This 2001 anime by CLAMP captivates with the concept of mentally controlled Angels who seem larger than life when fighting on the layer.
By: Nicole S. Castro on May 12, 2022 at 12:00 PHT
Throwback time! If there's an author (or group of authors) who stand out from the 2000s era, it has got to be CLAMP!
While some of their works such as Cardcaptor Sakura and xxxHolic remain visible to the public in the 2020s, it's time for us to go all the way back to 2001 to one of their earliest works: Angelic Layer!
Angelic Layer (Japanese: エンジェリックレイヤー) originated as a Japanese manga series by CLAMP. The manga was published in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten from July 1, 1999 to Oct. 1, 2001 in their Shōnen Ace magazine and was compiled into five tankobon volumes. The official English translation was originally by Tokyopop but was re-licensed by Dark Horse Comics.
The manga was adapted into a 26-episode anime series produced by Bones titled Angelic Layer: Battle Doll (Japanese: 機動天使エンジェリックレイヤー, Romaji: Kidō Tenshi Enjerikku Reiyā) which aired on TV Tokyo from April 1, 2001 to Sept. 23, 2001.
Plot and Throwback (anime)
Angelic Layer takes place in the same universe as CLAMP's later work Chobits, which has similar themes on the relationship between humans, human-created devices, toys, and godlike power.
The universe of Angelic Layer centers around custom-design dolls known as Angels, who are operated by human players (called Deus) via mental control to battle on a field called the layer.
The protagonist of Angelic Layer is seventh grader and deus Misaki Suzuhara (CV: Atsuko Enomoto) with her angel, Hikaru. At the start of the anime, Misaki has just moved to Tokyo to live with her aunt, Shoko Asami (CV: Kotono Mitsuishi). Without knowing anything about Angelic Layer, Misaki falls in love with the game as she watches a battle on a big live screen outside Tokyo Station.
While watching the live screen, an eccentric man wearing a white lab coat and who calls himself Icchan (Full name: Ichiro Mihara; CV: Masaya Onosaka) encourages Misaki to purchase and create her own angel. This leads Misaki to customizing her angel into Hikaru. It turns out Icchan is the "father" and creator of Angelic Layer, having developed the game over seven years with the help of Misaki's mother Shuko Suzuhara (CV: Kikuko Inoue).
Icchan was an employee at a hospital that was trying to treat Shuko's neurological condition. They were developing the angels as part of their research into creating prosthetic limbs that could be controlled by brain waves. Icchan had purposely approached Misaki at the beginning of the series to get her interested in Angelic Layer in the hopes of reuniting her with Shuko. But Misaki had found and fallen in love with the game on her own.
Misaki begins her journey as a deus while studying middle school at Eriol Academy where she befriends Hatoko Kobayashi (CV: Yuri Shiratori) a very intelligent and mature kindergarten girl who is a famous Deus and Angelic Layer expert. She is known to defeat opponents instantly with her incredibly fast angel Suzuka.
Thanks to Hatoko's, Icchan's, and the rest of the cast's support, Misaki steadily rises up the ranks, winning battle after battle until she ends up competing against her own mother, the reigning champion, at the finals. It turns out Shuko is the deus of Athena, the white angel Misaki had fallen in love with when she first watched an Angelic Layer battle at Tokyo Station. Misaki and Hikaru win the epic battle, and the Suzuhara mother and daughter pair have their heartfelt reunion. By the end of the anime, the technology for the angels has also developed enough to help Shuko walk on her own.
Some differences between the anime and the manga
While the overall plot remains the same, Misaki's love interest changes depending on whether you're watching the anime or reading the manga.
In the anime, Misaki ends up dating Ohjiro Mihara (CV: Soichiro Hoshi), Icchan's younger step-brother and the deus of Wizard. His first love was Misaki's mother, Shuko. Throughout the series, Ohjiro helps Misaki grow as a deus. He loses to Misaki in the national semifinals and realizes he has fallen in love with her.
In the manga, Misaki ends up dating Kotaro Kobayashi (CV: Jun Fukuyama), her classmate as well as Hatoko's older brother. While Kotaro does not compete in Angelic Layer, he is well versed in martial arts which helps Misaki get inspiration for Hikaru's fighting techniques. In the anime, he ends up with his childhood friend Tamayo Kizaki (CV: Satsuki Yukino).
In an era of anime full of filler episodes, Angelic Layer is a somewhat rare gem at just 26 episodes with a satisfying conclusion. Similar to Yu-Gi-Oh!, Angelic Layer is also an inspirational battle series for teenagers focusing on friendships.
We give Angelic Layer a 4/5 stars for being a well-paced and entertaining story. While there aren't that many surprises to Misaki's growth as a deus, the series remains entertaining and full of meaningful characters that all get enough backstory for us to fall in love with. The Angels, with their stylish wardrobe and unique battle skills, are definitely the main source of excitement.
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NICOLE S. CASTRO
Nicole is based in the Philippines and works as a freelance Japanese Translator/Interpreter and copywriter (English). She is a JLPT N2 passer who watches anime to "study" for N1. She has a long career history on LinkedIn (with primary focus on media and translation), but her anime watchlist is much, much longer.