Anime loves a good fight, you know. From Akira to Dragon Ball, fighting is a well-established part of anime by now. Battle Doll: Angelic Layer takes a different approach to battles. Much like Pokemon, the protagonist only fights via proxy. It worked for Pokemon, so how does it work this time around?
Misaki is a 12-year-old girl who has just moved to Tokyo for middle school. A small and meek girl, she is instantly taken by the world of Angelic Layer when she sees it on TV at Tokyo Station. Angelic Layer is a popular game where two opponents battle one another with battle dolls called “angels”. The dolls are placed into a battlefield called layers where they become animated and players control them via a mental link.
Misaki is quickly thrust into Angelic Layer scene and finds herself competing against much more experienced players. She gains a reputation early on for being a sort of savant at the game. Initially, having no clue how to control her doll, she quickly learns to will her doll to victory in the most dire of moments. She also displays a unique intuition in determining an opponent’s strategy and how to combat them. As she moves up the ranks, she develops some friendships along the way that help guide her and help her grow. Additionally, she learns to develop self-confidence and inner-strength. She even begins to learn more about Angelic Layer and what it has to do with her mother who abandoned her many years prior.
Battle Doll: Angelic Layer starts out pretty quickly. There isn’t a lot of time just spent learning the characters before we get into action. On the other hand, the action doesn’t blow one away immediately. With relatively tame battles at first, Angelic Layer competitions don’t feel too intense. After a few fights, though, the strategy gets deeper and the action gets more interesting. And the animation in the battles looks very good.
The big issue with Battle Doll: Angelic Layer is that it gets a bit repetitive early on. Each episode focuses on a new opponent. This opponent obviously poses a new threat that seems impossible to overcome. When initially airing, this probably played a little better, but when watching the episodes over a short period of time, the middle episodes fail to establish uniqueness. The last several episodes are much stronger, however.
By the last third of the show, Angelic Layer has pretty well developed the character of Misaki. This allows for the end revelations about how she is tied to Angelic Layer to take focus and maintain the appropriate gravitas. It is this point where she is allowed to make the final steps of her journey of growth. And from a story telling standpoint, this final third of the show was pretty strong. The big issue is that after the slog from earlier in the season, the viewer might not care as much. Definitely not a show to binge as you won’t enjoy the end payoff the same. All in all, the end makes it a worthy watch, but hard to recommend for ownership as I don’t see a ton of replay value.
Picture Quality: 3.5/5
I find nothing to complain about here. Angelic Layer looks quite nice. The transfer gives great colors and clean lines. The fighting scenes deliver a dynamic quality that probably has never looked this good. I never noticed any bad compression artifacts or murky darks. That said, nothing will blow you away about the video. It is just quite solid.
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Sentai delivers Battle Dolls Angelic Layer with a DTS-HD Master Audio track. While not the biggest or most dynamic audio track, it serves quite well and worked with what was on screen fine. The dialog was always clear and the sound was natural. The action had the appropriate power behind it in the battles. It all works well for the scale of the series.
Supplemental Features and Packaging: 4/5
Clean Opening and Closing Animation: Pretty standard from Sentai these days.
Production Artwork: Sentai provided quite a bit of artwork.
Commentaries: The picture in picture commentary track for the last episode is really good. With two actors sharing what it was like to record the series, this was easily the best feature. There are a few audio commentary tracks as well. Two on the first disc, three on the second disc and one on the third disc. All are pretty interesting and keep attention for the 20 something minute runtime of the episode. The picture in picture commentary is still the standout, though.
Sentai Trailers: This isn’t really a supplement so much as it is an advertisement for more of their products.
This is probably the most pleasing set of extras from any of the Sentai releases I’ve reviewed. Between including both a dub track and original Japanese track and including several commentaries, especially the video commentary, Sentai gave us a pretty packed release for an anime TV series.
The packaging on the other hand, is really nothing too special. It is pretty par for the course from Sentai with a standard 3 disc case with fitting artwork. No special credit here like the supplements, but it does the job.
Unfortunately, I wanted to like this more than I did. I remember hearing about it when it came out initially as I watched a lot of anime in that time of my life. And one of the best parts of this gig is getting to see some stuff that I never got the chance to catch in those years. However, after all those years and removed from any of the hype, it is merely ok. It is nothing amazing, but it is a fun ride at the beginning and the end. If you get through the middle, it is pretty pleasant by the end. It is a hard to recommend as a buy since I don’t see replay value being very high. However, I recommend Battle Doll: Angelic Layer for a rental or a watch if you find it on Hulu or similar services.
Fans of the series should be pleased with this release as it looks and sounds quite good. The commentary episode is a pretty cool inclusion that I just wish they had more of. At least they really chose the right episode to give a commentary track on. In addition, they still served fans well with several commentary audio tracks as well. This is a strong recommendation to rent, but a recommendation to buy only for fans. No blind buy recommended.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.