Time to get across the wall again.
I did, as a matter of fact, cover Princess Principal (PriPri) when it aired. Why revisit it? Simply put, I want a do-over. I’m generally content with my writings but with this anime, I just had this nagging feeling I could’ve reviewed it better. So here I am.
Longtime visitors of the blog may find this post familiar and that’s because it’s actually a re-dated one. I’ve previously tried re-reviewing PriPri two years ago, when the show released on Blu-ray here in the U.S. and HIDIVE was simulcasting the English dub (which is pretty good, by the way). Long story short, I put the project on hold due to a lack of time for it. I’m finally coming back to it now for two reasons. The first is so that I’m ready for Crown Handler, PriPri‘s upcoming sequel film series. The second is because there’s actually another anime I plan on re-reviewing and I don’t want to start working on that unless I finish this. The first three episode reviews will be the same ones, just re-dated and re-edited. After that, it’s entirely new writings (well, as new as re-reviews can be).
Out of all the episodes in PriPri, this one demands the most revisiting. Thing is, I originally covered this alongside Episode 2 and even then, I skimmed it over in a single paragraph. In a sense, I’m writing this re-review from scratch and I’m glad that I am as this is a really well-crafted pilot worthy of a more extensive breakdown.
PriPri takes place in an alternate version of England called Albion, locked in a civil cold war between its two factions, the Kingdom and the Commonwealth. At the forefront of the story is the Principal, a team of five girls spying for the Commonwealth. Comprising the team are Ange (Ayaka Inamura), “Princess” (Akira Sekine), Dorothy (Yo Taichi), Beatrice (Akari Kageyama), and Chise (Nozomi Furuki). The story actually plays out in nonlinear fashion. Some episodes do take place back to back but as a whole, there is a lot of jumping back and forth in time. Case in point, Episode 1 is designated as “Case 13” out of a supposed 24 (despite there only being 12 episodes), effectively starting PriPri‘s story in medias res. The plot of Episoe 1 is the Principal providing refuge to a scientist named Eric (Masatomo Nakazawa), who agrees to defect to the Commonwealth if his ailing little sister Amy (Misaki Watada) can join him.
An advantage to the nonlinear structure is that it lends the staff some creativity in how the story can play out. By beginning in media res, the story begins right when all the main characters have come together as a team and are doing business as usual. On top of that, this allows for the show to begin on a potentially more exciting note. Episode 2 is the first episode chronologically and I love it but, without, spoiling, it’s 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 is. It begins with a thrilling chase scene as Ange, Dorothy, and Chise rescues Eric (Masatomo Nakazawa) from some Kingdom spies). Later, Dorothy and Chise ambush some Commonwealth enemies while Beatrice distracts some of them. Everyone seems to have a specialty or niche of some kind. Ange has the C-Ball, a gadget which lets her manipulate gravity. Dorothy is the designated driver. Chise is a formidable swordsman capable of stopping cars and bullets. Beatrice can mimic voices and no, she’s not a good impressionist (you’ll find out soon enough). Simply put, this is all very entertaining stuff.
Starting the story in the middle of the things frames Eric as a viewpoint character, someone who is meeting the spies for the first time which is also the case for the viewer. This episode only provides a glimpse but it leaves you curious to know who these girls are. A strong example of how Eric’s role is fulfilled is when he gets to the Queen’s Mayfair Academy, which the Principal attends as students. We see Beatrice doing 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. Chise mistakes it as a challenge, denoting her obliviousness with English culture. Ange incorrectly guesses that the letter is an order from L (Takayuki Suou), one of their superiors, which informs us that she takes her work as a spy very seriously. It’s also here that we are introduced to Princess and trust me, her being a double agent is a plot point worth keeping an eye on. Already, we get an idea of some of the girls’ personalities and roles.
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 is what she claims to be: an alien from the Black Lizard Planet.
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 her illness even though the insurance form she has Eric sign is what ultimately funds her operation. 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.
The ending of the episode always stood out to me. Eric is exposed as a double agent working for the Kingdom and Ange is forced to kill him. It’s a surprising development after watching Eric and Ange bond and it cements the fact that this series is willing to get a little dark. This scene also presents an interesting look at Ange’s character. She willingly kills Eric 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 at certain points in the later episodes.
Some other scenes provide food for thought. Rewatching the episode, I noticed notice how the episode actually foreshadows something between Ange and Princess. Princess is the one who persuades Ange to investigate Eric and Amy when she laments on the two possibly being separated forever, a feeling that Ange seems to 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. There’s also a scene where Dorothy and Chise forge documents whic 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 later learn what Chise’s purpose is in being a member of the Principal.
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 sufficient 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…
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 instrumental 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 from…whatever is simply badass. A shame that didn’t happen in the actual show.
ED: “A Page of My Story” by Ange (CV: Ayaka Inamura), Princess (CV: Akira Sekine), Dorothy (CV: You Taichi), Beatrice (CV: Akari Kageyama), and Chise (CV: Nozomi Furuki)
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 a later episode.