Anime Review: Princess Principal

By Drew Hurley 12.01.2019

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Princess Principal (UK Rating: 15)

Anime series love their Elseworlds tales, alternate versions of time periods familiar from normal history. In Princess Principal, the series delivers Albion, an England at the turn of the 20th century, but one very different to reality. This country has once again been on a mission of world conquest. After utilising the fictional element of Cavorite, they were able to create an unmatched air force and became the greatest world power since the Roman Empire. Their destruction came from within, though. A civil war has split the country into East and West, with spies on either side fighting a war in the shadows. This is the story of the spies from the Commonwealth of Albion. Coming courtesy of MVM, this complete collection comes in a new collector's edition and is available from 18th February.

Anime can live and die on the first few episodes. There are so many very different shows released every season that many fans try the first couple of episodes and then drop a show. Princess Principal would easily capture the attention of viewers. The series plays its episodes outside of chronological order and the first dives straight into the action, with a scientist from the Kingdom of Albion planning to try to defect to the Commonwealth. To do so, the Commonwealth sends its finest spies - a group of young girls, posing as students from an esteemed girl's school. This is not one of the typical cute schoolgirls playing out a specific setup, though, as this story is dark and regularly shocking - the art and tone belying the sudden shifts that regularly occur.

This first episode is the perfect example of this. Spoilers here for the very first episode… The scientist is actually a double agent, being used to lure the spies out and have them killed. He has a good reason, as his little sister is suffering from poisoning from the Cavorite that fuels the Empire and it will cost a fortune to cure it. The girls are forced to kill him, smiling all the while. It's the first of many episodes that suddenly pivot into some shockingly dark moments.

This may be the first episode, but chronologically it would be the sixth. The following few episodes step backward, showing each of the girls in the group receiving their first appearance and often showing how they come to join the team. Each girl has an episode to take the starring role, focusing on their back-story, while giving them some character development. Although there are five in the group, a pair of the girls has more of a leading role. These are Ange and Princess Charlotte. This pair are practically doppelgangers, with a big secret linking them in their past. Ange is the perfect master spy, able to lie, blend into a role, and out-fight the best of them. Not to mention she has a Cavorite anti-gravity device. Dorothy is the elder and leader of the group, but at 20 years old she doesn't find it easy blending in as a high school student. She's the femme fatale of the group, boozing, and flirting with targets.

The first people to join this duo are their initial targets: Princess Charlotte, fourth in line to the throne, and her attendant Beatrice. Ange is an uncanny doppelganger to the Princess and the Commonwealth plot to replace her in a mission entitled "Changeling" kicks off. This story thread runs through the mostly standalone episodes, up to its stunning conclusion in the final three episodes. Like the chronology here, though, that's getting ahead of things. Princess Charlotte realises the truth to the spies and offers to join them. Should they help her become queen, she will assist the spies. Having a princess on-board grants them chances they would never usually be able to obtain. Charlotte is happy to join them, too, revelling in their friendship and the missions. Her attendant is less excited with the prospect, though - at least, at first. The attendant's name is Beatrice, who at first has no interest in joining the Commonwealth or becoming a spy, but due to her fierce loyalty to her mistress, she gives them a chance, only to find true friendship waiting there. Beatrice is the daughter of what could be considered a mad scientist. While experimenting on his daughter, he removed her voice box and replaced it with an artificial mechanical one - giving her the ability to mimic voices, a trait that proves useful as the group progresses on its spy missions. Finally, there is Chise - a diminutive assassin from Japan who originally travelled to Albion to track down a famous murderer from her home.

The choice to alter the chronological order works fantastically, mostly thanks to the standalone nature of most of the episodes. One of the best is the Chise episode - not her introduction episode, an episode that shows how she's adapting to living in Albion, struggling with Western customs. It turns what should be a simple, one-dimensional, cliché character into a loveable urchin. It's one of many stand-out episodes.

There are 12 episodes making up this season, but there are a few extra stories included, also. There are six "Picture Dramas." Each of the short episodes played out doujinshi style, with some charming art of the ladies present while the VAs act out a scene. These are usually available only in Japanese, but here they are available in both languages.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Princess Principal is a real hidden gem, one that seems to have slipped past the notice of many fans since its run in 2017. Quite unlike anything else out there, and while the overarching story occasionally gets convoluted, the individual tales more than make up for it. It's landing at the perfect time too, as soon a series of six follow up films will be released in Japan. Hopefully, MVM will get these into the hands of UK fans soon.

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