Considering that Chise is a Japanese girl studying and spying abroad in what is essentially England, there had to be a story behind how she is dealing with living in a remarkably different nation. Sure enough, this is where Princess Principal‘s eighth episode comes in. Suffice to say, this is the most “slice of life” the show has ever been, right down to the fact that we spend most of the time with Team White Pigeon in school. No matter how many times I watch this show, I always take it for granted that these girls attend classes. It’s shockingly downplayed in this series and that’s saying something in a medium where school is unquestionably one of, if not, the most common setting.
The A part of the episode is framed around Chise writing down her experiences in a letter to her older sister. While it’ll amaze you just how much information Chise divulges her, she literally writes down that she and her friends are spies, the letter works really well as a framing device. For starters, it organically allows PriPri to detail the daily lives of our characters, right down to the routines they’ve established such as Dorothy’s hand signal that they’re about to debrief on a mission to heading to the restroom so that they can discuss more privately. You also get to learn about what kind of the obstacles the team deals with on a daily basis. This amusingly includes Princess’s own classmate, Lily Gaveston (Akari Kitou), who isn’t a trained spy but nevertheless a confidant to Kingdom officials (by the way, the burn Princess gives to Lily when the latter insults her friends is the best thing ever).
You also get to learn a bit more about Chise’s views on her teammates. In particular, Beatrice is revealed to be her roommate and you get some really charming chemistry between these two as Beatrice puts up with their cultural differences and Chise’s tendency to cause a ruckus on campus. I also really like Chise’s description of Dorothy from how she agrees with Ange that her pretending to be a teenager is a stretch to her describing Dorothy’s bust as a “woman’s weapon”. What on Earth has Chise been learning from her?
Along the way, you get to see how Chise deals with a new culture. There’s a lot of funny moments here such as Chise playing cricket while holding the bat like it’s a katana to painting a ukiyo-e portrait of Beatrice. One random detail I particularly like is the depiction of food. Even though Chise’s preference for Japanese food is made evident with her facial expressions, neither the English or Japanese delicacies look all that appetizing in order to show that Chise’s perception food is purely subjective. I do have wonder though: has anyone in Team White Pigeon taken Chise to a fancy restaurant? I don’t know if eating school cafeteria food is the best way to gauge the culinary culture of another country.
Things do take a more serious turn halfway through the episode. While admiring a newly metamorphized butterfly, Chise is confronted by a bunch of male students (go figure, this is actually a co-ed school) who demands that she move aside. When Chise talks back, the leader of the pack Cameron (Gou Shinomiya) kills the butterfly and insults Chise for being “oriental” (ugh) and a girl. Rightfully, Chise is pissed and challenges Cameron to a duel. While Ange initially stops her from getting too ahead of herself, Princess later offers to help her set up the duel.
The butterfly makes for a really interesting symbol. Chise makes a very apt comparison between metamorphosis and maturity, articulating that attending school and graduating from it is very akin to a chrysalid turning into a butterfly. That she ponders on what her metamorphosis will look like really reminds you how young Chise is and it paints a more innocent and idealistic side to her character. Conversely, Cameron uses the very symbol to support his own sexist views, using the cocoon as a metaphor that girls should know their place and behave themselves before becoming adults. Stomping on the butterfly meanwhile represents what Cameron thinks should happen when girls misbehave. That Cameron is a misogynist is made blatantly clear without the metaphor but the fact that he uses something Chise admires against her certainly makes you root for the latter more to put a bullet in him.
I love that despite largely being set in the school and taking a backseat on the espionage, this episode still manages to sneak in an action scene. Unsurprisingly, Cameron has the guns rigged so that only his can fire properly. But since this is Chise we’re talking about, this obstacle doesn’t stop her in the slightest as she uses her uniform’s ribbon to sling a bullet at him. It as awesome as it sounds and when you think about it, fighting Cameron this unconventionally humiliates him more than a normal gun would’ve. The best part is when Cameron’s classmates dare to demand Chise to be fair and while that’s obviously hypocritical of them, you got to love that Chise is all too happy to keep fighting.
That Princess is the one who helps Chise set up the duel says a lot about the former. The fact that she is so welcoming to her Japanese friend and wants her to fight back at the insults hurled at her really speaks to what a class act she is. And while Chise kind of still keeps her distance, she is still spying on Princess as part of her mission for Horikawa, she is nevertheless stunned and appreciative that Princess helps her with the duel.
What ends up bothering Chise after the duel is the fact that only Princess is present for it. This is quickly remedied however when the team surprises her by celebrating her victory with a dohyo iri. Granted, that ceremony is meant for sumo wrestling and not samurai duels but Chise doesn’t mind it because the intent is there. She also learn however why everyone else is absent. Dorothy, Ange, and Beatrice were secretly sneaking into Lily’s room (Lily is pre-occupied acting as the witness for the duel) so that they can wiretap her and listen in on her reports to Kingdom officials. Thanks to Chise, they were able to have this opportunity. While it still sucks that they don’t attend the duel, you get the implication that they also had faith that Chise would win. Plus, the fact that they wanted the duel to happen means that they were all for Chise to kicking Cameron’s ass. Their only objection was Chise getting ahead of herself.
Chise’s overarching arc in Princess Principal is feeling that she belongs somewhere. She assumes that being a foreigner makes her the outlier but as Dorothy puts it during the team’s celebration, it actually makes her “special one”. In other words, someone who offers something more unique to the table. Meanwhile, Chise still struggles in feeling that she’s needed in the team (the one spy scene you get shows her not getting to fight once again) but it’s thanks to her that the team was able to get an edge over the enemy. At the end of the day, the team welcomes Chise and Chise comes to realize that she is welcomed there.
That affinity naturally affects Chise’s report to Horikawa about the team and their mission. While Chise has to be objective and admits that she’s not sure if Operation Changeling will succeed, she still lets it slip that she herself wants them to. She clearly sees the others as her friends and that feeling will come into play later in the series.