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.