Anime Review: Princess Principal

*Puts on my Yuri goggles*

English: Princess Principal
Japanese: プリンセス・プリンシパル
Season: Summer 2017
Length: 12 ep. x 24 min.
Studio: Actas, Studio 3Hz

The best thing about having low expectations going in to a show is that you are less likely to come out disappointed. Outside of the designs, my first impressions of the show were less than positive; I’m not really into historical or steampunk, and was less than enthused to find that the episodes are not chronological (think Haruhi), and that it was likely produced to drive up the hype for a new mobile game (think Bang Dream!Idol Incidents).

It was a good thing then that I didn’t expect much from this show. It surpassed my low expectations and even reminded me of what I love about anime in the first place… for half of the show, anyway.

[Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead]

The Story

Right from the very first scene, Princess Principal (PriPri) makes it clear that it’s a steampunk show set in Victorian London (well, technically after Victorian since the show is set in the early 20th century). I do like the Victorian part, so that helps. And it’s actually not all that steeped in steampunk technology (sorry, steampunk fans).

In this alternative history, Britain discovers Cavorite, a source of power that makes flying possible.

Ding ding ding we have our Phlebotinum

This actually lines up with the time period of Wright brothers so flight is possible by that time in the real world, but I digress.

As the first country to flight, Britain gains superior military advantage and starts expanding. However, the country is unstable domestically and split into two parts, the Kingdom and the Commonwealth, about ten (or seven?) years before the start of the show. The Kingdom is still a monarchy, but the Commonwealth has abolished nobility.

Our five leads, Ange le Carré, Dorothy, Toudou Chise, Charlotte, and Beatrice, are students at a prestigious girls academy for the rich and powerful in the Kingdom. However, Ange and Dorothy are actually spies from the Commonwealth, and they recruited the other three to help with their work inside the Kingdom.

Structurally, episodes in PriPri are designated as cases, numbered chronologically. However, the episodes themselves are not; for example, episode 2 is the very first case, case 1, where Ange and Dorothy meet and convince Charlotte, the princess of the Kingdom and fourth in line to the throne, and Beatrice, a low-rank nobleman’s daughter who serves Charlotte, to team up with them and spy for the Commonwealth.

I like Charlotte’s sense of humor

Ange’s, too

For much of the show, the cases themselves are fairly standalone. Some reveal the character backstories, such as the episode that introduces “the girl from the Orient”, Toudou Chise, while others show the plight of ordinary commoners, such as the laundry mill episode, and still others are action-packed as the girls work on more dangerous cases.

Maid vs. kunoichi on top of a moving train, hnnnnng

I really enjoyed the first half or so of the show. I’m a sucker for bittersweet stories (i.e., episode 1) as well as moe characters with sad backstories (especially Ange and Charlotte). Turns out, the same guy wrote the script for Code GeassShigofumi, and PriPri (Okouchi Ichiro). I definitely sensed the similarity between Code Geass and PriPri, not just the similar backstories (Lelouch’s vs. Ange and Charlotte’s), but also the similar dreams.

I just looooooooove it when the characters actually want to take control. Screw power sharing; wheel and deal and kill your way to the top in order to achieve world peace.

But that is also where PriPri falls short. While there’s no lack of ambition, the show itself doesn’t actually do much in terms of putting Charlotte on the path to take power. For much of the season, PriPri does a good job on showing the why, the reasons that motivate Charlotte (and Ange) to want to change Britain… and it just ends there. It is honestly a frustrating ending in that the buildup to the ending implied some big change was afoot, but the climax was resolved by getting the political balance back to where it was before the crisis unfolded.

The Art

Honestly, ever since the entrance of the big streaming players into anime licensing (Netflix, Amazon), production quality has been consistently good across studios, with minor exceptions like Scarëd Rider XechsPriPri isn’t one of those exceptions, and for once, Actas was able to release an anime largely on time without sacrificing quality (There was only one filler/summary episode – unlike what happened with Girls und Panzer and Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars).

As a steampunk/espionage show, much of the scenes take place in the night and in the city.

I can’t help but think this is a subtle homage to the original Ghost in the Shell movie

I like shots showing the landscape/civilization

This is one hella detailed shot of a shopping mall, impressive

Probably a good thing that Actas worked with another studio, Studio 3Hz, on this anime instead of going alone.

The Acting

It’s always good to see new industry talent picking up lead duties in competent shows. All five lead voice actresses have less than 100 favorites each on MyAnimeList, a sign of their low popularity, but they were all competent at their respective roles, especially Ange and Charlotte.

TL;DR

Even if PriPri ultimately fell short of its potentials, it is worth a watch, especially if you like moe action. I just wish it was longer; this show is practically begging for a proper conclusion instead of the one we got. And too bad the mobile game is Japanese-only.

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