Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez continue their exploration of CLAMP’s foray into battle shounen with the fighting robot series Angelic Layer!
Date Recorded: September 20th, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez
0:01:15 Misaki x Hatoko
0:08:39 Anime original
0:12:28 Shuko and portrayals of disability
0:35:09 Sai’s sister
0:40:00 Empathy and pain
0:44:47 Misaki and Shuko
0:50:00 Any surprises?
CAITLIN: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. This week is the third episode of our Angelic Layer watchalong, where we watched episodes 14 to 19. My name is Caitlin. I am a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, and I’ll be hosting this lovely podcast today, and I am joined by two of my best girls, Dee and Mercedez.
MERCEDEZ: Yes. My name is Mercedez. I am also an editor and soon-to-be contributing writer at Anime Feminist.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah! I run a professional blog called Backlit Pixels, where I review doujinshi and talk about my life as a freelancing blerd.
DEE: And I’m Dee. I’m one of the managing editors at AniFem. You can find all my writings… well, you can find most of my writings—I need to catch up on my newer stuff—you can find them at The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor, where I will be shouting about children’s anime, more than likely.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] So, this week…
DEE: This stretch was a lot.
CAITLIN: Yeah, a lot happened!
MERCEDEZ: There were some highs. There were some lows. There were some real lows.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, in the last six episodes, Misaki worried about her weakness, progressed to the nationals, met her mom, and dated a five-year-old?
MERCEDEZ: I did not like that at all.
CAITLIN: [Feigning surprise] What?
MERCEDEZ: Mm! I did not like the Hatoko/Misaki ship. No. Uh-uh. No.
DEE: The amount of blushing is very concerning. Here’s the thing. There’s a lot of people out there who will see implied queer relationships and go: “They’re such good friends.” And I’m doing that today with Misaki and Hatoko.
CAITLIN: [Laughs] All right—
MERCEDEZ: There was an entire episode dedicated to them just blushing at each other, and I was like, “I don’t want this. I didn’t want this. I said I was gonna watch it as yuri, but not like this.”
CAITLIN: I like how we are so annoyed by that whole thing that… We were gonna talk about other things first, but the moment I mentioned it, you guys were like, “No! That scene was not okay!”
MERCEDEZ: You gotta talk about the party episode right off the bat, though.
CAITLIN: Okay. All right.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Have to.
CAITLIN: Can we just get it out of the way first, then?
DEE: Yeah. We’ll bounce around a little bit. It’s fine. I feel like most of the conversation will be about stuff that happened at the beginning and at the end, so let’s just start in the middle with the party episode.
MERCEDEZ: Episode 17. Not a good one.
DEE: I got so excited about that one when it first started because I was like, “Oh, everybody’s just hanging out and playing games!” And they played rock paper scissors but with their Angels, and I thought that was super charming and cute.
CAITLIN: There was a hamster.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, Ringo [brought] her hamster to the party, which is just…
CAITLIN: I realized Ringo is Kana Ueda, who I love. Yeah, Ringo’s great. Ringo’s always great. It’s nice to have more Ringo time. But what the hell is going on between Hatoko and Misaki?
MERCEDEZ: The only good part of this episode… Well, okay, there were two. There’s a part where Sai says, “It’s good that no one gave Misaki flowers because flowers don’t last,” and I was like, “That’s the most metal thing ever.” And then Ringo gives Misaki a bunch of merchandise, which is also incredibly funny.
DEE: Yeah, Ringo is adorable in that whole episode.
MERCEDEZ: It’s great. But then they really sink into Hatoko. She’s emotional over Misaki not choosing her as her second. She’s constantly researching. She gets teary-eyed. She storms out the room. And y’all, this is not the fanfiction I researched for. I did not.
CAITLIN: They acted like it was like a marriage proposal or something.
MERCEDEZ: They did!
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah. Because they’re partners.
CAITLIN: Including at the end when they’re sitting there blushing, like [takes on a weepy tone] “I’ve chosen Hatoko to be my second!” [Reverts to normal voice] And everyone’s like, “I’m so happy for you.” [Claps in applause]
MERCEDEZ: The whole “second” thing already is an anime-original thing. So, I was really curious about it. But the route they took to get there, I was like, “Wow, I would rather yeet myself into every male/female relationship in existence than this.” You have this 10,000-year-old child…
DEE: [Laughs] I kept having to remind myself that Hatoko is actually a 1000-year-old spirit.
DEE: I mean, it’s still an age gap. It’s just the other direction.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, she’s like a Fire Emblem Dragon character.
MERCEDEZ: Just impossibly old, looks like a five-year-old. I believe in my notes I wrote, “This entire episode has the strangest yuri vibes,” which… not necessarily here for that.
DEE: And it sucks especially hard because in that same episode Sai lowkey no-homos herself—
CAITLIN: She super does!
DEE: —even though she and Kaede are 1000% also partners and 1000% in a relationship.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it was not a good no-homo, because she was like, “Ugh, I don’t want kisses from girls.” Sai, yes, you do. We all do.
DEE: Here’s how I chose to read that line: Sai doesn’t want kisses from any girl—just any girl. She wants kisses from one specific girl.
MERCEDEZ: Headcanon. Headcanon.
DEE: Who’s at the table and isn’t Misaki. So, that’s how I chose to read that scene. But that kind of bummed me out.
And then the weird vibes between— It’s like I said a couple weeks ago, where, like, rival characters either need to be complete ratbags who you are rooting against because it’s fun to root against them, or it’s a good ship. So, Angelic Layer appears to have gone for option two, but appears to have forgotten Hatoko is five!
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] Yikes, it’s so bad.
DEE: And, I mean, thank God it’s all just heavily implied. It’s just a lot of blushing. If you put on your blinders, you can pretend that they’re just besties. Though it’s still kinda weird for a middle schooler to be best friends with a five-year-old.
MERCEDEZ: Although on the other hand, I was like, “You know what? This is a CLAMP series.” So, even though this is anime original, it did not shock me.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] But that’s the thing! It is anime original, and usually anime cuts out that shit.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] They just tossed it in.
CAITLIN: So, we can’t even blame CLAMP’s usual horseshit on this.
MERCEDEZ: It’s so true! It’s so true!
CAITLIN: Someone other than CLAMP looked at this and said, “You know what would be great? If the 5-year-old and 12-year-old dated.”
MERCEDEZ: Y’all, it’s not good.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] They even go to an amusement park the next episode, which is a classic date spot in Japan!
MERCEDEZ: I’m so angry at Masahiko Minami, who directed this. I’m so angry that he…
CAITLIN: [Desperately] Why?!
MERCEDEZ: Because he also directed Full Metal Alchemist and that didn’t have any of this BS. Why did you put this in Angelic Layer? Why?
DEE: Yeah. So, I would say that was probably the lowest point in this stretch of episodes. There’s some nuance in some of the other low points. In this one, I feel like there’s not really nuance there. It’s like, “Hey, why’d you decide this should be a ship? Hey, why, though?”
MERCEDEZ: It felt like the most fanservicey of all the episodes we’ve seen thus far—which, credit to the show, given how much it added, is actually a really refreshing thing that a 2000s show did not just dump on as much fanservice as we all know 2000s anime had. But when they dumped it, it was just like Niagara Falls into my face. And I was just like, “I don’t want it!” But it thankfully does come in the middle, so it’s like a valley: you’re just crossing to the other side.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And so, we are starting kind of a weird stretch of Angelic Layer, because it is almost entirely anime original from this point. There’s a couple of battles that were in the manga. But other than that, we’re at the nationals. And we’ve got seven episodes left. So, there’s a whole bunch of original stuff, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it filler, some of it “Why are we here?”, some of it a 12-year-old and a 5-year-old blushing at each other.
MERCEDEZ: [Groaning] No…
CAITLIN: There’s a lot of stuff with relationships. There’s a lot of stuff with Misaki’s mom. So, we are coming up on a part where they really had to create new material, and it’s really variable.
MERCEDEZ: That’s interesting, because we got to this point and I was like, “Wait a minute. I remember what happens. There is not enough content for seven more episodes.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] No, there’s more content for two more episodes in the manga.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And I really don’t know how they’re going to wrap things up. But yeah, from the manga there’s only really one or two more major events and then that’s it. Then there’s the conclusion. But it is interesting continuing to see the differences. It’s really interesting. 11-year-old me would have been so about this anime. For sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I was not much older than… How old was I when I first watched it? I was in my mid-teens. By the way—
MERCEDEZ: Because it came out in 2001.
DEE: In Japan. So, it probably didn’t get to the States until ‘04 or something.
CAITLIN: I watched it in fansubs back in the day.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, so it got to the States in ‘03, so [chuckles] I would have been nine.
DEE: Oh, dang. Yeah, I wouldn’t have been much older than the characters. In fact, I think I might have been the same age.
CAITLIN: Yeah. By the way, this is a tangent. When I was a teen, I wanted to cosplay one of the characters and have my best friend cosplay another character. My best friend is five foot ten and had short blonde hair. Can y’all guess which characters?
CAITLIN: Sai. And who would I be?
MERCEDEZ: Or, as they call her in the English dub, Katie.
DEE: I watched an episode of this dubbed because it was late at night and I was just like, “I’m just tired and I need to get through one more episode, so I’ll just watch a dub, whatever. I can take notes easier that way.” And they said Katie, and I was like, “Who the hell is Katie?”
DEE: Took me a second.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Katie. Good ol’ Katie.
DEE: Yeah, good ol’ Katie. Katie and Blanche. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Katie and Blanchir.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Speaking of Blanche, episode 14, which kicks off this arc? Oh, really enjoyed it. That was one of the peaks, Misaki figuring out her weakness and Blanche in Hypermode, and we got a little bit of Shuko information. It was actually a really good episode that I really enjoyed.
DEE: I took a ton of notes. 14 is probably the most notes I’ve taken about any episode thus far, because that flashback was a lot. That flashback was a lot, you guys.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Oh, boy. Wow, wasn’t it?
DEE: Do we want to jump straight into the Misaki’s mom conversation?
CAITLIN: Yeah, let’s do it.
DEE: Okay, let’s do that then. There’s a lot. That’s maybe most of this episode, is us unpacking that arc.
CAITLIN: That’s probably the most interesting part of what’s going on, just from a discussion standpoint.
MERCEDEZ: For sure.
CAITLIN: So, Misaki’s mom—
DEE: And we did promise we’d talk about Mercedez’s experiences with disability—how it was being handled in Japan—last week. So, we had that teaser for folks and, you know, we can’t let ‘em down.
MERCEDEZ: Which I’m happy to say I did a lot of thinking about that. As we were going through this arc, I reflected on it a lot because, spoiler: I have some feelings about how Misaki’s mother’s illness is handled and how Japan in general treats people with disabilities.
CAITLIN: So, to sum it up—and I’ll just do a quick sum-up—Misaki’s mom basically left because she had a degenerative illness. We see her at different stages. We see her at crutches. We see her in her wheelchair. And she did not feel like she could be a good mother to Misaki. She wanted to go assist with medical research because there was no known treatment. And the work on the brain-controlled prosthetics is basically how Angelic Layer started and came about.
DEE: And also because they needed funding, because the medical community is a bunch of bullshit assholes.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Like, “Why don’t you have results?”
DEE: They refused to fund their research, so they had to make toys to fund their research. And if that ain’t a statement about the medical-industrial complex, I don’t know what is.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, that part was really real.
MERCEDEZ: It shattered my heart when they were like, “We can use the profits to actually benefit the people who might need tools to have equity in their daily lives.” I was just like, “Oh, God!” Because the shame of it is, and I think this can be said globally, the improvements for disabled individuals are not that different from the 2000s, unfortunately, in a lot of ways.
CAITLIN: Right. Well, it’s not profitable, right?
MERCEDEZ: Right. There’s no money in it.
CAITLIN: Yeah, like Misaki’s— Shuko. We can just call her Shuko instead of Misaki’s mom. This illness is probably not super common if they don’t have any kind of treatment. And the thing is that there’s just no profit in treating uncommon illnesses like that.
MERCEDEZ: Right. Well, and I guess, too, the profit lies in, like, you have to keep taking medicine; you have to keep paying for these expensive things. Rather than helping you find ways to cope long term, you have to keep feeding the machine, and it just made me very… I was like, wow.
It has not changed, the way that we care for people who are differently bodied than one of us. It’s not all that different from a 2001 anime. And I would say, in Japan it is not that different, definitely, from the 2001 anime. There’s improvements, because it’s been 19 years, but in a lot of ways it’s still pretty static.
DEE: Yeah. You were saying… We talked about this off mic a little bit, and we didn’t really talk about it on mic. You have kind of a background on this because you worked at some schools in Japan for disabled kids, right?
MERCEDEZ: Yes. So, during my time, I worked at four different schools. One of them was a school inside of a hospital for chronically ill and terminally ill students. Another was a kind of general school for students with disabilities. There was a range of physical or mental or emotional disabilities. And then I worked at a school for visually impaired students, and then at a school for hearing support.
And I will say, I worked with people that genuinely cared about these kids. They loved them. Now, I’m not going to say that’s everyone. Let’s be realistic. There are people who work with children who are disabled who do not care about them. And that is any country. But by and large, they cared.
One thing that struck me was that a lot of the teachers did not have a background in disability education. They might have worked at a high-ranked public school and then been transferred to the school for visually impaired students.
But I will say, credit to the visually impaired school and the school for hearing support: they also had staff with those disabilities, so the students weren’t just being taught by teachers who did not have disabilities, whether visible or invisible or private. They were being taught by teachers that looked like them, who were in their 40s, who had been moving through the world using Japanese Sign Language, who had been moving through the world using braille. And the students were very much so encouraged to live the life that you want.
One of my students, she wanted to go to an international school. That was her goal. And that’s what she did. And there was never any discouragement inside of the school of, “Oh, you’re disabled. You can’t do anything.” It was, “You have a disability. Let’s find the tools to help you. And also, you still have to get your homework done.”
DEE: [Laughs] Yeah.
MERCEDEZ: They were treated like children should be treated. Rather than accommodating to make them feel better, the teachers brought themselves to the level that the students needed, which I thought was really lovely to see. They made themselves accessible, which, I mean, is what all teachers should do.
But on the other hand, realistically, Japanese society is not kind to people with disabilities. There are definitely people that think you are lazy, that you are strange; you’re weird. I’m sure that there’s people that think you’re disgusting. And admittedly, that’s not much different than in America at times. But I was very thankful that, by and large, my experience was really illuminating and really positive.
But that being said, Shuko’s whole story really hit home how badly women with disabilities get treated. Y’all, it broke my heart. It broke my heart watching her because this tension that she has in her heart about wanting to see her daughter but feeling like a failure because of her body, because of something that she was born with, that isn’t bad—being disabled is never bad—but that she’s made to feel shame enough that she leaves her daughter for seven years.
CAITLIN: And doesn’t tell her daughter what’s going on. Never.
DEE: Yeah. It’s one of those things where when she first fell ill, I sort of understood. Misaki was like five or something, and I can kind of understand her being like, “Well, she’s little. I don’t want to worry her. I’ll get it figured out, and then we can go from there.” So, I kind of get not necessarily telling her exactly what’s going on maybe the first six months, maybe.
But then her decision to just not see her daughter again is… Truthfully, I got to the point where at first I was kind of sympathetic, and then I just got pissed off at her. [Chuckles] And that was where I was.
MERCEDEZ: And I’ll admit, I did get really angry because during the flashback, she’s going off and Misaki starts weeping. This little child starts weeping. And I think oftentimes we underestimate how much children can handle. Children understand disabilities.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah!
DEE: Oh, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: Right. They react negatively because, in society, we view disabilities as a bad thing instead of a condition that…
DEE: A thing. Yeah, a thing.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, it’s just a thing. And I don’t even want to call it a condition because I think that even [is] a negative word, because it means that it should be cured. And I can’t speak for disabled individuals by and large, but I think the consensus I often see is that there’s not a desire to be cured; there’s a desire to be seen as a whole person.
DEE: Yeah. And it’s complicated and it depends on the person. Speaking as somebody with chronic pain, I would very much like to be cured of that. But there’s a lot of different disabilities, and different people have different relationships to it, and what have you.
And so, in Misaki’s mom’s case, I think this being an illness and her wanting to find ways to improve her life and the lives of others, and these accessibility techniques with the neural signals being sent to prosthetics and things like that—I think that’s really, really cool that that’s the direction the show goes. It’s not necessarily about finding a magic potion. It’s about “How do we increase accessibility for folks who need it?”
MERCEDEZ: And I have to say I really like that. I really liked that the show went with, “Let’s find the tools that you need to make the world what you need it to be.”
DEE: Yeah. And I think what frustrated me so much was, it felt like Misaki’s mom’s… Shuko. Sorry. Her sister’s name is Shoko, and so, I’m always worried I’m gonna say the wrong name. Shuko… So much of it, it felt like, is internalized ableism, whereas it doesn’t seem like most of the people around her, except for the assholes in the medical-industrial complex, were shaming her for that.
And like you said, Mercedez, some of that may be assumed and implied by the audience, knowing how disabled folks are treated in Japan and knowing where Shuko’s mentality is coming from. Because there’s that scene where her sister is like, “Your daughter needs you. There are plenty of people who use wheelchairs and have children, and they’re fine. You can go talk to your daughter.” And Shuko’s not really listening to her because Shuko has decided that this is a problem for her.
MERCEDEZ: Right. Because her sister is very much so like, “There is nothing wrong with you. You are a person, and I love you, and your daughter loves you, and your daughter needs you.” Because, on the other hand, Misaki feels very abandoned.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] And there’s no dad around.
MERCEDEZ: Misaki has Anime Dad Syndrome, where we don’t know who the father is. But who knows? I’m still rolling with “The father is secretly Icchan.”
CAITLIN: [Through laughter] They show that she doesn’t meet Icchan until…!
MERCEDEZ: I mean, this episode destroyed it, but fanfiction is real.
DEE: Hey listen, Icchan wants to be her stepdad.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s true.
DEE: I’ll say that!
CAITLIN: Her not-secret stepdad.
MERCEDEZ: But there is this very candid part of “your child needs you.” Misaki at no point… I don’t believe Misaki is the kind of character that would be like “Ugh, gross! My mom has a disability.” Misaki just wants her mother because she loves her mother. And she loves her mother holistically. And it is a shame that things happened the way they did and that… Shuko?
DEE: Shuko. Yes.
MERCEDEZ: It is hard because her sister’s Shoko and Shuko…
MERCEDEZ: Shuko’s girlfriend friend is definitely named Yuko, which I’m just like “God!”
CAITLIN: By the way, don’t get too attached to that, because Yuko is married to…
CAITLIN: Well, she’s married to Shuji, one of the other Angelic Layer staffers.
MERCEDEZ: Did they run out of names that didn’t have “Shu” as the first part?
CAITLIN: Naming conventions in Japan are so different from naming conventions in America, because in English it’s like, “Don’t give your characters similar-sounding names.” But in anime and manga, there’s always characters with similar-sounding names.
MERCEDEZ: And I should know better, because Lord knows I would have classrooms of like five Daisukes.
CAITLIN: I had a class with Yuna and a Yuuna. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And there’s that slight difference. There’s that slight difference.
But yeah, I actually will say, overall, I actually liked that they kind of had a messy view of Shuko struggling with: “Am I a good parent? Because I’ve abandoned my child, right? Am I a good parent? Because I’m disabled.”
CAITLIN: It doesn’t make it feel like a Message Anime, where it’s like, “She’s gonna pull through and she’s gonna be a good mother, and we’re gonna show all the viewers that disabled people can be good parents.” It is an internal struggle for her. And I do feel like it’s kind of a mixed bag a little bit with the representation.
And once again, people who actually have lived experience and not just know people dealing with these things… Because it is a genuinely debilitating illness. In addition to her lack of mobility, her energy levels are really low, she gets tired really easily. And she gets ill when she overstretches herself, which is nowhere near most people’s capacity. But I also feel like people are a little bit paternalistic about it, like they’re always scolding her for doing too much.
MERCEDEZ: They’re very patronizing to her in a strange way that I wasn’t super into.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Like, we never see her moving herself in her wheelchair. We only see people pushing her, which I know is a big no-no.
MERCEDEZ: Right, because that would be equivalent to grabbing someone’s legs and forcing them to walk. It’s not cool. That’s not cool. Yeah, I have to say, coupled with… because Shuko clearly has an anxiety disorder.
CAITLIN: Yeah, she gets really anxious over everything with Misaki.
MERCEDEZ: I will say I felt for her. My only qualm was, y’all, she dropped an “I Have a Dream” speech line. And it laid me out on the floor for a moment. [Chuckles]
DEE: Oh, her whole “Everyone who suffers like me could walk again.” Yeah, that… Oof.
MERCEDEZ: She was like, “I have a dream that one day soon will come when, not just me, but everyone who is suffering like me…” And I was like, “Shuko, no. No. Shuko, no.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] No. Nope, nope. Dropped the ball there.
DEE: Yeah, it’s messy. I think my thing with it is: I feel like the show itself is trying really hard not to be super ableist, and so, I will give them some props for that. And, again, the focus on accessibility and the other characters telling Shuko, “Hey, it’s okay to go see your daughter. You can do that.”
But it’s a weird double-edged sword, because—because all of that is in there, instead of it being a legitimate character conflict for Shuko, it starts to just feel like conflict generated for the sake of conflict. Like, when she agrees to go over to see Misaki and she walks into the house—because she brings her crutches with her—she walks in, peeks around the corner, then leaves again and goes “Technically I saw her.” Y’all, I almost threw my controller at the TV.
DEE: I’m just like, “Boooo!”
MERCEDEZ: I got so angry when she said that, because I was like, “Shuko. Girl. Sis. Come on.” Because it felt like the plot was just like “No. Not yet. It’s not sad enough.”
DEE: It wasn’t organic within the story. It just felt like the anime directors going, “We haven’t reached that climax yet, folks. Sorry.” From a character perspective, it did not make sense to me at that point why she wouldn’t be willing to see Misaki.
And they kind of try to give her a reason, that: “I want her to see me at my workplace. That’s how I want her to meet me, is to see all the work I’ve been doing and why I haven’t been around.”
And then she makes some comment about wanting to be her daughter’s rival, which I find kind of weird. And maybe it’s because in the realm of sports anime and stuff, there aren’t a lot of sports where you’re going to end up being an actual rival with a parent. Typically, they would step into more of a mentor role.
CAITLIN: Or, in the case of Hanebado, a terrible person.
DEE: Sure. Yeah. They could be antagonistic. But you know what I mean? It’s not like you’ll be directly competing against them. And I guess the idea of a parent being like, “You better strive harder to be as good as me” is just…
CAITLIN: That’s more battle shounen.
DEE: Yeah, it’s a…
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I would have much rather it not have gone that way.
DEE: It’s a relationship dynamic that I don’t find super comfortable when it’s your parent. I feel like that’s not the role that a supportive parent should be in.
MERCEDEZ: And especially when a large part of your tension comes from the fact that they have this relationship that hasn’t been able to really materialize through most of Misaki’s life. So, it’s strange that she’s like, “No, rather than being the parent to my child, I want to fight ‘em.”
DEE: Yeah. And the other thing that really bugged me about it is it’s completely one-sided because Misaki has no damn clue.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I don’t even think Misaki understands that her mother is severely ill.
CAITLIN: No, she thinks her mom is working.
DEE: She just thinks she’s busy with work.
MERCEDEZ: Which is so heartbreaking to me, that in her mind, her mother just hasn’t seen her for the past seven years because work is more important. And that’s soul-shattering.
DEE: Yeah. During the downtime before the national tournament, I really wanted her mom to come clean with her and be like, “Hey, here’s what’s going on,” and tell her, “I’m in Angelic Layer. I’ll see you in the ring. This is what I’ve been doing,” because I think that would have been a really good kind of motivational point for Misaki in the second half of the series as well.
MERCEDEZ: It could’ve been so good.
DEE: That idea of “Now I know what my mom’s been doing. We share an interest. That’s so cool. I want to win so that we can battle against each other and meet on this field that’s so important to the two of us.” And we could actually see them having a relationship and building that.
Because at this point, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to meet until the second-to-last episode or something, and we’re not going to get to see, like, how do you build a relationship after not seeing your daughter for like seven years?
MERCEDEZ: I have to say at this point, that’s actually one of the things I’m really, really anxious about, is how are they going to form this relationship in the next seven episodes if Shuko is determined not to see Misaki until the end? Even though, real talk: how did Misaki not know that that was her mother sitting in the chair when they introduced the champion?
CAITLIN: I mean, she had the mask on.
MERCEDEZ: The champion who was named Shu?
CAITLIN: She hadn’t seen her in a long time.
DEE: [crosstalk] She had a mask on.
MERCEDEZ: But the mask didn’t hide her mother’s hair. [Chuckles]
DEE: It’s anime. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Also, it’s anime.
MERCEDEZ: Yes, yes, yes. Yes, but I don’t know how they’re going to have this touching moment that I wish that they could have if there’s just been no contact between them until the last arc, maybe even the last few episodes. I don’t know how this is gonna play out.
DEE: Yeah. That was my big frustration point with the party episode, as much [as] (if not more than) the weird shipping stuff between Hatoko and Misaki. I was like, “This would have been a really good point for you guys to have a mini-climax and then build to the two of them getting to know each other.” And we don’t get that.
It’s a lot of dramatic irony, of “Misaki doesn’t know what’s happening, but her mom does. And at the very end, she’s going to be rewarded by getting to meet her mom.” And I’m like, “Misaki shouldn’t have to win a tournament to get to meet her mom. That isn’t really fair.”
MERCEDEZ: She shouldn’t have to literally fight to have this relationship. Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, it bothered— That aspect of it, the stuff with her background in that first episode, I was like, “Okay, this is pretty interesting, and they could go some places with it.” There’s definitely an attempt at nuance here, like I said, as far as balancing out internalized ableism with accessibility, with all that. But then, [pained] ugh, they just keep dragging it out!
CAITLIN: I’ll give you guys a peek down the future. There is emotional fallout from all of this. It’s not like the manga.
DEE: That’s good, because I’d kind of resigned myself to that not happening. So, that’s good to know.
CAITLIN: It’s not like in the manga, where Misaki’s like, “Oh, she thought I was too cute, so she couldn’t see me? Okay!”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because that whole excuse in the manga… I’m still angry about that.
CAITLIN: Well, that excuse and also just how chill Misaki was about it.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, Misaki, who hasn’t seen her mother for almost a decade in the manga is just like, “Oh, hey, Mom. How’s it going?” Child, you have not seen your parent!
DEE: You should be a little upset about this, like a little bit.
MERCEDEZ: The one thing that keeps hitting me is Misaki is… what, she’s 12? She hasn’t seen her mother for literally 2.5 times as long as she’s been alive.
DEE: She probably doesn’t really remember her at this point, you know?
MERCEDEZ: Right. She just knows that “my mother’s name is Shuko, and she works in Tokyo.”
Speaking on disabilities and chronic illness, Sai’s sister was a really interesting addition.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, yes. The sad dead imouto.
MERCEDEZ: And by “interesting,” I mean that trope I do not like.
CAITLIN: Okay, I just finished watching Angel Beats, which also has that trope.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, it does!
CAITLIN: It super does. [Laughs]
DEE: Something about shows with “angel” in the title, man. I dunno.
CAITLIN: Well, it’s because they’re… [singing] in the arms of an angel.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, cue the Sarah McLachlan coming in hard. I have to say, Shirahime as an Angel? My favorite design.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Great design!
MERCEDEZ: The coolest design.
DEE: Really good design, yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Takes off that coat, it thuds on the ground, and she goes hard.
CAITLIN: And she is big and she’s intimidating…
DEE: I really liked the fight they had on the beach. I called it “the beach episode” and then chuckled to myself.
CAITLIN: It’s another beach episode!
MERCEDEZ: I will say that threw me off, because in the manga I do believe they fight on ice, which is suitable for Shirahime because she’s got like snow… But when they went to the beach, I was like, “Wait, what? Okay, beach episode? Awesome.” It’s real good.
DEE: Yeah, I liked the fight a lot. I agree with you: the tragic dead sibling trope is overused, and it’s sort of just fridging for pain. What I did like about that arc, though, is that they use Sai to talk a little bit about masculine-coded behaviors—because, of our main cast, even including the boys, she’s probably the most traditionally masculine as far as her characteristics go.
And so, she thinks that being strong is never crying or showing emotion, and she lies about why she’s actually doing this to people—about why she’s playing Angelic Layer—and just talks about, “Oh, I just want to get strong. That’s all. I just want to get strong.”
And then they have that really good moment with Kaede where she talks about how “I always knew you were strong, Kaede, because you’re always smiling.” And Kaede tells her, “Well, strength is also being able to cry when you need to and knowing that it’s okay not to hold back.”
And that focus on emotional honesty and “It doesn’t make you weak to cry when you need to”—I thought that was really good. I liked the way they ended that arc with Sai.
MERCEDEZ: And I have to say: a lot of this anime is fueled by female emotions. And I actually really like that, because there are very few times where female emotions are viewed as bad, I think because the nature of the anime is most of your cast is female. There’s only really three notable men.
And so, it’s really nice to have a character whose whole identity is femininity say, “It’s all right to feel. It’s natural. We all get upset when we lose. We all get upset when our drive goes away. And it’s okay to cry.” That was extremely touching to me. And it’s a shame that Sai no-homos it so soon after.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Just no-homos it. Yeah, it was actually a really quite good opening half of this arc.
DEE: Yeah, like you said, I think the way the show encourages behaviors that are traditionally considered feminine… I mean, Misaki’s whole thing is that she’s quite empathetic and observant. We’ve talked about that in past episodes, too. And that is a strength of hers.
We find out that the weakness of Hikaru is that, because she’s so small, she’s not a heavy hitter. But Misaki, through observation and knowing the layout of the terrain and thinking about, like, “what are her strengths,” she’s able to come up with a solution to defeat Sai, and so I like that they keep playing with that.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] Which, her solution is straight up to just sink Shirahime into the ocean.
MERCEDEZ: Misaki sees the problem. She’s like, “I’m gonna drown this doll.”
DEE: Burial at sea! [Laughs]
MERCEDEZ: That’s straight up just what she does. And it even zooms on Shirahime’s dead-eyed face as she sinks.
CAITLIN: I love that shot so much.
DEE: “I’ve made a huge mistake!”
MERCEDEZ: It’s very good. It’s very good. It’s very funny. [Chuckles] But yeah, Misaki’s biggest strength is her empathy, right? It’s cool. It’s very cool.
DEE: And sometimes—I have a little note in my personal notes that I didn’t include in the show notes proper—but on that same front, I think every so often Misaki’s empathy gets challenged a little bit in terms of…
Misaki definitely has this idea of “All pain is bad pain.” She has that in the very first episode where she’s fighting Kaede, and she talks about [how] the only way to go into Hypermode is they have to get hurt down to 50% or something like that. And Hikaru talks about “Don’t you feel bad about Blanche suffering?” And Kaede’s like, “Well, sometimes pain is desired pain,” like when you’re exercising and your muscles hurt, but you push through it because at the end of day you’ll be stronger from it.
And so, Kaede kind of teaches her, like, “Your empathy is good, and it is important to be aware of when people are in pain, but being in pain isn’t always inherently a terrible thing.” Like, “I’m not hurting her by doing this,” kind of thing.
CAITLIN: Also, they’re inanimate objects…
DEE: Well, yeah. Well… Caitlin, are they, though? Are you sure these Angels don’t have souls? Because I feel like the show is leaning into that a little bit.
DEE: Are you 100% sure they don’t have souls?
MERCEDEZ: Please don’t make me start considering if they have souls. That’s gonna open up way too many plot threads.
CAITLIN: They have the souls of forsaken children.
DEE: Ghosts in shells.
MERCEDEZ: Stahp! [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Oh my gosh.
DEE: It’s a Haunted Doll Watch!
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Oh my God.
Since we’re feeling a little goofy and silly right now, I gotta say, shoutout to my girl Tsubasa McKenzie, [chuckles] who was a part of this arc that I completely forgot until I looked at my notes. She was one of the anime-original characters, and that name, Tsubasa McKenzie, just really did it for me.
CAITLIN: That’s a really good name.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a real good name. It’s a real good name.
DEE: Wings McKenzie! Feels like a fighter pilot in an old movie.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Oh my God. And her Angel was named Eagle! I didn’t get the wing reference at all.
DEE: [Chuckles] Oh yeah.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God. Oh my God.
DEE: Very, very good.
MERCEDEZ: It’s quality. But it’s also a very forgettable episode, unfortunately. I don’t really know what happened, I guess because we had two anime-original girls. We had Tsubasa McKenzie and we had Chitose—
DEE: Yes, the tall girl.
MERCEDEZ: —who is very, very tall.
DEE: Yeah, I did want to talk about Tall Girl a little bit, because while she’s kind of a one-off character—I don’t expect there to be a lot with her—I do like how the show addressed Misaki’s being convinced that being small is always a bad thing, and Chitose pointing out, “Well, actually from a perspective of femininity, being small and cute are considered positives. And from my perspective, being tall means that I get mocked by boys for being so much bigger than they are, and that sucks.”
And I like that— This is a weird comparison to make, but Smile Down the Runway does this a little bit, as well, where—
MERCEDEZ: I was just thinking about Smile Down the Runway, though! [Chuckles]
DEE: It touches on this idea of—ad we’ve talked before about how these are still traditionally attractive characters, so it’s not going as hard into this as it could—but it touches on that idea of impossible body standards for women and girls, where if you’re small then people make fun of you for being small, and if you’re tall then they make fun of you for being tall, and you can’t win.
And I liked that they touched on that a little bit and Misaki had to rethink, “Oh, well, I guess there’s some benefits and downsides, regardless of what your height is.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. Chitose—Tall Girl—actually is what got me thinking about Angelic Layer from a critical standpoint, like, “You know, there’s actually a lot to dig into here.” So it’s really thanks to her that we’re all here today. Thank you.
MERCEDEZ: I will say, the anime has a lot of content to dig right on into. And it’s quite good. Thankfully it’s mostly good.
DEE: It’s mostly good. With that first stretch of six, I was worried we’d be able to fill an hour every week, and with this stretch, while there was definitely stuff in here that maybe pissed me off more than the first stretch, there’s plenty to talk about. There’s a lot more to chew on than I was expecting, for better and for worse. So, I appreciate that.
MERCEDEZ: That’s pretty much this arc, isn’t it? We talked about Tall Girl. We talked about moms.
DEE: Yeah, we sure did.
MERCEDEZ: We talked about how much we hate Hatoko x Misaki.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah. I guess the only point— I keep making a note about this. I made a note about it last time, too, and we never quite get to it.
How do you guys feel about the fact that they really keep harping on this idea that Misaki and her mom are the same person, and that’s why Misaki is so good at the Angelic Layer? Because even though she and her mom haven’t seen each other in seven years, she’s just like her somehow.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Nature versus nurture.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t like it. I don’t like it.
DEE: Yeah, it’s enough of a background element that it’s not really bothered me, but any time Icchan talks about “Oh yeah, they’re so much alike,” I’m like… First of all, I don’t really think they are. I mean, I think there’s some similarities. I think they’re both a little bit anxious about how others perceive them. And they both— Well, honestly, I don’t know if Shuko’s super empathetic or not. Misaki definitely is.
I don’t see them as being that similar. They definitely both enjoy Angelic Layer, which is cool. And I don’t know if I’m supposed to take that comment as gospel truth or just the way Icchan sees it from his perspective.
MERCEDEZ: And it’s interesting because the only thing that really links them is the coincidence that Misaki happened to see Angelic Layer while making it to her aunt’s house. Otherwise, there’s really not a lot that connects them, other than they’re blood related. So, it feels much more like Icchan’s perspective because he has insider information on how Shuko actually acts.
DEE: And he’s madly in love with Shuko, so I’m sure that plays into his personality.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] He is so thirsty.
DEE: Yeah. I kinda hope they hold hands at some point. I’ve come around on Icchan since the early episodes.
CAITLIN: He was so cute in this flashback episode, big-eyed and innocent.
MERCEDEZ: He was so sweet.
DEE: And I think knowing the kind of work he was doing, as far as accessibility technology and stuff, helps endear me to him a lot. He’s not just a weirdo who for some reason carries octopi around and harasses his coworker, who… turns out, Ogata sucks a little bit, so I feel less bad for him now.
MERCEDEZ: I think Ogata threw out the “But she’s a girl” line at some point during this arc, and I was like, “Oh, octopus down the pants, for sure.”
MERCEDEZ: That’s the only punishment. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: And, what’s her name, the younger girl, the younger Angelic Layer tech.
DEE: The part where Ogata accidentally copped a feel, but instead of just being like, “Hey, I’m sorry,” he was like, “Oh, but you’re so soft.” And I was like, “Really, dude?” Octopus down the pants!
MERCEDEZ: I want to say in the dub he was like, “Oh, there’s a little something here.” And I was like, “Ugh, Ogata, why? Why?” Two octopi! Two!
MERCEDEZ: Two. Yeah. [Chuckles]
DEE: I don’t even remember how we got to that conversation. Oh, talking about nature versus nurture and the idea of Misaki being super-special because of her DNA, I guess. That never quite sits right with me in any kind of media.
MERCEDEZ: Because it denies the actual hard work that Misaki has put in. She was very lucky at the beginning, but she’s also worked quite hard to get to where she is.
DEE: And she’s passionate about it, and it literally has nothing to do with her mom at this point because she doesn’t know her mom is involved with Angelic Layer.
MERCEDEZ: And she, unlike us, doesn’t know that if she wins, she gets to meet her mother. She has no clue, so there’s no motivation other than “I have something I’m finally passionate about.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s not some grand destiny thing. It’s just [that] Misaki found a hobby that she’s really good at and enjoys.
DEE: Yeah. I want it to just be that, and so every time they make those references, I’m like, “Ugh, why can’t this just be Misaki’s thing? Why does this have to be tied to her DNA?”
But as long as the last arc doesn’t really harp on that, it won’t be a dealbreaker or anything. It’s just something I kept meaning to mention because, again, Icchan and the other scientists keep bringing it up. Ohjiro, I think, makes some comments about it, as well. So, I wanted to see how y’all felt about that. Sounds like we’re all on about the same page.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s not the best.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I was gonna say, we all have the same…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Not a show ruiner, but especially since the show is into “Through Angelic Layer, you can be whoever you want to be,” and then it’s like, “Especially if you have the genes of the champion that make you super-special and good at Angelic Layer.” [Chuckles]
DEE: [Chuckles] Which, thankfully, we’ve seen Misaki fall in love with this on her own, so it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. It’s just the fact that they keep bringing it up is kind of obnoxious. Anyway.
MERCEDEZ: I was gonna say, if we hadn’t seen her actually come to Angelic Layer, it wouldn’t have so surely divorced that. “No, this is her thing. It’s a coincidence that it’s also her mother’s.”
DEE: Hopefully, they’ll actually meet next time, and they can bond over their love of Angelic Layer.
MERCEDEZ: I have so much anxiety about that meeting. And I keep reminding myself (A) this anime is 19 years old, (B) they’re not real. But my heart? Fully invested.
MERCEDEZ: Fully invested. [Chuckles]
DEE: I am rooting for Misaki. I hope it works out okay.
MERCEDEZ: I am too.
DEE: Do we want to just head into the… Caitlin, we keep forgetting to ask you this question. I was looking at the show notes just now. We’re supposed to ask the veteran on the recording, were there any surprises for you from our conversation today?
CAITLIN: Not really. [Chuckles]
DEE: We’re predictable.
CAITLIN: But now I ask of you—and I was supposed to ask this at the beginning of the podcast, but we really just jumped straight in.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] We did.
DEE: [crosstalk] We had to.
CAITLIN: Was there anything about this stretch that really surprised you guys?
MERCEDEZ: Sai’s backstory did. Because that’s anime original and I just wasn’t sure what they were going to do. It was a good and a mild surprise. That and the Shuko character development really surprised me in, I would say, largely good ways.
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah, I figured at some point we were going to get into Shuko’s whole thing, and I kind of suspected that it would be related to the fact that she was disab—[voice catches] mm, ‘scuse me—was disabled. I think in some ways I was pleasantly surprised that it was not more ableist, because I thought it was going to go really hard into [melodramatically] “Look at this poor, suffering woman. Deprived of her daughter.”
And the way they played [it] was a lot more about Shuko having hang-ups than everybody around her having hang-ups. So, I thought the way they played it was a lot more interesting. I thought the focus on prosthetics and these neural devices was really interesting. So, I was relieved that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
[Pointedly] The other thing that surprised me was the shipping between the 5-year-old and the 12-year-old.
MERCEDEZ: Inexplicably, I forgot about that until you just said it.
DEE: [crosstalk] You wiped it from your brain.
MERCEDEZ: And the rage. The rage coursing through my veins.
DEE: I thought the series was setting them up more to be rival characters, so I thought she and Hatoko would meet again. And I didn’t think Sai was going to beat her. I thought she’d meet her again. I thought that would be a bigger climax in the second half, with the two of them fighting each other.
MERCEDEZ: I wanted an Ash and Gary Oak kind of thing. And as I’m saying that, I’m realizing that people ship Ash and Gary Oak pretty hard, so maybe that’s not a good comparison.
DEE: They became very shippable by the end of Johto, was the thing. [catches self] This isn’t a Pokemon podcast. I’m gonna stop.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, no, don’t get Dee started on Pokemon.
DEE: I can’t. I can’t.
CAITLIN: This is the rule of the podcast: don’t get Dee started on Pokemon. [Laughs]
MERCEDEZ: Sorry. I almost set it up.
CAITLIN: I actually really liked that they had Sai defeating Hatoko. It was unexpected, and it—
DEE: Yeah, that was a good twist. I liked that. But the problem was then it turned into Hatoko and Misaki having this partner dynamic, which they could’ve… They could’ve played it more as them being like a little-sibling dynamic, because Misaki doesn’t have a family. I mean, she has a family. She has her aunt. And she has her grandparents. But she doesn’t have any siblings.
So, I think they could’ve played their relationship up as maybe Hatoko liking having an older sister-type character and Misaki liking having a little sister, because we have these sibling dynamics throughout the story.
MERCEDEZ: And instead, they did not do that.
DEE: No. So, yeah, there were definitely quite a few surprises this stretch, I would say. It kept me on my toes.
CAITLIN: All right, and do you have any predictions?
MERCEDEZ: Icchan and Shuko are gonna hold hands.
DEE: They’re gonna hold so many hands!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] They’re gonna hold hands so hard!
MERCEDEZ: Otherwise, I’m going to turn into a withered husk.
MERCEDEZ: Actually, what I’m anticipating—because I did remember partway through how Misaki meeting her mother goes—I’m hoping that what the anime does is that there’s actually a little bit of tension with Misaki having to cope with [how] this is the first time seeing her mother in seven years.
DEE: Yeah. I would really like them to spend some time with Misaki being upset or surprised or… yeah, having to process that, and Shuko having to process that as well and realizing, “Oh, I kinda fucked up here, didn’t I?” I think that would make it a lot more interesting than just being like, “Surprise! It’s me, your mom!” “Yay, mom!” [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. I want to see that tension that realistically would happen if you hadn’t seen your child for X amount of years.
DEE: And I really hope that they do it not-too-close to the end, because I think seeing the two of them figure out how to have a relationship going forward would be really good and important to the emotional buildup of this story.
And I’m not super-duper optimistic about that, but if we get a little something there, I think I will consider this a pretty successful watchalong, all things considered.
MERCEDEZ: Just a tidbit. I’ll take a tidbit, please.
CAITLIN: All right, well, I will play us out.
DEE: Play us out.
CAITLIN: Thank you for listening to this episode of Chatty AF. Next week, we will be finishing up the— Er, well, next whenever, we’ll be finishing up the series.
And if you really liked it, please consider throwing some money our way. We rely on donations to fund the site. We pay all of our contributors. We are trying to pay to have ongoing transcripts of the podcasts now instead of having fundraisers where we go “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! We need more money for transcripts!”
DEE: Hopefully by the time this episode goes live—because we’re recording this a fair ways back from when it will go live—hopefully by the time this episode goes live, we will have made that goal. But there’s always other stuff we want to do. We want to expand into manga reviews, light novel reviews. We’d love to be able to do that. So, yeah, every dollar helps.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] When conventions happen again, we would like to be able to go to conventions and have panels.
DEE: [crosstalk] Do conventions, yeah, for sure.
MERCEDEZ: And I would like to chime in that this is a hard time for all of us globally, but don’t be ashamed of only being able to give a dollar.
CAITLIN: Oh, the dollar donations are our bread and butter.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Dollars add up.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, they’re super helpful.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] They add up. And they are just as meaningful as any other amount.
CAITLIN: They really are.
CAITLIN: So, if you would like to support us, you can support us at patreon.com/animefeminist. We also recently, as of this recording, set up a Ko-Fi account, which… What is the URL for that?
DEE: Ko hyphen fi. It’s the coffee website. I pronounce it “Koh-Fai.” It’s ko-fi.com/animefeminist.
CAITLIN: Thanks for listening, everyone. And… Angelic Fight!