|I’ve been a fan of the steampunk since I was a child growing up in the 1970s. In just a few months time I had devoured both the book and the 1954 film version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Now, to be certain, that term had not been coined at the time, but that work of speculative fiction has always own personal first seed of interest in this wonderful space. But It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the genre which celebrated the fin de siècle of the 19th would come into it’s own. Since then, it’s been a lovely time to be a fan, and by the looks of these two impressive episodes, we have one more fine example of the cross pollination of two favorite bits from my own personal pop culture experience.|
But this one isn’t borrowing so much from Verne, as it’s principally liberating cavorite from a novel of that other steampunk grand-père, H.G. Wells -specifically, The First Men in the Moon, But where that story took us to to space, this show keeps us grounded on the elevated streets of steampunk London. But isn’t that green stuff cool? I love how they insert that one tiny cut-in where Ange has to store her brass manipulation device into a canister of what looks like cooling liquid. This is a clear nod to Wells’ interpretation of the mechanisms surrounding counter-gravity; a now superseded theory. That particular hallmark of the genre lead us to yet one more idea that has become firmly nestled into steampunk, and that is alternate history. With the discovery of and the industrial age use of cavorite, the Kingdom of Albion was able to establish a fiendish air superiority.
The airships of Victorian England mean you’ve gone into another rabbit hole
While we don’t know all the particulars of this new history, or what exactly lead to the formation of the Commonwealth (I could guess, as that actually has some real historical precedent) we do know that there is a schism in royal leadership and loyalty, and we do know that this schism leads to that other steampunk hallmark, the division between the great and the good and the teeming masses. By taking that firmly into account, as they show us in the first episode, we have one final steampunk convention, and that is the struggle of those that defend both sides. I’m very impressed that PriPri really does the groundwork of establishing all of these genre bonafides, it’s not just a cool look. The brass, steam, Victorian accoutrements, and the other aesthetic choices remain, and they are just the best icing on an already very delicious cake.
All in all a decent variation on school life
It’s with that icing in mind that show seems rather familiar in it’s appearance, and I have to chalk that up to character designers and animation directors Akiya Yukie and Nishio Kimitake. The character’s moe looks are very strongly reminiscent of one of my favorite and past blogged shows, Sora No Method. But there is quite a bit going on in the action department and that comes from Regalia: The Three Stars. So if you’ve seen even a bit of those shows, that might be why it looks familiar. Princess Principal has clearly displayed incredibly strong visual work and you can see it in nearly every frame. The Victorian Alternate aesthetic is the layer above some very solid pieces of character movement and direction; and I love the costumes to death! The action has an incredibly fast pace, with automobiles and bodies flying around like mad, but none of it feels at all convoluted or overstuffed – like so many action scenes these days. Having said that, some of it is pretty wonky in how it can defy physics in so many ways. But I’m going to credit the awesome and weird power of alternate history super-science, and just enjoy some of the show’s action sequences to their fullest. If anything comes close to a complaint, it’s that I feel that sometimes the animation renders the backgrounds elements in very generic molds. It made the chase scenes in the first episode feel a bit empty as a result, like it was off the shelf and computerized and not a bespoke work.
So, it’s almost like The Great Mouse Detective?
But where the show really stack up is in characterization. We have a very bright and well written cast. I find it quite remarkable that it only took a half an episode to unleash them from their initial first scene tropes. Both Ange and “Princess” are absolutely wonderful leads. Each one has an agenda nested inside another agenda inside yet another. With Ange liberally peppering her story with obvious lies and trickery, she’s able to sneak so much past everyone’s warning systems. But maybe Princess’ character will have to wait? She’s another kind of deception, I’m sure of it. Putting them both together, the feeling from these first two episodes (and from some hints in the OP?) is that these two have a shared past that neither one is willing to share just yet. But it’s one that is steeped like a boiled tea in tragedy, but perhaps there is some mutual respect and love.
But it doesn’t end with the two “principals” as both forever 17 operative Dorothy and Chise engage in a war of pretty lies between themselves on at least two occasions. As spies like the two they support, they continually do their homework with each other, keeping their wits and observational senses sharp and at the ready. The first episode’s dealings show that all of them can play one game while keeping another game secret, and the show looks like it’s willing to do the same with the audience. The only person who’s out of the loop in that regard is Beatrice, she’s unassuming and in the background keeping to her servants duties, which means we need to keep a sharp eye on her shrinking violet act! But the characters are so well used. Throughout the show all of them kept me fascinated with all the competing ideas; the poor little sister and her cavorite poisoning, and her eyes and how much the look like Ange’s gadget, all while downplaying both the insurance angle and how much Ange kept her own eyes on the prospective refugee-scientist’s hidden agenda. In the end, it was over with one final shot.
Ange literally bought something to use later, I’m willing to bet that…
Then there was the second episode! We go back the beginning of the nakama, an old narrative trick of showing us where it all came from. Which only makes me wonder who’s telling this story and how much of it is true. Who’s from the Black Lizard Planet or the Blue? I loved watching Dorothy getting her “charge” into place only to have Ange take over. I love watching the Princess reveal one secret only to keep another in check for the last moment. I love Beatrice constantly reminding them of the proper way of doing things. I love the constant cutting back and forth from the ball to Commonwealth control, making deals, keeping their operatives in play. I love the reveal that brought more of Ange to the surface as it fitted in one more puzzle piece about her past. It makes me wonder if Princess herself has a similar past and similar agendas. This was some well heeled stuff and they had it down to as weird and wonderful science all their own. The writer of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress only needed the director of Barakamon to make a great story come to life.
Did I do that?
This and Made in Abyss are just my two favorite shows to come along in quite some time. It’s a shame that I won’t be pulling regular coverage for either of them, but it’s time I sit back and just enjoy watching for a change. I’ll be marvelling at what these two princesses are going to get up to each week. You should seriously watch this show, lots of stuff that had so much potential from the past is coming to fruition. From the 13th case to the 1st, what will come next?
Did I mention Kaijura Yuki does the music!?!?