Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez fight their final battle and look back on Angelic Layer as a too-rare example of women-led sports anime.
Date Recorded: October 3rd, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, and Mercedez
0:01:15 Technical warning
0:03:34 Beach episode and gender roles
0:15:01 Misaki and Ojiro
0:19:47 Ichan and Shuko
0:25:37 Misaki and Shuko’s reunion
0:40:10 Women-led fighting and sports series
0:45:04 Is it feminist?
0:50:37 Final thoughts
CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Welcome to the fourth and final episode of our watchalong of the anime adaptation of Angelic Layer. My name is Caitlin. 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. Today I am once again joined by fellow AniFem staffers, Dee and Mercedez.
MERCEDEZ: Hi. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: My name’s Mercedez, and I am also an editor and soon-to-be contributing writer for Anime Feminist. I do freelance translation for Japanese to English. And I also write on my blog, Backlit Pixels.
DEE: And I’m Dee. I’m one of the managing editors at AniFem. You can find most of my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door. I do need to update it. Hey, by the time this goes live, maybe I will have. And you can also hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
CAITLIN: Just a quick technical warning: my computer is still broken. It’s currently in the shop. Both hard drives are totally busted, so I am still recording on headphones that are not meant for audio recording. If the audio quality sucks, rest assured, whatever we end up doing next, I will sound better.
DEE: So, look forward to that, folks.
CAITLIN: Yay! You can hear my dulcet tones. Let’s talk about Angelic Layer. Let’s just jump right in, because we’ve got a lot to talk about this time.
MERCEDEZ: I have a lot of white-hot rage.
CAITLIN: White-hot rage!
MERCEDEZ: I was telling Dee before we started, I got very angry and then emotional at some points.
CAITLIN: It was very emotional. So, let’s save the white-hot rage, probably.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Okay, I’ll temper my anger.
CAITLIN: Well, don’t feel like you have to temper it. But I want to save the stronger discussion for the end. Well, not for the end, but I want to get through some of the other stuff first, because I know once we get going, it’s going to be all-in until the end of the podcast.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
CAITLIN: So, let’s do it episode by episode. The first episode we watched this week was about the new Angel type and it was kind of a nothing filler episode. I don’t really remember it.
MERCEDEZ: I think at some point I wrote that I was like, “Why do we have this, this late in the game?”
DEE: I think it was just a way to ease Misaki into learning… because that’s when she finds out that Icchan founded Angelic Layer and that he’s working behind the scenes. And then that episode also allows her and Ojiro to start to communicate more. So, I saw it more as a bridge episode to get us into the endgame. Also, Hikaru got to do kind of a cool little Devilman run at the end, which I enjoyed. And the piledriver finish was fun.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God, yeah. That’s really true. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: All right, so, anything else to add about that episode?
DEE: No. It was a bridge.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] All right, let’s move on. All right, next up, beach episode! Beach episode!
DEE: Oh, boy.
CAITLIN: [Laughs] This one, I can actually remember the first time I watched it being super annoyed at it.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, mm-hm, mm-hm. Yep.
CAITLIN: Because it’s like, we’ve got six episodes and you’re starting up all this stuff with Kotaro and Tamayo here. What are you doing? It makes no sense. And honestly, I did not enjoy the stuff with their relationship at all in these episodes.
MERCEDEZ: It was unexpected and heterosexual.
CAITLIN: Ah, the worst kind of heterosexuality!
MERCEDEZ: I gotta say, as a first-time watcher of this entire series, screw this beach episode. I do not like it. There was one scene that I liked.
CAITLIN: It’s just pure filler.
DEE: I don’t know about that.
CAITLIN: Okay. Well, okay, let me say, because it is maybe not pure filler, but it was really one of the episodes where I felt like they were trying to come up with stuff to sort of stretch things out until the end, because the stuff with Tamayo and Kotaro is not fun. It’s uncomfortable at best.
I didn’t like how it was like, “Well, our relationship is developing,” and now, Kotaro is being like, “Well, if you want me to see you as a girl, this is how our relationship has to change.” Which, setting boundaries is okay, but being like, “Okay, I’ll change how I think of you on these conditions and you having to change yourself,” is not okay.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] It was not cool.
DEE: I didn’t read it that way at all, you guys. At what point does Kotaro tell Tamayo she has to not be herself anymore?
CAITLIN: Well, after their whole uncomfortable, sort of awkward times, and Kotaro’s like, “I don’t really see her as a girl. I never thought of her that way.” And his friend’s like, “Dude. Childhood friends of different genders really only stick together for elementary school. It’s kind of weird that you’re still hanging out with a girl platonically.”
DEE: Oh, yeah, I thought that part was trash, too. I agree with you about that.
MERCEDEZ: I will say the beach confession… Y’all, I kind of teared up.
DEE: Yeah, I sympathize with Tamayo.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, when he did say, “Oh, you can’t do XYZ thing”… Now, the only thing I agree with him is like, yeah, maybe she shouldn’t be doing her karate moves on him as part of their relationship. I was kind of like, “Ugh, this is a little bit yucky that he’s like, ‘You gotta do this to change.’” But I did think, actually, Tamayo being in her feelings about liking him and being conflicted about how she’s perceived, I was like, “Aw, that’s kind of relatable, though.”
DEE: Yeah, she has a line about, like, “Oh, you prefer boxed lunches to martial arts,” which I thought was very telling about her and her insecurities with the fact that she isn’t traditionally feminine and the fact that boys don’t see her, again, quote-unquote, using their gendered terminology, “as a girl,” because of the fact that she doesn’t have these traditional feminine skills.
But I didn’t feel like the show… It wasn’t like she suddenly started making lunchboxes for him and being girly. Other than the gendered language that is circling around it—which to me is very much early 2000s—to me, their relationship felt kind of realistically seventh grade. Tamayo said, “I like you,” and Kotaro went, “Oh, my gosh, she likes me! Well, now I have to start actually thinking about it in those terms. Oh my gosh, now she’s touching me. Ah! Crushes!”
To me, it felt very realistically seventh grade in the sense that he’s like… If you take out the “as a girl” and replace it with “seeing you Like That”—that would be the terminology that was used when I was in middle school, like, “Oh, I just never thought of you that way. But now I’m thinking of you that way.” And it does kind of change the way your relationship is, and suddenly you’re way more aware of when physical contact is happening.
So, to me that was very middle school in that sense of “Oh, yeah, we’ve always just hugged and thrown our arms around each other, and it was no big deal. But now suddenly, I’m thinking of you in romantic terms, and our relationship is going to change because of that.” So, I never thought of Kotaro forcing Tamayo to change to be with him. I thought it was just like a “Hey, I’m aware of this now,” and Tamayo clearly was, too.
And also, good on him for finally being like, “Hey, stop putting me in chokeholds all the time.” Not that she actually stops. But…
MERCEDEZ: I do have to wonder how much of our viewpoint is influenced by… In 2020, a lot of the really gendered ways that they speak to each other are just not how we speak to each other in 2020, because it is quite gender essentialist.
DEE: Oh, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: I won’t pretend that as a middle schooler… I think a lot of middle schoolers are quite gender essentialist, because you’re not aware necessarily—at least in the 2000s, certainly, I wasn’t aware of gender being more than man and woman. And as we all know, that’s just not the case.
And so, it is a little bit gender centralist, but I actually thought it was nice that Tamayo got to still be perceived as a girl, but she really didn’t overall have to change. She kind of makes me think of— And now, I’ve never seen Sailor Moon, so correct me if I’m wrong. She gives off a Sailor Jupiter vibe in a way.
CAITLIN: I’ve never seen Sailor Moon either, so…
DEE: Oh, I have. I have. No, I can talk about this.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, help me out.
DEE: You’re somewhat right. Jupiter was an amazing cook and had some traditionally feminine skills. But because she was big and tall and did martial arts, when people first met her they perceived her as being this big, tough, kind of masculine character. And that wasn’t necessarily who she was, so there were definitely some episodes where she dealt with the fact that she was insecure about the fact that she wasn’t necessarily traditionally feminine, top to bottom. A lot of the girls in Sailor Moon deal with the fact that they don’t perfectly fit the mold of feminine perfection, and it’s really well done.
But I would say Tamayo and Mako are different, just in the sense that, to me, Tamayo has really no traditional feminine qualities. And that’s fine. But the insecurity of not fitting expected behaviors, I think you’re right there, for sure.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Because as someone who grew up quite tomboyish, it actually was really nice to see the tomboy [crosstalk] have a shot at romance.
DEE: [crosstalk] Get the boy.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah! She got the boy! She got the boy! It was really actually quite sweet. I definitely think, like Caitlin said, there’s some mess around it.
DEE: Mm-hm. Oh, for sure.
MERCEDEZ: For sure. But I did kind of tear up because I was just like, “Oh, it’s actually nice that she gets to do this.” And I think in the manga she confesses, too. It’s just handled differently. It’s not a beach episode.
CAITLIN: In the manga, she dates Ojiro.
MERCEDEZ: Ooh, that’s a big deviation.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, in the manga, it’s Misaki and Kotaro.
CAITLIN: So, Misaki and Kotaro have all their romantic tension stuff. And then in the epilogue, Misaki’s like, “By the way, Tamayo and Ojiro are going out. Isn’t that a surprise?”
MERCEDEZ: That’s a weird pairing. That’s a rarepair for sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah, because they didn’t interact, like hardly at all.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Wow. I guess my mind just wiped that. But no, I just thought this was good.
DEE: Yeah, to me, Tamayo and Kotaro—again, other than the trash gender language about seeing you as a girl and “oh, childhood friends can’t be opposite genders”—obviously, that was bullshit—but the individual stuff between the two of them I thought suited their characters and the time period of their lives they’re in.
Do I think they’re gonna be together forever and ever? Absolutely not. They will break up in three months. But it fits seventh-graders. You know, three months is a long time for junior high school kids.
MERCEDEZ: I was gonna say, that’s like a century in junior high school time.
DEE: The other thing I really liked about that subplot of the show is, Tamayo has this moment where she starts to get jealous of Misaki, and then she goes, “Wait, no. Misaki didn’t do anything wrong. She’s still my friend. This is stupid,” and continues to support her and cheer for her during the matches.
And so, I like that the show made an effort to fight back against the idea that girls have to be catty rivals who compete for the boys’ affections. That never came up in the story other than Tamayo having, to me, a very understandable moment of being kind of jealous of her and then going, “Well, this is dumb.”
MERCEDEZ: I also really like that, because I feel like this show at many points could have very easily settled into a lot of really negative tropes. The girls in the show are rivals because this is a battle anime. But at no point is there any cattiness—is there any rivalry that’s actually hurtful. Tamayo sees that she’s jealous, and she instantly pulls back and she’s like, “Misaki didn’t cause this.”
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah. I thought that was nice.
MERCEDEZ: And then stands by her friend, and it’s so good.
DEE: Yeah, overall, I think this is ultimately a nice show about basically nice people trying to do their best. I think the show makes some Choices along the way. But yeah, overall, it is a show that I think is really pushing for understanding and kindness and stuff.
MERCEDEZ: Can I just express my relief that this CLAMP anime gave these kids normal swimsuits? Because I gotta tell y’all, I was very worried about what was going to happen. And Hatoko’s swimsuit is pink with a pineapple, and I think Tamayo has a boyshorts bikini.
DEE: I mean, it’s bikini-style, but…
CAITLIN: It’s all very appropriate.
DEE: For their ages, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: Because one thing I hate is when anime give young children ridiculous swimsuits that literally no parent would allow a child to wear. And I was just like—
CAITLIN: You would be surprised.
DEE: What a parent would allow a child to wear. This is true.
CAITLIN: All the rules are off with swimsuits.
MERCEDEZ: That’s unfortunately true, isn’t it? I was just very happy that this felt like a very realistic beach episode. It was good. There was shaved ice. There were romantic confessions.
CAITLIN: Barbecue on the beach.
MERCEDEZ: Boy! Shuko sure did yeet herself out of this plotline, though.
CAITLIN: Yeah. She’s got that avoidant personality issue. So, let’s talk about Misaki and Ojiro.
DEE: I want to punt every Misaki romance straight into the sun.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, they’re not good. They’re not interesting.
MERCEDEZ: Not one bit.
CAITLIN: Ojiro’s too old for her.
MERCEDEZ: Ojiro feels like he’s a high school student.
DEE: He’s in high school. They establish that he’s in high school, at least in the sub. Maybe the dub tried to tap-dance around that. They establish in the sub that he is in high school, so he is at minimum three years older than her.
Now, is three years a big deal if they were both in high school or in college? Absolutely not. Is three years a big deal when one of them is seventh grade and the other one is tenth? Yeah.
CAITLIN: Okay, he is going through puberty; she is barely starting it. Big difference.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, like I said, that time period is like… there’s a huge emotional and maturity difference.
MERCEDEZ: Misaki’s not even a teenager. She’s 12. She’s 12.
DEE: She might be 13.
MERCEDEZ: Maybe she had—
CAITLIN: I’m pretty sure she’s 12.
DEE: It’s a one-year difference, if that, so it’s not a big deal in that sense. But yeah, not to quibble, but I was just trying to think of some seventh-graders. But yeah, that’s not important.
MERCEDEZ: Do we know how old Ojiro is?
DEE: Again, we know he’s in high school. I would guess he’s young high school. I would be surprised if he’s—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I’m gonna say he’s a first-year student.
DEE: That would be my guess, too. So, like I said, I think they’re probably three years apart. Which, if Misaki were a first-year in high school and he was a third-year, I would be fine with it. I’d be like, “Yeah, I mean, you guys are going to school together. I mean, he’s a little older, but you’re basically in the same maturity bracket, so it’d be okay.”
And the other thing… It actually didn’t click for me that he was in high school until they explicitly called it out. I was kind of enjoying the episode where they went on the accidental date together, because then you had Kotaro and Tamayo having their moment in the elevator at the same time, and I felt like it did a nice job of showing why Misaki maybe never really vibed with Kotaro, because they just didn’t really have that much in common other than being friends who hung out together.
But she and Ojiro, they immediately connect over Angelic Layer. And then they have that really nice conversation about how they both had unconventional family structures. And so, we’re getting into that one, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, no, these two are actually kind of cute together. This is sort of sweet.” And then they call out he’s in high school. I’m like, “Shit!”
DEE: I’m like, “Okay, maybe if I let my eyes glaze… And it’s an anime, so in the structure of the fiction, maybe I can make it not bother me.”
But then he’s like, “Oh, yeah. And also, I have a crush on your mom, and you’re basically a replacement for her,” and I’m like, “Nope. Nope, I’m out. Nope.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s so weird. It’s so weird!
MERCEDEZ: It’s so uncomfortable. When he’s like, “I fell in love with your mother,” I screamed. [Chuckles] I was like, oh, no!
MERCEDEZ: Oh, no! Oh, no!
CAITLIN: It would be nice as a pseudo-sibling hangout. It reminds me of times where I’ve hung out with my brothers, especially the ones I don’t see very much—which to be fair is all of them these days, because we all live in different places. But, you know, just having some time to go and chill with my older brother, who is 12 years older than me, and just walking around and doing things together.
But then, “A date?!” It’s like, “No. No. Let’s not. Let’s please not. It’s weird and uncomfortable.”
They had a good Angel fight, though.
MERCEDEZ: They did. I was definitely hoping the Ojiro plot was going to be more like… And in a way, it does result— Well, it did seem like it was gonna resolve into Misaki being like, “He’s like a big brother to me!” And then I guess the monkey’s paw curled its fingers the moment I thought that.
DEE: Yeah. Well, and when he’s talking to her about how he had a crush on Shuko— which, I mean, whatever, kids get crushes on adults. That’s fine. I’m okay with that. I’m really okay with that.
But then they have their fight, and he’s like, “Well, I guess I’m gonna just start pursuing you now. Let’s go on another date.” And I’m like, “Ojiro, no, this is creepy. You’re clearly just…”
And then in the light of that reveal, it makes his previous comments about how Misaki and her mom are so similar… it gets weird and gross, like he’s intentionally trying to make Misaki a mini-version of her mom so he maybe has a shot with this one. I’m like, “Ojiro, no! This is bad. This is real unhealthy, dude.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s not great.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a lot!
CAITLIN: There’s a lot of psychology going on there. So, let’s move on, because the next episode, we’re gonna start really getting into it, because the next episode talked about Icchan and Shuko.
MERCEDEZ: God! I love them so much.
CAITLIN: They’re really cute. In that episode, he was just sort of pushing her around and picking her up and moving her around without really asking her what she wanted to do.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, that part sucked.
CAITLIN: That was not great. But they are very sweet together. They’re obviously close. They’ve been working together for a long time, but also not in a weird power structure sort of way.
DEE: No, they’ve been partners for sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah. They are clearly very comfortable together. He’s a weirdo. She’s anxious and avoidant. It’s a match made in heaven.
MERCEDEZ: It really is. And I will say, it’s been really lovely seeing how he got to where he is as a character and knowing that Shuko’s kind of a big part of that. He’s done a lot of the work he did because he cares about her. And that’s just really nice. It’s just really nice.
DEE: Yeah, I think the way they inspire each other and push each other a little bit… And I liked when she goes to him for advice, like, “I’m not really sure what to do about Misaki,” and he listens to her and he doesn’t get preachy or anything, but he gives her his opinion. And yeah, I think the two of them have a nice dynamic. I ship it. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: You know who I don’t ship that this episode, episode 23, really leaned into? Hatoko and Misaki. Stop it. Stop it, anime. Stop it!
DEE: Again, I want to punt all of Misaki’s romances straight into the sun.
MERCEDEZ: I have to tell you, if you had told me that this final arc leans really heavily into that with the subtext, I’d’ve yeeted myself into the stars.
MERCEDEZ: Misaki? The only thing I want to pair her with is, like, therapy.
MERCEDEZ: Misaki x Happiness. Misaki x A Cup of Tea. Because I don’t like her with romance. The story works so much better when romance is removed and it’s just this kid fighting with a doll. It’s excellent like that.
DEE: Yeah, I thought the stuff with her and Kotaro was fine early on. I mean, it wasn’t like I was getting the doki-dokis from it, but I was like, “Oh, yeah, they seem cute together. If they end up dating, that will be fine.”
CAITLIN: And I liked the vibe where it was like, even if they didn’t end up dating, it’s like two kids at an age where they start to be a little bit interested in romance. They’re new people to each other. Since their school goes from kindergarten all the way through high school, Kotaro probably doesn’t meet a lot of new girls.
CAITLIN: So, it’s like, “Oh, no! A new girl and she’s cute! Maybe we’ll be able to…” She’s a prospect.
CAITLIN: And even if it didn’t lead to anything, that sort of feeling-things-out felt very genuine.
DEE: Yeah, it did.
MERCEDEZ: They’re very good. Really, I think a lot of my grievance is gonna always come back to [how] I don’t like the subtext of how Hatoko is written.
DEE: Oh my God.
CAITLIN: No, everything about Hatoko is terrible.
MERCEDEZ: This 100,000-year-old child…
MERCEDEZ: Everything about her is just so…
CAITLIN: Actually, secretly, Suzuka is actually a ghost, and she has possessed Hatoko and given her life through her Angel.
DEE: [crosstalk] I told you Angels had spirits! I told you!
MERCEDEZ: You know, you joke about the Angels having spirits, but I’m just gonna say it: I think that’s kind of what the anime implied.
DEE: I wasn’t really joking! I’m pretty sure the Angels have souls!
CAITLIN: Yeah, the Angels are like proxy selves. That was the thesis I sort of started formulating with the Tall Girl episode. And then Icchan in the last episode… Icchan went and just said it.
DEE: Yeah, he did.
CAITLIN: He just said it! He just stated it! He just stated the thesis of my article!
DEE: [Chuckles] Sorry.
MERCEDEZ: He stopped short of just looking directly at you, the viewer, and outright saying that. Angelic Layer, am I right? [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] But yeah. And I feel like I kind of glazed over all the stuff with Hatoko in these last few episodes.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because she—
DEE: She’s not in it that much either, really.
MERCEDEZ: No, once she got—
CAITLIN: No, she doesn’t do a whole lot.
MERCEDEZ: Once she got sick, that was really the biggest thing that happened to her. She gets sick with the summer cold. And she kind of gets put on a bus until the last two or three episodes.
DEE: Yeah, she shows up at the very end and has the weird moment when she kisses Misaki on the cheek. Which, why?!
MERCEDEZ: Did I white out and just forget? [Chuckles]
DEE: Your brain scrubbed it immediately from your memory because you couldn’t. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Apparently so.
DEE: Yeah, I can’t remember exactly when that happens. It’s before or after a fight or something. She tells Misaki… she’s like, “It’s a prize for her making it to the final round” or something like that. I can’t remember exactly when it happened.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t like that prize. You need to return that. Where’s the gift receipt? No, no, no.
DEE: [Chuckles] I was like, no, please stop. Please stop. It’s easy to just scrub that from— Not easy, but it should just be scrubbed from your memory. Good call.
CAITLIN: Yeah. All right, so let’s talk about Misaki and Shuko. Okay.
DEE: All right.
CAITLIN: Wait. I want to say my piece before y’all start getting into it, because I personally really liked it. It was really emotional. I really, really liked how Misaki was able to admit to herself how angry she was and how she felt so rejected.
Shuko thought doing this big gesture of calling out Misaki’s name before the finals was going to be this exciting thing. And Misaki was just shocked and horrified, and she felt like her mother had just chosen to ignore her the whole time. And then when they actually do meet up, it’s awkward. They just sit there in uncomfortable silence for a while. And Shuko just made a lot of believable but bad decisions at every stage of this.
So yeah, I really liked it and I liked that they were able to sort of reconnect over Angelic Layer, because Angelic Layer is something that’s really important to both of them.
DEE: Mercedez, you said you were angry.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. So, let me give a percentage. 90% really loved it. It made me cry multiple times, because when Shuko reveals herself, the pain in Misaki’s face, the things that she says… There was a line where she… In my notes, I wrote every time that Misaki shattered my heart. And so, there’s like a point where she’s like, “She told me she was busy at work. I don’t understand.” Crushed! She says, “She didn’t want to see me.” Heartbreak! “Was I a bad girl?” Wrecked!
CAITLIN: Oh my God.
MERCEDEZ: Misaki reacts in the way that a child who is trying to understand why her mother didn’t want her around would react. It was very realistic. It was painfully realistic.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It was so real. Because it would be easy to write her as a miniature adult saying, “Oh, this is what was going on. I understand now.”
MERCEDEZ: You know the line that got me?
CAITLIN: What was the line that got you?
MERCEDEZ: Misaki says, “I’ve been so lonely all this time. I just wanted to be with my mother.” And I was halfway to the floor, weeping. Because it’s so painful. And it’s really well done. The music, the animation, it all really comes together. Even the English dub stepped it up, because I’m still listening to it in English, and I was like, “Oh, God, is it gonna be cheesy?”
It made me genuinely cry, because she hurts and this grand gesture that her mother thought was a good thing is not. It only reveals that Misaki doesn’t understand why she was so uninformed. She’s confused when she sees her mother in a wheelchair. She doesn’t understand. I think she says, “What happened to her legs?”
CAITLIN: Yeah. She had no idea what was going on.
MERCEDEZ: It hits home that Shuko has not seen her in seven years, at all. Has not sent pictures, has not written letters. There’s been zero contact. And like I said, I 90% really liked it. My frustration was less with Shuko and more with the timing of this, because the timing made it to where Shuko kind of got let off a little easy.
MERCEDEZ: And I think part of that was just pacing. What, this happens in episode 25?
DEE: Yeah, right before the end.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. But I do feel like Misaki got the moment she was owed, of an explanation of why. And Shuko, when she apologizes, kind of goes through like, “I tried and I wanted to be a good mother and I wanted to do these things.” And what it makes you realize is she is Misaki’s mother but she’s also a human. And humans make mistakes.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: You know, I’m gonna bump that up to… Really, it’s 99. I liked it.
MERCEDEZ: It’s that one smidgen of like, “Ah, she kind of got off a little bit easy,” but that’s more of just the pacing of the anime. It’s better than the manga, for sure.
DEE: [Chuckles] And I think part of it is also just the way they’ve established Misaki’s personality up to this point is that she… Because watching this, I definitely had this thought of “I feel like a 12, 13-year-old kid would be way angrier about this after the fact.”
And Misaki’s really not mad. She’s devastated and confused. And you went over it very well, Mercedez, so I don’t need to. But she’s not really the kind of person who really gets pissed off.
So, Shuko getting off easy… I do kind of agree with you, but at the same time, I feel like they’ve established Misaki’s character well enough that I was like: I get it. I get why Misaki, once she is able to sit down and talk to her, she’s pretty willing to forgive her and try to move forward.
MERCEDEZ: And I’ll say, when they’re crying in the rain and people are just walking by and they don’t even care, that was the moment where I was like, “You know what? I’m not necessarily satisfied with how this is, but it’s much more my perspective than the actual character.”
You’re right, Misaki wouldn’t… She wouldn’t get angry. She was just confused and hurt. But then they go into the tournament hall and Misaki’s pushing her mother, and I was like, “Oh! Oh, God! The tenderness!”
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. I have headcanonned that there is more emotional fallout for them to deal with after this.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, I’m sure.
CAITLIN: They are going to have a lot of issues to work through, and it’s going to take a while for Misaki to not be like, “Can I talk openly to my mom? Is she going to disappear if I am open with my emotions with her?” Because she works so hard to be a good girl, too. A lot of her emotional process is “How can I pretend that I am okay?”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because she goes through that whole sequence where she’s like, “I’m not okay. I’m not okay at all. I’ve been pretending that I’m okay, but I’m not okay.” And it hurt. It hurt because she isn’t. It’s a long, hard road for her to trust her mother. I get the feeling like, even if her mother comes to visit at her aunt’s house, Misaki’s going to be afraid: is this the last time for a while?
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
DEE: And I think it’s sort of telling that the very next thing that happens is the two of them have a fight. Their Angels get into the ring, and they are testing each other and feeling each other out and kicking each other a bunch. And I think maybe that is kind of teasing at the idea that there’s still a lot of reconnection that needs to happen here.
Sorry, can I back up just a little bit? Because I wanted to talk about their reunion, as well, and what I thought the show did really well there. I was worried building up to it because they were really setting Misaki and Shuko up as having some shared personality traits that led them to this moment, like that scene where they both try to write a letter to the other one and then they get rid of it. And it’s played up as “Oh, I don’t want to worry” or “I don’t want to bother” the other one.
But then as these episodes play out and the characters are honest with themselves, they both admit, like, “Okay, that was at least partly a lie. It’s not just that I didn’t want to trouble the other person. It’s that I was afraid they might hate me, and I didn’t know what I would do if that was true.” And both Shuko and Misaki have that moment where it’s like, “I didn’t want to speak up, because what if you didn’t want to talk to me?”
And on the one hand, it’s a very human way of showing how two people can keep not connecting with each other without either of them having any malice. It’s just pure anxiety. But throughout that, I kept thinking, “Okay, but the power dynamics here are not equal.” Shuko, as the parent and the adult, has all the power in this situation. It’s not Misaki’s fault.
And so, I was really worried we were going to build to a scene where they both apologize to each other for not reaching out sooner or something. So, I loved that scene at that café, because it’s all Shuko. It’s Shuko going, “Here’s what I thought. And then I realized I was wrong. And I’m sorry.”
And I was like, that is so big for this story to recognize those dynamics, because I think you see with a lot of fiction—and I think you see this in anime a lot—is the sense of like, “Well, no, the kid should have done something, too.” And Misaki does have a moment later where she thinks to herself like “I should have reached out sooner. It’s okay if I’m a little selfish,” which is a really good realization for a kid to have, I think.
But I like that Misaki never has to apologize. The show never does that. It’s all Shuko. Shuko’s the one who has to say “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” And she does. And I really appreciated that.
MERCEDEZ: And I would say the shounen genre tends to be actually particularly bad about children having to make up for the lack of their parents. I’m not gonna lie, as I was watching that, Boruto came to mind.
MERCEDEZ: There’s a part in Boruto where Naruto sends a clone to his child’s birthday party, because, you know, that’s a great idea.
DEE: Oh, Lord.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Well, because Naruto has become the stereotypical Japanese dad who has no time for his family.
MERCEDEZ: Right. And Shuko, rather than continuing to hide behind her persona, Shu, just owns up to the fact that she did wrong and that she really hurt Misaki. And I think seeing her run out really sets the tone and the gravity for, like, you did this thing to your child and she’s not okay. I genuinely do think Shuko actually really shows a person who’s trying to do good but does good in a reckless way.
And you know what? I thought I was a lot angrier. And I think what it is, is it’s more at just that little bit of pacing, but it really is a powerful resolution. And it’s a shame that that was not how the manga resolved their relationship, because it’s really good. It’s really good. The manga? That resolution? It’s bad.
MERCEDEZ: It’s not good.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It took everything that the manga didn’t have: an actual reason for Shuko to be absent from Misaki’s life; Misaki’s having actual human emotions about it.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, instead of being a life-sized Angel. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Those are the two big things, right? And it didn’t just include that. It made it so that that is pretty much the emotional climax of the show.
DEE: Oh, yeah. The final fight… I even have in my notes, I was like, “This final fight is meaningless.” [Chuckles] We’ve resolved everything.
CAITLIN: The final fight, it feels obligatory. And it’s a big, beautiful fight. And I’m not sure why Angels can sprout wings all of a sudden.
DEE: Because they’re angels?
MERCEDEZ: I’m not gonna lie. I am not gonna lie. When Hikaru sprouted wings and Misaki was like, “Angel wings!” I was like, “Guide us to the future!”
MERCEDEZ: It was so Shounen Good.
DEE: [Chuckles] No, I loved that moment. And then Hikaru fucking razes the earth. [Chuckles] And I was like, “Hey, Misaki? Maybe you do have a little bit of anger in you, if your Angel just exploded the entire field that your mom’s Angel was on.”
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because I think Misaki actually is like “Guide me and Hikaru to my mom!” —To my mom, and then wrecks her Angel. [Chuckles] It was like, “Ooh. Oh, well.”
DEE: Yeah, when Hikaru is walking away from the fiery explosion in the background all badass, I was like, “Uh-oh. Here come the Angels.” Angelic Layer 2: Rise of the Machines!
DEE: So, watch out. She’s coming for you.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God.
DEE: You better be a good mom, Shuko, or Hikaru’ll get ya!
MERCEDEZ: I mean, if we’re rolling with that Angels have sentience, oh yeah, Hikaru is coming for you. She’s got your number.
DEE: [Laughs] That final shot of… Mercedez, you were saying earlier you were crying during the reunion scenes and stuff. Those were very emotional, and I was into them, but I was— I’m cold and hard! [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: “I was okay.”
DEE: But for some frickin’ reason, that final shot of their two Angels up on a shelf hugging each other and looking very happy, I teared up. I was like, “Shit! They got me!” They got me right at the end!
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] It’s so good. It’s earned. Between that and Hikaru helping Athena up and cradling her? Tear City. Weeping—
DEE: Yeah, that was nice.
MERCEDEZ: Weeping like I was slicing a pile of onions.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a very tender end, and honestly, what this anime reinforced is that I really wish that there were more female-centric battle shounen series…
CAITLIN: Oh, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: …That were just tender like this, where the power of your heart is equal to the power of a fist. I mean, you just have characters that are girls but they’re different types of how to be feminine and how to be female. And—
DEE: You really should watch Sailor Moon. You really should watch ‘90s—
MERCEDEZ: I’m getting the vibe that Sailor Moon might be my jam. And it—
DEE: I think you’d like it, yeah.
CAITLIN: Mercedez. Mercedez. You and me. Sailor Moon Newbie Watch.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God, please. Please. Absolutely. Because I desperately… After this, I feel this weird… I’m hungry for… Can I get another group of young women, girls, who represent different kinds of femininity, and their heart is their secret power? Can I get that, please?
DEE: I would also point out that Crunchyroll is starting to license and release PreCures, which is also excellent.
But yeah, no, I hear what you mean. Because I think the magical girl genre, especially the ones that are actually targeted at young girls and femmes, I think they do that exceedingly well. But it’s also a different vibe than this, which to me is more like a sports show. And I really do wish we had more lady-led sports anime.
You should also watch Chihayafuru, while we’re here giving recommendations. I think you’d really like that one, too.
MERCEDEZ: Because there’s a lot of shounen anime that have women. And it’s funny because before we recorded, I mentioned to Dee how much I like Keijo. And Keijo is… I like it a lot. The reality is that you cannot read Keijo with a feminist lens from a Japanese perspective.
CAITLIN: You’d be surprised how popular it is. One of our first articles was about Keijo.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, I… And this is not a Keijo podcast, so I’m gonna make myself stop because I will talk forever about how much I love it. But it’s aimed at a male-identified audience, whereas I know Angelic Layer is also… it feels like it is speaking to young girls on such a deep level. And I’ll say, credit to Keijo, it spoke to me on a deep level.
DEE: I know a lot of women and femmes who enjoyed Keijo a lot, so you’re not alone in that.
MERCEDEZ: And I really want more things like that, because anime is for everyone and I would kill for another female-centric battle shounen. Bring it on, please.
DEE: That’s not relentlessly, you know, sexualized and objectifying, where they’re not all wearing battle bikinis and their boobs are flopping around, separate of one another. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: And that’s what’s so good about Angelic Layer, is it’s not sexual.
CAITLIN: I think of it as similar to Yu-Gi-Oh! and Bakugan and all those other sorts of shows, in which female characters are generally support characters or they’re peripheral. The Bakugan anime actually had to create new female characters because the manga didn’t have any.
CAITLIN: And there are genuine lessons. They are toy commercials, partially, but also, there is so much that you can take from the joy of competition and defeat and victory and the bonds you form through those things, both with your allies and with your rivals, and sportsmanship and all that sort of stuff, that are really, really great takeaways. And I’m not saying girls can’t like those, but they’re not really invited in.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t feel invited in by a lot of sports anime. For a lot of reasons. I’m not an athletic person, so I already feel like, oh, well, I don’t know a lot about sports, so I feel like I don’t have this insider knowledge. And Angelic Layer might be one of my favorite sports anime. I’m not gonna lie. I really like that—
DEE: No, I think that’s fair.
CAITLIN: I’m totally with you.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I felt very spoken to. And I recently turned 28. This would have definitely rocked my world as a 12-year-old, but even at 28, I still felt like, “Yeah, it is okay to like feminine things. And actually, feminine things can be really powerful. And being kind can be really cool.” And I just wish there were more series that invited me in like this series did.
CAITLIN: Absolutely. And the fact that Angelic Layer is so female-dominated that Misaki doesn’t have to fight for a place. Series where girls enter more masculine spaces and find a place for them, those are great and important in their own way. But the fact that Misaki is instantly included, instantly at home there, is really great.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] She has a seat at the table already.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s great. So, yeah. [Assumes a facetious tone] So, is Angelic Layer feminist or not? [Chuckles]
DEE: Dammit, Caitlin! No! We’re not allowed to ask that question.
MERCEDEZ: You know what? I am gonna answer that. I think Angelic Layer’s deeply feminist. Which… I’m not gonna lie. A lot of CLAMP’s works are not what I would call feminist.
MERCEDEZ: But Angelic Layer, it’s here to say young girls have power and that power is being who you are. And that powers their creativity because Angelic Layer is a deeply creative game.
And that’s what I actually liked, is… You know, young AFAB girls, young AFAB children are often told, “Hey, you’re a girl. Your imagination is worth nothing. It’s silly. It’s whimsical. Leave childish things behind.”
Angelic Layer is wholly a game where your imagination is your power. Whether that’s in designing your angel or dressing them or moving them and fighting, imagination is really critical, and I actually really like that the series deeply embraces something that people who identify as female are made fun of for and says “No, this is the coolest thing possible.” I love it.
CAITLIN: You can dress your doll up in cute, girly clothes and still fight with them. And if you don’t want to dress your doll up in cute, girly clothes, that’s also okay.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And actually, that’s the remarkable thing, too. No one’s ever body-shamed in this anime, which was just so nice.
CAITLIN: I mean, with the episode with the tall girl whose name I have also forgotten
MERCEDEZ: I think her name was like Chinatsu.
CAITLIN: I don’t know. But—
DEE: She talks about it happening to her, but the show itself doesn’t. The show itself is very sympathetic.
CAITLIN: Right. It is about her learning to accept herself. And she has made this Angel that resembles herself. And I think that is part of her trying to figure out how she is going to live with the fact that she is tall. And that boy was super rude looking up at her going, [gasps] “You’re huge!” Because the subtitle said, “Oh, wow, you’re tall,” but he says “Dekai,” which is like “huge.”
MERCEDEZ: So, I’m gonna just… for anyone listening, yeah, it’s deeply feminist and it makes me want to write about the show. It’s just so inspirational.
CAITLIN: You do not steal my article idea!
CAITLIN: I will fight you.
DEE: You guys will have to fight in the Layer. We’ll take this to the Layer.
DEE: I would definitely agree that I think this is a show that is engaging with feminist themes and, at least to a point, intentionally so, because it straight-up calls out in some of those early episodes the idea that girls can’t be fighters.
I think it is extremely engaging with feminist themes in an early 2000s way—which isn’t even to say that it’s exceptionally backwards or has aged really poorly, it’s just there are definitely some places where it can get gender essentialist. And again, the stuff with Kotaro and Tamayo, this idea of “Boys and girls are fundamentally different!” kind of thing.
You know, Caitlin, you were talking about how nice it is that Misaki doesn’t necessarily have to fight for a place on this field. But you kind of see that with Angelic Layer with the one boy who likes it early, and people are like, “It’s weird that you like this.” Yeah. And the show says, “No, it’s not weird. It’s okay.” The show, overall, is trying to be more welcoming. But Angelic Layer exists in a world that is dominated by women to the point where guys don’t necessarily feel like they can join in.
As we move into the 2020s, I hope we see more sports series in shounen with active female protagonists and female characters or co-protagonists or what have you. But I also like looking at the gender balance and the gender neutrality, where everybody is involved and gender never even comes into the conversation for shows like this.
I think we’re kind of hitting a point where that would be really nice to see, which is—because I’ve mentioned it every week so I just should do it again—one of the things I like about Pokemon.
DEE: Caitlin and Mercedez, you guys were talking about shows that invite you in, and I think that it is one that does a much better job of reaching out across genders.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I agree.
DEE: But even then, the fact that Ash is the lead character, and that was established in season one, means that, by and large, the girls get really, really good character arcs and really good stories; they never get the final climax because that has to be Ash’s thing, is the big tournament thing, which nobody cares about.
Well, I shouldn’t say “nobody.” That was rude.
DEE: But I get to that point, and I’m like, “No, but the climax happened like three episodes ago with this other storyline, so I’m not sure what this is for.”
But I think having more shows like what Angelic Layer is doing in the modern era would be really nice to see. I would love to see a Pokemon spinoff show where the main character is a girl or, hell, a nonbinary person. That would be amazing.
CAITLIN: All right, final thoughts.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, overall, this anime is a solid four out of five stars. It’s good. It’s really good.
CAITLIN: It’s really good.
MERCEDEZ: I’ve got to say, that’s not influenced by the fact that summer 2020 was so bereft of good anime for me to watch.
MERCEDEZ: It genuinely is good. And it’s actually really refreshing to see an anime from ‘03, 17 years later, be just as powerful as I think it would have been at the time. It’s really nice. I mean, there’s differences in culture. We’ve changed a lot of how we view gender identity. Still really powerful, still really good, and I really think everyone should watch it.
DEE: I would throw this at preteens pretty easily, I think. I mean, there’s still a few caveats. The age-gap relationship teasing is weird and bad. And I think the way it grapples with disability and ableism is… [hesitates] not… [it’s] imperfect.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] It’s very of the time.
DEE: It is imperfect, but I think it is coming from a place of sympathy and compassion and more of a focus on accessibility than magic cures. And so, in that regard, I think that there is some value that can be taken from it.
CAITLIN: It’s definitely trying, on that front. And once again—I keep saying this—if anyone wants to write an article about how the show handles disability—
DEE: Oh, yeah, pitch it, please. Absolutely.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Please! Oh my gosh, we would accept that pitch so fast.
DEE: Please. So fast.
CAITLIN: Because there are so few anime that really explicitly handle disability the way that this one does and that really try in the way that it does. So, I would love to have a full article on it—
MERCEDEZ: Oh, would love it! Would love it.
CAITLIN: —from someone who deals with that with their own life instead of having some proxy experience like me and Mercedez.
DEE: Or again, I mean, I have chronic pain-type stuff, but to me, that’s pretty different from… It’s just a different experience than what Shuko has.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely.
DEE: Oh, I was saying that I think you could give this to preteens really easily. I think it’s a little bit of a harder sell for an older audience. Not that you can’t get into it, but I think the first six episodes is a little rough because it’s kind of directionless and it’s just Angel fights and you really have to be dedicated to the Angel fights. I think it goes valuable places, but I could see it being a tougher sell for an older audience because of that.
But the things I really like about Angelic Layer [are], like we’ve talked about, a lot of the ideas it is engaging with, and I would like to see more shows like it. I will not say that I was absolutely over-the-moon in love with Angelic Layer. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would after the first four or five episodes. Absolutely, I enjoyed it more.
CAITLIN: You were not into those first few episodes.
DEE: Really, really wasn’t, no. I was worried about this watchalong. No, by the end of it I liked it a lot, but again, I think it provides a model for what a lot of other shows can and should do, and I would love to see more shows like Angelic Layer, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: 100 percent. 100 percent.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, my sister just announced that she is having a girl.
MERCEDEZ: [Excited noise]
CAITLIN: But anyway, my sister hates anime. But if I can wreak my terrible influence on this niece…
DEE: [Maniacally] Ha-ha-ha!
CAITLIN: I will definitely encourage her to try out Angelic Layer.
DEE: It’s too bad the dub isn’t a little bit easier to listen to—although, Mercedez, you got through the whole thing. So, it’s watchable.
MERCEDEZ: It is, and actually, credit to the dub team, it does improve in this final arc. Misaki stopped sounding quite so wooden at times. Hatoko also kind of sounded more like a kid, not like an adult doing a kid voice but more actually like a kid. So, it smoothed out a bit.
DEE: [crosstalk] Although she’s not a kid. She’s a 1000-year-old spirit, but…
MERCEDEZ: She’s as old as the dust of the planet she walks.
CAITLIN: She is.
MERCEDEZ: I think the dub has that 2000s era spice that you can’t get nowadays because everything’s so polished.
DEE: [crosstalk] Sure.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] We’ll go with that.
CAITLIN: Even the first few episodes, if one of the school-age kid classes at the preschool where I work… And I’m going to keep saying I work at it even though I am still technically unemployed, because I am going back! They have movie days sometimes, and this could be one of my suggestions, like, let’s watch Angelic Layer.
So, it’s good. Watch it yourself. Share it with your young acquaintances.
DEE: If they’re to this part of the podcast and they haven’t been watching it, this has been a weird experience for them.
MERCEDEZ: I was gonna say you’ve got a lot [inaudible due to crosstalk].
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] That’s true. It is a watchalong. It’s good. And watch out for my article on it, unless that comes out before this.
MERCEDEZ: I think watch out for all of our articles on it, because…
DEE: There’s definitely stuff to talk about, absolutely.
MERCEDEZ: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
CAITLIN: Well, yeah, this was super fun.
CAITLIN: I’m really glad this worked out so well. It’s always a little nerve-wracking getting a different team together for a podcast, but I feel like we really worked together.
DEE: It worked great. Yeah, it was great to have you on, Mercedez. Welcome to the watchalong teams.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, as my inaugural watchalong, this was a really, really fun experience, and I definitely want to do more watchalongs. It’s fun sharing a really good and thoughtful show with really good and thoughtful feminists. There’s just so much feminist joy I felt throughout all this. It’s wonderful.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah. So, if you felt joy as well from listening to this, check out our website at animefeminist.com; our Twitter, twitter.com/AnimeFeminist; our Tumblr, animefeminist.tumblr.com; our Facebook, facebook.com/animefem.
If you want to support us without paying money, you can like our podcast, you can tweet about our stuff. If you do have some money to throw our way, it would be very much appreciated, because running a website is very expensive, especially when you want to pay everyone involved.
DEE: And we do.
CAITLIN: Yeah, which we do. So, you can donate to our Patreon, patreon.com/animefeminist. Even $1 will help those pledges add up. And if you donate $5 a month, you get access to our Discord, which is super cool and fun. It is a great community that I really enjoy being a part of, and you might enjoy being part of it, too.
So, thank you for listening, AniFam, and remember to… [trails off]
MERCEDEZ: Let your angel wings guide you to your [audio cuts out].
CAITLIN: There we go.