Time to get across the wall again.
I did, as a matter of fact, cover Princess Principal when it aired. Why re-visit it? Well to start off, I simply want a do-over. I’m generally content with what I write on my blog but with this anime, I just had this nagging feeling I could’ve been more insightful in some areas. Also, I’m just curious what would happen if I rewatched an anime I have covered and re-reviewed its episodes. To be honest, I almost considered not going through with this idea out of fear of seeming redundant…but HIDIVE recently started a weekly stream of the new English dub and the show is finally out on Blu-ray in the US. That’s an excuse I’m willing to take so here goes nothing!
So consider this a “re-run” of my Princess Principal episode reviews. I say “re-run” because I might re-use some of what I originally wrote but this series of posts will involve a lot of new, hopefully much better commentary from me. I’ll try to be as light on spoilers but be aware that I may talk about stuff happening later in the series if it seems necessary to do so.
Episode Title: “Wired Liar” — While a lot of characters in Princess Principal lie, especially Ange, the liar referred to in Episode 1’s title is actually the guest character of the week, Eric. The lie Eric tells is that he is defecting to the Commonwealth when in reality, he’s a double agent recruited by the Duke of Normandy. As for the word “wired”, there’s two possible meanings. One is that it’s in reference to wire tapping which fits given Eric’s true allegiance. The second is that “wired” can also mean feeling nervous, tense, or on edge. In the context of this episode, that could connote to Eric ultimately not cut out as a spy or his concern for his sister, Amy.
Out of all the episodes in Princess Principal, I think this first one will merit most of my renewed attention. Looking back, I’m not very happy with how much I skimmed over this episode back when it aired (essentially a single paragraph and sharing space with Episode 2) as this episode is what really got me hooked into the whole series. All things considered, it’s a really well-crafted pilot.
By now, the nonlinear structure is one of Princess Principal‘s more known attributes. Some episodes do take place back to back but as a whole, there is a lot of jumping back and forth in time. While the obvious risk is that the story could easily get hard to follow, it surprisingly isn’t. Bare bones, the plot is essentially five cute anime girls spying about. You can take it and frame it around some self-contained stories just fine. It also helps that a narration at the beginning fills you in on the broader mythology — what Albion is, how the nation got so powerful, and why it is now embroiled in an espionage-driven civil cold war.
I think the biggest advantage with this narrative choice is that it lends the staff some creativity in how the story can play out. The first episode alone makes a strong case for it. While officially “Episode 1”, it is also designated “Case 13” out of a supposed 24 (despite there only being 12 episodes). Essentially, Princess Principal begins in medias res, right when all the main characters have come together as a team and are doing business as usual. As much as I love Episode 2/Case 1, I can’t deny that it is not the flashiest episode. Something more action packed such as this episode would certainly be more likely to grab viewer’s attention.
And action packed this episode indeed is. It begins with a thrilling chase scene as Ange (Ayaka Inamura) rescues Eric from some Kingdom spies and escorts him to safety on a car with Dorothy (You Taichi) and Chise (Nozomi Furuki). Later, Dorothy and Chise ambush some Commonwealth enemies while Beatrice (Akari Kageyama) distracts some of them. While both fights are very entertaining to watch, they more importantly showcase some of what these characters particularly do or use. Ange has the C-Ball which lets her manipulate gravity, Chise is skilled with her katana, and Beatrice can mimic voices. It even shows off what Princess (Akira Sekine) will mainly do in the show’s action scenes (as in, not fighting at all). I guess, the only thing that isn’t established is what Dorothy’s “gimmick” is, though that quickly gets corrected in the next episode.
Starting the story in the middle of the things also, in turn, frames Eric as a sort of point of view character, someone who is meeting the spies for the first time much in the way we are as the viewer. This episode only provides a glimpse but it ideally leaves you curious to know who these girls are and want to learn about them in the coming episodes. A strong example of how Eric’s role is fulfilled is he gets to the Queen’s Mayfair academy. What the man witnesses there gives some good insight about the main cast. Beatrice does housework suggesting she works as a maid. Dorothy gossips over a love letter she received, suggesting that she’s carefree and able to enjoy the pleasantries in her double life. Ange incorrectly guesses that the letter is an order from L which informs us that she takes her work as a spy very seriously. Chise mistakes it as a challenge which highlights her obviousness with English culture. Already, we get an idea of what some of the girls’ quirks are and what kind of chemistry they have together.
From there, we get more familiar with Ange through Eric’s interactions with her. The biggest takeaway to make from these scenes is that Ange is one hell out of chronic liar. Be it something as simple as cooking food or spouting her entire life story, Ange never seems to be entirely truthful about anything. She does earn Eric’s trust and sympathy as time goes on but it never seems that Eric truly gets a read on her. For he all knows, that girl maybe is an alien from the Black Lizard Planet.
Which brings me to my next point. What exactly is the Black Lizard Planet? Who honestly knows! Apparently, only lead writer Ichiro Ohkouchi knows what it truly means. Rather than harp on the meaning however, I think the intent is to focus more on the function. Oddly enough, whenever Ange speaks of the Black Lizard Planet, it tends to actually refer to something that is true. When she says she is an extraterrestrial, she actually means that she’s a spy. When she says she was abducted by the planet, she is confirming that she did become a spy at a young age. And finally, when Ange hands over an insurance form for Eric to sign, she claims it’s just a policy the Black Lizard Planet enforces. That last use especially raises an eyebrow since a few seconds before it, Ange lies to Eric that Amy will never recover from Cavorite poisoning even though the insurance is ultimately used to help her get the money. When the Black Lizard Planet isn’t mentioned, it can be safe to assume that Ange is 100% lying. When it is though, some more attention ought to be exercised.
Even though with Eric’s true allegiance becoming known and it became apparent that Ange would have to kill him, her doing the dirty deed did surprise me when I first watched this episode. At the time, I wasn’t truly sure what tone Princess Principal would ultimately settle for. While there is still cuteness to be found at various points, I think this scene did cement the fact that this series is willing to do a little dark if it wants to. This scene also presents an interesting look at Ange’s character. She willingly kills Eric due to the evidence but her providing an insurance form for him and Amy suggests that she isn’t entirely heartless. Princess sees it as an act of kindness though Ange does not, perhaps arguing that if she was so kind, she’d spare Eric entirely. At best, Ange simply reached a middle ground here. It’s likely she was torn over this decision as you see her back turned before she grabs an insurance form, thereby implying she’s considering what options she has. Some shots also deliberately obscure her facial expressions, giving you the impression of a poker face she is putting on. It’s not a far-fetched thing to assume, especially considering how she acts during the conflicts of the later episodes.
Some other scenes that give food for thought:
- In the hospital scene with Amy, you see Ange use a syringe to knock a nearby woman out. At first, it seems to come out of nowhere and it’s a little funny to watch but you find out what Ange’s deal was. In the second fight scene, that woman is revealed to be a Kingdom spy; the bandage around her neck is the visual clue in identifying her. I bring this up because Princess Principal‘s sense of continuity over the simplest things can be fun to spot; this is especially the case with a minor character in Episodes 6 & 7.
- Rewatching the episode, I’m noticing how Ange and Princess’s relationship is foreshadowed. Princess is the one who persuades Ange to investigate Eric and Amy when she bemoans the two possibly being separated forever, a feeling that Ange would know all too well. In a later scene, Princess talks to Beatrice about how some lies can become truth if perpetuated for long enough and the camera very sneakily cuts to a picture of her with the Queen of Albion…
- The part where Dorothy and Chise forge documents actually foreshadows a detail about the latter. Dorothy playfully suggests being more honest with each other but Chise declines, saying being honest would mean she couldn’t be friends with her. That statement makes a lot more sense when you learn what Chise’s purpose in Albion is. Her comparing it to a white lie that parents would say to their children is important to note though. Regardless of why Chise is in the group, it can be safe to assume that she genuinely wants to stay because of her teammates.
I really couldn’t ask for a better pilot than this episode. It’s a great example of how to effectively start your story in medias res. Characters are established in great detail. Scenes are presented in a way that work on their own but get even better with context provided by later episodes. And while the people making it are it, they throw in some fun action for good measure. When I originally watched Princess Principal, I was already sold at this point…although I will admit that the second episode hooked me even more…
English Dub Comments
Boy, when Sentai Filmworks announced they’d produce an English dub of Princess Principal, they really weren’t kidding with the “English” part.
In case you don’t know, Sentai has all of its voice actors perform with an accent; primarily an English one though obviously, Chise has a more Asian accent to her voice. It’s a pretty bold move, one that I can see being contested by some viewers. While there are some brief moments where I think the accents slip, I think the whole cast did a good job sounding as authentic as possible. I heard the crew hired an accent couch for this dub and it honestly shows.
Accents aside, I’m liking the casting. I particularly like Avery Smithhart as Ange, she captures Ange’s monotone voice pretty well. Both Patricia Duran and Elizabeth Bunch are quite good as Princess and Dorothy. Honestly, they sound the closest to how I imagined the characters would sound in English. Rachael Messer as Chise took some getting used to but I think her delivery does sell Chise being the foreigner much better than the sub ever could (since, you know, they’re all speaking in Japanese…). Shanae’a Moore does make Beatrice sound a lot older than Akari Kageyama did but I’m 100% okay with that because I love how she makes the character sound like a very prim maid.
I only have two nitpicks right now. One is in regard to some of the pronunciations. Ange’s name and Cavorite are pronounced differently from the way they are in the sub. Granted, the English dub is probably more accurate in this department so maybe that’ll just take some time getting used to it. The other, is that the ED, “A Page of My Story” wasn’t covered for the dub. I know vocal songs are an ADR nightmare but I really can’t help but wonder how this song would’ve been approached with this cast and the accents they use.
There’s a few things I am very curious to see in later episodes. In a number of scenes, Ange uses a variety of different voices. Ayaka Inamura (God, I’m sad that she retired; I hope she’s doing well) did a good job with that aspect of the character so I hope Smithhart is up to the task as well. Also, Rachael Messer tweeted that she got to speak some of Chise’s lines in Japanese. Now that is a potentially interesting direction to take with the dub.
OP: “The Other Side of the Wall” by Void_Chords ft. MARU
This is easily one of my favorite OPs of 2017. The song obviously is the best part; I just love the rock music and MARU’s booming vocals. There are some neat visuals though. The flowers and the shadows they cast over the girls reflect their duality as school girls and spies very well. The part where the team drive off into the air to rescue Princess is simply badass. A shame that didn’t happen in the actual show.
ED: “A Page of My Story” by the cast of Princess Principal
A very underrated one if you ask me. I’d even go as far as to say this is one of my favorite EDs of 2017. For a show that can get pretty dark, this song always makes me smile. There’s also a cheeky quality to the sequence as the girls panic when they’re spotted in their civilian clothes and they head off to school in broad daylight in their spy costumes. I would suggest looking up the lyrics as they do speak well to the show’s narrative structure and do get alluded to in Episode 8.
Thanks for reading!
For all of my Princess Principal Episode Reviews, check out the show’s archive page!
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