Review for Princess Principal Collection - Collector's Edition
I should have checked MVM’s retail website first. When I get a new anime series to review, I have two ports of call, IMDB and the Anime News Network Encyclopedia, to take a quick look at the blurb to see what the show is about. Having watched as much anime as I have, there are now shortcuts I look out for, trope code-words that help me sort out titles that I have been completely unaware of, into ‘squee’ and ‘meh’. I had absolutely no idea what Princess Principal was about, and both ANN and IMDB triggered me with the use of “high school girls” in their descriptions. Most days, that feels like every anime ever made. Princess Principal felt like just another two discs to get through before I get to the good stuff. Then I watched the first episode. Yup, Anime Online’s blurb is a lot more stimulating.
Princess Principal takes place in another history, a world where Albion developed technology based on the mineral Cavorite, an energy source that allows direct manipulation of gravity, and with its vast Air Fleet, it quickly established the largest empire the world had seen since the Romans. But by the end of the nineteenth century, revolution tore the empire asunder, and two states resulted, the Kingdom of Albion, and the Commonwealth of Albion, and nothing signified the division and distrust between the two nations more than the Great Wall of London.
Ten years on, a state of Cold War exists between the Commonwealth and the Kingdom, and the Commonwealth has established a spy network in London to maintain the balance of power, if not nudge things in their favour. Operating from the Queen’s Mayfaire Academy, five school girls undertake missions for the Commonwealth, but they are a diverse bunch. Dorothy and Ange serve the Commonwealth, but the granddaughter of the Queen of Albion herself, Princess is a symbol of the Kingdom, and she’s aided by her maid Beatrice. And from Japan, the warrior Chise completes the group. They are a finely honed group of operatives, but like any spy, they each have secrets of their own.
12 episodes of Princess Principal are presented across 2 Blu-rays from MVM as follows.
1. Case 13: Wired Liar
2. Case 1: Dancy Conspiracy
3. Case 2: Vice Voice
4. Case 9: Roaming Pigeons
5. Case 7: Bullet & Blade’s Ballad
6. Case 16: Loudly Laundry
7. Case 18: Rouge Morgue
8. Case 11: Pell-mell Duel
9. Case 20: Ripper Dipper
10. Case 22: Comfort Comrade
11. Case 23: Humble Double
12. Case 24: Fall of the Wall
Princess Principal gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these Blu-ray discs. The image is clear and sharp, colours are consistent, and there are no problems with compression artefacts or aliasing. Given that it’s such an atmospheric show, with a lot of dark, moody, even foggy (this is London) scenes, it’s nice to see that digital banding is as light as it is in this show. And Princess Principal is a beautiful show, with charming, consistent and memorable character designs, and a detailed and imaginative steampunk world design. The animation is detailed and fluid, and you can see that this is a big budget, high production value show.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. I was happy with the Japanese audio, (they even managed to pronounce Greenwich right), the actors are suitably cast for their roles, and the action comes across well through the stereo. The music is doubly notable, with a couple of excellent theme songs, while Yuki Kajiura provides the score for the episodes. As for the dub... with a show set in England, the US dub is only as good as the worst English accent. All it takes is one Dick van Dyke... The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
The discs present their contents with static menus, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel. This collector’s edition demands a premium price, but you get 12 artcards, an 80-page interview book, a 176-page storyboard book, and a 144-page ‘secret file’ book. I haven’t seen the physical extras or the packaging to comment though. A standard edition is scheduled for June.
I have seen the discs though, and on disc 2 you’ll find 5:26 of Japanese Promos, 0:34 of Japanese Commercials, and the textless credits.
Most fun are the Picture Dramas, short moments of comedy with the characters, voiceovers against static images. You get 6 in total.
Case 10.5: Ready lady (4:42)
Case 11.5: Tete-a-tete telephone (4:50)
Case 16.5: Conciliatory victory (4:57)
Case 17.5: Good sisterhood (4:07)
Case 18.5: Black blab (5:05)
Case 21.5: Dreaded dream (4:39)
My preconceptions about this show made me reluctant to start watching it. But the review beckoned, and I eventually watched my first episode of Princess Principal. And I became even more reluctant to watch it. I’d delay putting the next episode on, grasp any excuse to watch something else instead, miss out a day or two. But this time, it was because this show is just so damned good. I wanted to savour my first time with Princess Principal, enjoy discovering its secrets, getting to know its characters, and I didn’t want that dreaded moment to come, where the credits on the last episode would roll, and it would all be over. I even sat through the bonus short Picture Dramas, despite their ephemeral and trivial comic nature, just so I could have another half an hour in this universe. And in the end, the only thing that could assuage my regret at finishing this series was learning that there have been six feature film sequels commissioned for this fantastic show.
I like the espionage genre, there’s something about spies and subterfuge, secrecy and deception, which in a way takes the con genre and gives it a politically savvy veneer. It’s a high stakes game of mis-direction, potentially with lives on the line, so when it’s done right, it can be a very watchable genre. My favourite anime series in this genre was R.O.D. The TV, another MVM series that I bought years ago, and have cherished and lovingly re-watched ever since. I say ‘was’ as I now have a new favourite. Princess Principal has knocked the world of the ‘Paper Sisters’ off the perch, replacing it with a steampunk, alternate Cold War, Prince and the Pauper tale, or in this case, Princess and the Pauper.
It’s a wonderful set up for a story, an alternate history, where the mineral Cavorite turns Albion (Britain) into a superpower by allowing direct control of gravity. But revolution tears the Empire in two, a Kingdom and a Commonwealth. At the time of the revolution, the granddaughter of the Queen, a shy and introverted girl, made friends with a street urchin who bore a striking resemblance to her, but the violent upheavals tore the friends apart. 10 years later they are reunited at school. Ange is now a spy for the Commonwealth, alongside the leader of her team, Dorothy, and seeing the Princess and her maid Beatrice now at the school, the Commonwealth puts a plan into motion. But no one is expecting the Princess to actually join the spy ring and work against her own government, just so that she can be reunited with Ange. Subsequently, they are joined by a Japanese bodyguard named Chise who accompanies her nation’s ambassador to the Kingdom, after they thwart an assassination attempt on him.
As you can see from the episode titles, Princess Principal reveals its story out of chronological order, so we get an episode of introduction for the team, before going back and showing us their respective first meetings, keeping things out of order so that we get to know the characters and their motivations in the right way, instead of just having a dry recitation of the facts. It instead saves the chronological storytelling for its climax.
There are so many superlative aspects to the show, not least the animation itself, which is of theatrical quality. But it’s the quality of the stories that really does impress, detail conscious, rich and varied, and building from character first and foremost. The character writing too is excellent, and understandably given that this is a spy show, everyone has one or two secret agendas of their own, and you never quite know where you are with the characters; in the best possible way of course. Watching the show pan out, I got to the petty position of looking for little things as an excuse to mark it down, hoping for a character archetype too obvious, a trope too clichéd, but even when Princess Principal nudged me in the direction of another anime, it never felt as if it was aping anything else.
I know I’ve fallen in love with an anime when I’m left wanting more. I so want more of Princess Principal. Given that it’s got a British setting, I’d love someone to option the rights and make a live action TV series, or even a big budget feature film. I want to see films like Princess Principal cleaning up at the box office instead of yet another Marvel flick. I also want access to higher dimensions to give me the room on my shelves to justify buying this show’s Collector’s Edition.