Otaku USA Magazine
Princess Principal [Review]

Spy game

In an England-inspired kingdom known as Albion, great unrest has been brewing since the early 20th century. Thanks to some strongly opposed actions by the King and the rest of the ruling class, a group calling themselves the London Revolution eventually attempted to overthrow the royal family. When resistance on both sides ended up reaching a draw, the great divide truly began. With a massive wall in place smack dab in the middle of London, Albion was officially split into the Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

That’s where Princess Charlotte and her group of spies come into play. While they pose as students at the Queen’s Mayfair School, they run dangerous espionage missions and attempt to assist a few would-be defectors on their way to the Commonwealth. This doesn’t always work out the way it should, and they must remain ever vigilant and mindful of double agents and other nefarious plots set up by those in power within the Kingdom. Lucky for them, their team of five is impressively adept at spy work and more than ready to kill whenever necessary.

In case you couldn’t tell by the brief overview, Princess Principal is about 10 times as interesting as its title suggests. I went in completely blind, half expecting an incredibly colorful moe show about a bratty high schooler. The actual show is a far cry from anything like that, indeed. It’s tough to go into too much detail regarding the overarching plot, partly because it’s told in a nonlinear fashion through a variety of cases, but mostly because it’s more interesting to follow the myriad twists and turns yourself. The core cast of characters each have their own unique quirks and skills, and the titular Princess is one of the most capable and calculating members. The truth regarding her royal role is first revealed in the second episode, but the history behind it takes a little longer to fully unravel.

Director Masaki Tachibana has an interesting résumé that lends itself well to something like Princess Principal. Shows like 2009’s Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and 2016’s Barakamon couldn’t be more different, but there’s a narrative complexity at play in Princess Principal that builds nicely off Tachibana’s past experience. Ichiro Okouchi (Code Geass, Planetes, Valvrave the Liberator) has arguably the most difficult job as series composition writer, though. There’s a fine line between presenting mystery in an intriguing and compelling way and creating something that’s convoluted for the sake of complexity. Okouchi’s screenplays dodge this problem with apparent ease. Sure, there are a few moments in Princess Principal that don’t quite click, and some of the revelations and twists aren’t as elegantly designed as others, but its method of storytelling is mostly a success.

In a summer 2017 season full of sequels and adaptations of manga and light novels, Princess Principal was one of a small handful of originals along with The Reflection, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, and a couple others of note. A few awkward CG-animated shots notwithstanding, Actas and Studio 3Hz did a nice job on this one. It’s a polished series full of political intrigue and some slick spy work, so be sure to add it to your queue if you haven’t already. For those of you in the United States, you’ll have to do your streaming through Amazon’s Anime Strike channel, while other regions can see if it’s on Sentai’s own service, HIDIVE. Even if the first installment doesn’t end up immediately grabbing you, it’s worth sticking with Princess Principal as the backstory unfolds in subsequent episodes.

Studio/company: Sentai Filmworks
available: Now (Anime Strike)
rating: TV-14

This story appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Anime USA Magazine. Click here to get a print copy.