I haven’t watched Angelic Layer in quite a long time, but it still holds a place in my heart. It’s a rare shouJO gaming anime that had likable characters, a fun game to focus on and a decent story. It had its problems, but none of them were so severe that it badly damaged my perception of the series.
When I started reading the manga of Angelic Layer, I really thought I wouldn’t even wind up writing one of these posts because, frankly, there wasn’t much to talk about. The anime and manga, as far as I can remember anyway, were pretty well matched for several volumes. There wasn’t much in regards to changes to the story or characters, so what was there to say other than ‘Yeah, they’re pretty much the same.’?
But then I got to the ending.
And here I am.
Before I get to the ending, I would like to discuss some things regarding earlier parts of the anime and manga. As far as I remember, the anime had a more gradual buildup to Misaki eventually becoming the ‘Miracle Rookie.’ There was more in regards to her playing Angelic Layer with other people before she was flung into tournament play. In the manga, she has one match before she’s entered into the regional tournament.
Because of this, her ‘Miracle Rookie’ status irks me a bit more than it did in the anime. She is about as rookie as a rookie can be before she’s entering a major tournament – and she winds up winning that tournament. Then it’s immediately followed by the national tournament, which she doesn’t technically win, even though she does in the anime.
I say she doesn’t technically win the tournament in the manga because, even though she lost in the finals to Athena, the very last scene is the crowd cheering on her tournament win? (The announcer says ‘Here is the winner of our tournament!’ when she walks out.) She’s wearing a royal cape thing and crown at the end of the tournament – Hikaru (her Angel) even gets the same outfit. The epilogue has people calling her the Angelic Layer Champion, too. I don’t get it. Was Athena like a set champion to try and defeat once she won the main tournament? Like how there’s a league champion to defeat once you defeat the Elite Four? I dunno.
Either way, she somehow managed to make her way to the finals at least despite being almost completely new to the game when she started out in the tournament bracket as a whole.
She does practice a lot and studies frequently in between matches and tournaments, and it’s not like her record is flawless, she does lose a couple times, but so many of her matches are Hikaru struggling → Misaki struggling → Can’t give up! → Oh I figured out how to win against this highly-experienced veteran. → One-hit defeat. (And by that I mean the only hit that actually does damage. A lot of the time her hits will connect but do nothing.)
Many of her victories are one-hit wins, even though her Angel is built mostly for speed and is very light. There’s no reason why she should have such powerhouse hits that they either cause impressive ring-outs or deplete an Angel’s full health bar in one go. This is especially frustrating considering that Hikaru takes so much damage during these battles yet she always manages to keep hanging on, despite the fact that, again, she’s not built for defense – she’s built for speed.
Even when they make a huge multi-volume long deal out of Hikaru’s mystery weakness to build tension, it’s not that significant or interesting when revealed (Hikaru’s really light……We already knew that, and it’s been mentioned numerous times over the course of the series. She’s a small model built for speed. Of course her weight means she both can’t land moves as powerful as others, and she, by default, has a disadvantage against heavier models.) and it’s resolved rather quickly and easily.
Coincidentally, her weakness is revealed on a field that gives Hikaru the advantage. They were on a beach layer, so she had Hikaru grab her opponent and dive into the ocean. Since Hikaru is light, she could swim, I guess, even though it’s never established that Angels are buoyant, and her opponent, being heavy, just sank.
Being completely fair, I never got angry at this happening. I just kinda started rolling my eyes after a while and found myself not really immersed in the matches because I came to expect that Misaki would win, which, in itself, is a big problem because Misaki’s supposed to be the underdog. Her motivation is all about proving how small, seemingly weak-looking people can face their toughest challenges and come out on top. She does that, but she does it too easily. I greatly admire her passion for the game and her love of Angels, but she’s just too good too quickly to truly be relatable to anyone in the real world who would sympathize with her.
Moving onto the ending changes, we have two significant alterations to discuss – the first being Misaki’s relationship with her mother/ her mother as a whole, and the endgame romantic relationships.
Starting with Misaki and her mom, Shuko, the story still remains about 50% the same. In both the anime and manga, Misaki doesn’t even really remember her mom much. She left Misaki in the care of her grandparents when she was five years old. Turns out, her mother holds a high position in the company that developed Angelic Layer and is the Deus of Athena – the strongest Angel in the league and the Angel that Misaki saw in a commercial that got her interested in the game in the first place.
That’s where the similarities end. In the anime, the reason Shuko abandoned her daughter was because she had a neurological disease that confined her to a wheelchair. She decided to dedicate all of her spare time to researching a cure/treatment with Icchan, which incidentally lead to them developing Angelic Layer. She was so ashamed of her condition that she couldn’t bear to imagine what Misaki might think of her as she grew older, so she left her in the care of her grandparents. She had hoped that, one day, when she was better, she would reunite with her daughter. Until then, she’d cut off all communication with Misaki and keep tabs on her from the shadows.
After a bit of a dark tonal shift upon their reunion during the national tournament, Misaki and Shuko air out their feelings and work things out before their final match, which Misaki manages to win….even if it is pretty much one of the most asspull-ish wins I’ve ever seen in anime.
In the manga, the reason Shuko abandoned her daughter…….
….is almost insultingly dumb.
Something you should know about me before I go on – I have severe social anxiety disorder and general problems with anxiety. So believe me when I discuss the stupidity of Shuko’s manga backstory.
According to any info page on her character, Shuko has severe social anxiety disorder. However, it’s not actually social anxiety disorder. The manga never once uses the term. She can be out and about and live her life with little issue. She’s seen talking to Icchan and Ojirou numerous times, and, from how they talk about her, it seems she’s regularly socialized with them for years. She’s a famous Deus who participates in many tournaments, and numerous people seem to know her personally.
I’m not saying all of these factors means she absolutely doesn’t have some degree of social anxiety – you can live a fairly ‘normal’ life externally but be suffering significantly internally – but I am saying that, considering how she can cope with her anxiety enough to do all of these things, there’s no reason why she can’t cope with it enough to be with her child.
“So, why isn’t she?” you ask?
Shuko’s problem in particular is being around people she loves. The more she loves someone, the more anxious she gets, to the point where she has ‘panic attacks.’ She loved Misaki too much to be around her without freaking out all the time, so she just flatout abandoned her child at the age of five with, I guess, no intentions on ever returning.
That….is not….how anxiety works…..like even a little. Does the feeling of love make you flustered and nervous? Oh yeah, definitely. It makes everyone feel that way. In people with anxiety, it’s worse, of course, but 1) that’s usually just in regards to romantic love and new relationships and 2) if the anxiety really only comes when you’re in the presence of someone you love, the odds of the core issue being social anxiety disorder are very, very slim. That is either a symptom of some other disorder or it’s just not a thing.
One of the few things that helps alleviate anxiety is having loved ones around. They make you more comfortable, they help pick you up when you’re spiraling and they work with you to help you through the tough times. Why would a loved one make you so ridiculously anxious? Unless it’s a situation where you love them but they’re very abusive or something, but this isn’t the case here.
Lest we forget, she has a freakin’ child. She used to have a freakin’ husband. Which means she has dated, fallen in love, gotten married, had sex, gone through pregnancy, birthed a child and raised it for five years all without noping out of there because of her anxiety. They even briefly mention that her condition must’ve made life for her husband really difficult. Yet, for some reason, when Misaki turned five, she suddenly decided she couldn’t take it anymore.
You could argue that her husband dying (I think he died anyway) was the crux of her abandoning Misaki, but you’d think that one fewer loved one around would make it easier for her to deal with her love-based anxiety. Plus, her husband is never mentioned as a correlating issue here. He was only slightly mentioned at the beginning of the manga.
The most angering part of this whole plotline is that it’s all simply brushed away. After their match, Misaki chases after Shuko to reveal that she knew she was her mother since the match started. And, unlike in the anime where there’s a pretty dramatic exchange of words, their reunion in the manga is more or less comedic. Her anxiety is treated comically (Less ‘realistic panic attacks’ and more ‘cartoony turning red and chibi with little dot eyes.’) Misaki has absolutely no axe to grind with her mother, which is just ridiculous and practically makes a joke out of this whole situation – even more than it already was. In the absolute end, they simply suggest that Shuko try living with Misaki and Shoko (Shuko’s sister/Misaki’s aunt whom she’s been staying with after moving to Tokyo) and Shuko agrees.
In the epilogue, Shuko’s still very much flustered around Misaki, but they work through it by having Shoko basically tell Shuko to chill out and they live happily ever after…..Yup, that’s it. No reason whatsoever why Shuko couldn’t have been doing this from the very beginning. She’s literally just giving a single iota of effort to deal with it and it’s fine now.
Actually, let me be completely fair. Before the epilogue, Shoko mentions that playing Angelic Layer with Misaki more might help because Shuko is more comfortable while playing the game, but that’s it. Granted, there is a lot of value in having an activity that helps reduce the feelings of anxiety – art and games help me quite a bit – but that just feels so cheap and corny to act like Angelic Layer will cure her eventually and that its existence basically saved their relationship. And I mean that literally. Shoko tells Shuko that they should thank the person who made Angelic Layer when she brings up them playing more to get accustomed to each other.
Speaking of Shoko, does Shuko not love her sister enough to panic around her? She’s having a conversation with her normally, albeit with a blush on her face.
I never thought Angelic Layer would make me feel like I was too harsh on the mom from Aishiteruze Baby. At least in that situation it was a traumatic event and fear of becoming an abuser that caused her to leave. At least she tried to reach out to her daughter while she was gone. At least she attempted to better herself. At least she came back for Yuzuyu a year later. Shuko? She just bounced the instant things started getting difficult. She didn’t seek therapy, she didn’t ask for help from family, she didn’t send Misaki letters or try to communicate with her for over seven years, and she lived a fairly normal life after the fact, even becoming the top player of a game in the meantime.
She’s never held accountable for what she did. Misaki forgives her without a thought, Shoko welcomes her with open arms, and she gets to live a happy life with her child even after doing something so terrible to her for such a pitiful reason. Seven years of fully abandoning her daughter wiped away with nary a stain left behind.
Her story may not be perfect in the anime, but having a debilitating disease that leaves you in a wheelchair and being so distraught over your condition that you feel too ashamed to face your daughter anymore is much more understandable than ‘I can’t be your mom anymore, Misaki. Being around you makes me 😳.’ It’s still not enough to warrant never communicating with her for seven years, but it’s better.
They even work in the Angelic Layer aspect better in the anime by saying Shuko helped create it when she was trying to develop a treatment method (or means of helping her walk. I forget.) with Icchan. She naturally became a master at it because she was using it as a means of medical research. In the manga, she’s just an employee at the company that makes the game and, I guess, played it so much that she became a master at it. So much time spent pointlessly playing a game that could have been spent with your daughter and/or in therapy.
I know how much of a struggle it is for anyone with mental health problems to seek therapy, and it’s particularly a problem when you have social anxiety disorder (for obvious reasons. There’s a joke that’s like ‘There was a group therapy session for people with social anxiety, but no one showed up.’) but I’m convinced she doesn’t have social anxiety disorder. She has ‘flustered female anime character’ syndrome. There’s no reason whatsoever that Shuko hasn’t reunited with her daughter by now. There was barely a reason to abandon her in the first place, but there is definitely no reason why she’s left her daughter without so much as a note for over seven years.
In the anime, Shuko is held accountable for her actions, even if she is also forgiven by Misaki. In the manga, no one’s ever mad at her for what she did. Misaki never so much as makes a frown at her. Not only is that very frustrating, but it’s such a disappointing payoff for this whole running plot.
Onto more lighthearted fare, it’s time to talk about the romantic relationships.
In the anime, they tease Kotarou and Misaki getting together for a long while. If we’re gender-flipping the typical shounen formula, Kotarou would take the role of the token girl/love interest. He does know quite a bit about the game, but he doesn’t play it and mostly sits on the sidelines cheering on Misaki. Outside of the arena, he helps her by giving her advice and teaching her about fighting via his karate moves.
Tamayo is Kotarou’s childhood friend who is rather loud, physical and teasing. She loves hugging Misaki and play-flirting with her, and she loves tormenting Kotarou with wrestling moves. As the series goes on, it’s clear that Tamayo has a crush on Kotarou. However, he’s too enamored by Misaki to notice. Plus, by his own admission, he never saw Tamayo as a woman before. Once she makes her feelings clear, things between the two get pretty awkward, but he eventually warms up to the idea of dating her, which they, presumably, do at the end.
Not a romance for the ages or anything, but I did like this pairing. It was nice to skew away from the predictable route of having him end up with Misaki, even if their chemistry was good, and I thought this pseudo-love triangle worked very well. It feels a bit one-sided for my liking, I thought they would make a very good couple over time.
As for Misaki, she ended up with Ojirou, who is Icchan’s step-brother and a very highly-ranked Deus. He adores Angelic Layer and has a strong personal connection with the game, just like Misaki. He’s clearly enamored with her over the series, flirts with her numerous times, and, once they meet in the arena, it seems like the feeling is mutual. By the end of the series, it’s also implied that they start dating.
In the manga, neither of these pairings happen.
Instead, the pairing that you’d expect to happen, Misaki and Kotarou, wind up together (canonically, as it’s established in an epilogue that they start dating officially) and….for some reason, despite never sharing a single line of dialogue or having anything even remotely in common, Tamayo ends up dating Ojirou (again, canonically).
I have no qualms with Misaki and Kotarou ending up together. It’s predictable, sure, but their chemistry is fine and they set up the relationship well.
I am kinda bummed that Tamayo and Kotarou didn’t even get touched upon, but what can ya do?
As for Tamayo and Ojirou……just…HUH?! That pairing had no lead up whatsoever. I don’t even think they properly met. Where the hell did this come from? Their personalities could not be any more different, which wouldn’t be a big problem if we saw them interacting and understood how their dynamic worked, but nope. The epilogue just slaps us with ‘Lol ya, they’re dating now.’ I guess they did share in making Misaki flustered by guessing what her underwear looked like, but 1) that’s dumb as a basis for a relationship, and 2) They never did that together. Again, I don’t think they ever even met before. Ojirou clearly had a crush on Misaki in the manga as well. He never once acknowledges Tamayo.
What’s even more confusing is, somehow, they’ve been dating LONGER than Misaki and Kotarou. The epilogue takes place a year after the end of the national tournament, and Misaki explains in narration that Tamayo and Ojirou have been dating for a month while Misaki and Kotarou have been dating for a week.
Keep in mind, Misaki and Kotarou were practically unofficially dating when the tournaments were going on. How did this all happen? Misaki and Ojirou made much more sense, even if they didn’t have quite as much buildup as Misaki and Kotarou. It feels like a complete afterthought to put Tamayo and Ojirou together.
At the end of the day, the anime beats the manga handily.
Reading the manga highlighted the problems with the series as a whole more than the anime did. There’s not really a lot to be gained from either watching or reading this outside of ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘being small/short doesn’t mean you can’t be strong.’ The Miracle Rookie stuff also gets very repetitive, as does everyone constantly focusing on and praising Misaki.
Gaming anime typically don’t have to have deep storylines or messages, but that’s usually because the fun action of the game makes up for that, and fun action in gaming is so difficult to capture in manga panels, especially when the art isn’t that impressive. There were numerous instances where I honestly couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I still have no clue how Misaki won her second to last match of the nationals. She was struggling, she couldn’t figure out how to win, everyone was worried she’d lose and then, fwoop, she won somehow.
I still really like the concept of Angelic Layer, but, quite frankly, reading the manga just made me yearn to watch the anime again just so I could see the concept done better. Not only do action/sports/gaming anime already have a leg up because they can show action in a more engaging manner, but the anime simply did a better job telling this story. The anime felt like it had more freedom above all else. There was better pacing in regards to Misaki’s development as a Deus, and everything involving Misaki’s mom made much more sense and was far more emotionally impacting that what the manga came out with. The romantic stuff I can give or take, but in my opinion they even did much better in that regard.
If Angelic Layer’s plot interests you, I fully recommend the anime. I had a lot of fun with it back when I first watched it, and I think anyone with an interest in gaming anime will have fun with it too. I still wish we had gotten a spin-off or sequel or something, and I’m forever sad Angelic Layer as a game doesn’t exist….
I can also recommend the manga, but not as enthusiastically. If nothing else, it’s a relaxing little gaming title that never has the ol’ cliché of ‘The fate of the world rests on my ability to play a children’s game!’. It’s nothing deep or introspective, you won’t tear up or yell at your screen, but if the premise sounds at all interesting it will likely entertain you for a while.
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