenting his assistants and providing screwball antics, Icchan displays a caring and sometimes insightful side behind his silly facade, proving to be a deeper character than the lead for much of the series. Misaki's classmates, the childhood friends Tamayo and Kotaro, provide a regular dose of levity, with Tamayo regularly practicing various martial arts holds or wrestling moves on Kotaro, who develops a crush on Misaki. Kotaro's little sister, Hatoko, fills the role of a mentor for Misaki. Many of the rival deus also befriend Misaki, eventually, nearly all of them with a brief, touching, backstory to endear them to the viewer, although pop idol Ringo just provides silly and energetic entertainment value.

The series makes use of lots of vivid, solid colors, and is pleasing to look at. Even during rainstorms, the pallet never feels downright dreary. Character designs are moderately varied (Just, be careful about the announcer's purple suit, wow), although most of the characters have only one outfit that they where in the entire series. One wonders why so many characters participate in these games wearing their school uniform. All of the Angels have unique outfits as well, ranging from strikingly beautiful to kind of funny looking. Hikaru, Misaki's angel, is a distinctive red outfit that's somewhere in the middle. The battles are fairly fluid, although certain moves are represented with flashy single frames, and in some of the longer battles, some scenes are shown from a distance. People who watch more recent action shows won't be impressed with any of it, though.

Sound effects are used well throughout the show, whether in the Angelic Fights or for comedic emphasis. Especially for comedic emphasis. The English dub, however, fairs less well. I only had access to the dubbed version, so I can't judge the Japanese track, but the English voice acting is probably the series weakest aspect. The children, especially younger children, frequently come across as a little wooden or strained, and not entirely believable. Hatoko's light and wispy tone doesn't sound bad, but it doesn't quite seem to fit, Jessica Boon's Misaki always seems just a little bit too dramatic, Monica Rial plays Tamayo maybe a little too gruff, and so on. Icchan feels pretty spot on, though, but his harried assistant's whininess is a bit grating. One major distraction in the voice acting is the regularity of unnatural pauses in the middle of a sentence. Yes, this is a side effect of the difference in sentence structure from Japanese to English, thus the lip flaps make it difficult to get the dialogue to flow easily, but perhaps if the translation was a little less rigid (I'm assuming, again, I only saw the dub) it might have been less obvious. Also, the pronunciation of "deus" as deuce struck me as odd, since deus (day-oos) is Latin for god, and matches the Angel theme.

All-in-all, it's a nice show. It's got a good message and will generally provide a warm and cuddly feeling with a few chuckles along the way. There's nothing really ground-breaking here, but it's a good kid-friendly show, if that's what you're looking for. Surprisingly, there's very little in the way of romance for a CLAMP series.