Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jan 15th 2009
DVD - Complete Collection
In order to escape a troubling life at home, Tohru Kouno transfers mid-semester into a prestigious boarding school for boys. He soon realizes that he has entered a whole new world when he is informed by the Student Council that he must become a “Princess,” one of three first year students who dress up as girls in order to keep their fellow classmates entertained and distracted. The other two Princesses are Yujirou Shiroudani and Mikoto Yutaka, and a bond, borne of shared circumstances, forms between them and Tohru. Together, the trio learns the ropes of their new employment and brings light to their school—while at the same time bringing light to the shadows haunting their own respective pasts. One pressing question: Why exactly did Tohru feel the need to transfer in the first place?
Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Or so says the title of the famous self-help book. But in Japanese anime such as Princess Princess, men and women might as well be from different solar systems altogether: The only successful cross-gender interactions are between men and men dressed up as idealized women! Needless to say, this animated television series is as phony as the gender relations it depicts.
Flat-out prostitution is one thing, and host/hostess clubs are only slightly better in their sanitized, PG-rated incarnations. Would you really want to attend an all-boys' school where first-years cursed with unusual physical attractiveness are forced to dress up as cute girls called Princesses in order to “inspire” their classmates? (And please, no bullshit about how all the Princesses go on to positions of power in the school's governing structures.) When the objectification implicit in host/hostess club culture has become institutionalized—and thus tacitly, if not explicitly, approved—we are elevating the shame of society as if it were treasures of art. At least in theory. In practice, Princess Princess is so thoroughly awful that even calling it “art” would be like calling Pocky artisan bread. You can decide for yourself whether you think this little tid-bit about quality improves matters on principle or not, but regardless, we have a genuine stinker on our hands.
The twelve-episode anime is based upon a manga series of the same name published in Shinshokan's Wings by Mikiyo Tsuda, prolific creator of shoujo, boy's love, and yuri titles, not to mention apparent fan of gender-bending storylines. Unfortunately, her taste for gender-bending and gothic-lolita fashion is not matched with a penchant for entertaining storytelling, and so the bizarre premise of boys who dress up as girls in order to keep their schoolmates' adolescent excesses in check is uncomfortably paired with the usual schooldays comedy subplots: the sports tournament, the talent show, the summer vacation, the school festival, etc. You will not be the least bit surprised to find out that there are absolutely no surprises, and the pacing of it all is so painfully slow that you will find yourself either fast-forwarding or giving up altogether.
Nothing else about Princess Princess provides any compensation for its narrative flubs. The comedy, with the possible exception of the three boys performing the Cutey Honey opening theme song for their talent show, is not funny, and the starring characters are not compelling. They are simply types—Tohru is the calm, moderate protagonist; Yujirou is the seductive vamp; and Mikoto is the hot-blooded youth—who, to the certain disappointment of fujoshi, do not even make particularly good yaoi fanfiction fodder. Mikoto has a girlfriend, and Tohru and Yujirou at least make gestures toward liking girls (the latter likes girls with big breasts). Although Tohru and Yujirou seem to have a special relationship that results in exactly one moment of gross fanservice, it is a lukewarm one that never actually goes anywhere. The trio's back stories, which are revealed throughout the course of the series, are likewise banal.
Worse still, it is often difficult to call this series “anime” in good conscience…because so little of it is truly animated! Studio DEEN takes limited animation to all new heights (or is that lows?) here, and most of the show consists of pans over still images. Indeed, part of the reason why the narrative pacing is so miserably slow is because every shot takes about a third longer than it would have in practically any other anime. Which, in itself, would not have been so bad were the still images in question actually attractive. But alas. Backgrounds are limp watercolor paintings of buildings that look like they were recycled from Sailor Moon, and character designs are suitably bishounen but unsuitably short on richness of detail. Even their many supposedly intricate costumes border on minimalist. (Do not be deceived by the art adorning the outside of the box set. If all you are in the market for is eye candy, you might as well forgo opening the package.)
The Media Blasters box set is similarly minimalist and low-budget. There is no English-language dub, so viewers who do not understand Japanese will be obliged to watch it subbed and suffer through to the seiyuus' mediocre performances. The only bonuses on offer are a handful of preview manga pages (courtesy of DMP and translated into English) and textless opening and ending clips. Since even the opening and ending themes are of dubious quality—men straining along in falsetto to instantly forgettable j-pop tunes—the value added by their presence is marginal. All in all, even diehard shoujo anime fans would be well-advised to stick to the manga and call it a day. This show just feels like an insult to its viewers.
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : D+
Art : C+
Music : C-
+ A cast chock-full of ambiguous bishounen in ambiguous relationships.
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