One of the things I like about Clamp is that not only do they have a
lot of imagination and a great sense of style, but they always try to go
for something in a new genre, as opposed just doing the same genre over
and over in order to milking their same old cash cows that brought them
success (after all, they use their infamous cameos for that ^^;).
Angelic Layer is their shounen fighting series: it’s about a nationwide
tournament where people battle against each other with children’s toys
brought to life. So yeah, it’s a notorious genre if anything, but along
the way this series made me drop my scepsis and doubts completely.
It’s hard to see this from a distance, though. Nearly every single
battle follows the same formula: Misaki (the lead character) enters
battle, Misaki has trouble defeating her opponent, Misaki wins battle.
As this series deals with a tournament, the opponents and outcomes for
each battle is very heavily influenced by the writers in order to keep
the plot on the correct path (after all, you wouldn’t have much of a
series if Misaki lost and got kicked out of the tournament halfway
through). But it all just doesn’t matter in the end, because Misaki is
SO DANM adorable.
In fact, aside from the above mentioned predictability issues, I
don’t have any problems with this series at all. This is simply a series
that’s fun to watch, and throughout the series it never forgets that
it’s supposed to have a consistently fun and fast-paced atmosphere. Even
though you know that Misaki is going to win, you just can’t help but
root for her, and during the fights it’s always fun to see what’s
happening behind the scenes. Most of the characters are fleshed out and
developed really well, and this prevents all of the battles from getting
boring, and they continue to deliver.
In terms of eye candy, this series also delivers. Bones may not be
the perfect studio, but these guys do know their animation. The
character-designs look simple, yet very appealing (as expected from
Clamp), and they’re brought alive really well in animation. The fights
also consist out of mostly hand-to-hand combat, and while the action
doesn’t look flashy at all, it is full of life and emotion.
When the characters are fighting, there are hardly any close-ups or
other cheap animation tricks used. Instead, we get real nicely animated
fights that remain fun to watch.
What also sets this series apart from all other shounen fighting
series is the lack of a villain, or for that matter any character who
even bears a resemblance to one. In this series there is no “I’m going
to use the powers of a bunch of child’s toys in order to somehow destroy
the world. Mua ha ha ha”. There is an overarching storyline, but for
once this is aimed at the characters, instead of the plot. Because of
this, this series may abuse the “parents gone”-trope a bit at times, but
the results make up for it.
To close off, even though we have a manga adaptation here, it is one
of those few manga adaptations which fits perfectly into the time frame
of 26 episodes. It’s especially surprising since quite a few of Bones’
series have their pacing issues, but Angelic Layer never feels too slow
or too fast. No episode feels wasted or useless and the creators did a
really good job in planning this series correctly. Obviously you don’t
want to watch this series for a complicated plot, or heart-wrenching
drama, but for those who are looking for a fun fighting series with
adorable characters that may sacrifice its plot at times, then this
series isn’t going to disappoint.