This manga is Clamp's attempt at a battle manga. It is set in the same universe as Chobits, and contains similar themes, such as the relationships between created beings/robots/toys and humans.
I read this after seeing an episode or two or the anime. It is a short enough series, at only 5 volumes, so I finished it before I continued with the anime.
The story of Angelic Layer is simple, with limited twists and turns. Clamp attempted to have some shock twists but they are basic and can be guessed a mile off. The manga is probably too short. I was expecting a few tournaments, some decent rivals and a love triangle, but none of these seemed to develop, though they would have all been possible in a longer series. The pacing was good, until the end when it all seemed rushed. The development of Misaki's skills is not shown, so it difficult to connect to Misaki as a character because there is not enough detail in the story to give her development. Things are left unexplained and relationships are created with little real reason other than to tie up the series. The concept of battle dolls is interesting though, and sets Clamp up nicely for their more famous series, Chobits.
I gave the art a 5/10. The art style is not as detailed as some of Clamp's other works. It is very similar to Cardcaptor Sakura and yet in Cardcaptor Sakura there are some beautifully designed cards, and a lot of detail is put into them, however the Angel Dolls in this series, though pretty, do not seem to be as detailed.
The battle sequences in some scenes look quite rushed, yet there are some well drawn moves in other scenes.
One thing that particularly struck me was the artwork in the karate moves Koutarou-chan performs for Misaki. A lot of work must have gone into those pages.
Clamp's heroine, Misaki Suzuhara, is a Sakura-esque girl who is sweet, cute, good at cooking and a little bit ditzy and naive, therefore she is a classic shoujo manga heroine, which is unusual as this manga was run in a shounen magazine. She learns little throughout the series other than the typical self-belief and friendship is important lessons most shoujo manga offer, and is essentially the same girl at the end of the series as in the beginning.
She is surrounded by a cast of interesting people, including the mysterious Ichiro "Icchan" Mihara, a seemingly crazy scientist who encourages her into the world of Angelic Layer (and who has a role in the Chobits manga by Clamp), her new school friends Tamayo Hizaki and Koutarou Kobayashi, and Koutarou's younger sister, Hatoko. Tamayo is a typical energetic, sporty character who encourages the blossoming romance between nice-guy Koutarou and Misaki. Hatoko is a 5 year old Angelic Layer prodigy and a valuable source of information and support for Misaki.
Would-be rivals are won over by Misaki's thoughfulness and sweetnature, and her self-belief. Icchan's younger brother Ohjiro Misaki looked as though eh would play a big role in the series on his first appearance however, he does not get much of a chance to grow. Misaki's mother's reason for leaving her daughter all those years is quite unbelievable (though funny) but overall the characters seem to be lacking development which could have happened if there were more volumes released.
Despite its shortcomings, Angelic Layer is a very sweet, enjoyable series to read. Though there are no major twists, it's pacing means you can keep reading without being bored, and there is a nice mix of action, romance and comedy. Icchan's entrances are amusing, and as are the brother-sister relationships between Koutarou and Tamayo, and Hatoko.
I decided that 6 is a fair-enough rating for this series. It could have been so much more if it were even just 2 volumes longer, but it is a good read. The art is not too bad, just not of the usual Clamp high standards, and though the characters are your shoujo-manga staples, they are still fun to read.
Angelic Layer is a good manga to read if you have nothing better to do, if you fancy a shortish series with lots of cute-action and if you are interested in what came a few years before Chobits.
The Angelic Layer anime made many changes from the manga, so if you have seen the anime first, expect there to be differences. The main ones are relationships and character motivation.