Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez continue their exploration of CLAMP’s foray into battle shounen with the fighting robot series Angelic Layer!
Date Recorded: August 30th, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez
0:01:27 Impressions and tournament arcs
0:07:04 All 3 make commitments to write Angelic Layer articles
0:08:50 Gender essentialism
0:24:49 Dub and localization
0:28:32 Madoka, Alice, and CLAMP nonsense
0:52:07 Misaki’s mom
CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Welcome to the second episode of our watchalong of the anime adaptation of Angelic Layer. My name’s 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. I’m joined today by fellow AniFem staffers Dee and Mercedez!
MERCEDEZ: Hi, my name is Mercedez, and I am also an editor for Anime Feminist. I am an aspiring Japanese-to-English translator, a recent returnee to America, and I sometimes review doujinshi now. So, yeah!
CAITLIN: All right, so, for today we watched Angelic Layer, episodes 8 to 13, in which Misaki sweeps the competition in the tournament, battles against gender roles, and discovers that she has a weak point, but isn’t quite sure what.
DEE: And we end it on a cliffhanger.
CAITLIN: And it ended on a cliffhanger!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh my God, it ended on such a cliffhanger.
DEE: Half a battle. We got half a battle and we stopped. I was like, “Dang it!”
MERCEDEZ: It was such a good cliffhanger. I was really excited, and then I remembered, “Oh, it’s only to episode 13.”
CAITLIN: Yep. But it’s okay. As soon as we finish recording this, you can watch. So, how did you guys like these episodes?
MERCEDEZ: I really liked them. Honestly, this second arc that we’re going into was quite enjoyable. Misaki smashes the glass ceiling a couple of times, which I was like, “Okay. Cool.” I really like the new characters that we’re getting to interact with. My favorites showed up.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Sai and Kaede?
MERCEDEZ: Love it! So excited. Yeah, pretty good, pretty good. It was really quite enjoyable.
DEE: Yeah, I had a much easier time with this stretch. I mentioned last week—and I downplayed it a little bit, because the last stretch, I think, ended pretty strongly… I really struggled with the middle of the first batch of episodes here.
This time I thought they did a much better time balancing the character work with the tournaments and giving you a better sense of who Misaki was fighting and why she was doing it, and the kind of character development she was gaining as she went, growing as a person in both herself and her relationships with others. So, yeah.
I think I will probably just never… I struggle with tournament arcs in most shows. I’ve watched over 1,000 episodes of Pokemon and, y’all, I do not watch it for the tournaments.
DEE: That’s the part where I’m multitasking and doing other things. And we don’t need to get into all of the reasons why I struggle with tournament arcs. So, I’m probably never going to be super into the tournament itself, but I think everything around it this stretch was a lot stronger and more balanced with what was going on in the tournament. So, yeah, I had a much easier time with this stretch. It was a pretty breezy watch, so that was nice.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Angelic Layer is pretty much just a big tournament arc if you really think about it. But they do so strongly with the character work that it kind of incorporates what makes other sports series work alongside the tournament arc, because you still get those episodes of character development.
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think the fact that it is a sports series more so than a battle anime makes the tournament work a little bit better for me as well. I think the stakes are fairly low, because as the characters themselves point out a lot—Misaki especially, she’s like, “It’s a game. We’re playing for fun. I wanna win because I like this game and winning is fun, but it’s a game.”
MERCEDEZ: I would say that the only character that the stakes are actually kinda high for… well, there’s two: Hatoko and Kaede. I would say that the stakes are a little bit higher for them, but Misaki’s just really chill. She’s just super happy to be here. I think she’s kind of surprised that she got this far, which I would be, too.
DEE: [crosstalk] I kind of am, too, honestly. Her first time in the tournament and everything…
MERCEDEZ: It is nice that it’s just like, “It’s a game. Let’s have fun and let’s enjoy ourselves.” Because even Icchan at one point mentions, “It’s a toy. It’s for fun.” So that is kind of nice, and I feel like they settled a bit more into that.
DEE: And I do think they’re doing a decent job of building some stakes around Misaki and her mom, because clearly her mom has some concerns about meeting up with her at this point and we’re not sure why. And we know she’s working on some project that’s not particularly good for her health, it seems like, but she’s powering through it anyway.
And I think I’m gonna compare this to Gundam Build Fighters like five times today, and I apologize if that happens.
CAITLIN: It’s a valid comparison.
DEE: They are so similar to the point where I’m pretty sure the people who made Gundam Build Fighters were inspired by Angelic Layer. That’s how much similarity points I’m finding between the two.
But it’s the same idea where they’re toys in a game; you’re playing for fun. Nobody’s actually in danger of getting hurt. Build Fighters builds in an aspect of: the robots actually do get completely wrecked and you have to then repair them, so even if you won your fight, if your robot is almost destroyed and you’ve got a day to turn it around, there’s some stakes in there as far as damage and stuff goes. But… Oh, what was the point I was going to make here? Oh, the first season of that had this—
DEE: I know what it was. —Also had this undercurrent mystery arc working with some of the characters and what was going on the background of the battles, and that really helped make the first season really engaging, whereas I thought the second season of that show was a little weak.
So, I think Angelic Layer is kind of doing the same thing, where it’s building up these character arcs and these mysteries going on in the background. So, yeah, we can cheer for Misaki playing a fun game with her friends, but also, there’s all this other stuff to keep you coming back and keep you wondering what’s gonna happen next.
CAITLIN: Yeah, when I told Jared about Angelic Layer, he was like, “Oh, it’s just Gundam Build Fighters.” And then he had to explain to me what Gundam Build Fighters was about.
DEE: Well, there’s a not-small chance I will end up writing some kind of a Versus article on the two of them based on their gender politics specifically, but obviously, we’re halfway through Angelic Layer. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.
CAITLIN: Well, I already have my Angelic Layer article that I’m planning to do, so…
MERCEDEZ: Lowkey, I was watching again this morning and I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna write something about this.”
DEE: Yeah. “We need to say more. We need to say things in text form, too.” It happens sometimes, yeah.
CAITLIN: I mean, because there’s a lot to dig into with it—
MERCEDEZ: There really is.
CAITLIN: —in terms of gender politics and stuff like that with this. The show makes it explicit!
DEE: Yeah. We jumped right into it with this stretch, with the episode with Ryo.
CAITLIN: Yeah, with Misaki-kun. It basically makes… Not “basically.” It does make it text that this is a combat sport that traditionally would be considered for boys, and some boys are very uncomfortable with the fact that this is a combat sport that girls like and girls are good at.
DEE: And really dominate. And there’s even a line in there… I can’t remember who it is. I think maybe Tamayo makes a comment about how it’s weird for boys to be interested in Angelic Layer.
MERCEDEZ: It is. It is, because then Misaki’s like, “No, I understand why he likes it.”
DEE: Yeah, and I really did like that Misaki immediately shot that down, because it basically came out to be like, “It’s weird for boys to be playing with dolls,” and then Misaki went, “No, that’s fine. Boys can play with dolls. Don’t be stupid.”
There was a lot I liked in that episode, and then there was some stuff that kinda made my eyebrow twitch, because it does sort of lean into gender essentialism here and there in ways that… I mean, again, 2001. But the girls have a conversation about how boys are naturally physically stronger.
DEE: And that’s really not examined. Tamayo makes a comment about “Well, I beat up Kotaro all the time,” and they’re like, “Yeah, but you’re Not Like Other Girls,” basically.
And then there’s a line later where they’re talking… I think Misaki’s mom and Ohjiro are talking about the importance of the emotional connection with the Layer dolls. I think that aspect of the story is really cool because it is that concept of weaponized femininity: building those bonds. Those femme-coded bonds of connection are what make you stronger in this game. I think that’s really cool. B
ut the way she talks about it is like, “Every girl names their dolls. Every girl has dolls and does this thing.” And I’m like, “Oh, come on!”
CAITLIN: I was thinking about you, Mercedez, when she started talking about that! [Laughs]
MERCEDEZ: Me just sobbing over a Barbie doll.
MERCEDEZ: And I will say it’s interesting watching a show that is so centered on girls and dolls as a kid that was never a doll kid. As an adult, I’m not a doll adult. But it was interesting because they had that section of “Girls name their dolls and dress them up,” and I was like, “No. No, #NotAllGirls,” because I—
MERCEDEZ: I just didn’t. I never had that phase, and I never had that interest, even. [Chuckles]
DEE: I didn’t grow up with that. Yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, if I were in the Angelic Layer world, I would be crying if someone gave me the doll. I would just be like, “I don’t want this! I just want to watch.”
DEE: Until you found out they could punch.
MERCEDEZ: Until they could punch, yeah.
DEE: And then you’re like, “Oh, okay, maybe I’m into this now.”
CAITLIN: If they made an equivalent with stuffed animals, I would be way more into it, but that would just be Pokemon.
DEE: And Pokemon also has that aspect of: you can name the characters but you don’t have to. And I was thinking, because there’s this concept in there about “Boys don’t name their toys, but girls do,” which at first I was like… Okay, one, it is super gender-essentialist and obviously untrue, but I think maybe what they’re talking about—and something I’d never really considered—is that the toys that are marketed to boys, versus girls, tend to be more… It’s that difference between… What are the types of fandoms? Transformative and what’s the other one?
DEE: Curative, yeah. To me, it’s kind of like the difference between that—because my little nephew is collecting Transformers, and they already have names. Or with the Hot Wheels, it’s like, “Oh, the car is called a Pontiac Whatever.” I don’t know cars. You guys get what I’m saying.
DEE: Whereas a lot of the time with girl toys, even Barbies, they’re all named Barbie, so you have to— That’s not really their name. That’s just the brand.
MERCEDEZ: I think toys that are aimed toward AFAB kids are much more flexible, yeah, like you said, with the name. You can kind of put yourself onto a Barbie doll.
DEE: Yeah. And when I think about a lot of the toys I was into… because I had some Barbie dolls, mostly Disney princesses, but I didn’t have a ton of Barbies. I was more into Littlest Pet Shop or plushies, like you were talking about, like Pound Puppies or Beanie— Beanie Babies had names. But a lot of those, like your Polly Pockets, you were expected to give them their names. They didn’t necessarily come with them, or if they did, they were super downplayed. It wasn’t like “Collect these five versions of Barkley the Dog or whatever.”
DEE: I made that up. I don’t know if there was a Littlest Pet Shop dog named Barkley. It’s a good name for a dog.
MERCEDEZ: I was gonna say, that’s a good dog name.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I feel like there’s these toy horses that came with little name cards. Grand Champions. Or the Bratz dolls all have names, right? But the quote-unquote “girls’ toys” do… Someone made a remark: you walk into the pink aisle at the store, it’s like everything has faces. [Chuckles] Everything’s just staring at you.
DEE: Which also kind of encourages you to make more of a connection—and that naming—and then even later… I mean, we’re jumping ahead a little bit, but Kaede’s thing with thinking of the Angel as her daughter is very similar to the way a lot—not all—but some girls will… You get the baby doll and it’s like, “Oh, this is my baby,” and that sort of femme-coded emotional familial connection behavior built into that style of toy.
MERCEDEZ: It is actually quite interesting to see a series talk about that, but not make fun of it. That’s what I actually like, is that Angelic Layer doesn’t make fun of it. It points it out, and it never goes beneath the surface, but it doesn’t make fun of it. If anything, you see that Piffle Princess has swan-dived into providing this kind of entertainment that the girls who come in want. It’s fully embraced it, but it’s not a joke, and I actually really like that.
DEE: I do really appreciate that, how seriously Angelic Layer is taken. And I like that Ryo’s arc ends with him maybe embracing some femme-coded qualities of himself that he was reluctant to… I mean, he’s into Angelic Layer, which isn’t weird. Boys should be able to play with dolls.
But he’s also like, “I’m gonna get a girl doll, and I’m gonna actually name it and develop that connection.” And he doesn’t know quite how to name things, so he names it after this girl he knows, but…
MERCEDEZ: I thought that was actually really cute, because I thought, “Oh, he looks up to her now!” And the doll has brown hair just like Misaki. Which, I have to admit, it’s a big leap because I think the robot doll he throws in is like Giant Ace, and I was like, “Oh, a little rough on the name, but it’s a good one, kid. It’s a good one.”
DEE: “You’re trying.” Yeah.
CAITLIN: And the thing that gets me with that episode is that while, yes, some of the girls are like, “Ugh, boys are too rough and…” I mean, the way they talk about boys is very, very standard for a seventh grader’s…
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s pretty true to life.
CAITLIN: They’re just like, “They’re just loud!” And nature versus nurture, whatever, it is generally true for how boys of that age behave, but most of it—
DEE: Oh, their conversation totally read true-to-life to conversations I remember from middle school.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s so true to life.
DEE: And I would’ve been in middle school at the same time these kids were.
MERCEDEZ: I’ll say, listening to them talk… So, I just left being an English teacher, right? And listening to them talk, I was like, “Oh yeah, this is just how my kids talk about boys.”
CAITLIN: But the one who shows the most adherence to gender roles and toxic masculinity, which is then challenged, is Misaki-kun: Ryo himself. And the way that he behaves at being bested in competition by girls is also very real to how a lot of guys act when girls are better than them at something.
DEE: Yeah, he kept trying to find excuses.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It must be cheating. It must be foul play. So, the fact that that is actively challenged and actively denied and made explicit is something that I thought was really great to see, because you’ll find in… [Sighs]
Shounen anime doesn’t really compete against it, but it’s such a reversal of these usual sort of situations where it’s one girl with a bunch of boys and she has to work ten times harder to prove herself. And those narratives have a place, but a boy coming into a female-dominated thing and just throwing an absolute tantrum that he is not the best at it because he’s a boy and fighting is for boys…
DEE: [crosstalk] Boys are fighters! Yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and boys are just better at things!
DEE: I like how our Misaki also kinda had to deal with her own sort of internalized expectations about that, in a very different way than he did, where she was like, “Well, but I never was able to beat the boys in physical activities.” It’s like, “Yeah, Misaki, that’s because you’re a klutz. [Chuckles] It’s okay!”
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] It’s not because you’re a girl; it’s because you are small and clumsy.
DEE: Yeah. But she struggles early on in that fight because she has this baked-in belief that “Oh no, I guess maybe I can’t beat a boy at a fighting event” and has to work through that and be like “No, no, no. I need to trust in myself and play to Hikaru’s strengths and do my thing.” And then she does and she whomps him, which is great.
CAITLIN: She’s really insecure about that sort of stuff. It’s really easy to throw her off her mental game.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And this reoccurs all throughout the beginning of this arc, but there are multiple times where she’s just like, “I can’t do it,” and then she’ll hear people cheering and that snaps her back. She gets very in her head, which I kind of liked, because I feel like as an early teenager, you’re very in your head; you feel very insecure about the world. I’m sure that there’s confident teenagers out there. I was not one of them.
MERCEDEZ: But you feel so in your head and it’s so easy to get discouraged. But someone cheering you on, someone supporting you instantly just snaps you back to it. And I like that she was written that way.
Her insecurity is definitely a little bit exaggerated because it makes for a more dramatic scenario when she’s feeling like the underdog and she hears them cheering and she comes back. She’s a very in-her-head character, but it’s kind of nice to see the shounen lead have to cope with that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Um, all right. Boy, we talked 20 minutes about one episode, guys.
CAITLIN: [fighting laughter] We have to pick up the…
DEE: Well, I think, of this stretch, there’s just a lot of feminist relevance in that episode, and it hearkened back to some of the stuff we talked about last time. So I expected that to take up most of this conversation, honestly.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, I mean it’s a great episode, and it’s one that is really, really worth digging into. But there’s some other stuff I would like to talk about.
DEE: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CAITLIN: We can go episode by episode, because it’s not episodic but each episode or pair of episodes is fairly self-contained. So, the next episode, she fights Ringo, the idol.
MERCEDEZ: Favorite, favorite character! I love Ringo!
DEE: Ringo is great.
MERCEDEZ: I love this child.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] When I was first watching the show, my sister, who hates anime, decided to be rude, because she looked over my shoulder and saw the subtitle and she was like, “Ringo? You mean like the Beatles? You know, Ringo’s real name was Richard Starkey, so I’m gonna call that character Richard.” I’m just like, “Whatever.” Now I know that ringo means apple.
DEE: I was gonna say, that’s when you turn around and say, “No, ringo is an apple.”
CAITLIN: Well, unfortunately, I was 12 or 13 years old when I watched it, so…
DEE: [crosstalk] Aw, dang. No, that wouldn’t have worked out so well for you.
CAITLIN: No. No, my sister was just being a brat. [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah. No, Ringo is delightful. Her episode also kinda plays into that idea of Misaki being insecure and feeling like she can’t necessarily measure up to the people around her and the importance of the support of her friends—which, Mercedez, you kind of already touched on that, so probably don’t need to dig too much into there.
MERCEDEZ: Mm-hm. Ringo’s just great. She is just great. She does not like working, which, mood.
DEE: She likes working, but she doesn’t like… She loves being on the stage, but everything around that she’s trying to avoid.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Which is relatable.
MERCEDEZ: It’s hilarious. And it is relatable, because, yeah, I also wouldn’t want to do idol training. [Chuckles] She’s just great, and I love how quickly she’s just like, “You and me, Misaki, we’re friends. For life.”
DEE: And her little moment with Tamayo where they’re both like, “You’re super straightforward and just say what you think. I like you!” and they give each other thumbs up, it was perfect. Yeah, Ringo is great.
I’m sorry, I promise I’m not gonna make too many more Gundam Build Fighters comparisons today, but I do have to make one for Ringo. Because there is an idol in Build Fighters and she ends up being pretty endearing, but she’s very much played as “I don’t even like this stupid game. It’s just an easy way for me to become famous as an idol because there aren’t any Gundam idols,” basically.
MERCEDEZ: That’s so funny.
DEE: Yeah, and she eventually… Build Fighters has an issue with the way… I genuinely, genuinely like that show a lot, but it has some issues with its female characters. It kind of leaned into this idea of “Well, girls don’t actually like playing with Gundam. She’s just here for girly things like being an idol and being famous, and she’s so selfish and shallow.” And she kind of realizes that she sort of genuinely enjoys it to a point, and the show is kinder to her than I’m making it out to be.
But I really like that Angelic Layer has a character who’s in a similar place and genuinely loves Angelic Layer. This is not a career thing. This is not just a passing fancy. She’s like, “No, I like both of these things. I want to do both of these things.”
MERCEDEZ: And she’s a very competent player. She’s good.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah. I mean, she made it to this big tournament. She’s a good player, for sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I do really appreciate their decision to explicitly… God, this is a word I’ve seen written a lot but haven’t heard pronounced a lot, so forgive me if I say it wrong. Eschew?
DEE: Sure. Yeah, I know what you mean.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CAITLIN: Okay. … Eschew the sort of tragic backstory, “why does she play?” narrative, in favor of just being like, “She just really likes it!” Because the tragic backstory thing is something that we get a lot of with a lot of the other characters.
DEE: That is true.
CAITLIN: But I like that you can have both. You can have characters who play for some kind of reason, and you can have characters who play just because they love it.
MERCEDEZ: I also just want to say I love that her Angel has such a cute design.
CAITLIN: Oh, super cute!
MERCEDEZ: It’s so cute. And I will say… So, I’m still watching the dub, because [chuckles] it’s just—
DEE: That’s where you started.
MERCEDEZ: That’s where I started; that’s where I’m gonna end.
CAITLIN: Oh, I remember something about the dub, though. Do you guys know who plays the announcer?
CAITLIN: Vic Mignogna.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, God, no!
DEE: Boo! I knew that was what you were gonna say.
MERCEDEZ: God, I knew that voice sounded uncomfortably familiar, and I was like…
CAITLIN: Well, back when he did different voices.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, because he did kinda just land into that one voice.
CAITLIN: Yeah, not a lot of range.
MERCEDEZ: One voice to creep ‘em all out.
MERCEDEZ: I will say one of the interesting things is her Angel’s name is different from the manga.
CAITLIN: What is it in the manga?
MERCEDEZ: In the manga, it’s Lanka.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah. It’s romanized differently.
MERCEDEZ: I haven’t read the Dark Horse edition. I’m going off of my Tokyopop edition knowledge, but it was Lanka, and I actually kinda like Ranga a little bit better. It’s closer to… Yeah, but I liked Ranga. I thought she was cool.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Sorta starts springing the special technique sort of thing instead of kicking and punching.
MERCEDEZ: It was good. I love a cute character that likes to punch and kick a lot.
CAITLIN: Yeah, same here, because I am also a cute character who likes to punch and kick a lot.
MERCEDEZ: Which is why I like you. It’s great.
CAITLIN: There we go. [Chuckles] Oh, yeah, speaking of localization and different ways to do it, if you guys really want a treat, pause and check out some of the English that’s written out on the screen.
DEE: Oh yeah, it’s pretty delightful. Yeah.
MERCEDEZ: It’s choice. It’s very choice. It’s very good.
CAITLIN: So good!
DEE: I’m always surprised on productions of any language—because in English shows you’ll see terrible translations of other languages as well—I’m always surprised, like, “You’re part of a big studio. You have to be able to find somebody who could quality check this, right?
MERCEDEZ: I guess the assumption is just that people aren’t going to stop and pause, but they forgot about us. They forgot about us.
DEE: They didn’t know about podcasts in the year 2001.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, because sometimes you stop and click, and you’re like, “Wow! Someone did not check at all.”
CAITLIN: Did you see how Blanche’s name is spelled out in the… [crosstalk] “Branchir”?
MERCEDEZ: [strained, as if bracing for pain] Oh no, what is it?
DEE: No, I missed that.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s Branchir.
MERCEDEZ: No! No, poor Blanche. Poor Blanche! No… Oh no. That’s rough.
MERCEDEZ: I have to say they also definitely mispronounced one of the Angels’ names in the dub, and I was like, “Oh no, somebody also didn’t check this.”
CAITLIN: What was it?
MERCEDEZ: Poor Shirahime gets “Sheer-uh-high-muh,” and I was like—
MERCEDEZ: —“Oh, no!”
MERCEDEZ: “Oh, no! That’s not that at all.
CAITLIN: [scolding] They should know better!
MERCEDEZ: That’s not it at all!
DEE: They should know hime.
CAITLIN: Come on!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I was like, “Oh no!” “Sheer-uh-high-muh”? Oof!
CAITLIN: Oh no! That’s bad. They did that bad.
DEE: They did bad.
CAITLIN: Oh my God.
MERCEDEZ: Like I said, the dub is a 2000s treat. Just watch it and yum yum yum, eat it up. It’s great.
MERCEDEZ: It’s excellent.
DEE: Yeah, that was my impression of it for the little bit I watched, too. I was like, “Mm-hm. This is definitely circa 2000, all right.”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s got that real 2000s vibe, and I’m here for it. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. All right, let’s talk about Madoka and Alice, also. So, here’s where we get the characters who are unhealthily competitive, because they are obsessed with beating Hatoko and only Hatoko, and thus they are bitter and angry and will stop at nothing just to get to that part of the competition.
MERCEDEZ: They’re mean, and I don’t like it. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: They’re mean. They’re the mean sisters.
MERCEDEZ: They’re so mean! They did not hesitate to cheat. They were just like, “Oh, your doll! She’s so cute! Let me stick this little thumbtack-sized transmitter in her neck. Here you go! Hope you do good, sweetie.” I was like, “Wow, they just cheated like that.” [Chuckles]
DEE: The way they talk about it kinda makes it sound like they’ve done this before. So, I’m glad they lost.
DEE: I have a question. Their last name is Fujisaki, but they dress like they’re from China, kind of. I mean, they dress like anime dresses Chinese characters. Was that appropriation or an undercurrent of xenophobia? What are we dealing with here?
MERCEDEZ: I think it’s both, actually.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Because I think they’re all wearing their school uniforms.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I think it’s both for sure, unfortunately, because there’s no mention of them being Chinese and Japanese, which would’ve been great. Well, maybe Mao could be… Well, no, because Mao is also a Japanese name.
DEE: Well, Mao is their doll’s name.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oops!
DEE: So, they named their doll Mao. And Madoka studied kung fu, so… I definitely a hit a point—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] It’s Madoka and Alice, yeah.
CAITLIN: Maybe it’s like a Ranma situation.
DEE: I have— Yeah.
CAITLIN: Ranma in Ranma 1/2 wears Chinese clothes.
DEE: Yeah, I wasn’t sure what the situation there was, but we definitely had a moment where we found out they were the only characters we’ve met so far who kind of suck—because cheaters; the worst—and were the ones that had given the doll a Chinese name and then dressed them up in traditional Chinese outfits, where I was like, “Hm. That was a choice you made there, show.”
CAITLIN: I didn’t notice that at all.
DEE: Yeah, it just struck me at some point. Well, you know why it struck me? Because I thought Mao was one of the characters’ names, and then I realized it was the doll’s name. And so, I was like, “Oh, they’re Chinese.” Then I’m like, “Okay, they’re not.”
MERCEDEZ: Here’s the thing, too. It said really quickly they practiced kung fu, so maybe it is a Ranma situation?
MERCEDEZ: I feel like that kind of era you had a lot of characters that just inexplicably wore Chinese clothing, and it was just a thing.
DEE: [crosstalk] They kinda did. I think Ranma might have kicked that trend off.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It was just the fashion.
CAITLIN: Madoka and Alice, they start talking about “Age doesn’t matter in Angelic Layer,” and [sighs] that’s always kind of frustrating to me because that’s such a CLAMP thing, and at least we don’t have any romances between elementary school children and their teachers this time.
MERCEDEZ: Oh God, did CLAMP do that?
CAITLIN: Yeah, with Cardcaptor Sakura.
MERCEDEZ: Oh no.
DEE: The anime really downplays it, so you don’t notice, but the manga is a lot more creepy about it.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, no, that’s not good.
CAITLIN: But to me, it’s always like, “Come on, CLAMP! Yes, age matters!”
MERCEDEZ: Yes, age does matter.
CAITLIN: Development is a thing!
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because when age doesn’t matter, you end up with 10,000-year-old prophet child Hatoko as your voice of wisdom. And age does matter, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing that age matters in some cases. It’s not bad.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] No. It’s just a fact.
MERCEDEZ: In fact, it can actually be a really good thing that your age matters. It can keep a teacher from dating your elementary-age child. Cardcaptor Sakura, no! [Chuckles]
DEE: [Chuckles] You broke Mercedez, Caitlin. [Laughs]
MERCEDEZ: As someone who’s never seen or read Sakura, I’m very worried now.
DEE: If you watch the anime—
CAITLIN: It’s barely a thing.
DEE: In the anime it reads like the kid has a crush on her teacher and her teacher is just a nice guy.
DEE: Because watching the anime, I remember not finding it creepy, and then I found out from people who read the manga that, no, in the manga it’s implied that he reciprocates, and I’m like, “No no no no, bad, no.”
MERCEDEZ: No, no, no. No!
DEE: But in the anime it just reads like this 10-year-old or 12-year-old has a crush on her teacher, and I’m like, yeah, that happens. That’s fine. So, you can watch the anime.
CAITLIN: I never have a problem with students crushing on teachers, but teachers reciprocating is a problem.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, that’s a no-no.
DEE: And I get that one of Angelic Layer’s big things is this idea that, because the game is controlled via headspace… It’s about your imagination and your observation and creativity and things like that, which is why Misaki’s so good at this game: she has a really good imagination and memory.
And so, I get that their main point is that they see it as this equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are or how small or tall or what your gender is or all this stuff. And I like that they’re going for that. But as you pointed out, in a game that is based on your ability to think coherent thoughts to make a doll move, age does matter because developmental… Yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, anything else I’m willing to ignore, even though stuff like coordination and reaction time would still matter. It’s not a total great equalizer. And physical abilities can translate into the mental acuity with that sort of stuff. I’m willing to sidestep that all. But “Age doesn’t matter” is something that always really gets to me.
DEE: They kinda talk about that with Ringo, where Misaki’s like “Oh, right, it doesn’t matter that she’s a famous idol who has all these fans. Here in the ring, we’re equals.” And I did have the thought: “They do cost a lot of money, though.”
CAITLIN: Mm! That’s true.
MERCEDEZ: You can kind of tell the difference, too, because you have Ringo, Madoka, and Alice. Well, Madoka and Alice, their whole thing is that they build custom dolls, so, assumably these kids are just rolling in the yen.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And everyone we see, they have their own rooms, these big rooms. That’s expensive in Tokyo. I didn’t have my own room growing up, and I grew up in L.A.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, meanwhile Misaki cut her doll’s hair with child safety scissors. There’s a difference. There’s a big difference between Ringo, who is assumably a successful idol who sings about Angelic Layer, which is funny… She’s probably getting promotional fabrics and skins.
DEE: And even with Misaki, who is pretty thoroughly middle class, and she spent all of her spending money to buy the doll—but the fact that she had spending money at all gives her a leg up over some people who probably just can’t afford these dolls.
I do not expect the show to ever address that.
MERCEDEZ: I did have the thought while watching… So, Japan has a lot of secondhand shops. And I was like, “In this world, is there some Book Off in Japan that just has secondhand Angelic Layer dolls? Is there a market for that, or do people just keep them? Because it’s kind of a luxury good.” And then it occurred to me. I was like, “Oh, this anime is never gonna touch on that. That’s for the fanfiction.” [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: That’s what we’re here for.
DEE: [through laughter] To overanalyze the socioeconomic implications of Angelic Layer.
CAITLIN: To be feminist killjoys!
MERCEDEZ: Ah. But I did have that thought. I was just like, yeah, this is kind of a prohibitive sport because if you can’t afford the laptop and the rings and the setup and the special fabrics and a replacement skin, yeah, you can’t play this sport. You can’t. You just can’t.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, they definitely don’t get into that. Everyone’s backstory is more like “This one thing happened, and this is what connects to me to Angelic Layer, and maybe I’m sad about it.”
But anyway, let’s just move on. I don’t have a graceful segue.
DEE: No, no, no, that’s fine.
CAITLIN: But I thought what made Madoka and Alice really important within the narrative is that most of the characters do have a really healthy attitude towards competition, and they’re generally very friendly and caring to each other. And so I think it’s valuable to have an example of characters who are not doing good competition healthily.
DEE: [crosstalk] Not good sports.
CAITLIN: Yeah, they’re not good sports. They are bitter and angry and frustrated that they lost and they lost to a… four-year-old.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] God. Inexplicably.
CAITLIN: Which, once again, whatever. Moving on. I think, looking at the series at a didactic point of view… because there is an element of didacticism in it. It’s a lot of very good lessons for young viewers.
DEE: It’s a show for 12-, 13-year-olds, so I think that it’s totally fine to throw in some life lessons in there. Absolutely.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And so, it’s really interesting to see how it’s like, “Don’t do this. This is not a healthy competitive…” Like, “You may feel this way.” It covers some really ugly feelings. Because when Misaki lost, she was upset and she was crying and she was saying how badly it hurts, but overall, she handled it really well.
And so, I think there’s a lot of value in seeing characters who didn’t handle it well and who ultimately overcome that feeling and decide to move forward and to be better.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, and Madoka, for sure, at the end is like, “You know what? I want to play the game fairly. I’m kind of tired of cheating and tricking my way through. I don’t want to necessarily pursue this kind of vengeance against this five-year-old child.” [Chuckles]
Whereas her sister is not necessarily happy with that. Her sister’s kind of frustrated because that’s how they’ve operated. That’s how the team works. But that kind of teamwork—
CAITLIN: But she’s young, and developmentally, age does matter, so…
MERCEDEZ: Yes. [Laughs]
DEE: Unless you’re a 1000-year-old spirit reincarnated with all of your memories intact like Hatoko.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Hatoko has been through a lot of times.
DEE: I have fully subscribed to your headcanon, Mercedez. That is Hatoko’s backstory.
MERCEDEZ: This tiny sage that’s straight out of Fire Emblem like the dragons there is just here to be like, “It’s okay. Let peace reign in our game.”
MERCEDEZ: Hatoko, you’re five. This child can’t cross the street unassisted. [Laughs]
But to go back to Madoka, I do like that at the end she takes out the transmitter and she’s just like, “Oh, it was a bit of lint.” And she’s soundly decided, “You know what? This is not a good way—it’s not a kind way to play this game.”
Because Angelic Layer really is about sympathy. It’s about sympathizing with your doll. It’s about sympathizing with others. And that’s part of the fun, is being kind. I really like that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s a sense of community, and you see that at the end of the episode with the semifinalists, like Sai noticing that Misaki is nervous and taking her hand, and then of course saying, “I look forward to seeing if you overcome Hikaru’s weakness,” which—
MERCEDEZ: Stone cold.
DEE: No presh. No presh. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Which I don’t think it was, but it could be a masterful way of playing mind games with Misaki.
DEE: I suspect it was Sai’s way of trying to push Misaki towards improving.
DEE: That is the way I read it, like “This is a worthy rival, who I know that there is this issue, and she’s gonna get destroyed if she doesn’t figure out what it is. I can’t just give her the answer, because that wouldn’t help her grow, but I’m going to clue her into it at least.”
MERCEDEZ: It felt very much like Cool Big Sis.
CAITLIN: She had this very gentle smile on her face when she said that, but if this were a more malicious game, that would be such a great psyche-out.
DEE: It would be. That’s true.
CAITLIN: Did they say what her weak point is in this?
MERCEDEZ: They hinted at it in the final episode that we watched, but they haven’t flat-out said what it is.
CAITLIN: Right. And so, we get also Misaki going on a date? Question mark? With Kotaro.
DEE: Air quotes.
MERCEDEZ: It felt like a date, until that moment. Until that Tamayo/Kotaro moment, I was like, “Oh, this is a date.” That was not a date.
CAITLIN: It was very rude of her to come crashing in. Whether or not it was a date, coming in and interrupting Kotaro while he was trying to help Misaki…
DEE: Well, she’s clearly caught multiple feels for Kotaro, so…
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I feel like Tamayo is having a little bit of a bisexual moment, because she clearly cares about Misaki and she cares about Kotaro. I think she’s just trying to be a good friend to both. She’s like, “Oh, my heart!” That’s my headcanon. I would love for her to just turn out to be in love with both of her friends. That would be prime.
DEE: OT3 ending! Why not? I mean, they’re 13, so they’ll all hold hands together for like six months and then break up.
MERCEDEZ: But the music drops down, and there’s kind of like the sparkle sound effect in the music, and she’s like, “You know, Misaki’s a great girl. She’s friendly, she’s pretty.” And you’re like, “Wait.” [Chuckles] “Wait a minute.”
CAITLIN: The lighting gets really moody for a second.
DEE: Oh my God, yeah. All of a sudden…
MERCEDEZ: There’s that little bit of blur that they put over scenes that are supposed to be read as romantic, and it’s kind of like whiplash because, assumably, Kotaro and Misaki are supposed to be on a date, which… I love to take people I’m dating to watch me do karate. Of course.
CAITLIN: That’s a great date. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: But it’s a weird moment, and I honestly don’t remember what happens in the manga with that, but I was like, “Are they the couple we’re supposed to be rooting for? I don’t know.”
DEE: Yeah. Tamayo’s got that Childhood Friend Syndrome, real hard. She’s still way too mean to Kotaro, but I’ve got a little bit of a better grip on her in terms of she is: a person who—her base interaction with people is to goof around with them and tease them. That is how she interacts with the world.
And I definitely knew kids like that, who… Hell, sometimes I was that kid. And it veered into being insensitive or jerkish, and you didn’t necessarily realize it. That’s how you navigated relationships. So, I felt for her a little bit this stretch.
I don’t really know what they’re going to do with the romance. I’m glad it’s kind of a background element.
MERCEDEZ: I have to say… You know, last time when we talked, I was like, “Not really digging Tamayo.” Y’all, this time…
DEE: Liked her better?
MERCEDEZ: I was like, “This is my girl!” [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I was like, this girl stands up for Misaki all the time, does not take any smack, will toss you across the room, was like, “Misaki, my girl, my future wife, cooks so good.” And I was just like, I’m really here for this really healthy female friendship that they have, where Tamayo just accepts Misaki as the clumsy mess that she is and is like, “This is my friend. Don’t hurt her.” I love it. I love it. I’m just really here for her.
DEE: Yeah, I like their relationship a lot, too.
I thought it was a little weird when Tamayo said she was gonna be Misaki’s first time.
MERCEDEZ: I’m sorry? [Chuckles] Did I miss that?
DEE: And it was even weirder when her aunt said, “Oh, no, that’s going to be me.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, it was the episode where…
MERCEDEZ: So, the dub changed that! The dub definitely changed the context of that. [Chuckles]
DEE: Well, that’s smart. That was a smart choice the dub made.
MERCEDEZ: They just joked like, “Oh, I’m gonna be Misaki’s first girlfriend,” and I was like, “Ha-ha-ha. Jokes!” “I’m gonna be your wife.”
“First time”? Ooh. [Chuckles] That’s a little bit… That’s a little bit…
DEE: Yeah, I mentioned last week that when her aunt was like, “Marry me!” I was like, “Oh, it’s a cute teasing moment of ‘Oh, you cook such good food. Marry me. Ha-ha-ha.’” This time, I was like, “Hey, Aunt? That’s creepy.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It was weird.
DEE: “That’s weird. I know you’re not being serious, but it’s still weird.”
MERCEDEZ: That’s still a weird joke.
DEE: Also, is it fair for me to assume that Kaede and Sai are a couple? Can I assume that? Is that safe? Because those are the vibes I get off of them.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, the way they look at each other, the way that Kaede looks so tenderly at Sai? Yeah.
DEE: Maybe I just read a lot of ‘90s shoujo, and so I assume that that’s their relationship, but that was the vibe I got. I definitely got a Uranus and Mercury vibe off of those two. [Editor’s Note: Dee misspoke; she meant “Uranus and Neptune.”]
MERCEDEZ: I think I have a note in my eight pages of notes I took that says, “Oh. It’s yuri.”
DEE: [Laughs] Excellent.
MERCEDEZ: They definitely have that vibe, and I don’t know if CLAMP took it there in the manga. I can’t remember, but they should’ve. They should’ve just been like, “Oh, this is my tall girlfriend Sai.”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s just so good. I really like the characters that we have now. I really like the characters that we’ve been introduced to. Ugh, just so good. Kaede, she’s a really… I don’t like that they say Kaede has a healing smile, and I see that in the show notes. I don’t like that.
CAITLIN: You don’t like her [having] the healing smile?
DEE: Can you talk about why that bothers you; why you don’t care for it?
MERCEDEZ: So, when she’s coming out in the arc that starts off the fight with Hikaru and Blanche, the announcer mentions at some point in a flashback her healing smile. And I think it bothered me because AFAB people are told so often, right: “Smile. Oh, smile more. You should be more polite. You should smile more often to make others comfortable.” And it made me sad for Kaede, because I was like, “How many times has she been told to smile? What got her earmarked as her being the girl with the pretty smile?”
And it just kinda broke my heart, because young Japanese women are often told to smile; to make themselves appear a certain way; to force themselves into a certain behavior to make everyone else comfortable; to be the healing one; to be the one that provides the atmosphere. And it really made me upset. [Pained laughter]
DEE: [Chuckles] No, I could see that, for sure. And Kaede, of all the characters we have met so far, she is the most traditionally feminine in terms of her presentation and appearance.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah, extremely.
DEE: And even the way they tie her to the concept of motherhood. I do like that it’s not just like “a doll is your child”—which is, again, a thing a lot of kids do. It’s also… Her mom is dead, right? Her mom has passed?
DEE: Okay, that’s what I thought.
CAITLIN: I think so.
DEE: I was like, maybe I drastically misread that, because when she’s talking to the doll, she makes some comment about “I’ll be your mom because you should have a mom even though I don’t” or something to that effect.
And so, I do like that for her it’s not just “Oh, well, it’s because she’s a soft, feminine girl, and so, naturally she’s gonna be a mom.” It’s also using the toys—the hobbies in your life—to maybe fill some of those gaps in your day-to-day, and that family bond that she’s been missing, and finding a way to connect to that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Angelic Layer is very much about [how] the characters use their Angels almost like proxy selves, so they tend to project whatever is going on with their own selves onto their Angels.
MERCEDEZ: Which is interesting, because Blanche doesn’t smile. Her doll doesn’t smile at all, which… Yeah. Oh, God, poor…
DEE: Oh, I hadn’t about that.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah, her doll never smiled.
DEE: That’s sad!
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s kinda heartbreaking. [Laughs sadly] My heart for Kaede. Oh! Yeah, her doll doesn’t smile at all. At least right now, Blanche has a very flat affect.
DEE: Yeah, and we’ve seen the other dolls emote, so we know that they can. It’s not just an across-the-board thing. I guess we’ll find out more about Kaede next time.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I—
DEE: The connection between moms and daughters… I mean, since we have a few minutes here…
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I wanted to talk about Misaki and her mom. So, they made it explicit. The champion is Misaki’s mom. And they have been avoiding each other for a very long time.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Since kindergarten! Misaki makes the saddest comment. She’s like, “Oh! I get to see my mom! I haven’t seen her since kindergarten! But I know why. She’s been too busy to see me.” And I had to stop and lay on the floor so I could weep.
MERCEDEZ: Because Misaki is… what, she’s 12?
MERCEDEZ: That’s a long time. That’s seven years.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. There’s a lot that happens in those seven years.
MERCEDEZ: I was just heartbroken. And it’s not really clear what’s happening with her mother, other than she has a capital Illness. But I really want them to see each other. I need it. And I actually thought it was quite sweet that her mother watches one of Misaki’s fights and is cheering for her and is really excited for her daughter.
DEE: Yeah! Which is why finding out the reason why— It’s like, you better have a damn good reason for not being around her, because you clearly care about her, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to neglect her for seven years.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, a better reason than in the manga, right?
CAITLIN: And I’ve talked about this with the staff, but if anyone out there is listening who this is their lane, I would love an article about disability and Misaki’s mom.
DEE: Yeah, I’m curious to see what they— Because right now it’s sort of incidental that she uses a wheelchair. We know she’s sick. The show isn’t playing it up. It’s played very neutrally thus far, but I am curious to see if it ever comes into the story in terms of being ableist as hell. Which is kind of what I’m bracing myself for, but we’ll see.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I’m very prepared for it to be a very of-the-time—well, and arguably of-right-now in a way—kind of reflection of how disability is seen in Japan, and I’m very braced for that to probably make me upset.
CAITLIN: Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
DEE: Well, actually, I was gonna say maybe we should save that for another podcast because we’re getting close to the hour, and I guarantee we’re going to have more time to talk about Misaki’s mom in the next two stretches. Unless you know something I don’t, Caitlin. Unless they kill her mom off in the next episode—
DEE: —and this is our only chance to talk about it.
CAITLIN: [deadpan] Well, it turns out next episode that the chair is just a fake prop—
DEE: [feigning disappointment] No! [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: She’s got Munchausen’s. [Chuckles] No, no.
MERCEDEZ: Definitely, I think in the next part… And I’ll just throw this out there. Part of my work when I worked as a teacher in Japan, I worked for schools with disabilities.
DEE: Oh, okay.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I worked at a school for—
DEE: Okay, great! Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah. So, I’m really interested from that perspective to see how are they going to play that.
DEE: Yeah, and I absolutely want to hear your thoughts on it and more. It’s a teaser for next week’s, folks! You gotta come back—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] You gotta come back.
DEE: —to hear Mercedez talk about how disability is treated and handled in Japan.
MERCEDEZ: Spoiler alert: it’s probably the way you think it is.
DEE: It’s not great.
MERCEDEZ: But it is getting better.
DEE: Which is great.
MERCEDEZ: Which is excellent.
DEE: Yeah, that’ll be a great point to start off with next time.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Just very quickly, any predictions?
MERCEDEZ: Oh, just because I’m just gonna wish it into existence, Sai and Kaede… Girlfriends. Hand-holding. Maybe a kiss on the cheek.
DEE: I would love that. I think… Ooh, will it be in the next six, or will it not be until the very end? Well, Misaki’s either gonna go up against Hatoko or her mom. Well, she’s gonna go up against both of them eventually at some point, but I’m gonna say next time is a big Hatoko showdown, and I think Misaki’s gonna win it.
MERCEDEZ: I do too. I do too. I’m gonna go with that. Mm-hm.
CAITLIN: All right. Thank you, everyone, for listening. Next episode, we’re gonna be watching episodes 14 to… 19. Had to do the math real quick.
DEE: Okay, so, six next time.
CAITLIN: Yeah, six episodes next.
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Thanks for listening, everyone. Angel out!
MERCEDEZ: I like that.
DEE: I pictured you dropping a mic after you said it.