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Friday, October 6, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: Princess Principal

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Princess Principal. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Our story takes place in an alternate version of early 20th century London. Set within the former Kingdom of Albion, some years ago, a violent revolt tore the country in two. Now a massive wall splits the city. On one side, sits the old rule of the Kingdom. On the other is the new nation known as the Commonwealth.

The two powers’ relationship is one of distrust. Tensions run so deep, the slightest spark could set off a devastating world war. Though trying to avoid such a conflict, neither party wishes for the other to gain an advantage. So, to fight a war without soldiers, the countries rely on spies.

Ange (voiced by Ayaka Imamura) is one of the Commonwealth’s best operatives. There has never been a mission she could not complete. What's more, Ange bears a striking resemblance to one of the Kingdom’s top figures. The beloved and respected Princess Charlotte (voiced by Akira Sekine).

The Commonwealth devises a plan to replace the Princess with Ange. Then things take a most unexpected turn. The Princess discovers the plan and rather than stopping it, she offers a deal. In exchange for making her Queen, the Princess agrees to become a spy for her nation’s enemy.

With unprecedented access into the Kingdom, this unlikely alliance proves its effectiveness. Yet in the world of spies, deception is the norm. For you see, those who work in secrets, often have the biggest secrets of all.

Series Positives

I’m not sure how it tends to turn out this way. I seem to always overlook and underappreciated the style of steampunk. A borderline crime when your hobby consists of watching animation. This is a wonderful blend of fantasy and science fiction that can lead to breathtaking visuals. When well done that is. Case in point, Princess Principal.

This series was gorgeous. It also retained a sense of believability. Almost as if this world could have existed at some point. A feeling made stronger if you don’t let yourself dwell on it too hard.

Nevertheless, the universe of Princess Principal was fantastical. Thus, allowing for limitless imagination. Though this show could’ve gone further, what it had was commendable to no end.

This series focused on espionage. Secrecy and discretion would be valuable assets to a spy. Going in guns a blazing isn’t the smartest of ideas. Given this, over the top action set pieces would have felt out of place if used with frequency. That said, when there was a fight, they were pretty damn cool.  

Yet the visuals were only a small part of what made Princess Principal as good as it was. This series was a ton fun. What may have been lacking in art, which again wasn’t much, was more than made up for in substance. This show was hard to put down.

Before moving on, I want to go on a quick tangent concerning the effects of mindset. I had just come off Gamers when sitting down to do this review. If you haven’t read my thoughts on that series, the short of it is, I liked it. One of the themes of that show was the characters having no idea what they were doing. Gamers used this frustration in a charming way, sure. But it remained frustrating nonetheless. To have Princess Principal be the opposite of that was a huge relief.

Did this cause me to enjoy this show more than I otherwise would have? I won’t say it’s impossible. Although, the difference would be minuscule. If I claimed this series to be an 8.5 out of ten, then perhaps that would mean it’s an 8.3 in reality.

What I’m getting at is, Princess Principal could have benefited from circumstances. But it in no way needed those circumstances. This series did fine on its own.


When I think spy stories, Princess Principal’s interpretation of the genre hit it right on the head.

This series made the smart decision of not going overboard. Yes, missions were elaborate and complex. The amount of detailing and planning for each move was not insignificant. Our group of spies were effective and caused problems for their enemy. Yet they never had to fix the underlying issues that arise between countries at odds.

The perceived wrongs of the Kingdom go back years, decades evens. The treatment of the poor. Human rights violations. An overreaching government. Those things don’t get solved overnight. Let alone in an episode. It would’ve been so easy for Princess Principal to try and turn the ultimate goal into a death blow.

That would have done nothing. Think of spies like super glue. There are many jobs it can do, making the stuff quite versatile. One drop can do amazing things. Except I imagine most people wouldn’t trust glue to support their weight while hanging over an abyss. Weather handy adhesive or spies, both can get a lot done. However, it’s a mistake to assume they can do everything.

So Princess Principal didn’t do that. It instead had the spies go on missions best suited to them. Information gathering, infiltration, counter-espionage. This group made it so small problems didn’t grow to become something much worse.

Due to this, the series used its time to showcase what this team was capable of. Which, in case you’re wondering, was impressive. These were not amateurs. They were professionals. They were good at what they did. Some of them were even the best at what they did.

Princess Principal also made it clear. For a spy, trust is dangerous. A certain level of doubt isn’t a bad thing in this line of work. A friend one day can be a target the next. Who knows what it might take for someone to go turncoat. There were instances when this group had to face this. It hurt, but they were never surprised. They understood this was always a possibility.

All this came together to produce an entertaining and exciting series. Not to mention, a series with plenty of untapped potential.

The Characters

Princess Principal’s characters were its strongest feature. As stated, since this series didn’t overexert itself, it remained more personal. The result of which gave a wonderful understanding of who everyone was.

I’ll start with Beatrice (voiced by Akari Kageyama) because she was the least interesting. Not uninteresting, that’s not what I’m implying. Yet when compared to her comrades, it’s how things turned out. That and someone has to be fifth place.

Beatrice was not a spy. She got thrown into this world due to her loyalty to Princess Charlotte. It’s not unfair to say she was out of her element. Although she was a fast learner and adapted well. Never was she a detriment to the team. She wasn’t baggage. Beatrice had a role to play as a key support to the group. She knew her way around machines and gadgets. Plus, her ability to change her voice and mimic anyone was an undeniable asset.

In addition to that, it was a sad revelation on how Beatrice was able to change her voice. She was more than a kindhearted klutz. She didn’t have a pleasant upbringing. Also, no one could question her courage. Even against impossible odds, she would not run away.

Next, there was Chise (voiced by Nozomi Furuki). I loved the fish out of water angel this series took with her. Given the early 20th century setting, I can only imagine the level of culture shock in that age. Not only that, Princess Principal acknowledged an unfortunate truth. Being Japanese in a Western society during this time period, Chise had a lot to deal with.

With that in mind, Chise shouldered the weight of these types of difficulties with help of her fellow spies. Furthermore, she took pride in her heritage and was a distinguished samurai. In a straight-up fight, she was the strongest of the team. She proved this throughout the series. Her best moment was a super satisfying scene involving a bunch of pompous rich kids.

We then move on to Dorothy (voiced by Yo Taichi). Of the characters, she was the most surprising. There was so much more depth to her than I expected. Many of my favorite scenes involved her. And not in the way you’d expect based on how she was first portrayed. Although, her laid-back attitude did make her a welcomed source of comedic relief.

Except, the instances that come to mind were not funny. They were rather heavy and weren’t pleasant. What I would call them is good storytelling.

Fair warning, there was one Dorothy scene that caught me off complete guard. I cannot believe the show went through with this. Most series would cut away. Princess Principal is not one of them.

Last, there was, of course, Ange and Charlotte. I can’t separate them. They were a pair.

What I do want to point out is that Charlotte wasn’t a pampered princess. She was someone who you do not write off. While nowhere near the skill level of Ange as a spy, she made for a formidable opponent to anyone.

There are a ton of things I have to say about these two. But I can’t go into any of them. I do not want to spoil this series. So, I’ll leave it at this. The more I think about Ange and Charlotte’s story, the more impressed I become. They were phenomenal and reason enough to check this show out.

Series Negatives

At first, I was going to talk about how Princess Principal didn’t do much to establish its world. Given this was a spy series, knowing the political makeup of the countries would’ve gone a long way. If you were to ask what the Commonwealth was, I don’ have a good answer.

I say I was going to talk about this because this show did discuss this very topic. At the beginning. In the form of generic narration. So generic that I forgot about it in its entirety.

As I was preparing to write this review, I, for some reason, happened to remember it.

Therefore, I still get to keep this as a negative. Only not in the way I had in mind.

Despite how much I enjoyed Princess Principal, there are a few points against it.

One of the smaller ones being, the nonlinear makeup of the series. Events did not happen in order. Does that mean you can watch this in any order? I wouldn’t go that far. The flow of this show made sense. Never was the story confusing.

I actually don’t have a problem with the execution of this. Yet as a consequence, the series did send mixed signals. The main one being the inherent danger involved with being a spy.

There were no safe missions. Something could go wrong. Someone could die. This was more an eventuality, not a possibility. Except that didn’t always come off as being true.

It was hard to worry about the group’s safety in Case 7 when they were fine an episode ago in Case 9. It also didn’t help that Case 7, in theory, was way more dangerous than Case 9.

Another issue I had dealt with Ange’s gravity ball contraption. It was a neat idea and that was where it stayed. It almost never had a meaningful impact on anything. It was more a convenient way to get out of tough situations. It was never game breaking, but the chance of that happening always being there never sat right with me.

This piece of technology should’ve been way more impressive than it was. Seeing how this was sort of like an Ange trademark, the lack of impact it had was even more prevalent. The group did fine with not needing to rely on this. Moreover, it wasn’t as if it was a sure-fire fix. It could only do so much and those limitations made the whole concept hollow.

Now the biggest thing going against Princess Principal is what could happen. There needs to be a season two. The ending to this series left it open to a continuation. And as a whole, this show felt like a precursor to something larger.

By the final episode, there was, at last, a reoccurring villain. This was a character with promise but do I have to point out why that’s a problem. If the setup to something was there, that means that actual something wasn’t there. I prefer saying, “wasn’t that villain cool?” Not, “I hope we see them again in a second season that may not happen.”

That’s right there is the core of this frustration. At the time of the writing of this review, Princess Principal season two is not a thing. To add to the annoyance, this was an original story. There’s no source material to turn to and get more. For now, this is it.

What we do have I’ll take any day. But the first thing out of my mouth when this series finished was, “Yeah, this ending is not going to cut.” This show was too good to cap off where it did.

Final Thoughts

This was a great series. The problems it had pale in comparison to everything else.

This show was exciting. The characters were fascinating. The art was spectacular. It was never too big. It was never underwhelming. This hit most of the areas it needed to.

Now if only this story would continue, then we’re talking something even better. Though my viewpoint may come off a pessimistic, I’m confident enough to believe a second season is possible. Should it happen, then we’re going to have some fun. To improve the odds, why don’t we try and give this series a few more fans.

Princess Principal is one you should not miss.

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