First Impression – Princess Principal

Steampunk Spycraft!

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 This is a clear nod to Wells’ interpretation of the mechanisms surrounding counter-gravity; a now superseded theory.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.

…nesting dolls…

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?

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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!?!?


All around nerd that enjoys just about any anime genre. I love history, politics, public policy, the sciences, literature, arts...pretty much anything can make me geeky...except sports. Follow me @theskylion
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21 Responses to “First Impression – Princess Principal”

  1. Smiley says:

    PriPri has a certain charm to it. The espionage theme is intriguing, and I like that the steampunk setting isn’t over-the-top. This show has been a pleasant surprise so far!

    • skylion says:

      I agree. So much of steampunk just concentrates on steel plates and rivets and goggles and weird convoluted alternate histories. This one keeps it clear and elegant, and doesn’t fall down the trap of putting on to many details in one go. Glad to see that you’ve enjoyed it.

  2. Foshizzel says:

    Loving this series so far! Cool setting, characters and an interesting story well “stories” we really don’t know the real plot besides telling us backgrounds on how the spy team formed.

  3. Wanderer says:

    One of the best shows this season. Full of twists and turns and unexpected loops and deception layered on deception by some very clever girls.

    The twist with Ange and Princess changes almost everything. The two of them played everyone to get what they wanted, and suceeded with no one the wiser.

    This is really fun to watch.

    • skylion says:

      Soooooo much fun!

      I’m actually waiting to see when them getting what they wanted will come back and rear it’s ugly head. The Duke has to be out there, and he has to want to play the Great Game his way, and not be undermined by anyone.

  4. HannoX says:

    This and Made in Abyss are the two shows with the most interesting look to them this season. On top of that, both are promising to give us great stories.

  5. zztop says:

    Character designs by Kuroboshi Kouhaku, who designed the characters of Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda* and illustrated Kino’s Journey.

    *I think Metanorn covered this one before.

  6. BlackBriar says:

    Was not impressed solely by the art but watching the PV was what sparked the interest to check this out and it’s doing well so far two episodes in. What I particularly like is that it has a story that’s advancing and not being something that just has cute girls doing cute things. They have a purpose. I’m always up for steampunk shows if there’s one around but with the setting being an alternate version of London, it makes me think of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate because that game’s using the Victorian era London historical period at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. What concerns me most is that with the female spies being compulsive liars, especially Ange, it will be tricky trying to understand what’s true from what’s not.

    • skylion says:

      ..the only thing I would disagree with you with is that they’re not at all compulsive liars; which implies that they have no true purpose in telling fabrications.

      They’re engaged in the everyday business of spycraft, and as such they show has given us a delightful form of recreation when it comes to that sort of subterfuge. When Ange gave the scientist her opening line, she was testing him, and in truth she never stopped testing him.

      So, in that regard it’s all about trying to understand which is true and not true. I hope that doesn’t blunt your enjoyment.

  7. sonicsenryaku says:

    Ill tell you right now, princess principal has succeeded in entering my top 5 anime of this season with its first 2 eps. One of the things that i appreciate about this series storytelling is how forward-moving and relevant every moment in an episode is. Notice how this is one of the few anime that dont rely on inner-dialogue to provide exposition as to what characters are thinking (there was not one within the first two eps). That’s a welcome change of pace and is indicative of the show relying on its audience to interpret the action and behaviors of its cast members through their back and forth dialogue and visual cues; in other words, it wants its audience to pay attention to effective storytelling devices. I really like that and im looking forward to seeing if this show can keep up this quality throughout its entire run

  8. Namaewoinai says:

    Ya know i gonna had, A confession…

    Show ▼

    Now as for this…OK i see the script writer of the last year show is somehow doing gets right…well IMO, and i hope it’s works well hopefully, let’s see now, Spies, High School Girls, and it set on a Fictional Western Land ans sets on early to mid 20th century, hmm, kinda rare on this, But OK, I’am in for this and good luck for them… -(sigh)-

    Also, Yuki Kajiura…GASP oh oh…i think this musician is going to had a challenger, here is the hint…This shows musician, and he is not a local one!

    • skylion says:

      I did not think much of Kabaneri;It was a good looking show, that I most found plagued by style over substance.

      But he’s on a different vein here, so I’m hoping it looks better in the long term.

      • BlackBriar says:

        Style over substance for Kabaneri? Pfft, that description is way more fitting for Attack on Titan. Looking at both seasons, that’s all it really has going for it.

        • ProtoSovereign says:

          Well kabenari tried but their story fell flat for a lot of people expecting better (me included). On the other hand everyone can agree that its style was quite on point.

          That said I’m definitely excited to see what they plan for the next season of it. I hope they improve from their previous mistakes, and at this point they can take the story just about anywhere.

          I’d say Kabeneri had more lost potential than Attack on Titan though since in Attack on titan they actually explained a lot of the things they needed to. Kabeneri seemed to be hinting at a lot of stuff with the alternate world history and society but just ended up being about fighting gigantic monsters looking ‘cool’ (the kabeneri fusion monster ep was probably when I really gave up on the plot)

          • BlackBriar says:

            Titan’s fatal flaw is that it’s too much in love with flashy cinematics (drawn out over-the-top action scenes and excessive deaths of forgettable extras) to bother itself with actually making a story, an actual narrative. That’s exactly why it’s stagnating as a whole.

            Here’s how the first season went with its 25 episodes:

            1 opening episode, 3 training episodes, and things started hitting the fan with the “Defense of Trost” arc (eps 5-13) that took 9 episodes just to seal a breach in the wall with a boulder. The only 3 rare “breather” episodes were used to contemplate Eren’s fate after his reveal as a Titan shifter. Then it’s back to the mayhem with the remaining 9 episodes on the whole Female Titan affair. A matter that made the series deviate from an announced and apparently critical plot point that even after the end of the second season, it has absolutely no progression at all. Which was solely my reason for following the second season. So not only did I get screwed over not once but twice, the absence of that plot point’s progression made the revealed identities of the Armored Titan and Colossal Titan look like elaborate distractions instead of highlights.

            There are differences between the two. Titan is the equivalent of every dime a dozen concept excessively promoting humanity and so predictable it’s ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Pretty much Michael Bay-esque routine, minus all the explosions.

            Whereas Kabaneri is more zombie survival, exploiting opportunities of showing who people really are under duress. An article I came across some time ago said was the equivalent of that series, “The Walking Dead” with humans turning out to be more a problem than their undead counterparts. I’ve never seen that series but I have played “The Last of Us” to get a rough idea and more than three quarters of the human presence were bastards given the environment, outweighing the grief from their undead counterparts.

            Attack on Titan is much more of a “water cooler” show, though. Which means that there are plenty of people who are watching it just to keep up with social media conversations, rather than watching it because they actually like it. They don’t want to feel or actually be left out.

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