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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It’s not just me, right?

When I began this blog, it was so I could look back at all the books I’ve read over the years and decide what I wanted to do with them. I’ve made some headway now, managing to give away a few books, swap, or occasionally sell them. I’ve been enjoying re-reading them and writing about them here a great deal.

Tonight, I found myself wrapping up two books from the Angelic Layer series, three Rave Master books, the .hack manga that came out in the early 2000s, and Me Before You. Tomorrow, I’ll be mailing them out to their new homes.

I’ll be glad to cut down some of the clutter, but when I was wrapping up Angelic Layer and Rave Master, I found myself unexpectedly sad. They were the first manga I ever owned, and even though I hadn’t picked them up in years, I was still attached to the books themselves. I can’t say that it’s the end of an era–my manga phase ended long ago–or that I’m nostalgic for a better time. No one ever gets nostalgic about junior high, I can promise you that.

Because I anthropomorphize everything, I feel a little guilty that the books I’ve owned in each series are getting split up and sent to different owners. But mostly, I think I just liked having them around. But as I was packing everything up, I really wanted to flip through the pages one more time, re-read them just once more. And wonder, just for a second, if maybe I shouldn’t send them out at all.

But then I remind myself that they’ll have new owners that will (hopefully) love these books as much as I did.

Does anyone else have trouble getting rid of books? Have you ever felt emotionally attached to a physical copy of a book, even if you haven’t picked it up in years?

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 15: Why We Read

Oh, Narnia. It’s here that we go our separate ways…for now. Books transport you into a whole new world, and the best part is, they can do it over and over again. Of course, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that already. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I never actually read any of the books after Prince Caspian. Re-reading The Magician’s Nephew now makes me want to go back and read through the entire Narnia series. I think I’d like to go back and read the rest of the books and see what I missed. Aware, of course, of all the religious symbolism, racism, and sexism that I missed the first time around.

The final chapter is perhaps the most insightful; at the very least, it gave me the most to think about as a child. Aslan takes Polly, Digory, and the sleeping Uncle Andrew back to the Woods Between the Worlds and shows them a hollow in the grass.

“‘When you were last here,’ said Aslan, ‘that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That would is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.’

‘Yes, Aslan,’ said both the children. But Polly added, ‘But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?’

“‘Not yet, Daughter of Eve,’ he said. ‘Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Emperor Jadis.'”

This book was published in 1955, though it takes place before World War I. I can’t help but think that Aslan’s warning to the children about the Deplorable Word was a thinly veiled reference to the atomic bomb. I couldn’t have known that when I read this more than a decade ago, nor could I understand just how bad the world could really be.

Now I see that our world is a scary place, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a comfortable life. Perhaps the question I’ve asked myself the most over the past two years, the one that I can’t answer, is, “Is the world getting worse, or am I just paying more attention?”

Unfortunately, I’m usually an optimist.  I want to believe that there is more good than bad, that love will conquer hate. More and more, it seems like the opposite of that is true.

But there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

And that fight is terribly, terribly frustrating. Because everyday I want to change the world, but I’m just one person.

And that’s why we need books. Because Digory and Polly protect Narnia from the evil they brought into it; because Digory saves his mother with a magical apple. Because they give us simple solutions to our complex problems. Because the world is terrible, the characters we love go through endless trials and tribulations, and things turn out okay.

Because real life needs more happy endings.

Final Verdict: Keep

For now, anyway. This will likely make it to the collection of children’s books my mom has on the unlikely chance that I’ll ever give her a grandchild.

I’ll be taking next week off, but starting on May 30, I’ll be back with Angelic Layer by CLAMP, which just happens to be the first manga I ever read. Stay tuned!

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 14: All Allegories Aside, Though…

I thought the last two chapters of this book would be rather short, but it turns out they’re more substantial than I remember. Well, maybe not the first part of this chapter, which is all about Uncle Andrew. The animals have now put him in a home-made cage and have tried to feed him their favorite foods, which resulted in squirrels pelting him with nuts and a bear throwing a honey comb at him, for example. It’s kind of funny, but like the toffee dinner, just takes up too much time. I guess it’s his comeuppance for being disagreeable ant the beginning of the book, but now it just feels undeserved. Ever since Jadis arrived, he’s no longer scary or threatening. He’s already learned his lesson; cut the guy some slack. And now that I can’t unsee all the religious parallels, it’s obvious that Uncle Andrew represents atheism, as he simply refuses to hear the animals–and Aslan–talking.

I do like that the animals want to keep Uncle Andrew as a pet, though.

There was more time spent on Uncle Andrew’s treatment than there was on the coronation of the new king and queen of Narnia, wherein C.S. Lewis shows us how little he knows about blacksmithing. The dwarves make crowns for them right then and there, with apparently very little effort. I actually do know a bit about smithing (because college was a weird time), and I think it’s preeeetty doubtful that the animals were able to make a fire that would get hot enough in just a few minutes to make gold and silver crowns on. Whatever, I’ll give it a shrug and chalk it up to magic. I’m fairly certain that this is a point no one else cares about except me.

And while I’m sure that the coronation is terribly important for the history of Narnia, it may be the least interesting part of this chapter. It’s not until the tree that Digory planted that I start caring about what’s going on. Aslan confirms what the Witch told him–that taking an apple from the tree would make him live forever, and heal his mother. However, Aslan also tells him

“‘Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.'”

…chilling.

And reveals yet another difference between myself now and the elementary school student who read this long ago. Back then, I couldn’t comprehend regret like that, nor could I understand why anyone would think they’re better off dead. I could only think of it as a curse, and use the irrational explanation of magic to comprehend something that wasn’t rational to me.

Now, unfortunately, I understand regret perfectly well, and can see why someone would rather be dead than alive.

Like I said, growing up is harsh.

To end on a lighter note, I’m glad that Digory is rewarded for his honesty, and loyalty to Aslan, by being allowed to take an apple for his sick mother. That’s probably the best message this book has for kids, whether or not it’s read as a religious allegory.

I really love the idea that the magical fruit itself is neither good nor evil, and it’s all about the person who takes the fruit. The tree would protect Narnia, whether or not its fruit was stolen, but the land it protected would change. Because Digory took the apple at Aslan’s bidding, Narnia will become a kind and gentle world. Had he stolen it, Narnia would have become cold and cruel. I really like the idea that the fruit will do its job, no matter what, but the intent of the one who takes it truly determines what happens. I wish my good intentions had that much power in real life.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 13: Does This Remind You of Anything?

There’s apparently a lot I’ve forgotten about this book, but some parts I remember vividly. Chapter 13 has one of those scenes. Recalling the disappointment of re-reading the previous chapter, though, I approached this one with caution.

Polly, Digory, and Fledge all find what’s simply called “The Place”, where the magical tree is growing. It has high walls and golden gates, warning against climbing the walls or stealing the fruit from one of the trees. Digory goes into the garden alone, and there’s a few paragraphs dedicated to that decision.

Near the end of a lot of fantasy stories, the main character finds often her or himself facing off against their main antagonist alone. I’m never sure how I feel about this trope, because if their allies are readily available, then they should also join in the fight. There should be a reason given as to why the protagonist has to go it alone. If the supporting cast is busy fighting a dragon, and the main character is the only one that can kill the sorcerer, fine. If you go it alone for drama, or tradition’s sake…that’s sort of dumb. The movie Labyrinth probably has the weakest excuse, with Sarah facing off against Jareth (and his mighty crotch) by herself because, “that’s the way it’s done”. I understand that it’s an important moment for the character to stand up to something to face their fears, but sometimes doing it alone out of choice is impractical.

In this case, the only reason Digory goes into the grove alone is because Polly and Fledge can see that it’s a “private place”, somewhere you wouldn’t want to walk into unless you’ve been invited. I’m actually okay with this. Maybe it’s the way this scene was written, or maybe it’s because even from the air, all three characters could feel that this place was special. I’m also okay with this because Digory isn’t in any apparent danger, nor has he been since Jadis ran off.

This chapter was probably the most memorable in the book, and holds up very well even now.  Digory is sorely tempted to take one of the apples for his own, and tries to rationalize eating one for himself. Just like we all do, when we want something really badly but know that we shouldn’t. It also shows us the magical quality of the fruit, that he had been planning on returning it to Aslan right away, until he smells it. This passage was as difficult for me to read, because I love fruit, and they all sounded so delicious.

The most important part of the chapter, (and the novel, if you ask me), is Digory finding Jadis in the garden, happily eating one of the apples. It’s made her stronger, but also made her skin and hair completely white, setting her up as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s obvious she hasn’t been invited into the garden and that she’s stolen the apple for herself. She tries to convince Digory to eat one as well and become strong and immortal like her. When he refuses, she aims below the belt.

“‘Do you not see, Fool, that one bite of the apple would heal her? You have it in your pocket. We are here by ourselves and the Lion is far away. Use your Magic and go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother’s bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the color coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger. Then she will fall asleep–think of that; hours of sweet, natural sleep, without pain, without drugs.  Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again. [. . .] And what would your Mother think if she knew that you could have taken her pain away and given her back her life and saved your Father’s heart from being broken, and that you wouldn’t–that you’d rather run messages for a wild animal in a strange world that is no business of yours?'”

Holy shit.

This is the reason I’ve remembered this chapter so well. Growing up with a sick aunt and chronic illness as a backdrop in everyday life, I would have given just about anything for an apple like that. I remember holding my breath while this scene was read to me. Of course I wanted Digory to take the apple back to Aslan. That was the right thing to do. I hoped that Aslan would be able to heal Digory’s mother, but what if he couldn’t? The Witch said that it was Digory’s only chance at eternal life–what if it was the only way to heal his mother?

I connected with this passage, this dilemma so well. I was such a shy and straight-laced kid, always doing what I was told. If I were in Digory’s shoes, though, I may have very well stolen an apple for my sick aunt. It’s a test of faith; how loyal Digory feels towards Aslan, or how much he wants to save his mother. He hesitates, though, giving Jadis an opportunity to remind him that she’s evil. The reminder is all Digory needs to refuse, and leave with Polly and Fledge to return to Aslan with the magic fruit.

I chose to read The Magician’s Nephew again for a few reasons. It was the first in the Narnia series I ever read; I thought I remembered the basic story well enough and…

Well, this last one just makes me sound silly.

It took me awhile to come around to the “Aslan is Jesus” allegory. Sure, it made sense–Aslan comes around at Christmas, is killed for Edmund’s sake and  is then reborn (which just about made me cry)…it’s not a difficult connection to make. I never liked it all that much because it sort of demystified this really cool, powerful character. When I was a child, it made Aslan feel less approachable. As an adult, it’s because I’m not terribly religious, and don’t enjoy having religion shoved down my throat, even if it’s in the form of a fuzzy lion. Because, c’mon, you can’t watch the Disney Narnia movies and tell me that you don’t want to cuddle with Aslan.

But back to the point…I chose The Magician’s Nephew because I thought it wouldn’t be overly religious.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The scene that I remembered the best was nothing more than a gender-swapped Garden of Eden story. How the hell did I miss that? If it were any more transparent, this book would be made of glass.

Aslan help me, I’m an idiot.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 12: Strawberry’s Disappointing Adventure

This was a chapter that I was really excited to get to. I remembered it being so magical. Aslan gives Strawberry wings, and he becomes Fledge, Narnia’s first flying horse. He takes Polly and Digory on an adventure, flying far above Narnia. They explore the world, eat toffees, and have a marvelous time. What more could a child want in a story?

As an adult, however, it turns out that this chapter leaves a lot to be desired. I expected that my childhood memory of this chapter wouldn’t hold up to the reality, and I was right. I just wasn’t aware of how right I was actually going to be. It starts promising, with Digory agreeing to find the magical tree that will protect Narnia. There’s also a very sweet part where Aslan grieves with Digory about his ill mother.

“But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself.”

But this chapter is mostly description, like Digory describing the land to Aslan. When Polly and Digory are riding on Fledge’s back, most of the narrative is description of what they’re flying over. The “adventure” isn’t so much a story, as it is a nice sight-seeing tour.

On the other hand, they’re the first humans to ever see all this, so I guess that’s exciting. Of course I would have loved to be riding on a flying horse through a brand-new world. But I don’t get that thrill from reading this. It’s like going through a photo album of someone else’s vacation. You try to care, you really want to, but you just can’t make yourself.

Man, growing up sucks.

There’s also a disproportionate amount of time dedicated to the children having dinner. There are two pages that are just Digory and Polly trying to figure out what they’re going to eat when they stop flying for the night. Polly has some toffees in her pocket, so they decide that will be their meal.

“The little paper bag was very squashy and sticky when they finally got it out, so that it was more a question of tearing the bag off the toffees than of getting the toffees out of their bag.”

Okay, great, but what about the adventure?

“Some grown-ups (you know how fussy they can be about that sort of thing) would rather have gone without supper altogether than eaten those toffees.”

No, I still eat candy for dinner sometimes. So about this adventure…

“There were nine of them all told. It was Digory who had the bright idea of eating four each and planting the ninth; for, as he said, ‘if the bar off the lamp-post turned into a little light-tree, why shouldn’t this turn into a toffee-tree?’ So they dibbled a small hole in the earth and buried the piece of toffee.”

Man, the word toffee sounds weird now. You ever notice how you say a word a lot, and it loses its meaning? Toffee, toffee, toffee…

At least there’s still magic, when the toffee does grow into a toffee tree overnight. That’s pretty cool.

There is one small detail in this chapter that I still really like. When Polly and Digory go to sleep, Fledge spreads his wings over them to keep them warm at night. It sounds cozy, and of course I would love to have a pegasus to snuggle with at night. In fact, a great deal of my wish-fulfillment stories I wrote in sixth grade were based on that exact premise.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 11: Bit Characters and Other Matters

I’ve praised some of the ideas C.S. Lewis had, but there’s one thing that’s a little harder to get over: the chapter titles. Some of them are just so incredibly bland. Take a look:

Chapter 6: The Beginning of Uncle Andrew’s Troubles
Chapter 7: What Happened at the Front Door
Chapter 10: The First Joke and Other Matters

And we’ve finally reached Chapter 11: Digory and His Uncle Are Both in Trouble.

The first half of this chapter is nothing but the animals trying to figure out what, exactly, Uncle Andrew is. They eventually decide that he’s a tree, and plant him in the ground. It’s amusing, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the story. To be honest, I’m not even sure why Uncle Andrew even had to come to Narnia with the other characters. He’s been demoted from intriguing Magician to comic relief, by way of misfortune. At this point, he has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I also don’t like to see clever and brave Polly relegated to the background. She should have a much bigger part in the story right now; certainly, she deserves a bigger role than Uncle Andrew. Much more so than the Cabby as well, who has only just been given a name. Seriously, this man’s horse is named before he is.

Aslan decrees the Cabby, Frank, will be king of Narnia. This is presumably because Frank is the only human adult in the group who isn’t evil. This also begs the question why Aslan wanted a human to run the country in the first place. So far, Uncle Andrew, Jadis, and Digory (to a point) haven’t been shining examples of our species. All the sentient beings in Narnia are either animals or some kind of mythological creature, like dryads and fauns. Why not let one of its native people rule the country, maybe someone that Aslan specifically chose for his council? And how is Frank going to know what’s best for the animals, talking or otherwise? It reminds me of reading an X-rated fanfiction that was clearly written by a virgin. Maybe you know what’s supposed to happen, but it’s obvious to everyone reading it that you’ve got no clue what you’re writing about.

Do you think C.S. Lewis was pro-Imperialism?

Despite that head-scratcher, I’m kind of okay with Aslan’s reasons that Frank qualifies as king. Writing this during an election year, I wish politics really were this simple and straightforward.

“‘Begging your pardon, sir,’ he said, ‘and thank you very much I’m sure (which my Missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of chap for a job like that. I never ‘ad much eddycation, you see.’


‘Well,’ said Aslan, ‘can you use a spade and a plow and raise food out of the earth?’


‘Yes, sir, I could do a bit of that sort of work: being brought up to it, like.’


‘Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in, but Talking Beasts and free subjects?’


‘I see that, sir,’ replied the Cabby. ‘I’d try to do the square thing by them all.’


‘And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?’


‘It’d be up to me to try, sir. I’d do my best: wouldn’t we, Nellie?’


‘And you wouldn’t have favorites either among your own children or among the other creatures or let any hold under another or is use it hardly?’


‘I never could abide such goings on, sir, and that’s the truth. I’d give ’em what for if I caught ’em at it,’ said the Cabby.”

“And will you build a wall between Narnia and Archenland, and deport all Archenlanders who have not legally come to this country?”*

But between Uncle Andrew being planted in the ground and Frank becoming king, Aslan has to deal with Digory, as he was the one who woke Jadis and brought her into Narnia. Aslan says that Digory must find a magical tree far away, take one of its fruits, and plant it in Narnia. This tree will help protect Narnia from Jadis for hundreds of years. When Digory owns up to the role he had in waking Jadis, his exchange with Aslan is a little…disappointing.

“‘She woke up,’ said Digory wretchedly. And then, turning very white, ‘I mean, I woke her. Because I wanted to know what would happen if I struck a bell. Polly didn’t want to. It wasn’t her fault. I–I fought her. I know I shouldn’t have. I think I was a bit enchanted by the writing under the bell.’


‘Do you?’ asked Aslan; still speaking very low and deep.


‘No,’ said Digory. ‘I see now I wasn’t. I was only pretending.'”

But that was so cool! It was scary and intriguing and now you’re saying that the magic was all in Digory’s head?

Thanks for taking away the scariest part of the book, Aslan.

Digory, you broke Narnia. C.S. Lewis, you broke my heart.

*Please note that Donald Drumpf’s point of view does not reflect the author’s, and that Drumpf is a tool.**
**Though it is worth saying that the Calormenes are C.S. Lewis’s view of Muslims, and are not portrayed in a flattering light. So really, building a wall between Narnia and Calormen would make more sense for this predictable joke.

†Please don’t vote for Trump. Please, please, please.