The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle ?
What is this?
Princess Syalis is trying to get a good night's sleep. Long ago in olden times when people and demons lived together in disharmony, a demon king kidnapped a human princess and imprisoned her in his castle. Bereft, the princess's subjects beat their chests in anguish until a hero arises to the rescue. While she waits for her knight in shining armor, the princess decides to wile away the long hours by sleeping, if it weren't for her pesky insomnia.
How was the first episode?
A couple weeks ago, I found myself unable to sleep. I took as many sleep aids as was advisable, and probably a bit more. I took a hot shower. I covered every inch of my body with lavender-scented lotion. I changed pillowcases. Changed pajamas. Got up and read. Turned up the fan. Put in fresh earplugs to block out the sound of my husband's snores. Went for a walk. Took a hot bath. Took a drug that is legal in Washington state. Moved to the couch. Eventually, well after the sun was up, I finally felt sleep start to overtake me, and it was nothing short of sheer bliss.
This is not the first time this has happened, and likely it won't be the last. Insomnia is the greatest scourge in my life, and Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle gets it.
Syalis will stop at nothing to get some good sleep. She is absolutely ruthless when it comes to finding a solution to the problems that are contributing to her insomnia, whether it be straight-up murdering a ghost to get a sheet or destroying a precious shield to use its wind powers as an air-cushion/white noise machine. Considering how often I've wished death on my husband for his snoring, this is quite relatable.
(Jared, if you're reading this, I love you, honey and would definitely never murder you for keeping me up at night.)
The anime adaptation of Sleepy Princess comes courtesy of Doga Kobo by way of Mitsue Yamazaki, the director who brought us the gut-busting Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. While Sleepy Princess's much gentler comedy doesn't quite hit the same comedic highs, it still makes great use of Yamazaki's keen sense of timing. Characters pause just long enough before under- or overreacting for maximum comic effect, and the proportion of run-on gags to new jokes is perfect.
The animation staff at Doga Kobo turn in great work as usual, making the demon castle slightly spooky but not threatening. The animation is fluid, except at moments where limited animation is more effective for the sake of a joke, and the character acting is expressive. There's a lot of supporting characters here, and while I don't really know them yet, I already feel like I'm getting a sense of their personalities.
My one concern is that so far, there's really only one joke and, while it's a good one, it doesn't seem to have the staying power to last for an entire season. I'm hoping they'll find other aspects of Syalis' situation to mine for comedy – her lack of regard for the incredibly gung-ho hero has a lot of promise. However, I'm not going to lose sleep over the question of whether Sleepy Princess can stay funny or not. I have faith in Yamazaki and her team.
There are few things as miserable as a sleepless night, struggling to just force your brain and body to stop long enough to rest when one or both just refuses. My personal bouts with insomnia typically come when my ambient anxiety peaks; despite laying still in bed for hours, sleep refuses to come, and no amount of sleep aides or warm milk will do the trick. Suffice it to say I related immediately to Princess Syalis (Is...is there a reason her name's a homonym for erectile dysfunction meds?) and her quest to get some god damn shuteye in the loud, perpetual night-time of a demon castle. The hero and his companions can fight monsters and raid dungeons all they want, the real battlefield is trying to get a decent night's sleep in 2020.
Outside of being a comrade in insomnolence, Syalis is just ridiculously funny. Between the wonderful expressions she makes, a cozily deadpan vocal performance from Inori Minase, and whip smart comedic timing courtesy of the ever-wonderful Mitsue Yamazaki, Sleepy Princess is easily the comedy to beat this season. Despite a setup that could easily feel repetitive, each of the three segments of this premiere delivered some fantastic belly laughs as Syalis slapsticked her way through the halls of her captors' castle, terrorizing the monster servants without batting an eye. The sharp, repeating sound of her scissors during the middle segment is probably the best gag, but I'm also partial to her using the Demon Priest's horns as a sandblaster. These antics, in the wrong hands, might tip over into needlessly meanspirited territory, but they are so perfectly delivered that it never feels like you're wallowing in the misery of her victims. Plus, they did kidnap her, so it's fair game if they didn't realize they were locked inside with her rather than the other way around.
The supporting cast haven't quite gotten to shine yet, though the opening promises at least a few of the creatures featured will be regulars in the show. I'm most interested in seeing what kind of dynamic they'll build between Syalis and the Demon Priest tasked with reviving her whenever she stumbles into the castle's many death traps (Seriously, that lava pit can't be OSHA approved.) as well as seeing more of Twilight, the demon king. The gag of him being easily won over by how adorable the princess looks when she's asleep and not wanting to disturb her is funny enough, but there's room for a lot of humor as he slowly loses control of his castle to his own hostage. By the end of this season I want to see this girl sleeping in an enormous four-poster bed in the master bedroom while the king is in a literal dog house in the backyard.
There's of course a risk of this premise running thin, but for now I am more than happy to follow this sleepy princess along whatever corridor of comedy she sleepwalks down next. If you enjoyed similar Doga Kobo comedies like Himouto! Umaruchan or Gabriel DropOut (The OP is remarkably similar to that one, in fact.) then you'll likely find a similar mix of charm and snark to relax with, though it thankfully shouldn't put you to sleep.
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle is a solid example of how to do a very low-stakes, high-concept comedy anime right, which isn't terribly surprising when you consider that director Mitsue Yamazaki and studio Doga Kobo brought us Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. Now, Nozaki-kun is a candidate for one of the best anime sitcoms ever and I don't want to give anyone the impression that Sleepy Princess is a masterpiece in the making or anything. It's pretty okay, is all, and given how hit-or-miss the genre can be, that's good enough for me.
If the title didn't clue you in, this is a show with a Funny Gimmick™, which is that the titular princess, Syalis, has been kidnapped away to the lair of the Demon King and held ransom to the Kingdom of Gooderest (do you get it?), but she isn't all too concerned about her terrifying circumstances. Syalis' one goal in life is to get a good night's' sleep, and that's kind of hard when you've got all manner of ghouls and goblins' patrolling about, to say nothing of the chintzy accommodations. The idea that the princess would spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to basically level up her bed, RPG style, is a decently funny premise on its own. What I enjoyed the most about the jokes, though, is how they framed Syalis as a genuinely cunning, even devious, little gremlin. She's learned to bribe her adorable teddy demons with brush sessions to get regular access to her cell key, and she spends much of the episode roaming the castle freely and causing general havoc with improvised weaponry. Except, instead of killing her way to freedom, she beats and maims all manner of beasties in order to freshen up her room. Whether it's vivisecting a living cloth in order to turn his remains into the perfect bedspread, or stuffing a sentient diamond into a sack and using him as a makeshift blackjack so she can destroy some priceless magical artifacts, Syalis is ruthlessly efficient. This princess isn't screwing around; she needs that beauty rest, dammit.
Maybe it's because 2020 might be the single most exhausting decade of the 21st century so far, but I found Syalis' single-minded and surprisingly violent pursuit of quality naptime to be charming, not to mention relatable. I mean, the girl won't even let dying stop her, for goodness' sake! The biggest question to ask about Sleepy Princess now is how in the hell it will manage to sustain this joke for an entire season. The other monsters and demon royalty in the castle have the potential to be funny supporting characters, but we don't get to see much of them here, and the same goes for the heroic knight and the rest of the Gooderest side of the cast. I often think a lot of these single-joke comedies would work much better as shorts, but if Sleepy Princess insists on filling out a whole season of half-hour episodes, we'll just have to see what comes of it. Still, it's got a heck of a lot of personality with its art and character designs, and drew a few audible chuckles out of me, which is more than a lot of these “funny” shows ever manage. I'd say to check Sleepy Princess out, especially if you're in the need of some rest and relaxation yourself. (Though, if you're like Syalis, and just want to be put to sleep, then go with By the Grace of the Gods instead. I guarantee that you'll be out before the first commercial break).
Demon King Twilight has definitely just kidnapped the wrong princess. Not because he's mistaken her for a different one, but rather because Princess Syalis of Goodereste is in no way what he was expecting. Instead of sitting quietly, or perhaps fretfully, in her cell, Syalis has instead begun a reign of terror on his castle, all in pursuit of…a good night's sleep.
I may be rating this higher than I ought to because I love the source manga, which is one of my favorite consistently funny reads. Syalis' not-at-all careful decimation of the demon castle's peaceful atmosphere is somehow a bizarre mix of the absurd and the absolutely relatable, as we see in this first episode. She's not all that upset that she has been kidnapped, but instead is pretty unhappy that the circumstances of her captivity mean that she's stuck in a noisy prison cell with crappy bedding and an awful pillow, because that means that she can't indulge in what appears to be her favorite activity, sleeping. And really, who among us hasn't tried to figure out why sleep isn't happening and decided it was because of the pillow or the mattress or the dog snoring too loudly in the next room? (Other people's dogs snore that loudly, right?) It's just that most of us aren't princesses with laser-focused plans for fixing the issues, or living in a castle full of creatures who can be used to provide the aforementioned accoutrements.
Part of what works here is the way that Syalis escalates over the episode. She starts not wanting to murder the adorable teddy demons and by the end of the episode is shoving the Demon Cleric back and forth against a wooden coffin to sand down its edges so she can use it as a bed, with a little brutal murder of some (formerly) living cloth thrown in the middle there. A good night's rest quickly overtakes anything else for Syalis, and part of that is almost certainly because she doesn't have anything else to do besides murder poor innocent demons for sheets; while Twilight captured the wrong princess, it's also starting to look like Syalis may have been born in the wrong place, because the girl is much more demonic than any of the actual demons we've met so far. She does have some sense of right and wrong – she feels badly about destroying the treasure shield for about a second – but mostly she's all about making her stay comfortable, no matter who she has to temporarily kill to do it.
Temporarily, of course, because the Demon Cleric can resurrect anyone, as we see when he brings to life both Syalis and the slime she fell into some lava with. There's a fair amount of this balance between the tropes of sword and sorcery fantasy and their moderately absurd usage, and that adds to the humor as well. Things haven't gone far enough for the story to really get into that aspect of the world yet, but this episode sticks very close to the source manga, so it's something to keep an eye on, especially if you enjoyed Senyū back in the day. This is good, goofy fun, and since that's what I was hoping for, I'm looking forward to watching this play out.
Quests to awaken a sleeping princess and/or rescue a captured one have been storytelling bolierplate for thousands of years; even the Trojan War could arguably be boiled down to such a task, and they have been staples of videos games and fantasy RPGs since their inceptions. In taking a decidedly more light-hearted spin on the classic concept, Sleepy Princess quickly becomes a deliciously fun subversion of the expected storytelling norms. For instance, what if the princess is decidedly more interested in getting a good night's sleep than being rescued or awakened? And what if the princess is more demonic about it than the demons who imprison her?
While both of those components are important, the latter is more critical than the former. Princess Syalis may have the adorably cute vibe down pat, but she is an absolute terror in pursuing what she wants. She has her teddy bear demon guards at her beck and call once she discovers that they love being brushed, which means that she can get free roam of the castle whenever she wants, much to the dismay of both the Demon King and his minions. But rather than try to escape, she quests for materials for a pillow, then proper sheets, and finally a quiet, comfortable place to sleep. Her single- mindedness about this is itself amusing, but the way she sociopathically victimizes the demons in pursuit of her goals is where the real fun lies. Woe to the Sheet Demon who falls within her sight after she gets access to giant scissors, or to the many cloaks she cuts up, and I actually felt sympathetic for the gem guard used as a blackjack (to pound a magical gem out of a shield mounting), the demon cleric whose horns were used for sanding, or the slime-like critter used for polishing. That the demon guards cannot stop her rampage is, of course, absurd, but the Demon King, so overwhelmed by her cuteness while sleeping that he cannot wake her, is just as bad. She'll be running the show in no time!
The first episode doesn't miss a beat elsewhere by showing how ironic her actions are compared to the distress of those in her kingdom about her well-being, and I must say that I wasn't at all expecting her to die and get resurrected in the middle of this. That was an inspired touch. The soft artistry was probably meant to be reminiscent of a fairy tale book, and the somewhat to extremely cutesy designs of the demons all fits.
I don't know if the series can sustain this level of fun and mischief, as the concept seems like it could quickly get repetitive, but this first episode at least was loads of fun.
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