Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 2nd 2012
Blu-Ray + DVD - The Complete Series [Limited Edition]
Amamizu-kan, an old boarding house in Tokyo, is the home of The Sisterhood – a group of otaku women of various stripes who shun The Stylish and men in general. Tsukimi, a jellyfish fanatic, is the latest addition to their ranks. One evening a strange Stylish woman helps her out and she brings the Stylish home with her...only to discover that “she” is a “he.” Despite her pleas, Kuranosuke, the disenchanted cross-dressing son of a prominent political family, sticks around, finding himself more and more fascinated by The Sisterhood in general and Tsukimi in specific. When unscrupulous developers begin to eye Amamizu-kan's location, Kuranosuke realizes that there is more at stake than just a building, and sets out to galvanize its residents to save their way of life.
Jellyfish. If you live in a coastal community, chances are that you think of them as nothing more than dangers to swimming or those gross blobby things that get washed up on the beach after a storm. To Tsukimi Kurashita, however, they are beautiful, eternal reminders of her mother and the quiet, exquisite life she would like to lead beneath the non-judgmental waves of the sea, and before this show is over, you too may come to see jellyfish as more than just nature's prehistoric leftovers.
We first meet Tsukimi at Amamizu-kan, the women-only boarding house where “The Sisterhood” resides. Each member of the group has a special geek (otaku) interest – Mayaya is obsessed with “The Three Kingdoms,” Jiji has a thing for old men, Banba is a train nut, and acting landlady Chieko loves traditional Japanese clothes and dolls. As the youngest of the group, Tsukimi is the least comfortable with herself and spends most of her time in her room drawing detailed pictures of jellyfish. Then one night walking by a pet store she sees two jellyfish in a tank who should not be together, as the one is poisonous to the other. The clerk doesn't heed her pleas and treats her like she's subhuman until a tall, beautiful Stylish woman shows up. While the clerk drools over the stranger, she convinces him to just give Tsukimi the doomed jellyfish, and despite the otaku's clear discomfort, the Stylish helps her get supplies and go home before falling asleep on Tsukimi's floor. This is bad enough, but when Tsukimi wakes up to find that her unwanted Stylish is actually a cross-dressing young man named Kuranosuke, she freaks out. Nonplussed, Kuranosuke continues to come by Amamizu-kan, slowly winning over The Sisterhood with only Tsukimi aware of his true gender.
Once this central conceit is established, the story takes off. Kuranosuke, who is straight and has his reasons for dressing in drag, is appalled that Tsukimi does not take better care of her appearance and clothing. While Tsukimi never explicitly states why this is, her reactions whenever someone notices her suggest a wish to remain in the background. Anyone who dislikes the attention of the opposite sex can understand this desire – for the painfully shy, “plain” equals “safe.” Although Kuranosuke never fully succeeds in bringing Tsukimi out of her shell, he does help her to become a bit more comfortable in the world and with a more groomed appearance. Naturally this has its downsides as well – in her “after” look, Tsukimi is introduced to Kuranosuke's older brother Shu, who falls for the demure beauty. However, he is so infatuated with her appearance that he cannot see that the freckled, sweat-suited girl is the same person as his curly-headed ideal. He cannot, to paraphrase Funi's tagline for the series, see beneath the surface. One of the show's best scenes comes after he accidentally snubs her, showing Tsukimi slowly sinking into a sidewalk turned to water until she floats jelly-like beneath the waves.
Tsukimi's polar opposite is Shoko Inari, the grasping, vicious land shark after Amamizu-kan. She is the originator of a particularly upsetting subplot wherein one of the male characters is sexually molested. We rarely, in any form of pop culture, see this so-called gender reversal in terms of abuse, and the man in question's reaction to it is well done. Inari, whose name leads characters to refer to her by the apt and unflattering name of “vixen,” is a despicable character. She is the woman The Sisterhood fears, someone who comfortably wears the title of “bitch.” While she does show vague signs of remorse towards the story's end, she never really moves beyond her role, making her a flatter character than some of the others but at the same time a worthy antagonist, espousing all that The Sisterhood sees as wrong with the world.
Overall the show has a bit of an Ai Yazawa feel to it, mixed with the vibe of a women's college, at least the one I attended. There is a subtle sadness to both Tsukimi and Kuranosuke that balances out the wackier aspects of the show. Action is much more emotional than physical (Mayaya notwithstanding), and the animation reflects this with small details, like Inari's French manicure and lipstick stains. Images of jellyfish are especially soothing and beautiful, giving viewers a chance to look at them through Tsukimi's eyes rather than our own preconceptions. Speaking of Tsukimi's vision, there are also some nice moments where we see things as she does without her glasses on, through a gentle blur. This is a very nice touch and allows viewers to connect more with the character. The animation does look a bit sharper on Blu Ray, but the full effect is also achieved with the DVD version. The only instance where viewers may really prefer the DVD over the Bluray is when dub Jiji is speaking, as she is very difficult to hear and subtitles cannot be turned on with the English language track on the Bluray.
Dub and sub tracks are both excellent, so it is largely up to the viewer's preferences here. While Monica Rial does a wonderful job as Mayaya, the character comes off as slightly more annoying in the dub than the sub, possibly simply because the dub track plays at a slightly higher volume. Josh Grelle is particularly wonderful as Kuranosuke, actually achieving a (believable) higher register than the women when doing his girl voice. Maxey Whitehead and Kana Hanazawa both give Tsukimi a voice that fits the character, and their interpretations of the role are similar. A dub highlight is Anastasia Munoz, who has a wonderful small role as a 'fro fan model, stealing all of her brief scenes, whereas the sub boasts Takehito Koyasu as Shu's driver Hanamori. Dub Clara is the one slightly sour note, as the writers try to make her too sassy. Other than that, the script is very close to the subtitles, with some adjustments made for flow and idiomatic expressions (the dub script's substitution of “this boy” for “ore” is especially good), but fidelity to the original throughout.
Extras are plentiful on these discs, with five minute shorts about supporting cast members including Benz otaku Hanamori, and a comprehensive “field guide” that explains the details of everyone's obsessions. Two commentary tracks make it clear just how much everyone who worked on the English version of the show loved it, and for those of you who can't figure out the middle two movie references in the opening theme, the commentary for episode one has you covered. One of the best extras, however, is a brief documentary about Kana Hanazawa and Jiji's Japanese seiyuu Mamiko Noto visiting the same aquarium Tsukimi goes to in the show. Seeing the real jellyfish is fascinating and also showcases how much research went into their portrayal.
Princess Jellyfish is a show for anyone who was ever poisoned by a fairy tale. Tsukimi's mother told her that all girls grow up to be princesses (a nod to Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess?), and Tsukimi is beginning to realize that maybe that doesn't always come with the traditional happily ever after. In some ways, Princess Jellyfish is about making your own happy ending and also understanding that “ending” isn't a finite term when it comes to life. The show doesn't have a solid conclusion, but in some ways that would take away from the discoveries that Kuranosuke and Tsukimi are making. By the end of the show, the pervasive air of loneliness that it began with has abated there is the promise of more yet to come for the characters, even if we are not there to see it.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Both comedic and poignant with interesting characters who offer some relatability. Fun opening theme, good extras. Hopeful ending.
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