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Angelic Layer Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

angelic-layer-blu-ray-front-coverThe future of playing with dolls.

What They Say:
From the moment twelve-year-old Misaki Suzuhara first arrives in Tokyo to live with her aunt, she finds herself swept away by the amazing world of Angelic Layer – a fast-paced high-tech game where dolls called Angels are controlled by the thoughts of their operator or Deus. Discovering that her new friends are as interested in Angelic Layer as she is, Misaki builds her own Angel, Hikaru, and begins competing in battles where will and determination count far more than size and strength.

The rivalry is going to be fierce and, with the national championships looming on the horizon, you can bet that not everyone Misaki meets will be on her side. Can Misaki handle the pressure of non-stop competition while struggling to adapt to life in an unfamiliar city?

Contains episodes 1-26.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors what we’ve had in the past as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo and the English 5.1 mix. The difference, of course, is that we get it in lossless form this time. While there are definitely improvements here in overall clarity and the warmth of the music with its score and opening and closing sequences, the show has a fairly standard stereo mix that does get a chance to do a little more on occasion with some of the action elements, but it’s not one that will really stand out in a big way. What you find is that it’s a pretty solid mix overall with what it does as there’s a clean and solid approach to it, but it lacks real impact and placement in many areas. The main area with the dialogue is well served in both tracks though and there are no problems that will detract from the show in the slightest.

Video:
Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080i using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episodes here are spread across three discs in a nine/nine/eight format. Animated by Bones, the show is certainly interesting to see in this form as I didn’t go into it expecting anything significant in terms of improvements. The DVD release this time last year was better than the original DVDs and I didn’t expect more out of it. The series has a strong look in general, and was new at the time for a CLAMP based property, and the results still hold up very well now. The colors are much stronger and more solid here with the higher bit rate available and the better encoding tools and there’s a better hold in terms of detail as the line noise is mostly gone. What’s interesting is how the show works a soft color palette to represent the CLAMP source material and how that feels here. It’s clean and appealing but the softness certainly gives it an odd feeling that’s almost a touch ethereal.

Packaging:
The packaging design for this release is nicely compact as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds two of the discs on a hinge and the third against the back wall. The front cover artwork changes things up from the DVD release as we get a good mix of the dolls in bigger positions here in the background while the human characters are along the bottom in smaller form blended in with the adorable logo. It’s bright and colorful piece but not one that’s too overdone, which is pleasant. The back cover is cleaner and brighter with more whites, blues and greens as we get some good character artwork of Misaki along the top of it and a solid premise laid out so you know what you’re getting. The cover lists all the extras clearly and the technical grid brings it all out in good and accurate form so you know exactly what’s here. Add in the production credits and it’s nicely solid. Sadly, unlike the DVD release, there’s no reversible cover here and that feels like a lost opportunity for fans that may have double-dipped to get more out of it.

Menu:
The menu design for this release definitely works better than the DVD release with what it does all around. Each disc brings out a great piece of artwork that dominates the static screen, such as the two leads with their dolls on the first, a good Misaki in action piece for the second, and a fun summer piece with the main cast for the third. There are a lot of primary colors to be had and the whole thing has a lot of great pop that sets the tone going into it. The navigation along the left uses the right kinds of blues, reds, and yellows to feel in tune with the show as well as the curved nature of so much of it. The breakdown of the episodes by number and titles is familiar and everything moves smoothly and without a problem both as a main menu and a pop-up menu that connects with the feeling of the show.

Extras:
The extras for this release look like they bring over everything from the previous DVD editions and that’s a very good thing. The usual is here with the clean opening and closing but we also get production artwork galleries spread throughout the discs. The release also retains the original audio commentaries with the voice actors talking about the show and their experiences with it. My favorite is the video commentary material as that feels like an even greater nod to the past in getting to see some of the actors hanging out together talking about the show in a picture-in-picture form.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the five-volume manga series by CLAMP that ran from 1999 to 2001, Angelic Layer is a twenty-six episode series animated by Bones. The series was a strong departure for CLAMP at the time as their art style changed significantly for it, and if I recall correctly it was their first shonen title sa well, being serialized in Shonen Ace at the time. The series was certainly popular in its manga form and it saw release here initially from TOKYOPOP before Dark Horse Comics rescued it more recently. The anime itself saw a quick release in 2003 from ADV Films before eventually ending up out of print, resulting in Sentai Filmworks picking it up and sliding it under the Sentai Selects banner. The show has a special place in my heart to be sure as it’s one I used to have one for my kids when they were young, to the point where now as teenagers they have very fond memories of it themselves and the time spent together watching it.

The premise of Angelic Layer is fairly straightforward and very much shonen in the classic sense as it’s one giant tournament show when you get down to it. Taking place in a slight near future kind of world, we’re introduced to middle school student Misaki as she moves to Tokyo to live with her aunt Shouko. Misaki’s your bright-eyed and friendly young woman that loves life and enjoys people and is totally into the big city of Tokyo, even if she’s easily lost and confused. What ends up happening though is that once she’s off the train, she almost literally falls into the best thing she could by discovering the Angelic Layer game that involves dolls called Angels. These pint-sized dolls are used in fighting tournaments where their owners control them through helmets that connect to them. They’re also highly individualized as you can design them exactly as you like in so many ways.

Suffice to say, Misaki is smitten and just falls hard for this game and all it represents. Where she truly lucks out is in that she comes across creepy stalker Icchan, who it turns out is the mastermind behind the whole game. He outfits her with the basics, not going exorbitant or anything, and takes a real shine to her because of her enthusiasm. He has a far deeper connection to her than he realizes, or lets on early on, and ends up coming across her a lot while he flits in and out of the local competitions and gaming centers since he likes seeing how his creations are used and explored. Icchan is definitely a character that can be viewed as creepy, but you have to look at the show through some innocent eyes as intended. It can be taken worse to be sure, and Misaki goes along with him far, far too easily, but there are cultural aspects to it as well to consider. He’s essentially an eccentric helper along the way that will be part of the bridge towards her future.

The general idea is that we get a whole lot of matches as Misaki learns the game and explores other players and how they operate. She’s fascinated by the Angel known as Athena as she’s been winning everything the last few years and delighting fans with her ability. That gives her the goal to shoot for, though it’s done in her mild and friendly way as opposed to how boys would be presented. For Misaki, she’s loving the experience, truly loving her creation in Hikaru, and thrills to making new friends in the city through the game. These friends are varied, but at its core we get the elementary schoolgirl Hatoko that’s a master champion herself, Hatoko’s older brother Kotaro that ends up with a crush on Misaki, and Tamayo, who becomes Misaki’s best friend. She’s the ultimate encourager for Misaki and even gives her a nickname that sticks going into the Angelic Layer fights with Misakichi. Though these characters have little life outside of the game, they do play well together and add a good support layer for Misaki – though she’s never truly challenged herself.

Again, the bulk of the show are the matches as there’s one in nearly every episode, and the interplay between the characters in relation to the matches. It’s a familiar structure and it works well (though I recommend not marathoning the whole thing unless you’re totally into tournament material) because the characters are fun and it’s good to see it done as healthy competition that builds friendships. The Layer matches are engaging to watch as they’re done in virtual worlds that we get to see and there are some creative ones, especially the ship based one that I really liked towards the end. The other big plus to the series design that I really like is that with the Angels, all their expression has to come through their faces and actions as they truly have no minds of their own. So there aren’t talking personalities to be had here. They’re reflections of their masters and the feelings of pride put into their creation. This may seem limiting in some ways, but it works a far more realistic angle and puts the character effort squarely on said masters, to the shows advantage.

Where the show really draws things out, and I’m saying this about a show that’s focused on tournament material, is the mystery woman that we see that operates Athena. It’s made clear very, very early on that it’s Misaki’s mother that left when she was but five years old due to a dire medical condition. Misaki doesn’t realize the truth for an age, for expected reasons, but it’s the kind of subplot that just takes forever and a day to actually get fully realized. It works well enough when it does and it has all the right emotional pieces in play to make for an engaging finale, especially since there is no true villain to the series. But it has the usual trappings of a CLAMP property in how it’s such a slow go to get there. Granted, the original manga was only five volumes so everything they did in there was at a different speed and the result we get here is just how the anime itself ended up being mapped out.

In Summary:
Angelic Layer in some ways may not have held up well, though part of that is just the shift from the original seven disc release spread over months to having all over it watched over the space of two days – and then doing it again a year after I last saw it on DVD. The show has some great charm to it and it plays the tournament side well with the cast at hand and is very focused while still finding time to dabble in other areas with the characters. This is a series that I do think could be expanded upon well and updated in an even more engaging way now, but it’s also a wonderful little bit of nostalgia. It’s a fun show that’s simply charming through and through. It’s also a show that I never thought I would see get a Blu-ray release for a range of reasons. But here we are with it and while it is a product of its time and style, the end result is definitely appealing and worth checking out for those that never owned it. Diehard fans will want to own it as well, though if you got the re-release you may want to hold onto that too for the additional artwork. Definitely a solid release all around and one that did a good job of keeping the right extras.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD MA Language, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Language, English Subtitles, Commentaries with Actors and Directors, Production Artwork, Clean Opening and Closing

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 13th, 2016
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080i AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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