Movie: Sometimes I come across an anime series that sounds really lame on its face. Stepping back a moment, haven't we all groaned at what passes for a marketable title sometimes? That said, the contents of such series are often surprisingly good and this is the case with a new series by ADV Films, Angelic Layer 1: Divine Inspiration.
The show tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl, Misaki, who is instructed in a technological game that involves using dolls that are programmed by people who select their attributes via a computer program. The dolls, when put on a special arena surface, come to life and are thought controlled by the owner. Two go into the arena and fight, with various rules and regulations to control aspects of the contest, and how well they do will dictate how many points they get and their ranking in regional bouts.
Episode One: How Do You Do? My Very Own Angel!
Misaki, a young girl enroute to stay with her aunt in the big city while she goes to school, is fresh off her train when she sees a group of people watching a fight on a big screen television on a heavily populated city block. She is fascinated by the event and learns it's all done with puppets (of a sort) that are controlled by other youngsters. An old man introduces himself and teaches her all about the concept of Angelic Layer. She buys one and programs her, with a fighting name of Hikaru. The audio commentary was a bit uninformative yet fun to listen to (ramblings of voice actors are usually that way).
Episode Two: Do Your Best Hikaru! It's Your First Fight!:
Pushed into fighting for the first time, Misaki has yet to even activated her doll so she goes through a major learning curve. In terms of fighting style, she gets lucky but it shows she has what it takes in terms of visual skill as she deftly dodges attack after attack. In the end, she makes friends due to her performance, regardless of outcome.
Episode Three: Who Are You? Misaki's Nervous Lesson:
Icchan, the professor, shows Misaki how to practice with Hikaru by having the doll dance to a beat. She is joined by a well-known champion, Ohjiro Mihara, who works well with her, learning to better control by dance rather than fighting as the others do. After her friend leaves a group of bully's comes in and their leader challenges Misaki to a fight. Little does the novice realize, the bully uses illegal weapons and has little chance of winning her bout.
Episode Four: The Day An Angel Flew Down:
Misaki goes to a regional game and sees her friend, Hatoko, fight as skillfully as anyone she has seen. During Misaki's first official match in a tournament, her opponent displays a skill at attacking with speed, quickly damaging Hikaru. Misaki, worried that the ice-skating doll, Catalina, will hurt Hikaru, quickly devises a strategy to save her little friend from more harm.
Okay, I'm not the world's biggest fan of fighting anime but this was fresh enough to suggest with a rating of Recommended. I know it's geared towards younger, and female, fans of anime but it was cute enough and different enough that it was enjoyable to watch. The Japanese vocals were a bit better this time but the audio effects sounded better on the English language dub. I look forward to seeing the later volumes of the show to see if the characters develop more or if this is going to get old quickly as many fighting anime shows do.
Picture: The picture was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. The picture was very clear and colorful with no artifacts or other problems observed. The transfer was solid and I had no problems with the picture.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital English track or the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese track. I favored the original track on the vocals but preferred the dub on the effects with the better spatial characteristics. The dub vocals weren't bad, I actually enjoyed them a lot, but some of it was due to the writing.
Extras: The best extra was an audio commentary by Jessica Boone (voice actor for Misaki) and Andy McAvin (voice actor for Icchan). While it rambled a lot and they spent most of their time talking about Houston, TX and area (granted, it is an interesting area and deserving of accolades in all sorts of media), it was cute. There was a paper insert that described two of the leads and their dolls, clean openings and closings, and some previews.
Final Thoughts: This was a cute diversion from my usual preferences and I hope it gets even better in the future. The combination of cute characters with silly ways and situations that were interesting made this one stand out from the crowded field of anime fighting shows. The technical values were solid and I hope there are future commentary tracks (although with content more related to the show than the few negative aspects of Houston, TX).