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Angelic Layer Vol. 2: On a Wing and a Player

In the not so distant future, the newest rage to sweep Japan is all about people and their Angels - dolls designed by their owners.

Naturally, since this is a CLAMP series, these are no ordinary dolls.

Designed by a technical wizard destined for even greater inventions, the Angel comes to life when it's placed on the Angelic Layer, a playing field that transforms the thoughts of a doll's creator, or Deus, into actions the Angel performs on the Layer.

This is soft science fiction, so explaining how Angelic Layer works is not the primary focus of the story. The important thing to remember is that an Angel's strength is influenced mostly by the amount of love its Deus has for it. So, with that in mind, what's the best thing to do with a doll powered by love?

That's right, throw it in a pit with another such doll and make them duke it out in a no holds barred fight to the death!

Okay, so it's not as simple as that. Really, these fights are about more than just Angels whipping each other around. The battles are actually a contest of willpower between each Deus, featuring action at the speed of though, but ultimately measuring each participant's resolve and mental fortitude.

Enter Misaki and her newly built Angel, Hikaru. Fans of CLAMP's older projects, in particular Magic Knight Rayearth, will probably notice something familiar about the petite Hikaru and her fiery red hair. I'm just waiting for someone to make a Mokona Angel.

Misaki, much like Hikaru, isn't very tall, nor does she appear very formidable in person. Misaki, or Misakichi, as her friends call her, isn't very athletic. She's new to Tokyo, and has recently moved in with her aunt after growing up in more rural areas of Japan. As such, while she isn't dumb, she's not as quick to adapt to situations as her city-raised classmates, and thus she gives the impression of being a little slow.

What she lacks in physical prowess and reaction times, however, she more than makes up for with her power of observation. She notices details that other people never knew were there, and this ability comes in incredibly handy when she begins to play Angelic Layer. Able to utilize moves and skills that she's seen only once, she quickly moves her way up in the ranks of her first official battles. However, there's more to the game than just mimicking your opponents, and Misaki's luck is bound to give out some time...

This is a very addictive show, and the story has a simple foundation, but like most every other CLAMP work out there, complexities soon arise as the relationships between the characters begin to take shape. This is only the second disc in the set, and after reading the manga, I can assure you that it's only begun to get interesting.

Angelic Layer is bright and colorful, with sharp, vivid imagery used throughout. As usual, CLAMP's costume designs are unique, marking another distinction between the world of Angelic Layer and that of our own. A wide variety of clothing styles helps to differentiate the relatively large cast of characters for a story that is primarily about a girl and her doll.

Extras include clean opening and ending animations, a slideshow presentation of production artwork, and a commentary track featuring two of the English voice actors (Kevin Corn and Monica Rial) for one of the episodes. Even if you don't listen to the dub, this kind of feature is usually amusing, if only to hear other people's interpretations of the show. If you do like to listen to the dub, then you'll be happy to hear this one, since it's been mixed in 5.1 channel surround sound. The Japanese track is still in its native 2-channel format, and I'd have to say that even that sounded pretty good on my speakers. There's some good directionality going on in this show, especially in the arena where Angelic Layer battles are held, when you can hear the crowd all around you.

The presentation of the DVD is nice, with an appropriately colorful package featuring Misaki and Hatoko, the kindergarten-aged Angelic Layer prodigy, along with their Angels. On the back of the distinctive white case, potential buyers will find a few images from the show, a synopsis of the series, and all the technical data you'd need to know. The insert unfolds into a cute mini-poster of Hikaru and Misaki on one side, and a character dossier on the other side, featuring Misaki's friends, Tamayo and Kotaro, along with her aunt, Shoko, and Icchan's (the creator of Angelic Layer) assistant, Ogata.

I'll admit that I'm a sucker for anything CLAMP, but this really is one of their more entertaining shows. Few writing teams can combine humor and drama so effectively, creating a series that makes you laugh and worry all in one episode. This kind of show could quickly degenerate into a simple marketing device, with Angelic Layer toys and accessories storming the nation, but CLAMP manages to turn it into a bit of a parody of such series (like Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokemon) without coming across too cynically.

If you like CLAMP, you should enjoy this as well. If you've not yet experienced their storytelling skills, then this is as good of a place as any to get into them. Angelic Layer sparkles with energy. While it may not be filled with the same philosophical quandaries as other CLAMP productions out there, it's still an interesting and engaging show that's quite worthy of watching.

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