“Sometimes, a lie will become a truth in the telling.”
Studio 3Hz gained quite a name for itself as well as a loyal following after last years arthouse adventure Flip Flappers, and this year, it’s returning with a show that masters the style and smooth classiness of old-school steampunk and mixes it with an episodic spy-centric storyline. Welcome to Princess Principal.
The show centers around it’s titular spies, the stoic and compulsive liar Ange, the smug and rather gothic Chise, the always energetic yet inconspicuous Beatrice, the charismatic and verbally assertive Dorothy, and finally the enigmatic yet strangely mysterious Princess.
The characters all have distinct and fascinating personalities, especially Ange, who is cold, calculating yet never predictable and always surprising. Her stigma about lies and deceit lends well to the show’s narrative, as it plays with the audience’s expectations and always results in things never being as they seem. This makes for constantly twisting episodic narratives that feel complete and concrete.
The setting of the show is a strikingly detailed steampunk-ed London, which has all the workings of a functioning and believable world. It pulls no punches about it’s dirty and dusty rawness, from the actions performed by the main and supporting cast, as well as by the moving parts of the story itself, which all weave together solidly and have no moments of either narrative downtime or of inconsequential scenes.
The fact that it’s original also lends itself to the medium of animation rather well. Adaptations from manga or light novels have vastly different pacing, mostly revolving around the reader’s own speed while reading, but here, the story it feels properly condensed into the entire episode.
The fight sequences (aside from feeling frenetic yet always lighthearted, sort of like Lupin III) have interesting connotations to them, from regular gunfights in corridors, to car chases with gravitational components to them, to many more. They’re always different, always fun, and never feel interrupted by it’s dialogue and witty banter.
Another aspect that I’ve come across is the vast amount of fan theorizing that’s been going on even after just the first episode. The 1st episode’s story (while being rather uncomplicated in the grand scheme of things) is packed with little tidbits of potential secrets for the future, and knowing that the show is heavily steeped in lies, it’s not difficult to get carried away with predictions, and that also makes for fascinating conversation, especially in 4chan’s /a/ board, where watchers have already made character evolutions, revelations and more that all have solid backing and just increase the interest in the show ten-fold.
Researching the show’s staff, we get some very concrete ideas as to what this show might be about. Let’s take a look:
- Director: Masaki Tachibana, most known as director of .hack//Quantom, Barakamon, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, as well as storyboard for Evangelion 2.0, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (and 2nd GIG), and Noir.
- Script and Series Composition: Ichiro Okouchi, known as as scriptwriter and series composer for Azumanga Daioh, Code Geass (and R2), Kakumeiki Valvrave (and Season 2), Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Planetes, and Turn A Gundam.
- Art Director: Nobutaka Ike, most famous as art director for Paprika and Perfect Blue.
- Music: Yuki Kajiura, who’s a legend in the medium and famous for the soundtracks and/or theme songs of the .hack franchise, Aldnoah.Zero, Arslan Senki, Baccano!, Boku dake ga Inai Machi, Chrno Crusade, Portrait le Petit Cossette, Fate/Zero (and 2nd Season), Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (and 2nd Season), the Kara no Kyoukai films, Kuroshitsuji (and II), Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Mai-HiME, So Ra No Wo To, and Sword Art Online (and II).
From these staff members (except perhaps Yuki Kajiura, seeing as her music, while excellent, doesn’t affect the story at all), it’s easy to determine the nature of this show and what it will try to be, and from the first episode, the signs are all there.
It’s a half action, half spy story, with moments of violence being preceded with secret plans and political manipulation, with massive twists coming in at the show’s climax upending everything we know about the show. These are all traits found in shows like the extremely frenetic and insane Code Geass, as well as the complexity and nuanced narrative of GITS, mixed with the excellent action choreography and visual style and flair that Kabaneri has. The art direction and backgrounds are all impressively realistic and detailed, and the design of the steampunk world itself is very concrete, but the show still lends itself to moments of interspersed warping and vastly “out-there” scenes, like the opening of PriPri as well as in certain scenes in Paprika. The show might be told in a non-linear way, seeing as episode one was labeled “Case #13”, and might either skip cases entirely or regress back in time to the forming of the team of spies.
It’s all very viable as of right now and up for debate, but this show is definitely one to check out. It’s not difficult to understand if you’re paying attention, but it does require some more inquiry and attentiveness from the viewers in order to be fully grasped.
P.S.: Don’t believe her lies.