Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez explore CLAMP’s foray into battle shounen, the fighting robot series Angelic Layer!
Date Recorded: August 23rd, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez
0:06:26 The CLAMP-aide
0:08:18 CLAMP style and anime vs manga
0:14:06 Battle shonen for girls
0:50:24 One-off opponents
CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Welcome to the first episode of our watchalong of the anime adaptation of Angelic Layer. My name is Caitlin, and I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as a reviewer for Anime News Network and my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem, “heroine” spelled with an E. I’m joined today by fellow AniFem editors Dee and Mercedes [pronounced “Mer-seh-dez”].
MERCEDEZ: Hi, my name’s Mercedez [pronounced to rhyme with “ladies”]. I’m also an editor here at Anime Feminist, and I am an aspiring Japanese-to-English translator and all-around cool person.
CAITLIN: That’s true. I can confirm that. Mercedez, I’m sorry. I keep pronouncing your name weird because Fire Emblem.
MERCEDEZ: [laughs] I forgot there was a character named Mercedes in Fire Emblem.
CAITLIN: Well, they say her name as Mer-seh-dez, which when I first played it, I was like, “That’s weird. That’s a weird way to say that name.” But then I got used to it, and now I’m doing it to you, so I apologize. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I mean, she’s a great character, so…
CAITLIN: She is. I love her.
MERCEDEZ: I feel honored.
CAITLIN: All right, and who’s this other person?
DEE: Oh hi.
DEE: Oh hi, I didn’t see you come in. I’m Dee. I’m one of the managing editors at Anime Feminist, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor and find all my writings there and all that good stuff, too.
CAITLIN: All right. So, like I said, today we watched episodes 1 through 7 of Angelic Layer, which is based on a five-volume manga by CLAMP. You may be asking yourself, “How did they turn a five-volume manga into a 26-episode anime series?” The answer to that is “A lot of changes.” It is significantly different from the manga in a lot of ways, I personally think for the better.
Angelic Layer is about Misaki Suzuhara, an ordinary 12-year-old who moves from living with her grandparents in Wakayama, which is in Kansai in Japan, to Tokyo to live with her newscaster aunt. While she’s there, she sees on the screen a beautiful Angel fighting. And the Angel is small but quick and is inspiring to her because she is also small. Turns out that this was the game Angelic Layer, where Deuses control Angels on a Layer to fight. An old nickname for this series was Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Barbies.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, what? That’s great.
DEE: That’s on point.
CAITLIN: Misaki decides to buy an Angel, make her small and quick just like herself, and names her Hikaru. And thus, she gets swept up into the wide world of Angelic Layer. I chose this show for the watchalong because I’ve loved it for a long time. I watched it back in the era where fansubs was generally one of the better ways to watch things because—
DEE: One of the only ways.
CAITLIN: One of the only ways, yeah, because it cost $200 to collect a series and there was a lot of internet ordering involved and shady sites, and it was just a whole thing. But it’s not like that anymore, so, you know… But anyway…
DEE: Yeah, it’s streaming on HiDIVE, for folks at home who were popping in and not sure where to watch it. It’s on HiDIVE.
MERCEDEZ: I want to say they have the sub and the dub, so you can choose.
DEE: They do.
CAITLIN: They do.
DEE: Yes, the old-school ADV dub, and boy, you can tell it was made in the early 2000s.
CAITLIN: Oh yeah!
CAITLIN: So, I bought the Blu-ray in one of the Sentai sales not long ago, and I’ve been going through my physical media shelf. And I was watching the show, and I was like, “This has, actually, a lot of interesting stuff from a feminist perspective.” And it’s great because I’ve been wanting to do an Angelic Layer watchalong because I had a feeling that it had some stuff that we could really dig into as AniFem. So, yeah.
I don’t have a big, interesting history with it. Just, I watched it a long time ago, I liked it; I watched it again, I liked it, and I thought it was worth discussing for the podcast.
MERCEDEZ: I guess I’m much more familiar with the manga than I am with the anime. I had never seen it, and I know the anime came out in like 2001, so—
CAITLIN: God, really?
CAITLIN: It looks good for its age.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because the manga—
DEE: It’s Bones. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: The manga started in 1999. Let me say, this anime could legally drink in Japan.
DEE: Dang! I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was a Bones show. I did not know Bones had done it, and they tend to put out really quality products.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s an early Bones show.
DEE: It definitely has that issue that a lot of shows right around the century—turn of the millennium, I guess—had, where they were using that digi-paint style, which looked pretty good on TVs at the time, and then once you got into HD, you really started to see the edges of the lines. So, it’s a little rough because of that, but as far as the animation of the action scenes and everything, I would say it’s a pretty well put-together show.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it still quite holds up, and I kind of got excited in the action scenes because they were pretty neat to see. Little Hikaru flipping through the air… It’s good.
DEE: So, I technically read Angelic Layer. I think it was as it was coming out, because I had a friend who was buying them and I would just borrow them from her when she was done. All I remembered was tiny robots, so when Caitlin was like, “I need some people for this watchalong who haven’t seen it before,” I was like, “Well, okay, so I did technically read it, but it was so long ago that I think I’m probably clear to join you as a newcomer.”
Yeah, I remember liking it. I don’t remember anything about it that I was like, “Aw, this isn’t great,” but clearly, I didn’t love it, because I don’t remember it very well.
DEE: It was fine. Truthfully, that’s my opinion about a lot of CLAMP stuff—and nobody hurt me, please—is I tend to end a CLAMP series going, “Yeah, that was fine.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I’m not sure why they’re so lauded.
DEE: Whoa! Shots fired early in this watchalong! [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah! Listen, I drank the CLAMP Kool-Aid as a teenager. I saw them at Anime Expo. As an adult, though, I don’t get it. [chuckles] They’re not good storytellers most of the time.
MERCEDEZ: I’m gonna get in on this. I agree.
MERCEDEZ: This is one of their shorter series. There’s a couple of other ones that are under three volumes or less, but this is one of their shorter action series, and I think that’s a good thing, because if this had been the length of anything else that they’ve created, I don’t think that would have been good.
CAITLIN: Well, I feel like CLAMP has two modes. One is shorter, very quick pacing, and then at the end it’s like, “Well, okay, I guess that’s the end.” Another is long and never finishes.
DEE: So, X. You’re talking about X.
CAITLIN: I mean X. I’m pretty sure XxxHolic got dropped.
MERCEDEZ: Doesn’t XxxHolic have a sequel right now?
CAITLIN: Does it? I don’t know.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s just on hiatus, I think.
CAITLIN: Well, so is X. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Technically, yes.
DEE: Yeah, I have found with CLAMP… I think there’s two things. One, their art is gorgeous. Two, I think they come up with pretty good overall sketches for characters.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] They have good ideas.
DEE: And their stories tend to play with the trope right at the end in a way that’s really interesting. Rayearth has some really cool twists on the genre as it goes. Cardcaptor Sakura—a lot of the time they put a lot of the effort into making their villain sympathetic or the person you think is the antagonist isn’t or the hero isn’t. And I think those elements of their stories make them really fascinating in broad strokes, and especially when you’re younger and you’re like, “I’ve never really seen a story like this before,” which we’ll definitely get into with Angelic Layer later, I think.
But I have found that my favorite CLAMP stories are the anime that got to fiddle with them a little bit. Cardcaptor Sakura is beloved. And I think it’s beloved because Morio Asaka is an incredible director who took a six-volume manga and turned it into 75 episodes and was really able to take those base personalities that CLAMP came up with and then really give them life and humanity and these nice, charming story arcs.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I agree. I think that CLAMP anime are generally better than CLAMP manga, because they do come up with really good, really interesting ideas, but the execution is generally very lacking. You brought up Rayearth. The ending of that first arc, in middle school, it tore my heart out.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God, yeah.
CAITLIN: Which, no spoilers, in case there are people who haven’t read or seen it. But the pacing is so “All right, we do this, and then we do that, and then we do this, and then we do that, and then we do this, and then we do that.”
DEE: Their stories can be kind of stilted, which makes it a little bit tougher to connect with the characters beyond broad strokes, which is where I think sometimes the anime can help. That having been said, I had a really hard time with the Rayearth anime the first season because I think three volumes into 26 episodes led to a lot of redundancy in the middle there.
CAITLIN: Yeah… All right. [through laughter] We should talk about Angelic Layer.
DEE: [crosstalk] Okay, but you knew we couldn’t do a podcast about a CLAMP show without talking about CLAMP for at least a little bit.
MERCEDEZ: You’ve gotta. You’ve gotta.
DEE: You gotta set that baseline.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] There’s a lot of history there.
DEE: Someday, folks at home who love CLAMP, we’ll get some folks on who love CLAMP and we’ll do a CLAMP podcast someday. And then some people who love them can talk about them in fuller terms for y’all.
MERCEDEZ: They do excellent character design, but writing… You know, you can’t do it all, people. You can’t do it all.
CAITLIN: I mean, Code Geass definitely had very memorable character design. Some of those outfits were ugly, though. Suzaku’s one-shoulder—
DEE: Caitlin, this tangent just keeps going!
MERCEDEZ: I mean, CLAMP does good pasta-looking boys. I love it. I eat it up.
DEE: Delicious pasta boys.
MERCEDEZ: Serve me up some of that sauce. It’s excellent character design. But CLAMP, come on. We know ya.
CAITLIN: And Angelic Layer is interesting because it came out when CLAMP was experimenting with their style. Look, I brought it back around.
DEE: You did.
CAITLIN: So, the manga has that kind of sketchy, liney style that Chobits has. Of course, that anime has to smooth it out quite a bit, but the characters are a bit stockier than in a lot of their manga.
DEE: And was that also partly because… was this their first shounen? Because I know CLAMP is known for writing shoujo, but they did write shounen, especially in the late ‘90s, early ‘00s. And I don’t know if this was their first one, but I know it was one of their shounen.
MERCEDEZ: I’m not sure if it was their first one, but—
CAITLIN: It was this one or Chobits.
MERCEDEZ: I feel like Chobits comes— Well, I don’t know if I think Chobits comes after it because of the weird CLAMP intersectional timeline stuff that the series has with Chobits, or if it came before.
DEE: Well, I sure can ask Mr. Google, can’t I?
DEE: Chobits was 2000 and Angelic Layer was ’99, so they’re kind of next to each other, but…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] All right, so Angelic Layer was probably the first.
DEE: Okay, but you’re talking about their style adjusting. Part of that was also probably because they were getting into shounen, and a lot of the time with action series, you almost have to simplify your designs, especially if you’re doing really detailed stuff like CLAMP does, because it’s just so hard to do extended action sequences if you’re having to draw a million hairlines at the same time.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And CLAMP’s action drawing is… I can never really parse it. It’s a lot of lines.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a lot of lines.
CAITLIN: So, anime is perfect for this, right? They are able to take the basic ideas and make it into something that moves and something that’s a lot easier to visually parse. So, let’s talk about episodes 1 through 7.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, I’m very excited.
CAITLIN: Yes. So, as I said in the quick “about,” Misaki sees an Angel fighting and she’s like, “What is that?” and then this weird guy comes out and he’s like, “It’s Angelic Layer!”
DEE: I’m calling the cops.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] And he takes her to the store, and she buys an Angel, and she’s like, “I want it to be small and fast, just like me, because I saw that small Angels can win on the screen.”
DEE: But Misaki’s not fast. She has no athletic ability whatsoever.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, yeah, no.
DEE: She is small.
MERCEDEZ: This poor child. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: She ends up entering a tournament very early, but she wins most of her matches. She’s the Miracle Rookie. And that’s the basic rundown of the plot that we have here. It’s pretty simple so far.
DEE: Yeah, it was a lot of focus on the tournament itself and the battles with the Angels in this first stretch of episodes, for sure.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because I think there was a battle every episode.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah. It’s very oriented towards the battle. It’s battle shounen… for girls!
CAITLIN: Which, of course, nothing is just “for girls” or just “for boys,” and it did run in an actual shounen manga, but I think it’s really interesting because Angelic Layer… it’s a fighting game. It’s comparable to Yu-Gi-Oh!, but within the universe, all of the marketing for it is so girl-oriented.
DEE: And all the Angels… I guess they don’t technically have a gender, but they all have boobs, right? You know what I mean? They’re all designed to be femme coded.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Right, except for the one. Except for one.
MERCEDEZ: It’s kind of like in Steven Universe, where all the Gems—correct me if I’m wrong—they’re genderqueer?
CAITLIN: They’re genderless, because they’re rocks and rocks don’t have gender. But…
DEE: But they all use she/her pronouns, and a lot of them—not all of them—have femme forms.
MERCEDEZ: That’s remarkable about the Angels, that they’re ostensibly really, really high-tech Barbie dolls. Like the sweetest Barbie dolls. I would like one.
CAITLIN: I feel like I would have been much more interested in Barbie if I could fight with them.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, if I could go to the playground and have my doll dropkick my enemy’s doll?
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I would’ve been there for that. [chuckles]
DEE: I’m going to try really hard not to constantly compare this show to Gundam Build Fighters because I don’t think—
CAITLIN: I’ve heard that’s a very similar…
DEE: Angelic Layer came first, so, one, it’s not really fair to compare it to it in that sense necessarily, but it is a very similar feel of… it’s a game. You build a toy, and then you go into this tech field, and then you fight each other.
But what is super nice about this is how the overwhelming majority of the other Deuses—the other fighters—are girls. There are some boys. At first I was like, “Is this just a thing that boys don’t do because ‘ew, Barbie dolls’?” But then you do see that there are some guys who play as well. I think that helps keep it from being like— This is clearly a game that is dominated by girls, but it is not something that boys snub their noses at, necessarily. And I appreciate that.
CAITLIN: And they’re sold in a store called Piffle Princess.
DEE: True. True.
CAITLIN: Which is all pink everywhere. I thought it was really interesting because it is similar in structure to shows like Yu-Gi-Oh, to Gundam Build Fighters, which I haven’t watched. It’s the toyetic shounen: “toyetic” meaning that it is something that can be turned into toys easily.
DEE: Oh yeah, very easily.
CAITLIN: And I don’t think they ever really made Angelic Layer toys.
MERCEDEZ: No, they certainly missed that boat, because those would have been good.
CAITLIN: Some quick googling turned up absolutely nothing. They did not merchandise it at all.
MERCEDEZ: What a loss. What loss.
CAITLIN: I would love to have a life-sized Hikaru or Suzuka. But those other shows, they’re not explicitly like “Girls aren’t allowed to play,” but the most successful characters are always boys.
DEE: Overwhelmingly, yeah.
CAITLIN: Overwhelmingly. I think the closest that I know of to parity is Pokemon, which is generally pretty good about being inclusive of boys and girls. I don’t know if there’s—
DEE: Pokemon does a much, much, much better job. We do not have time on this podcast for me to parse that out over a thousand episodes, so I’m not going to get into it, because if I do, I won’t stop and it’ll be awkward for everyone at home.
CAITLIN: I knew I was taking a risk when I mentioned Pokemon around Dee.
DEE: Which is why I’m just gonna say that, yes, by and large, the parity in Pokemon is nice to see, and it’s one of the things I really like about it.
I think this is something we talk about a lot—and I know growing up as a kid, this was the kind of thing where I would try to get into shounen… Somewhat to the show’s detriment, now that I am a grown-ass adult who has seen a lot of anime, this is very much a beat-for-beat shounen battle/sports series. So far, anyway. It’s CLAMP, so it could definitely go some interesting directions as we go. So far, it has done nothing to surprise me, as far as how this genre goes.
But we talk a lot about how cool it would be to have those kinds of stories for teenagers who are girls or femme-presenting or what have you to see themselves in these kinds of battle series, because so often they’re dominated by boys. So, while I feel like I maybe missed the train for this a little bit because I’m not 12, this is definitely a show that—so far, anyway—you could show to a 12-year-old. And I think it’s really neat how it’s doing all that stuff that would feel fresh and new if I was 12. It wouldn’t feel like something I’ve seen multiple times before.
MERCEDEZ: And it’s funny you say that because actually, that was something that was commented on by a lot of the voice actors for the dub, that they did the show in part so their kids could have something they could watch that their voices were in.
MERCEDEZ: I want to say I read the manga whenever Tokyopop released it, maybe 2004. I was right at that tweenage, teenage sweet spot where this was my jam. I was not a doll kid growing up. I didn’t like them. Fun fact: used to cry if you gave me a Barbie.
CAITLIN: I definitely was disappointed by a few Barbie gifts growing up.
DEE: Actively hated them. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I was soundly a Hot Wheels child. But Angelic Layer was really cool, and it was one of my first manga, so it kind of hit that. And then it was these girls fighting with these action dolls that have this really pretty hair, and it just really satisfied.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] And cool costumes…
MERCEDEZ: I just have to say that Misaki gives Hikaru the most 12-year-old costume design ever, and I love it.
CAITLIN: [laughs] It’s so good!
MERCEDEZ: I love it.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s really good, though. Yeah.
MERCEDEZ: It’s so good. It’s so good. And she cuts her hair and she’s like, “Oops. Guess it’s gonna be this way.” And you’re just like, “Ah, it’s good. Good choices, good choices. Excellent. Wonderful.” [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I think it is very significant that the girls have so much control over these fighting dolls that they have. They build them from a very simple template. They give them the qualities they want. They give them the costumes they want.
MERCEDEZ: They decide their attributes. Yeah, it is this Make Your Dream Doll, but on a really high-tech level, and it’s really cool. It’s playing dress-up to this really neat extreme. I believe the Angel Egg comes with a little laptop that you can set everything up with. It’s just wonderful.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Put points into different things.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, it’s like baby’s first point attribute tree, and I love it.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] All right. Let’s talk about the characters a little bit. So, we’ve got Misaki and Hikaru. I’m tying them in together.
DEE: That’s fair.
CAITLIN: How do you feel about Misaki as a protagonist?
MERCEDEZ: My first thought was “This poor child got suckered into spending all her money.”
CAITLIN: [pitying] Had to walk home…
MERCEDEZ: She comes to the big city, and she gets suckered in. And, I mean, Tokyo Station is far from a lot of places.
MERCEDEZ: That’s not an easy walk that she did. And she had bags? This poor child.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I don’t know what part of town her aunt lives in.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t think they say, but it was far.
DEE: I mean, it was light out when she got to the store, and it was very dark by the time she got there.
MERCEDEZ: She collapses on the front steps. This poor child. But I think—
CAITLIN: And before cell phones were a given.
MERCEDEZ: Right. I think, though, what it does is it actually endeared me to her a lot. I actually really like her. I think Misaki is a really authentic 12-year-old kid. Because you know sometimes anime kids are not actual human children.
CAITLIN: Oh, we’ll get into that when we talk about Hatoko.
MERCEDEZ: Oh boy.
DEE: Yeah, we will.
MERCEDEZ: But I feel like Misaki feels close to an authentic Japanese 12-year-old who’s into the newest toy. She gets swept up in it. She really wants to do it. I like that she carries Hikaru around all the time, which is what kids do. I really like her. I just really like her. She’s very different from in the manga in a few ways, which… I actually think it’s for the better.
CAITLIN: What are some of those differences?
MERCEDEZ: So, in the manga, she is much more clumsy and she gets excited and riled up a lot more frequently. In the manga, there’s a lot more of a desire to thread romance into her character, which… I don’t know if that’s in the anime. We haven’t really gotten that in this first arc, but she’s a lot more confident in the anime than in the manga. In the manga, she was flummoxed a lot. And she blushes a lot in the manga. She gets really anxious.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I remember the manga had a lot of jokes about her panties.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, which, thank God they took that out.
CAITLIN: Yeah. CLAMP, what are you doing?
MERCEDEZ: It’s the same character, but she’s a lot more humanized in the anime, versus the manga, where she was kind of a collection of tropes in a 12-year-old body. In the manga, she was much more hesitant, and in the anime, she just acts like a 12-year-old, and it’s really nice, actually.
CAITLIN: It’s interesting to compare her to Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura, because they’re close to the same age, but Sakura is this powerhouse when it comes to a lot of things. She’s athletic, she’s confident, she’s popular in her school. And she’s not perfect. I really like Sakura as a character. Don’t get me wrong, especially anime Sakura. We won’t get into that again.
CAITLIN: But she is perfectly suited to her role as a Cardcaptor, whereas Misaki—and they go into this a little bit in the show—she’s kind of shy, kind of awkward. She’s clumsy. She is not who you would expect to be really successful at something like Angelic Layer.
And I think that actually has a lot of power, because I think Hikaru is who she wants to be. Hikaru is an idealized version of herself, and I think it’s really sweet. When they first got into the Layer, she’s like, “I can make Hikaru smile at me?”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it was so sweet!
CAITLIN: She was so excited about… not being able to do cool stuff with her doll. She’s just like, “Oh, she can smile!” She can feel like she has this relationship with this doll.
MERCEDEZ: Definitely. I like the way that she is in the anime because they take all of the qualities from the manga and they just tamp them down a little so that she’s a much more relatable character. Like I said, I really love that she carries Hikaru around and she cares when Hikaru gets hurt. She’s a very tender, good kid.
But they took out a lot of the stuff—the CLAMP-isms, as I think they’re good to call—they took out a lot of the CLAMP-isms in the anime and made Misaki a much more, I would say, enjoyable character. I really like her. I like her a lot. She’s a good kid.
CAITLIN: Dee, do you have any thoughts on Misaki?
DEE: I do. I think I’m gonna be the buzzkill this week. Um…
MERCEDEZ: That’s okay. That’s okay.
DEE: I did find her really endearing, especially in that first episode, where, like you said, she comes to the big city and she’s so excited, and it’s a very 12-year-old reaction, to “What a cool toy! Yeah, I’m gonna get one of those! Oh, I can’t wait to get involved in this!” and sort of stumbles into it. And I liked that in the first episode.
I like that they’d done this combination of… she has some femme-coded qualities like she’s a really good cook, she’s a good seamstress. All the other girl characters want to marry her, which is kinda cute.
CAITLIN: It’s a little weird when her aunt proposes to her.
DEE: But her aunt is so clearly joking when she says that that it didn’t really bother me. But I like that she has those qualities, but then she also gets really into this fighting game. I think that mishmash of qualities isn’t seen as often as it should be, and they don’t really make a big deal about it. It’s just two aspects of Misaki’s personality, and I thought that was cool.
I will be real with you guys: I struggled during the middle stretch of these first seven episodes, because it was just one fight after another with some one-off characters, and I couldn’t really figure out why Misaki was playing. And it was kind of playing into that “Oh, she’s just naturally gifted because, as is being heavily foreshadowed, her mom played the game and is also super good at it, so it’s in her blood,” and I don’t care for that kind of storytelling necessarily. And I was like, “Okay, there’s no struggle here. Misaki hasn’t had to struggle to learn how to play this game. She’s just naturally good at it, and I don’t understand why.”
And so, finally— I’m glad we watched seven episodes, because towards the end of 6 and in 7, I started to get a feel for: one, some of her strengths, like the fact that she’s super observant, which is not necessarily a trait that you see in protagonist characters a lot, so I thought that was kind of interesting.
CAITLIN: Well, it’s a feminine-coded trait, right? Being observant…
DEE: Yeah, and empathetic and just paying attention to other people and things like that.
And then the other thing that they did was they actually finally called out… Misaki’s never really been super into a thing before, and she was just playing for fun, and then she hits this point where she loses and she realizes, “Oh. I’m actually super frustrated. I want to not play this for fun; I want to be good at this.”
Them being in junior high is a good place for this. It’s that turning point where you go from “Oh yeah, I’m just playing around and having a good time” to “Oh wait, is this something I want to do for serious? Because I will take a different approach to it.” And I think the show could’ve gotten there faster, and I would’ve had an easier time with this first stretch of episodes, because yeah, the middle was rough.
MERCEDEZ: The middle is admittedly… It did feel like a bit of a slog because it was kinda like “Okay, Misaki tosses Hikaru into the ring and wins.”
DEE: Yeah. Over and over and over again.
MERCEDEZ: And I think that’s why that episode where Hatoko takes her down a peg and is like, “Hey, I work really hard and I train, and you’re gonna lose to me today, and it’s not gonna be fun. But let this be the only time you lose.” I thought that actually was a really good…
I think if we had only watched to 6, my opinion might feel very different. But seeing that episode where Misaki has to go through her first loss and she cries—she’s really heartbroken—I was like, okay, that kind of made up for this series of episodes that… because I think those were definitely original episodes of her facing off against these characters that… she wins by luck, she wins because she observed. It made up for that, seeing her have to face… “Oh, I’m really passionate about this thing, and it hurts, because I’m so passionate, that I lost.” It really made up for that.
CAITLIN: Well, I’ll pretend that it was deliberate making you guys watch to 7. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it was a good idea.
CAITLIN: I chose to do that! Yeah, no, and that’s all totally fair. Her feeling defeat is a really important part of her character arc.
MERCEDEZ: And her having to deal with, in episode 7, being afraid of losing again. She throws Hikaru in; she doesn’t want to move her. You know, Hikaru’s her best friend. She’s very afraid of hurting her. And I think that actually fleshed out Misaki a bit more from just the protagonist to an actual, fully formed character that has room to grow.
CAITLIN: Hatoko just came up. I don’t like Hatoko.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t like her at all.
DEE: She’s one of those characters who show up in anime… I don’t know what it is about characters under… If you give me a character who’s like 12 or 14 and they’re weirdly mature, I can be like, “Okay, well, I could maybe see it, depending upon their life experiences or whatever.” When you give me a five-year-old like Hatoko, I’m like, “Bullshit!”
CAITLIN: Yes, exactly.
DEE: I cannot. Nope. Bullshit.
CAITLIN: So, Dee knows this. Mercedez, I don’t know if you know this about me: I cannot stand overly precocious fictional children.
MERCEDEZ: I did not know that about you. Probably why we’re friends, because I don’t like overly precocious children because it doesn’t occur. It’s just not natural. Hatoko walks into the series, and she’s just the most sage child to ever exist.
CAITLIN: She’s confident and she’s driven, and it’s like, no, five-year-olds aren’t like that.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, and it’s jarring because at the very beginning, when Misaki sees Angelic Layer, there’s these two nursery-school-age kids, maybe four or five, who run up and they’re like, “Oh, it’s Angelic Layer, dummy! You didn’t know the right word!” And they’re children. And then Hatoko walks in, and she’s lived a thousand lifetimes.
DEE: And again, for whatever reason for me, if they had made her a few years younger than Hikaru, if she was a ten-year-old genius, I would maybe buy… And really, it’s that level of calmness. Five-year-olds, they’re just not—
CAITLIN: The poise.
DEE: Yeah. Poise, yeah.
MERCEDEZ: The only time I believed Hatoko was a child and not secretly a thousand-year-old spirit—
DEE: Inhabiting the body, yes.
MERCEDEZ: The only time I believed it was when she cried because she couldn’t go to the training center, and she was like, “But I have to! I have to practice!” I was like, “Okay, this is an actual human child,” because I was like, “Oh yeah, kids cry when they can’t get what they want.”
CAITLIN: Right. But even then, the “I have to practice every single day or I won’t be competitive any more…”
DEE: That level of forethought is… no.
CAITLIN: No. No. And I’ve known weirdly intense five-year-olds. They exist. They happen.
DEE: Yeah, they do. Absolutely.
CAITLIN: But not with the wisdom and the knowledge that accompanies it for Hatoko.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, Hatoko gives me the vibe that she secretly has a 401(k) and we just don’t know about it.
DEE: Because she’s the rival character who the main character is chasing; she’s that style of character. She’s the Akira to your Hikaru, if I’m talking about Hikaru no Go. (I don’t know why that’s the one that popped into my head, but there it is. Same time period, so I guess that’s why.) But it’s weird for her to be a tiny child rival character.
MERCEDEZ: And I get the feeling it’s only going to get weirder. That’s playing largely off of my memory of the manga, but the fact that she’s the five-year-old— They call her the Miracle Kindergartener. I feel it’s only going to get weirder that this five-year-old inexplicably is an Angelic Layer genius.
Yeah, I’m with y’all. The genius child trope… If she had been ten, that would have actually been really interesting, but she’s five.
CAITLIN: Right, 10, there’s still a wide developmental gap between 10 and 12, but it’s not wildly different, like five. So yeah, I’m glad we’re all in agreement that Hatoko is not a good character.
DEE: And also, for totally selfish reasons, I’m really disappointed that she’s the rival character, because as we know, the best rivals in shounen either hate each other’s guts and want to kill each other or secretly want to do a smooch, and that’s not going to happen with Hatoko.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Cannot have that.
DEE: They can’t have it here.
MERCEDEZ: You can’t secretly smooch her. Nope. Kudos to Hatoko, though: she has one of the coolest Angel designs.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] That’s true.
MERCEDEZ: And I’m just like, this child did a real good design.
DEE: The ninja character’s good, true.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s good. It’s good. If we’re talking about characters we’re not fond of, I have to bring my girl Tamayo.
CAITLIN: Tamayo, yeah, she’s…
MERCEDEZ: I don’t like her.
DEE: Oh no!
CAITLIN: You mentioned the dub actors. Did you watch the dub?
MERCEDEZ: [chuckling] I watched the dub!
CAITLIN: Okay, well, that explains it a lot, because Monica Rial’s performance as Tamayo sucks.
DEE: Oh no.
CAITLIN: I hate it.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s not good. No offense, Ms. Rial: it’s discount Renge, and I don’t like it.
CAITLIN: This was actually the dub that made me go like, “Oh, I don’t like Monica Rial.” And I have not changed that opinion since.
DEE: Oh no!
MERCEDEZ: It’s not a good performance. I assume you all are watching the sub.
DEE: I gave the dub a try, and I was like, “This is very early ADV.” ADV, to my knowledge, only did one good dub, and it was Evangelion. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Here’s what happened for me. I opened HiDIVE, and it just was like, “Oh, you’re watching the dub.” And I was like, “Okay, HiDIVE. Thank you for deciding for me.”
MERCEDEZ: So, I’m gonna stick with the dub because it’s very of its era. And I don’t know if it was the voice work… The voice work, probably, on Tamayo didn’t do it for me. Also, I don’t like that she chokeholds people.
MERCEDEZ: It’s not nice.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s not…
MERCEDEZ: That’s not nice.
CAITLIN: Not nice.
MERCEDEZ: But you know what? It probably actually was the voice work that made me not like her, because I remember liking her when I read the manga. But something about her this time, it’s not enjoyable.
CAITLIN: It’s a very grating performance.
DEE: When Rial goes high pitch, she has to be careful or she can enter mega-obnoxious range, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, and I think that’s where it’s hitting.
DEE: Well, this would’ve definitely been an earlier one of her performances, too, so I’m sure that didn’t help things.
Yeah, I don’t care for the… Caitlin knows this about me. Mercedez, you will learn this about me today! I really don’t care for the comical punching bag-type character relationship, unless it’s evenly balanced between the two or it’s clearly roughhousing and they’re having a good time. And this one handles it better than a lot of series I’ve seen, because Kotaro also knows karate and is lowkey blocking her moves, I guess they try to establish. But he clearly isn’t enjoying himself.
MERCEDEZ: There’s a point where Misaki is like, “I think you killed him.”
MERCEDEZ: And I was like, “Uh…”
CAITLIN: He’s just crawling along the ground as his friends laugh.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I felt real bad for Kotaro. This poor child has it rough. He’s made fun of constantly, he’s the butt of jokes…
CAITLIN: His best friend chokes him; his little sister is a thousand years old, reincarnated into a five-year-old body… [chuckles]
DEE: They made a really shitty joke about putting him in dresses or something, and then…
MERCEDEZ: Oh yeah, the crossdressing joke.
DEE: Giving him crap for being a crossdresser. And I was “Ooh boy, this sure was made in the early ‘00s, wasn’t it?”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, there were actually a few times where I was like, “Yeah, this was made in 2001. Mm-hm. Yeah.”
DEE: There’s some gender essentialist gay panic shit every so often that kind of makes my eyebrow twitch. And it’s not all over the place, but it’s every so often, and I’m like, “Okay. 2001.” I have to just tell myself, “2001, Dee. 2001.”
MERCEDEZ: Speaking of a character that is straight out of 2001, what about Icchan? [chuckles]
DEE: I’m calling the cops!
CAITLIN: Not good to have jokes about an adult man preying on a 12-year-old. Not good, not funny. Not funny.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, he is far better in the anime than he was in the manga, because he instigates some of the panty shots in the manga.
DEE: Oh Lord!
MERCEDEZ: If I’m remembering correctly, he instigates some of them, which… That’s bad because… it’s just not good. Just not good.
DEE: Yeah, when he showed up, my first thought was Dr. Shioji from Excel Saga, and I did not trust him. I will say I feel like the anime is doing everything they can to be like, “He’s a big, weird eccentric, but he is totally harmless,” except to poor Ogata, who needs a new job.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Poor Ogata!
MERCEDEZ: When he put the octopus down that boy’s pants…
CAITLIN: That’s sexual harassment.
DEE: Yeah, I was like, “You’re a pervert!”
MERCEDEZ: Ogata is clearly writhing in the background in a way that I was like, “I’m not comfortable with this. I didn’t consent to this at all.”
CAITLIN: All the connotations of octopi…
DEE: The slapstick in Angelic Layer is… Again, to me, it’s very of its time and it is discomfiting in a way that I don’t enjoy.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I will say, the one scene that made me laugh with him… I think it’s when Misaki is making Hikaru’s clothes. If you look up, Icchan is in the tree trying to feed cats taiyaki from his mouth.
DEE: Yes. Yes.
CAITLIN: I missed that! I don’t remember that.
DEE: It’s just a slowdown pan shot, a total throwaway gag while Misaki’s—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Inexplicable.
DEE: Yeah, it’s really bizarre.
MERCEDEZ: And he’s going “Nyao nyao,” and you’re like, “Oh my God. Can someone get this man away from Misaki, please?”
CAITLIN: But they mention who he is in the Angelic Layer world, right?
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, they drop that he’s the father.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] The inventor of Angelic Layer.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, he’s the father of Angelic— Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, and he clearly has some connection to her mom, because her mom is the lady in the wheelchair who’s working for them at the facility. And we’re not sure what they’re working on, but she’s clearly doing some kind of project for him and his team.
MERCEDEZ: Right. Which, I have to say Misaki’s mother is a really interesting enigma.
CAITLIN: Right, her role—
MERCEDEZ: We don’t get anything about her in these first seven episodes other than she exists.
DEE: And will definitely be important.
CAITLIN: She exists and that she is not in good health.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And we know that she has the very pretty white Angel. And that’s pretty much all you get. And that she’s shocked when she sees that her daughter is competing in Angelic Layer. But that’s pretty much it.
CAITLIN: I will tell you her role in the anime is extremely different from her role in the manga.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, I’m interested to see that because I distinctly remember her role in the manga.
CAITLIN: Her role in the manga was bad. [chuckles] It was more CLAMP writing characters that don’t make sense.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, because the excuse for why she is not around her daughter in the manga is so paper-thin as to be—
CAITLIN: We can just say it—because it is actually completely different in the anime—which is that she had a baby and the baby was just so cute, she couldn’t stand to be around it.
DEE: What? I had forgotten about that. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because Misaki’s mother is super shy. And the one time that we see them interact in the manga, you think that her mother’s going to faint because—
CAITLIN: Which— Listen. Obviously, she managed to have sex with a man at some point. And she had a baby. So she can’t be that shy, that she’s like, “I can’t be around my child! She’s too cute!”
MERCEDEZ: “I can’t be around my child, so I’m going to not talk to them from the time they’re in kindergarten till they’re 12.” Because it’s said, I believe, in that first episode that Misaki hasn’t seen her mother since she was in kindergarten. That’s been seven, eight years.
DEE: Yeah. And it’s not clear if they talk on the phone or if she sends her letters or if there’s just been zero communication at all.
MERCEDEZ: It felt like the implication was that she gets money from her family and she lives out in Wakayama with her grandma, and that her mother has been no contact pretty much most of her life, which is…
DEE: That’s definitely said, yeah, which is, once again, a pretty good beat-for-beat shounen, but with the genders reversed. So, like “Dad’s gone mysteriously. I wonder what Dad’s up to. Oh, my fate is linked with Dad’s. Cool.” It’s extremely shounen, and props to CLAMP for, again, being like, “Let’s do it with a girl and her mom instead of a boy and his dad.”
MERCEDEZ: It is an interesting dynamic, and now I’m excited to see what her mother’s character shapes up to be. Because I will say the one thing I distinctly remember from the manga, I remember the final arc, where she and her mother encounter each other. I remember that really distinctly. And knowing that that’s going to be different makes me want to know how the leadup to that’s going to go.
CAITLIN: There’s going to be a lot with that. Do we have anything to say about Kotaro other than “Poor Kotaro”?
MERCEDEZ: I mean, poor guy. Just, poor guy.
DEE: Seems like a nice boy. I’d be okay if he and Misaki ended up dating. They’d probably be cute together.
Oh, one last thing I did want to say about Tamayo, other than the fact that she is A Lot and the comedy slapstick is A Lot, I do think it’s neat that Misaki is learning about martial arts from her girl friend. I thought that was a nice touch, that Tamayo is the one who’s a martial arts nut and she’s teaching Misaki how to use fighting moves in the Angelic Layer ring.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because Tamayo knows karate, judo… I think she lists capoeira. [chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Which, this is my little dig at the dub. The way they pronounced “capoeira,” I was like, “Did no one give Monica Rial the read on it?”
CAITLIN: How did she say it?
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. She was like “Capo-ee-eye-ruh,” and I was like, “What?” [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Oh no!
MERCEDEZ: That’s not that! That’s not that word. I was just like, “Oh no, someone failed Monica Rial real roughly. She didn’t deserve that.”
CAITLIN: Capoeira’s fairly well known now, but I don’t think it was very well known in the U.S. in the early ‘00s.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I feel like it got popular in the late 2000s, but—
CAITLIN: There was a capoeira club at my college. It’s cool! It’s a very cool thing to watch, but…
MERCEDEZ: But I was just like, “Someone should’ve made sure to double-check the pronunciation,” because it sticks out. She’s like, “Judo, karate, capo-ee-era,” and you’re like “What?” [chuckles]
But I do like that Tamayo is the one who teaches Misaki and that Misaki actually utilizes the moves she sees in battle, which is pretty cool.
DEE: Yeah, the mental connection allows… which is nice because Misaki’s not an athletic person, but she can observe other people and imagine what the moves look like. It’s a neat way to give her the ability to do something that she maybe wouldn’t have wanted to or even could do in the real world, but with these dolls, with Hikaru and her avatar.
MERCEDEZ: Overall, it’s solidly a pretty good setup. Certainly, if I were a 12-year-old, I would be pretty into this. I would be like, “Where is my Angelic Layer? Can I buy one now? Where’s the local Piffle Princess? Take me there.” It’s pretty cool.
CAITLIN: And then we also have several one-off opponents in these episodes. So, there’s the BDSM mean girl, Kyoko.
MERCEDEZ: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
DEE: With the whips.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah! With the electric whips.
CAITLIN: The cheater. She’s undefeated because she only fights rookies, which sucks.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, when she said that she only fought new players, I was like, “That’s not nice.” [chuckles] That’s not good. But then, our girl Misaki comes through. [chuckles]
DEE: Honestly, I think the only one of the one-off characters who really left an impression on me was Maria, final episode. Partly because it was the last episode I watched, but also I think that Maria’s little internal conflict ties in really well with what’s actually going on in the show, in terms of the idea of Angelic Layer as something you do for fun versus something you do seriously and Misaki finding that middle ground, where she’s like, “Well, no, I’m serious about this, but also, this is fun. We’re in this ring together battling. Let’s have a good time here.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. And Maria also ties into the Angels as an extension of the self, as who you are and also who you want to be. Because she hates her name and so she gave her Angel a name that she thought was really great. And she hates her name because she’s named after the Virgin Mary. She’s like, “I am not that nice! I am not that giving, even though I am expected to be.” And the fact that these expectations were placed on her made her kind of bitter.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah! You get that sense right off the bat. And I actually like how her character was written. At the beginning of the fight, she yawns after she has to give her Angel announcement to toss her Angel in, and she’s like, “It’s boring. I don’t want to do it. Let’s just fight.” And by the end of the fight, you have a very different character, and I think that’s actually kind of nice. She’s a good kid.
DEE: Yeah, I thought that was… To me, Angelic Layer is almost a sports anime because they are playing a game, ultimately. I assume nobody’s going to die while playing Angelic Layer.
DEE: I guess I could be surprised.
MERCEDEZ: I’m thinking of the comparison to Yu-Gi-Oh and I’m just thinking about Misaki being sent to the Shadow Realm.
CAITLIN: [laughing] Oh God!
CAITLIN: Misaki gets taken over by the spirit of Hikaru. [unintelligible due to laughter]
MERCEDEZ: She becomes a doll for an episode. Oh my gosh. Yeah, assumably, no one’s gonna die or get hurt.
CAITLIN: Just hurt feelings.
DEE: Just hurt feelings. But it has that element of a sports series, and that focus on your opponents is very much a part of that genre. And I thought that episode, it was a really good one-off episode to show you something about Misaki and something about this character who we probably won’t ever see again, but it was a nice, self-contained storyline.
I think the earlier episodes had really struggled to do that with the fighters that Misaki was up against, so I enjoyed that. I thought they did a good job with that, and I hope that we get more of that balance between the opponent and Misaki and what they learn about each other in the ring.
MERCEDEZ: And I think as we get into the wider tournament arc coming up— I think the show has its legs now, and so it can develop and fill in. I’m really excited to see how it’s going to fill in… What, we watched 7 out of 26 episodes, so the next 21, I’m excited to see how it’s going to fill that in.
CAITLIN: Mercedez, did you recognize the characters Speedwagon-ing in the stands?
MERCEDEZ: Yes, I did. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Did you recognize them at all, Dee? Did they ring a bell?
DEE: I don’t remember what you’re talking about, I’m sorry.
CAITLIN: They’re standing all mysterious, commenting on the matches up in the stands.
DEE: Oh! They looked familiar, but I couldn’t have told you anything beyond that.
CAITLIN: All right.
MERCEDEZ: I’m very excited for them.
CAITLIN: So, I just wanted to briefly mention Vasquez and her Deus, who doesn’t even get a name.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, she does have a name.
CAITLIN: Oh, she does?
CAITLIN: What’s her name?
MERCEDEZ: I believe her name is Yuko. Ah, Yuka. It’s Yuka.
CAITLIN: Yuka, okay.
MERCEDEZ: No, I’m sorry. Yuka is Catalina’s Deus. I think Tomoko Yamada is her official name. I don’t know if they ever say it or if it’s displayed, but she does have a name.
CAITLIN: Okay. Cool. I wish there were more butch Angels.
MERCEDEZ: I am just so here for Vasquez.
CAITLIN: There is a good variety of design in the Angels. Don’t get me wrong. But a lot of them are generally very femme. And the Deus, Tomoko, her whole look… very butch. The spiked hair, the camo tank top…
MERCEDEZ: The cargo pants.
MERCEDEZ: Very good.
DEE: I appreciated that some of the Angel designs were buff, burly, but still femme coded, intended to be read as women.
CAITLIN: Like Jasper from Steven Universe.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because Vasquez, I felt, was very butch in design, but very still feminine. And I actually liked that because, yeah, a lot of the Angels follow the slim and slightly curvy design, and so it was nice to see an Angel that looked different. It felt really good.
CAITLIN: And I wish we had—I guess, very mild spoilers—we had more of those in the main cast. But CLAMP likes their girly character designs, so…
MERCEDEZ: The main cast is very… The Angels all share a very similar figure.
DEE: Yeah. To be fair, CLAMP doesn’t like drawing buff anybody.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, that’s true.
DEE: Across the gender spectrum, so… Noodle boys.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] No buffness for anyone. Yeah, those good pasta boys.
CAITLIN: Before we go, do you have any predictions about what’s going to happen?
MERCEDEZ: I’m gonna let myself just dream big. I’m gonna predict that this series is gonna say, “Who’s Misaki’s father? It’s Icchan.”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hm. Yeah, and I’m sticking to that. I’m sticking to that until I’m proven wrong. Mm-hm.
CAITLIN: All right.
DEE: Ogata files an official complaint with HR.
MERCEDEZ: I hope.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I think that’s more wishful thinking. [chuckles]
DEE: It is. It is. No, I think the tiny robots are going to fight a lot and Misaki is going to slowly but surely come closer and closer to her mom until they have a big, dramatic finale finish. And she’ll probably defeat Hatoko at some point. I know the beats of this story. Maybe I’ll be surprised, but that’s my general sense of where we’re going from here.
MERCEDEZ: I kind of hope we get to see her and her mother fight, and I kind of want her to defeat her mother.
DEE: That would be solid.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I want that connection.
CAITLIN: All right. So, next time we’ll watch episodes 8 to 13.
CAITLIN: Get a good six episodes in.
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Thank you so much for listening. I’m so excited to go on this journey with you guys.
MERCEDEZ: I am too. I am too. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Thank you to Dee and Mercedez for joining me. And don’t forget to…
DEE: Don’t shove octopi down your coworker’s pants, and we will see you next time.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh my God.
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