Genre(s): Sci-fi, Action, Drama
Aired: Jul 2017 – to Sept 2017
Also known as: プリンセス・プリンシパル
Summary: Taking place in 19th century London where a Wall has split the country into halves, the series follows the lives of five girls who work as spies. Expect sneaky infiltrations, murders, and unsettling twists as the team members come to terms with themselves and one another.
Review: I’m not a fan of the term, “AOTS.” It’s just so subjective and sort of aggressive. To me, it’s like you’re insisting that this series was the best and you had better believe it or else!
With that in mind, I will have to say that Princess Principal consistently kept me excited week after week and it was my personal favorite out of the Summer 2017 anime series I followed with its strong world-building and solid characterization.
What really hooked me in (back when there were only preview charts for the Summer 2017 season back in June) was the fact that Princess Principal takes place in a steampunk setting. To me, steampunk is a genre that holds a myriad of possibilities. It’s an alternate world-setting (that happens to take place during Victorian England which was an era that was many things. Horrendous, mysterious, romantic, etc) so things that simply couldn’t happen in real life can look right at home simply because it’s cool.
But the series also takes the time to let us get a glimpse into how gizmos and gadgets in the setting operate. We may not fully understand exactly how Ange’s telescope or Dorothy’s car works, mind you, but we’re at least we get a sneak peak as we the audience get razzled and dazzled each week. The attention to details, in short, was very welcome. But the series also doesn’t hold your hand – it doesn’t bother explaining what cavorite is. Then again, such details are also unneeded. The only thing the audience needs to know about cavorite is that it can basically make people and/or objects not care about gravity.
The fanservice is in a somewhat similar vein – the girls (primarily Dorothy) really struts her stuff but every instance was at least partially justified. Sometimes spies have to distract guards and security (whom tend to be men) and heterosexual men get distracted by women!
Some may say that the series is full of clichés and I’m inclined to agree. But clichés are not automatically horrible. With a world setting where many wild things can happen, the series benefits from having anchors, commonly established events, trends, and set-ups so the audience can more easily follow along. I’ve said this rather inelegantly, to be honest, so you should go read a well-written post where the often-maligned cliché is valiantly defended by the amazing Irina.
Plus, all of these typical (some may say predictable) scenarios are there to establish that one particular character is emotionally guarded compared to her teammates in Team White Pigeon / Principal Team (the team name aliases assumed by or given to the five girls). Yes, it may get dull seeing her succeed in almost everything, but there’s an underlying message to be found! In short, Walls can be physical and literal (such as the Wall that has split London into two) or metaphorical. What’s truly ironic is that the ace of Principal Team, who had claimed her dream is to tear down the Walls back when she was a child, is the one who now hides behind the Walls inside her heart. In other words, it’s another instance where the ace, the one who can do almost anything, is shown to have underdeveloped emotional capabilities. But clichés aren’t always bad, remember?
There was some decent characterization for each member of the Principal Team (although Ange, Charlotte, and Chise receive the lion’s share overall). It’s only fitting that these three protagonists are the more complex characters within the series. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Dorothy and Beatrice are simple and simple-minded. It’s just that they’re straightforward compared to the aforementioned “all-stars.” Beato, by the way, is my girl. I’ll defend her to the death from all of the haters who rightfully think she’s annoying. She is! But I still want to protect her smile.
Alas, the villains who oppose the Principal Team (and Control, their superiors) cannot inspire such emotion. The Duke of Normandy and his underling, Gazelle, are constantly outdone by the Principal Team and thus they look rather incompetent in comparison. Plus we know so little of them compared to the Principal team. A strong villain was introduced later into the series, but, unfortunately, she only appears for the last two episodes before the series ends.
What The Duke of Normandy and Gazelle do manage to accomplish, however, is provide a scale and sense of morality. The series as a whole is about spies and spies often do dirty work, so it’s only to be expected that characters will do unsavory things in order to accomplish their objectives – this world is one of greys, as one character muses. The Principal Team, however, is undoubtedly a shade of white, or at least a lighter grey (which was why Dorothy liked their self-dubbed team name of White Pigeon) compared to The Duke. Sure, the girls do steal, lie, etc, but they never even come close to their opponent in terms of ruthlessness. The series could have easily become a series where everyone is twisted and psychopathic to the point that no viewers can relate or care about what happens to whom, but Princess Principal aptly avoided that – at the expense of either creating flat villains who are ineffectual throughout most of the series or hastily bringing in a competent one towards the end.
As for the anachronic nature of the series, I believe perception of its intent is rather mixed. Some people will say it’s a good way to cut out a lot of needless exposition by showing the juicy parts where characterization and character development is prominent. But others will claim that nothing would have been lost if the series had proceeded in a chronological fashion. Perhaps it was a way for the series to grab onto the viewers’ attention through the use of in media res. Whatever the intent, the series really kept viewers guessing every week. I can’t help but notice that several of the episodes were noticeably weaker than others in regards to plot progression or purpose, but the high level of execution within each episode meant said episodes were still enjoyable to watch.
I would say that the ending was mostly satisfying and that it was worth all the build-up. The last three episodes really cranked things up! I’m left a little disappointed that some questions weren’t answered, but there’s enough wiggle room for a second season at this rate. I have my fingers crossed!
I can’t praise the music enough. I think I’ll have the OST stuck in my head for months to come. The OP and the ED are both amazing, too.
And the yuri. Wow, the yuri. It was alive and kickin’. Ange and Charlotte were meant to be together. I’m all for Dorothy x Beato, too. They call me the Shipping Menance.
Princess Principal was a very enjoyable watch and gave a niche genre (steampunk) some much-needed love. If you’re looking for spy fiction, then this series will scratch that itch! Alas, the series made some questionable narrative choices and could be considered to riddled with clichés, but I believe clichés can be tools that can be used to great effect if handled properly.
I’m going to miss having a new episode of gay girl spies every week, but it was marvelous while it lasted. A second season can’t come fast enough!