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Manga Review: Angelic Layer Volume One by CLAMP

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Angelic Layer Volume One is a manga by CLAMP, and it was published in North America by Tokyopop in 2002. The rating for Angelic Layer is “A,” which means the series is suitable for all ages; after reading this volume, I would agree with this rating.

The protagonist of Angelic Layer is Misaki Suzuhara, a middle school freshman. She’s a young woman who is easily distracted and can be rather flaky and a little too trusting at times. She has just arrived in Tokyo to live with her aunt in order to attend a better junior high school. When she arrives in Tokyo, she sees a competition going on between two robotic-looking toys. It turns out she’s watching a competition for Angelic Layer, the biggest rage in the toy industry.

As the competition finishes on the screen, Misaki is approached by a man wearing glasses and a lab coat. He tells her to call him Icchan, and he takes her to a nearby toy store in order to purchase an Angelic Layer egg and the various accessories; this causes Misaki to spend all of her money.

After Misaki customizes her angel, which she has named Hikaru, she meets a preschooler named Hatoko Kobayashi who is really into Angelic Layer. Hatoko’s older brother, Koutarou, is in Misaki’s class, and they become friends; Misaki also becomes friends with Koutarou’s friend, Tamayo Kizaki.

It seems like CLAMP was trying to set up Angelic Layer to become a “fighting” manga property in the vein of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragon Drive, etc. My biggest problem with this series is in the initial setup, because no motivation is given as to why Icchan suddenly approaches Misaki out of the blue. Yes, he probably saw her getting excited when she watched the tournament on the screen at the beginning of the story, but is that truly enough motivation for him?

Later in the volume, before Misaki has truly done much competitively, Icchan believes that she’s worth watching. My question is: Why? I have a hard time buying the setup for this series, and I really have a hard time caring whether or not Misaki does well in the Angelic Layer tournaments. My 14-year-old daughter also read this volume and said that she really liked it, but for the life of me, I really can’t see why she likes it so much.

Also, I have to say that of the CLAMP series that I have had a chance to read at least one volume of, Angelic Layer is the weakest series that I have read so far. In my opinion, not only is the story on the weak side, but the art of Angelic Layer is also weak for CLAMP’s standards. The thing that bothers me the most with the art is that all of the characters have a normal look to them except for Icchan; for some reason, Icchan is not shown as having a nose. Without a nose, how do Icchan’s glasses stay on? Compared to CLAMP’s other work, there doesn’t appear to be much detail used for the art of Angelic Layer.

Perhaps younger readers will have a greater appreciation of Angelic Layer than I do. Also, readers who like series like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! might also find some enjoyment out of reading Angelic Layer.

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About Lesley Aeschliman

Lesley Aeschliman is a freelance writer who began writing on a full-time basis in 2007. She has served as the Anime editor at BellaOnline.com, and she also writes and maintains two blogs: Lesley's Musings... on Anime and Manga and AeschTunes.
  • You’ll be happy to know that I just read the second volume of Angelic Layer yesterday, and will soon be reading Volume Three.

    There are definitely hints being dropped in Volume Two that there’s more than what appears to be on the surface. I wish that one of these hints had been dropped in Volume One, because I might have been a little more interested in the series.

    I’m hoping that I see more progression in the series as I read through the final three volumes. 🙂

  • hushpuppy

    Not having read the manga, I can only comment on the anime adaption which was much deeper and more complex than your review of volume 1 suggests.

    Even if the manga style is drawn more simply and the introduction is a little awkward, the concept is much more than the usual “fighting” manga. While younger readers will enjoy the story, older readers will get another insight into Clamp’s evolving philosophy of human relationships, fate, and mankind’s destiny.

    For me, this is one of those stories where it pays to persevere as more of the plot is slowly revealed. Of course, where the manga may be abrupt, the anime had a lot more time to develop Clamp’s ideas.

    I hope you don’t give up on Angelic Layer. Dark Horse are scheduled to release volume 1 of an omnibus edition early next month, which would appear to cover the first two and half volumes of the original manga series. Thanks to your review, I’ve pre-ordered a copy and can’t wait to read it.