Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jun 18th 2009
DVD - Complete Box Set
While chopping up the local wildlife for money, bounty hunter Faris has the misfortune to run across a princess. Princess Alita is honest to goodness royalty and is fleeing from an honest to goodness coup d'état. Or at least she was. By the time she runs into Faris, she's fleeing instead from a monster she crossed paths with in the forest. Afraid for her and Faris's lives, Alita does what any reasonable young lady would do: she throws herself against Faris, sending the both of them over a nearby cliff. The stress of the situation—plummeting to their deaths with a monster on their tail—does something odd to the two: They switch bodies. After miraculously surviving the fall and witnessing Faris's skills (the monster lasts less than a few seconds once her ire is up), Alita convinces the young mercenary to return to the castle as “Princess Alita” and foil the coup. They emerge triumphant, and since no one seems too inclined to question the princess's sudden change in personality, Alita is content to let Faris continue living as "Alita." After all, who better to deal with life under constant threat of regicide than an expert swordswoman?
Is it wrong to yearn for the self-destructive salad days of the early 2000's? Sure the anime feeding frenzy of those few, glorious years was unsustainable, but one can't help but miss the wild risk-taking of the time now that the demise of Geneon has put an end to such frolics forever. Risk avoidance may be good business, but from an artistic standpoint, it's pretty poisonous. After all, without risks there are no rewards. Case in point: Murder Princess.
Murder Princess is far from bad. A six-episode OAV from Bee Train, the guys behind series like Noir and Avenger, it has their usual complement of action, intrigue and mild lesbian undertones. Faris's personality guarantees plenty of bad-attitude sword-fighting, and combined with Alita's looks she's a visual force to be reckoned with. Naturally there're some big skeletons in Alita's royal closet, so twists and turns on the way to conclusion aren't uncommon. And most importantly, Faris and Alita's friendship gives the series an endearing and convincingly sweet emotional core. Faris and Alita themselves make fair to middling heroines, with Faris offering no excuses for her violent way of life and Alita emanating a mental strength that doesn't dissipate even as she is repeatedly reduced to the role of maiden in distress.
Enjoyable enough, yes? Certainly; but that enjoyment lasts about as long after the end credits roll as an icicle in a particularly inhospitable suburb of hell. Murder Princess just doesn't have the intelligence, energy or invention to sustain its entertainment value after it's run its course. After all, pulling off intelligence, energy and invention entails risks. And Murder Princess is nothing if not risk-averse. There isn't anything, not an image, camera movement, character, or plot twist in it that hasn't been tried, tested and generally worn to sad shadow of its former self by dozens upon dozens of previous anime. Snarky side-kicks and incompetent arch-nemeses? Been there, done that. Body-swapping plot devices? Been there, done that and got the T-shirt. Villains who want to destroy the world because they are disgusted with man's inhumanity to man? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it to tatters. The plot twists aren't really plot twists because they are cribbed from other sources and about as surprising as pop-up greeting cards, and the dramatic developments have been so recycled that they haven't the life god gave a half-drowned worm.
And if you're expecting OAV-budgeted eye candy to come thundering to the rescue, sit back down, have yourself a nice cup of tea and try not to think too hard about whose pockets were lined with all that wasted cash. Because visually speaking, Murder Princess is pretty boring. It might win a playground tussle with a low-end video title or a mid-budget TV show, but it isn't going to be brawling with the big boys. Too much of its time is eaten up with the kinds of stills and vanishing backgrounds that television series use to pinch pennies, and its budget-caused flaws are compounded by a profound lack of originality in framing and choreography. Throw in simplistic sidekicks straight from a Saturday morning cartoon, lifeless backgrounds and ordinary character designs, and you get some frightfully forgettable imagery.
Despite their basic lack of inspiration, the series' many fights do stick out a bit from their blandly amusing surroundings. Credit for that can be placed pretty squarely on Faris-as-Alita, who manages to look cool despite Bee Train's atypically plain character designs. However, just as important is Yasufumi Fukuda's heavy, hard rocking score. Using heavy metal guitar riffs to back action sequences is about as far from subtlety as one can get, but it's a pretty effective strategy nonetheless—especially as the action scenes have little else to recommend them. The operatic vocals in some of the tracks also give off an appropriately creepy horror vibe. Aurally speaking, good stuff.
Among the other things that are, aurally speaking, good stuff, is Funimation's dub. The acting is fine, the dialogue pretty peppy, and the dub overall plenty of fun. What it isn't is faithful. Large and sometimes unnecessary liberties are taken with the translation, adding dialogue where there is none, tinkering with the basic meaning of certain scenes, and even mildly adjusting personalities. ADR director Caitlin Glass also made the decision to have lead actresses Monica Rial (Alita) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Faris) remain with their characters' bodies, voicing the different personalities that inhabit them. (Original actresses Romi Paku and Ami Koshimizu followed their characters' souls, giving Alita and Faris's bodies different voices when inhabited by different personalities). In the episode six audio commentary (the series' one extra) Glass states that it made more sense to her that way, and while it may seem confusing on paper, it really isn't. Pure poison for purists, but worth a listen, even if dubs aren't usually your thing.
So what's so bad about heaping helpings of disposable fluff? Well, nothing, so long as you can shut down all but say four or five of your neurons—a process that Murder Princess heartily encourages. The problem is when you fire that sixth synapse and realize just what a huge, insensible waste it all is. The potential of the serialized, animated format is mind-boggling, but Murder Princess (or Princess Resurrection or Heroic Age or any of the other dozens of mildly diverting but ultimately empty series on the market) exploits none of it. It's content to simply be, without pushing boundaries, exploring new territory or taking risks. Yes, it's fun, but it's ephemerally so, and you can't help but get pissed at the irreplaceable slice of your life that it eats away. There are less pleasant ways of wasting your life, but regardless of how enjoyable the experience is, it's still life wasted.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Doesn't hurt to watch (most of the time); those who still go “OMG did you see that blood?!” during fights may enjoy the action; cool music.
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