Princess Principal

Tagged: TV

Japanese animated tv series (2017). Studio 3Hz, Actas. Directed by Masaki Tachibana. Written by Ichirō Ōkouchi. Voice cast includes Nozomi Furuki, Ayaka Imamura, Akari Kageyama, Akira Sekine and Yō Taichi. Twelve 24-minute broadcast episodes, plus six short "Picture Dramas" (DVD extras). Colour.

In the first decade of the twentieth century the Kingdom of Albion (see Alternate History) is the most powerful nation since the Roman Empire, its harnessing of the Antigravity metal Cavorite making their air fleet invincible (see Pax Aeronautica). But social injustice has led to revolution (see Politics), splitting the country between east (the Kingdom) and west (the Commonwealth), with London – itself divided by a wall – the espionage battleground.

The series focuses on "Team White Pigeon", five female Commonwealth spies, students at the Kingdom's "Queen's Mayfair Academy": Princess Charlotte (Sekine), fourth in line to the throne; her loyal companion Beatrice (Kageyama), with a mechanical voicebox implanted by her Scientist father; Dorothy MacBean (Taichi), the oldest at 20, an experienced spy; Chise (Furuki), a Japanese warrior (ostensibly on the Commonwealth's side, though Japan is equivocating over whom to ally with); and the appositely surnamed Ange le Carre (Imamura): coldly efficient, though this is a front which hides her compassion, who deflects queries about her past by insisting she is an Alien from the "Black Lizard Planet".

But, reminiscent of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Ange was a poor, secret childhood friend of the Princess and also her lookalike: they would temporarily exchange clothes and lives, but ten years ago the revolution stranded them in their swapped personas, so the Princess is really Ange (and vice versa). They have only recently met again. The Princess (ie. the original Ange) wishes to rule a united Kingdom, ending injustice and allowing the pair's romantic relationship to be open.

The episodes are not broadcast in chronological order: for example, the first is "Case 13" and the second "Case 1"; they are mainly one-off adventures, enjoyable but also world-building and deepening the characters of the protagonists. Later in the series the plot picks up steam: shifts in the Commonwealth's internal politics means the military now head the intelligence agency, ordering Ange to kill, then impersonate the princess (they are unaware "Ange" is the true princess) and allow disaffected colonial troops to enthrone her once they assassinate the Queen (unnamed but resembling Victoria). The Commonwealth military plans to take over in the ensuing chaos, with the princess becoming a scapegoat: however, in a dramatic finale, the team thwarts them, with the military losing control of the Commonwealth's espionage services.

This is a Steampunk London: with giant steam-powered Machines, traversable ventilation shafts, beastly relatives and big hats – though female attire does not always reflect Victorian mores. Cavorite-based Inventions are used to reduce the girls' weight, enabling them to levitate and perform elaborate gymnastics. Princess Principal is an entertaining Anime (though the English dub's accents are over-ripe), not glossing over the poverty of the Victorian era nor simplistically painting the Commonwealth as the good side. A six-part film sequel has been announced. [SP]

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