Angelic Layer, Chap. 1: Impact Lines. So Many Impact Lines.

After the mess that was Snow Drop, I’m going to a much lighter manga: Angelic Layer, by CLAMP. CLAMP is a group of four manga artists who are known for beautiful artwork, and compelling storylines and characters.

And they also made Angelic Layer.

Angelic Layer is not the type of manga I would pick off the shelves today, and probably would have ignored even at the height of my weeaboo days. However, it will always have a special place in my heart. Angelic Layer is the first manga series I ever read. It was my gateway drug to the world of manga. Following Angelic Layer would come Rave Master, Wish, Dragon Knights, Mars…more comic books that I care to remember (or think about how much I spent on them over the years). My weekly allowance was quickly spent at Walden Books (when there was a Walden Books); my calendar marked with manga release dates. I would save up to buy anime box sets on eBay, the only place I could find them at the time.

And at the beginning of it all was Angelic Layer.

Looking back now, I can see why I was drawn to it when I was in eighth grade. The main characters were in junior high, and I had the same outlook online as the Misaki, the lead. She’s small, just like I was (and still am, but I was even shorter then), but wants to prove that she’s strong. There’s some intrigue around the mystery of her mentor’s identity and mother’s whereabouts, but it’s never heavy-handed.

It’s the story of a clumsy girl who finds self-confidence, and also something she loves.

Yes, this will be a nice change of pace after Snow Drop.

My first impression of the book was that it was a bit disappointing. Through the first chapter, I kept hoping that it would be something else. The title itself sounds so mysterious and magical, and the brief prologue tells of a girl “seduced to the realm of the angels”. That sounds like an awesome build-up for a girl to go on an epic adventure! But it’s not like that at all.

It turns out “angels” are an expensive, high-tech toy, and Angelic Layer is a game wherein two competitors have their angels fight against one another. There’s no magic involved, no real angels, no epic story line that will have Misaki saving the world. Instead, it’s all about the sport of Angelic Layer, and one newcomer to the game battling her way to the top.

In short, not a book that I would pick up today, or even in high school. But Misaki’s likable enough, if not particularly in-depth at the moment. Maybe it was the magic of my first manga series, or the characters. Maybe it was the hope that it would turn into something more. Whatever it was, I enjoyed it, even if I had to look at the how-to-read guide every time I opened the book.

One thing that I didn’t really like as a kid was reading all the action scenes. I found them difficult to understand what was going on, largely because of the amount of impact lines and sound effects, written in katakana. I mostly relied on the characters’ narration to tell me what was happening in a battle. In the years that have passed, I’ve read a lot more comics–manga and Western–so I’ve learned how to read (and understand) action scenes much better. However, I still find it easier to follow violent action in Western comics. I think that having color helps, whereas most manga is printed in black and white. Even so, the first fight scene between two angels is still a bit confusing to me. Impact lines everywhere!

That’s why I paid more attention to the dialogue than the fights when I had a choice. It’s not a great sign of things to come, if you’re reading a tournament manga.

And, because I can’t write a single entry without at least one nitpick, I’m finding it pretty doubtful that Misaki’s never heard of Angelic Layer before moving to Tokyo. I know that one of the easiest ways to convey information to an audience is to have the world explained to another character, but Misaki just discovering the game is a little implausible, given the rest of the story’s universe. Angelic Layer tournaments are broadcasted on TV, and champions are bigger than pop idols. How did Misaki manage to miss all this? I don’t watch sports, but even I could give you a basic explanation of how each game works, and even name some players. Did Misaki live under a rock before coming to Tokyo, or what?

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