Media around spies is not something I seek out all to often. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a tense showdown, or a stealthy investigation, far from it. However it’s not something that instantly grabs my attention as much as other works. It’s for this reason that back in the Summer of 2017, Princess Principal was not something that instantly jumped out to me as something I should watch. During the course of its run, it gained a small but dedicated following amongst my online groups. The most interesting aspect of this was that the range of people singing its praises was from a vastly different range of pools. From action junkies to yuri fanatics, a lot of buzz was generated.
After watching the show for myself, it’s easy to see why. Princess Principal is one of the most fun and interesting action anime to come out in recent years.
From the opening scene to the last, Princess Principal is a thrill ride that put a smile on my face. It’s one of the few anime of recent memory that starts in media res that didn’t bother or bore me. It doesn’t fall into the trap that so many others do of just showing an extended action scene to generate excitement. Instead it takes the time to set its tone, and densely pack in a lot of world building and fun character interactions. It does this through having a spy classic: A car chase. It’s perfect because of how much of what the show’s about is introduced just through this one set-piece. It firstly presents a wide look at the steampunk-inspired world, before grounding us within a dark back alley. After a quick confrontation, a chase ensues. We not only get a good look at the world around us, but the people we will be exploring it with. Everyone in the main cast gets a moment to shine and show what they bring to the team. The quick, snappy dialogue also helps elevates this feeling of comradery, displaying a dynamic of knowing what each other is all about and a strong will to help each other.
However, it’s the amount of personality the world oozes through the wonderful designs, lighting and colours that makes the world of Princess Principal really stand out. Heavily industrialised, compact and walled off. It’s a place that’s very claustrophobic, yet with excitement round each corner. Admittedly, a large part of that initial appeal also comes from it being set in a fictionalised Victorian London. Seeing different takes on the city I grew up around is inherently fascinating to me, and Princess Principal’s take on London is a lot of fun to explore.
But it’d be foolish to talk about Princess Principal’s personality without talking about the fantastic main cast.
Princess Principal has everything I look for in a cast. From Ange’s wonderfully dry demeanour to Dorothy’s playful personality, almost anything this cast was doing ended up being a joy to watch just because of them. The aforementioned action pieces are always fun, but everyone really manages to also shine in the show’s laid back moments. One of my favourite episodes is based around an old laundry. It’s a very run down place, where only the poorest in society work. To make matters worse, the laundry is in danger of shutting down completely. The spies are working there as part of a mission, but this episode instead decides to make the priority the story about the laundry. It’s a wonderful tale of friendship and overcoming the odds whilst staring in the face of adversity. It reminds us of why their work is important. It’s for the good of all those people on the ground level, heavily impacted by the vast class divide in society. It’s an episode that truly shines, and even reminds me of classic feminist tales such as the 1968 Ford Dagenham strike.
These factors would’ve made me enjoy the show well enough, but the writing of these characters and their dynamics is what made me fell in love with it. Especially the relationship between Ange and Princess. I don’t want to go into too many details as this is more of a general impressions post, but just know that their relationship is one that I consider one of my favourites to come out of anime in recent years. Their story sadly ends on a bit of premature note (I’m very much hoping for a continuation in that regard) but what is here is absolutely wonderful. It’s a story of unlikely relationships forming to become something extremely strong. A story of overcoming adversity. A story that not only changes themselves a lot, but the world and society around them. It’s wonderfully nuanced in that regard, with many of the takes it turns heavily impacting how I perceived the show and the events going on within it.
Overall, Princess Principal is a triumph. A triumph in craft. The character and world designs are a treat for the eyes, and watching it in motion is a delight. A triumph in action. It’s fun, fast action scenes are some of the best staged and choreographed I’ve seen in a long time. But perhaps most of all, triumph in character. Seeing this cast work and live together is something that will always bring me joy. They stand proud for what they believe in and each other, it’s hard not to be enamoured by it.
It sadly fell under the radar for some, but Princess Principal is one of 2017’s best and a new favourite of mine.