Review/discussion about: Princess Principal
When I first started learning about cybersecurity, we talked about notable cases and the importance of hashes. We also discussed one of the earliest forms of encryption: Caesar’s Cipher.
Named after Julius Caesar, he would take his writing, apply his secret code, and jumble up his words. Simple yet effective (for that age at least). To crack it? Just shift the alphabet over three times to the right.
Within Princess Principal, the leading ladies likely encrypt their own correspondences. So, I will do the same here to describe this project: mofkzbpp mofkzfmxi fp x sbov dlla xkfjb.
Taking on a semi-episodic format, Princess Principal delivers to its audience singular segments that peer into the lives of a group of normal high-school girls. However, while they adhere to such studious roles, they use them more as a façade, a misdirection for their true purpose: full-fledged spies.
As spies, the characters go about manifesting Operation: Changeling to the best of their abilities with each new case file. Sneaking their way into enemy territory. Tailing important figures. Hiding their motivations. Changing out body doubles. Using underhanded tactics. They breathe the spy lifestyle with coercion and deception aplenty, and the various events they take part in back up that claim with ease.
To give Princess Principal more of an edge, though, the narrative focuses on other interesting elements to boost its possibilities. It sets up a steampunk setting, giving their espionages a believable foundation while also permitting fictional ideas like the gravity-bending cavorite. In turn, the show also ups the ante with crazier sequences in dual trains and harsher outcomes.
The show isn’t afraid to balance out this darker content with lighter happenings, too. Specifically speaking, it channels comedy and cuteness even during dire moments. Dorothy may make a joke about Princess’s (false) crossdressing fetish, or Beatrice may dance in-place out of anxiety over the current situation. No matter the slight amount of fun, these instances do not derail Princess Principal but rather prove its capabilities at switching between both sides without any hiccups.
Most notably, the show takes on a non-chronological structure for its story. Unfortunately, it acts as a double-edged sword (or perhaps a double-ended pistol pen given the context). On the one side, mixing up events coincides with the spy motif at large since such shuffling induces mystery as to the progression and the sequence of events.
But it also introduces unwanted problems. For instance, the tension and the stakes for over half the episodes subside as the designated, out-of-order case numbers spoil the audience on whether a specific spy still fights on. The anime also fails to take advantage of the jumbled nature of these events. Such a disjointed layout does not matter to each episode since they rarely influence or mean much to one another when reconnected.
Intermixed throughout the non-chronological structure, Princess Principal hints at an overarching political battle involving the Princess, the Duke, and the warring nations. However, not only does the anime somewhat finish abruptly but also the separate cases do not materialize as anything too worthwhile on a plot level. Despite stopping plans and outing enemies, the characters fail to resolve this main throughput let alone get any closer to succeeding in their goal.
Moreover, this stilted progress hinders the anime’s thematic ideas on equality and necessity for freedom. Yes, the anime has the giant wall, some of the class struggles, and miniscule exposition to rely on. These parts do not form a cohesive unit, though, but rather a hodgepodge of tangentially related pieces. Thus, they do not provide enough context for the spy work carried out and therefore do not establish a tangible reason why any of this tale matters in the first place.
These problems across both the structure and the plot hold Princess Principal back in some regard, but it still stands quite well as a thrilling story. The premise, the focus, and the adaptability within attest to that argument.
ART & ANIMATION
Princess Principal showcases an awesome set of visuals that bring about high-tier execution.
It puts most of its effort into the locations and the background artistry. The old-fashioned setting allows for cobbled streets and worn-down buildings, and the steampunk spin sees mechanical creations complementing the smoggy city. Tons of detail goes into these places, too. From the flower gardens of the academy to the classy décor of a ballroom, the anime oozes with a pleasing aesthetic.
The anime takes the visuals further by rounding out its approach through more refined elements. Darker color variations of browns, reds, greens, blacks, and blues match the tone of the events portrayed. Lighting also plays a major role, keeping the atmosphere clouded for a downcast mood or adding contrast with brighter yellow hues from hanging lamps. And the cinematography does not falter. It’ll rotate the camera during certain gravity-defying scenes, and it follows the car chases, gun fights, and sword duels without any troubles whatsoever.
By extension, the strict movement within Princess Principal remains consistent and in tiptop shape, too. While the characters do their fair share of collaborating in their clubroom and talking about the situation during a mission, they take part in all manner of actions. Sneaking, jumping, running, punching, twirling, parachuting, fighting.
Ange’s light jog while moving to the front of a blown-up train in episode five demonstrates the strong level of animation presented. Yet Chise’s cricket swing in episode nine particularly claims a notable spot with its over-the-top quality for such one-off scene (hence the joke). Regardless, almost everything has a fluidity to it, so the visuals improve upon their execution once again.
Rivaling even the best of what the art and the animation offer, the designs of the characters shine, for they range in appeal and descriptors. Dorothy is sexy. Chise is refined. Beatrice is cute. Ange is tomboyish. Princess is elegant. Plus, they switch outfits regularly: school attire, casual clothes, dresses.
But, perhaps obviously, their spy looks give them their most interesting portrayals. Dorothy shows off her best assets with utility in tow. Chise dons her cultural items. Beatrice puts on unassuming garb. Ange becomes a magician of sorts. And Princess hides beneath a black-hooded cloak. They talk the talk and walk the walk – and look stylish while doing so.
Even the ending track’s presentation – with the cute paper-cutout style, the light-versus-dark influence, and the engine which controls the world’s rotation – highlights just how much care went into the visuals. On top of the immense detail, the cool aesthetic, the lovely character designs, and the nice actual animation throughout, the artistic direction represents the greatest (if not the best) part to this anime.
As Princess Principal depicts, a ginormous wall divides a war-torn land resembling WWII Europe, separating the nation of Albion into two parts: the Kingdom and the Commonwealth. While both sides bicker and quarrel through military might, the ground game decides the biggest turnarounds.
That’s where Ange, Dorothy, Beatrice, Chise, and Princess arrive.
Although not quite medium in size, the anime must still juggle all five girls simultaneously throughout the season. Arguably, it does not divvy up equal time to each character, for Beatrice and Chise appear to have less focus in total when compared to the other three. Nevertheless, Princess Principal does more than okay at building and characterizing these ladies into intriguing, believable people.
Ange hails from the “Black Lizard Planet,” and, if it’s not apparent already, she loves to lie. Combined with her deft abilities, keen awareness, and cavorite usage, she’s also the ultimate spy. Hidden somewhere within her constant fibbing, though, lays a softer side to this unyielding girl. She cares about her close friends, demonstrated regularly by the help she offers them. It’s almost impossible to tell what she may be thinking in any given moment, but one thing is clear: She will do whatever it takes to see the current mission through.
Dorothy is the femme fatale of the group, using her busty body and killer looks to sway the hearts of men (weak-willed or otherwise). But she’s also the most fun as she jokes a bit and keeps the mood from becoming too serious. The designated driver (despite a drink or two or even twenty-one) and the appointed leader of their spy band (despite ranking lower skill-wise), she is the oldest of the bunch, but she doesn’t like to be reminded of such trivial matters. Instead, she wishes to do what’s right – both by the team and by herself.
Beatrice is the caretaker. A worrywart, her queasy stomach and lack of physical strength often hold her back from direct involvement. However, the unique audio device which controls her speech turns her into a communications and imitations specialist. With a knack for tea here and a tad amount of luck there, she proves invaluable to the team’s success.
Chise is a foreigner when compared to the others, but she takes that description to heart. Wielding a blade of steel and honor of an even tougher material, she usually brings the fight to the enemy with dexterity and class. Her mastery of English isn’t quite there yet, and she sometimes feels as though she isn’t contributing as much as she would prefer. Even so, her admirable attitude proves to be a stout backbone that they cannot do without.
As for Princess, she is the kingpin (or soon-to-be queenpin) of the group thanks to her (perceived) royalty status. Super kind and perfection practically incarnate, she betrays the Kingdom and sides with the Commonwealth as a spy. All in the hopes of one day overthrowing her own warped government and ushering in a new age of equality. Unlike everyone else, she is not fit for this lifestyle, but her openness with them and her willingness to take risks grants her the clout she needs among this elite troupe.
These characterizations for Ange, Dorothy, Beatrice, Chise, and Princess unravel across each episode of Princess Principal, giving them their individual worth within the story. They also work potently as a group. Each has a part to play to make up the whole, but their forced closeness also leads to better insights and stronger parallels between them. They bond over similar upbringings. They respect each other’s prowess. They appreciate confidence in the face of danger. They share feelings for dear friends. And they go to unorthodox lengths to remind them of their homeland.
They’re a tightknit group, but that does not mean they go without conflict of their own. Ange finds her selfishness challenged. Dorothy must contend with the relationships she holds. Beatrice deals with trust issues. Chise contemplates her devotion to the cause. And Princess proves her perseverance.
Given that this anime coalesces as an introductory season of sorts, these characters shape up as a positive asset. Their individual characterizations, their group affinity, and their notable conflicts present them not only as strong, able spies but also as interesting, worthwhile people.
MUSIC & SOUND
Princess Principal continues its audiovisual wizardry with more excellence from the first half of that six-syllable word. And it begins with both the ending track and the opening track. They feature all-English lyrics, and they also somewhat diverge from the serious, spy-centric story.
The ED, titled “A Page of My Story”, softens the mood with a laidback approach. A slower pace, some tuba, rhythmic clapping, graceful chimes. Such a combination gives the track a light, almost whimsical feel to achieve that lackadaisical mood. Furthermore, it embodies the fun and the camaraderie the group of girls have together. Dancing xylophone notes add a small yet playful section. Multiple vocalists get at that togetherness. And the catchiness overall makes it difficult not to bob and whistle along to.
Going the opposite direction, the OP, titled “The Other Side of the Wall”, inflates the scope of its sound. Trumpets and violins guide the groundwork made by the drums and the guitars to create a dynamic, rousing composition. However, the bass, the piano, and the vocals impress the most. The quick bassline adds a subtle groove. The cascading piano keys form frantic feelings which mirror the emotions within the anime. And both a strong lead vocal performance and background harmonizing keep up with this varied, intriguing instrumentation, injecting extra power into an already very powerful piece.
The rest of the original soundtrack likewise earns praise with its ambient tunes and notable variance. Both psychedelic and charged pieces exist for the subdued and the direct sneaking segments. Piano melodies accompany sincerer moments, and xylophone-laden acoustic pieces support the laidback downtime. Foreboding, menacing tracks exist alongside a couple of cultural ones, too. Altogether, the OST slithers forward with finesse and flair as expertly as the girls deceive their foes.
Speaking of the girls, their voice-acting performances give Princess Principal yet another positive under its belt. Even more impressive is the fact that they are considered relative newcomers to this medium. You Taichi as Dorothy soothes the ear with a sexy, alluring tone. Nozomi Furuki as Chise refuses to waver from absolute discipline. Akari Kageyama as Beatrice keeps the cuteness going. Akira Sekine as Princess carries a calm elegance when she speaks. And Ayaka Imamura switches between poised, high-pitched, and even gruff, depending on the situation.
With pretty much everything audio-wise hitting a high note (in a figurative sense), it’s no wonder that the music and the sound within Princess Principal competes with the art and the animation for the number-one aspect of this show.
Strike another tally in the “win” column for original, non-source anime.
The immediate sign that I was thoroughly entertained by this show a bunch comes from my appreciation and liking of every main character. Dorothy being darn attractive with her bombshell looks and happy personality. Chise zipping around with sword in hand. Ange reiterating her affiliation with the “Black Lizard Planet.” Princess declaring that they are, in fact, spies. Beatrice, who I honestly found annoying at first, turning out to be a cute addition to the cast with her driving “skills.” They’re moe, and they’re fun, so I’m a fan of theirs for sure.
Many moments within the show also got laughs or smiles out of me, too. When Ange told Beatrice to be quiet during their speedy car maneuvering and turned off her throat device to make it happen, I was chuckling so much. Doubly so when Beatrice appeared dead after they finally came to a stop. Chise’s whole personal episode was awesome given its letters-home-as-narration style and its wealth of comedic scenes. Not to mention that, if I wasn’t wolf whistling from behind a computer screen, I’d be caving to Dorothy’s seductive advances without a doubt.
Besides the characters, I also quite liked many other parts of the series. The setting’s old-timey take with an industrial spin appealed to the history man within me. The oh-so-subtle hints of yuri floating about caught my attention on more than one occasion. And, despite my ambivalence towards the action genre, I found myself partial to their different skirmishes if only because they were flashy while still grounding themselves in realism.
To be fair, this anime isn’t one that swept me off my feet, and I wouldn’t describe it as a personal favorite of mine. But that in no way stops it from receiving the commendations and handshakes it deserves for a job very well done.
Princess Principal sneaks its way to the front of the line. Thrilling elements, fantastic production values, nice characters, and entertaining content create a project that (perhaps ironically) makes itself known with a ton of execution all around. pfjmiv mrq, qexq cfopq bkzlaba jbppxdb eliap qorb.
Story: Fine, this spy-centric, steampunk tale features entertaining sequences and mysterious cases, but the non-chronological format works against the narrative, and it doesn’t have enough reasoning behind its progress
Art & Animation: Great, immense detail in the cool setting, in the different movements, and in the interesting designs lead to a wonderful set of visuals that impress from start to finish
Characters: Good, Ange, Dorothy, Beatrice, Chise, and Princess simultaneously have strong characterizations, a tight group affinity, and notable conflicts
Music & Sound: Great, a playful ED, a rousing OP, a finesse-filled OST, and strong VA performances grant the audio the opportunity to work its wizarding ways
Enjoyment: Good, everybody in the cast is likable, certain moments do not go underappreciated, and other traits round out the experience
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3