• Genre : Action, political thriller, mystery, magical girl(?)
  • Episodes: 12
  • Studio: Actas

As someone who lives in a very cold country, I have a healthy appreciation for walls. They can be incredibly useful. Necessary even. But history has thought us that when they are used to tear families apart and segment off bits of the world, they can also be devastating. That’s exactly what happened in the Commonwealth. As the kingdom of Albion (England?) flexed its military might and cordoned up its considerable resources behind the wall, families and loved ones were torn apart, and it was devastating. Hope is not lost however as the young Princess Charlotte is not blind to the suffering of her people and understands the need for change. Political reform isn’t easy and sometimes it has to get bloody. Thankfully the princess has just found some unexpected allies in a group of super spies from the Commonwealth. Will the mission succeed or will the Kingdom be plunged into bloody revolution?

As I started writing that synopsis, I realized that Princess Principal is sort of a weird show. It’s not that easy to describe and I’m not sure any synopsis will really give you the full picture. I guess you could say that about any show really. Wow this review is off to a great start!

A little while ago, well a few days from this writing, I got the urge to pick up a cute girl show. I sort of overdosed on unimpressively average examples of the genre which left me a bit wary but at the same time, there are series I absolutely love as well. I was trying to find another demi chan, Yuri Yuri or Kobayashi. I remember being super intrigued by Princess Principal when it aired and I had a good feeling.

Princess Principal ep1-4 (2)
I’m about to say things my screencaps will contradict

Princess Principal certainly has the look I was hoping for. Adorable young girl designs with a touch more sharpness, just to make really sure you know this isn’t some comedy. Great soft colours, in a slightly darker palette than usual. As a bonus, the backgrounds were often very beautiful and I ended up with a lot of great screencaps of cityscapes.

This said it was a very straightforward production with slightly lacklustre sound design. Not bad mind you just not particularly effective or interesting.

I have a feeling I’m coming off harsh. Lately, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to cinematic language in anime and was lucky enough to watch a whole bunch of series in a row that all had very unusual and exciting productions and non-verbal storytelling. Princess Principal isn’t that. But it’s by no means a bad production and both the art and animation exceeded my expectations.

Princess Principal ep1-4 (3)
the town is really beautiful too

That’s actually sort of how I felt about the entire show. Some things were surprisingly good which is why I was disappointed when they stopped short of being great. As if the narrative strengths bumped my expectations unfairly up for a lot of aspects that never quite came together in my opinion.

For instance, I am a huge fan of spy thrillers and can be a bit picky about them. I thought I was getting ready to watch a CGDCT show with a spy-themed gimmick for flavour but when the early episodes proved to be much more ruthless and uncompromising than expected, I shifted gears and started to think this may, in fact, be a complex political thriller with smartly woven intrigues and dramas. And the foundations for it are there even if I did find the core political premise a little overdone and bare bones.

However, the shows very episodic structure (and non-chronological storyline) made it difficult to really create an elaborate season-long story arc and ended up being less developed independent stories that culminated in a somewhat rushed two episode finale. They do manage to tie up most loose ends but there simply isn’t enough time to delve too deeply into the main story. In the end, I ended up enjoying some of the random episodes more.

For the record, my favourites were the laundry mat one, the one narrated by Chise and the one we’re we see Ange and Dorothy’s old classmate.

A bit of that sentiment holds true, to a lesser degree for the characters. I did like them all. A lot in fact and I would consider the characters a strength of the series. They all have very distinct personalities and ways of looking at things. And I never got the impression that the characters were underdeveloped but I just wish I could have gotten the chance to get to know them a bit better. It’s no coincidence that my favourite episodes are all Les action-heavy and more character-driven. I think much of the charm of the series lies there.

You should know that there is a lot of blood in this show and some not overly pleasant moments. Spy work and revolutions aren’t known to be gentle. Yet there was a sort of weightlessness to the series. Maybe that’s just me. Possibly because of the girls’ unshakable good humour and the speed at which the narrative moved from one event to the next, consequences always seemed rather light.

In the end, I wouldn’t compare Princess Principal to a classic spy thriller either in structure nor in tropes. To me, it was closest to an “adult magical girl show”. Heck there’s even a very loosely explained gadget that can make characters fly and have superhuman strength. And of course, all these girls are expert fighters that can take out entire rooms of train soldiers but have a heavy burden to bear. If you tweaked the technology for magic and added a supernatural spin to the political conflict it really would have been a classic Maho shoujo I think. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Princess Principal was a good show but it could have been a great one. I would still recommend it if any of this sounds interesting to you. Now I just need to find an actual CGDCT show to watch…

Princess Principal ep1-4 (1)
she’s just the best

Favourite character: Dorothy, all the way!

What this anime taught me: It’s not that I couldn’t have been a super spy, it’s just that I don’t want to…

“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.”

Suggested drink: Northern Spy

  • Every time you see an outfit you like – be jealous!
  • Every time anyone says “spy/spies” – breath in
  • Every time anyone says “lie/lying” – take a sip
  • Every time Ange takes her galsses off – take a sip
  • Every time Beatrice gets protective – take a sip
  • Every time anyone mentions the Black Lizard Planet – salute
  • Every time Ange and Charlotte switch places – take notes
  • Every time someone mentions the Duke of Normandy – take a sip
    •  if we see him – take another
  • Every time Dorothy mentions drinks – have one!
  • Every time anyone has a complicated relationship with their father – take a swig
  • Every time we see the mess hall – get a snack
  • Every time someone says Changeling – take a sip
  • Every time anyone has tea – think about brewing some

Princess Principal ep5-8 (34)

It really is a pretty show. You can go see on my Pinterest and here are a few caps for you.


9 thoughts

  1. I remember the season this aired to be the worst in a long time, although it was probably coloured heavily by the Reflection, which didn’t quite pan out the way it was supposed to from the promos despite my hanging about for it (even though its debut was last that season). I had a similar feeling to the one Dawnstorm describes to PriPri possibly as a result of this sentiment towards the entire season, although I could tell it was slick and competent-looking (I do like this sort of disjointed storytelling – I do like the mess that is known as ConRevo, after all) and I did end up choosing Dorothy as “best girl” just by default (she’s not the most developed character in some senses, but she is the most entertaining). I do also remember liking the laundromat episode, but it’s the only one I seem to like.

    1. I guess I quickly assigned this show as more popcorn entertainment and didn’t bother to form an emotional attachment to the plot. I generally enjoyed it and considered my watching experience a net positive. But I see where you and Storm are coming from, it does present itself as more grounded, especially in the first episodes then it doesn’t follow through.

  2. This show has been on my watchlist forever. It seems pretty interesting, but what you said, confirmed my suspicions. It could be better

    1. Oh yeah – it has glaring weak spots but it’s by no means bad and I am very happy to have seen it for what that’s worth

  3. When I saw this, I had no idea what it was about until I finished the first episode. From the title, I was kinda expecting a story about a school for royalty. It’s one that surprised me a lot.

  4. I remember the show being very popular as it aired, but I didn’t quite get into it as much. Almost everything the show does is good, but somehow the whole ends up less than the sum of its parts for me. During the laundry arc, for example, I’d have needed two mind-sets: one for tragedy and one for inspirational optimism – but the aspects didn’t come together for me. I couldn’t find a mindset that covers the entire show. As a result, I remained oddly detached and never got into it. I was going to say “bored”, but that’s not actually true. I did sort of enjoy the show; but in a strange disjointed manner that didn’t create any sort of affection for the show on the whole.

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