Chronologically, this is the first episode of Princess Principal. Ange and Dorothy are established to be longtime peers and veteran spies and it’s here that we see them Princess and Beatrice for the first time. Well…for the most part, it’s the four’s first encounter with each other…more on that in a bit.
Even though this is the actual beginning to PriPri‘s story, I get the decision to make this the second episode. I do really love this episode, I’d even go as far as say it’s one of my favorites in the series, but it’s also very light on action. The missions Ange and Dorothy carry out here are having Ange impersonate Princess (dubbed “Operation Changeling”) and negotiating with a noble named Morgan (Yutaka Nakano) for a key to a bank vault (it’s a MacGuffin so don’t think too much on it). It’s all good stuff and why I love this episode but I can see why the staff wanted something flashier to start the show. And honestly, I prefer that this is the second episode. I love that the premiere hints at a lot of about the characters, potentially leaving the viewer curious about them and making them watch more to find out. It also gets a lot of set-up out of the way, thereby allowing episodes such as this more room to breathe and simply sate the viewer’s curiosity. If you ask me, it works really well here.
While this episode isn’t action-packed, it more than makes up for that by heavily leaning on the mind games that come with espionage – infiltrating a scene, blending in with the crowds, manipulating your targets, and improvising your way out.
Even at the beginning of the episode, during school and before the mission, you have Ange and Dorothy demonstrating all this, albeit rather amusingly. Ange dons a pair of glasses an acts all clumsy and shy. It’s played for laughs and cuteness, especially with how out of character it seems, but it does make provide a solid cover for Ange at the school. Dorothy meanwhile is actually twenty years old but lies about her age (which Ange dryly pokes fun at). She also presents herself as a bit of a rebel by smoking in public and that’s in spite of the fact that she dislikes smoking (if only she could use her booze as her cover instead…). Of course, a much stronger example is found during the mission, when Ange and Dorothy attend a ball in order to meet Princess and Morgan.
Dorothy admittedly doesn’t do a whole lot during the mission. The whole plot ends up being all about Ange and, surprisingly, Princess. Dorothy does at least get to show off one of her go-to strategies: seduction. Everyone has a fancy gadget or skill in their repertoire, Dorothy’s unique asset is, well, her assets (well, that and driving the car I guess). Granted, it really wouldn’t be a spy show without something sexy going on. And really, her plan to flirt with Morgan for the key would’ve worked were it not for the intense security in the building (even Morgan’s dance partner is a spy). To the show’s credit, it doesn’t go too overboard with the gag. In fact, half of Dorothy’s wardrobe are actually quite modest and there’s an amusing bit where even when Dorothy is wearing something that exposes her cleavage, she still needs to pull her top down for maximum effect.
Ange meanwhile really gets to show her spying chops here. Tackling both Operation Changeling and the impromptu mission to secure the key from Morgan at once through her ability to impersonate Princess (both in look and sound) is a really ingenious move on her part. Also, rewatching this episode, I realize that Ange is quite good at garnering people’s trust. The way she asks Princess if they can be friends and how she persuades Morgan entrust the key to her reminds me a lot of how she gained Eric’s sympathy “last” episode.
What really gets this episode feeling captivating is how it involves Princess. Even upon a rewatch and knowing what’s actually going on, the part where Princess reveals she knows Ange and Dorothy are spies is still quite the curveball. And honestly, she is quite good at acting as one of the “bad ones” even if temporarily. I love how she behaves throughout all this. She sounds courteous but she actually has a bit of an attitude, confident that Control will meet her demands and playful towards Ange’s efforts in getting the response she desires. Even the part where she refuses to tell Dorothy how she knew the secret is amusing. It ends up being a fib but even then, it does make Princess come across as crafty. I’m also amazed that she kept this act up to the very end, only coming to Ange’s aid completely when the bell tower chimed, signaling Control’s approval. The only nitpick I have here is that, knowing the big reveal at the end, you have to wonder what Princess’s back-up plan is if none of this worked out? I’m willing to look the other way however as it does further accentuate how confident Princess is.
Something to take note of is the name, Operation Changeling, itself. In folklore, a changeling is a being who secretly substitutes a child abducted by fairies. A pretty fitting creature to refer to given the plan to have Ange swaps places with Princess so that Control had a mole within the royal family. However, the name does get ironic when you find out the girls’ true identities with Ange actually being of royal blood and Princess supposedly the one to have taken her place through some series of events. In a way, Princess seems like the real changeling here; Ange is the one who apparently got “abducted” and by coincidence, Control gains their mole anyway.
I still feel the tingling surprise that comes with the reveal surrounding Ange and Princess’s identities. It’s a game changer, through and through, one that got me even more sold on PriPri. You can admittedly see it coming with enough attention but even then I’d argue that the foreshadowing leading up to it has been fantastic. Episode 1 even provided a subtle hint when Princess mentioned that she doesn’t like the idea of Eric and Amy being separated forever, eliciting a startled reaction from Ange as a result. This episode provides some more clues as such as how Princess reacts when she meets Ange for the first time in what seems to be years and when the Duke casually says Princess’s name, Charlotte, in conversation (which Princess calls Ange by during the ending). Actually, there’s even a little bit of foreshadowing for later content. That conversation between Ange and Princess at around the 9 minute mark? The one where the latter says she’s a dull person and the former argues that they’re just complete opposites…keep that in mind for Episode 8…
The only character the episode doesn’t focus a whole lot on is Beatrice. Sadly, she’s pretty much just there. The script does establish her as Princess’s confidant but apart from that, it’s just a lot of her getting annoyed at Ange and Dorothy being dismissive of Princess’s royal status and her looking scared at the conspiracy happening before her (which I’ll admit is adorable). I’m okay with this though as guess who stars in the next episode…