Angelic Layer Chap. 5: The Art of Losing


Remember when I said we’re going to talk about Hatoko? It’s time to talk about Hatoko.

Misaki can’t land a hit on Hatoko’s angel, Suzuka. She keeps dodging Hikaru’s attacks, and Misaki can’t figure out how.

This is only Misaki’s second battle, and it shows. She’s making what is probably a rookie mistake. When she wants Hikaru to move right or left, she’s also moving her own body right and left. As soon as she figures this out, Misaki stops moving. She doesn’t give Hatoko any more hints about what she’s planning to do, and starts turning the fight around.

When we first met Hatoko, she’s just called an “Angelic Layer nut”, but it’s supposed to be a surprise when we find out that a six-year-old is the reigning champion of the game. I don’t remember if I was surprised when I first read this, but I have a feeling that I probably wasn’t.

There are two things I don’t like about Hatoko’s character. The first is that she’s a six-year-old, and doesn’t act like one at all. Hatoko is intelligent, calm and collected, and sure of herself. That’s not to say that young children can’t be smart and calm (though I’ve yet to see a kindergartner as un-excitable as Hatoko), but it seems highly unlikely to me that she would be so disciplined, and so well-spoken.

No one talks like this.

She’s a just a little kid, playing with her favorite toy, and being really good at. From the child prodigies I’ve seen in various anime and manga, they all seem to be set in one mode: calm and smart. I think a prodigy character would be much more interesting if she acted…well, acted their age. A child, smarter than most adults, given tasks required of adults and lauded for their intelligence…that’s a cool idea. But what if they just wanted to go to the playground instead of doing rocket science? Or their parents want to make them go to bed, but they really want to finish finding the cure for cancer tonight? I like that idea much more than one that treats child prodigies as just a smaller version of adults.

The other thing about Hatoko that I sort of disagree with is her concept. She’s already discovered something that she’s the best at, she’s already a champion. And she’s six. So…what the hell is she going to do with the rest of her life? And even though winning is a lot of fun, and everyone likes to win, if you go into every contest knowing you’re going to win, wouldn’t things get a little boring?

Pretty soon, Hatoko will just be like a tiny Forrest Gump.

“And then I played Angelic Layer, again…and then I became world champion, again…”

Or maybe she’ll just crash and burn horribly like other child stars. I hope not.

But back to Misaki and her second fight. It’s not a huge leap to guess that she’ll win the tournament, which she does. She’s the heroine of an upbeat manga, after all. But what I hadn’t been expecting, as a thirteen-year-old, was that she would lose this fight. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone that she loses to Hatoko; even Misaki accepts it.

Icchan says that the thing Misaki needed to learn to succeed in Angelic Layer was how much losing hurts.

I was a little conflicted about how I felt about this. Of course, I’m part of the “self-esteem” generation. That is, me, and people my age, all got told that we were special and unique snowflakes, that we should all believe in ourselves and have confidence. I do believe that it’s important to have self-confidence, so I’m okay with some of this.

However, I’m not okay with overly-sheltering children. Yes, kids need to be protected, but you can’t shield them from everything. You can’t stop them from failing, or save them from disappointment. The hope is that when children fail, they learn something, and strive to improve themselves. Kids need to learn how to lose, because life is full of losing and failing. Hearts get broken; dreams don’t always come true, no matter how much you want it or believe in it.

You have to learn how to fail, so you can pick up the pieces, and and strive to make yourself better.

And that’s exactly what Misaki does.

And, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of the book. It was nice to revisit these characters again, and remember the joy and excitement I felt watching Misaki’s journey through the first time. But the nostalgia isn’t enough to make me keep this book. Misaki grows up in her story, and so have I.

Final Verdict: For Sale

Next I’ll be starting up a rather long project–and I almost can’t believe I’m saying this–Eragon┬áby Christopher Paolini. Stay tuned!

Angelic Layer, Chap. 2: Making Friends

Time for another action-packed episode of Angelic Layer!

Except not at all.

The first chapter was all about explaining just exactly what Angelic Layer was. In the second chapter, we learn a little bit more about the sport, and Misaki makes some friends. That last part is probably the most important for me. People read fiction for all kinds of reasons, entertainment being the most obvious. But I think wish fulfillment is also a big part of it. It’s one of my theories as to why Twilight was such a success. Bella is so bland and dull that it’s easy for readers to put themselves in her shoes.

Fortunately, Misaki is likable and has a personality (unlike Bella), but I think there’s still some wish-fulfillment for the thirteen-year-old version of me reading this. This is because junior high is pretty much the worst time of anyone’s life. It was a time when I was bullied and miserable, bushy-haired and awkward.

Maybe kids are nicer in Japan, because Misaki makes two friends with ease on her way to school. They start talking about Angelic Layer, and that’s that. I wish making friends was that easy in real life, and that the kids I went to school with were really that friendly. And even though I had more friends during middle school than I’d ever had up to that point, friendship still comes with drama, jealousies, and petty squabbles. Misaki and her friends don’t have any of that. They support each other and cheer Misaki on. It’s simple and uncomplicated. I could call it unrealistic, because relationships aren’t that straightforward. Maybe it’s the leftover strain of reading Snow Drop talking, or maybe it’s because it would be nice for things to be that easy, I’ll forgive it.

One trope that CLAMP is really fond of is a young genius character. In Chobits, it’s Minoru. Here, it’s Hatoko. I’m generally okay with it, depending on the kid. The thing withe child prodigies is that writers will sometimes forget the “child” part, and just focus on the “prodigy”. Minoru is a cool, intelligent twelve-year-old, who also dresses his persocoms (humanoid robots, for those who haven’t read it) in sexy, revealing outfits. Minoru’s calm demeanor and wisdom don’t really make him seem like a pre-teen, but I could totally see a twelve-year-old boy dressing up his robots in sexy clothes, whether he’s a genius or not.

Hatoko is six years old, and doesn’t act like it at all. She’s cheerful, but is too well-spoken and mature for her age. At six, most kids can’t sit still for more than a couple minutes. Even if she runs off from her older brother, Hatoko’s really not like that. It’s Misaki’s other friend, Tamayo, who’s bursting at the scenes with energy. I found Tamayo pretty obnoxious as a kid, and still annoying as an adult. This might be because I was similar to Tamayo when I was in eighth grade, and had a lot of self-loathing going on. Many years out of junior high later, it’s embarrassing to think that I used to act like that.

Or perhaps Tamayo is objectively annoying. Can any other Angelic Layer fans confirm or deny this?

One last thing before I go: Hikaru’s armor. The clothing angels wear is made out of special fabric and designed by their owners. Okay, I can buy Misaki sewing Hikaru’s clothes in a few hours. Hikaru’s small, and Misaki is clearly a beginner, but puts a lot of effort into the outfit. The head-scratcher here is the details of Hikaru’s outfit. Those screws and cuffs at the top of her gloves can’t be fabric. Even as a kid this bugged me.