“Workers of Albion, unite!”
- Episodes : 12
- Genre : Action, Mystery
- Airing Date : July 2017 - September 2017
- Producers : Actas, Studio 3Hz
Princess Principal Introduction and Story (Spoilers)
It is the turn of the 20th century. The Kingdom of Albion’s new royal air force, commonly known as the Air Fleet, has created a dramatic shift in the balance of global power. With its monopoly of Cavorite, and the Air Fleet at its command, the Kingdom of Albion became the greatest world power since the Roman Empire. However, revolution split the kingdom into East and West, with the London Wall separating the Kingdom of Albion from the Commonwealth of Albion. Ten years later, London became the front-line of a secret war fought between nations’ spies. At the heart of the story is Queens Mayfair School where a group of 5 high school girls involved in espionage, infiltration, sabotage, and deceit. “We are spies, creatures who live by lying.”
After a brief narration of the anime’s setting, the show starts off with a masked girl, a spy, looking from atop a tall structure for her target. This girl is no ordinary maiden as she dropped off the structure with no injuries and wields a strange device that lets her defy gravity. As she made contact with her target, a defector who knows too much, they are being chased by a group of unknown people. With the help of other spies -- one is skilled at driving and one is skilled with a sword, they flee through the murky streets of Victorian-era steampunk London, evading their pursuers.
The defector was then taken to Queens Mayfair School, a prestigious school where members of the royal family and nobles study. The girls then identify themselves as spies working undercover called the Principal Team. Ange, the main character, is a skilled spy with the power to manipulate gravity. Dorothy, the femme fatale leader of the team, Chise, an assassin from Japan. Beatrice, an innocent-looking girl, but with the ability to mimic the voices of everyone she hears. And Charlotte, the princess of the Kingdom of Albion.
Princess Principal fully sets its tone when the girls learn more about the defector’s true motives through deception, playing mind games and infiltration of a hospital where the defector’s sickly young sister was admitted. After the episode ends, we were greeted with the complete Principal Team doing what they do best as they outwit and eliminate their targets with precision and finesse. And it gave the viewers a few questions that will be later answered. What are the true motives of the Principal Team? Do they work for the Commonwealth of Albion? If this is so, then why is the princess of the Kingdom of Albion siding with the spies? And what is this Operation Changeling?
What We Liked about Princess Principal
Princess Principal is a mystery anime that is set in a steampunk world with levitating ships, steam-powered cars, and various machinery. The level of fantasy is very much grounded so the resolution of each case and story progression is within the realm of realism. No magic plot twist or any bizarre deus ex machina scenarios to be found. While the main plot involves are espionage and calm before the storm of the upcoming revolution against the oppressive of the Kingdom of Albion, the meat of the story is focused on the character development of each spy, how they became spies, and what are their motives.
In the second episode, we discovered the spy Ange are childhood friends with Charlotte, the princess of the Kingdom of Albion. Both made a promise to bring change to the kingdom. In the following episodes, we are given the backstory of Chise, how she arrived in London from Japan and how she ended up being part of the Principal Team. We get to see Dorothy’s upbringing and her struggle against an abusive father, and we get to learn the story of Beatrice and how she got the ability to copy voices. Their stories are both well-written and some are very unexpected, especially the upbringing of Charlotte.
A good story is meaningless without good characters to breathe life into its world. And Princess Principal, for the most part, delivers with a very strong female main cast. As we learn more of the characters, the more we see what London is like, and learn more about the people populating its streets.
Princess Principal’s focus character development and then world-building are the main discussion points. Each episode focuses on one case be it infiltrating a warship or ratting out double agents while focusing on developing one or two characters. Episode 1, or case 13 is like a teaser of what to expect of Princess Principal featuring all of the main protagonist doing their thing. On episode 2 or case 1, we’re back to basics and we see how things are slowly pieced together. We see how Ange entered the school undercover and reunited with her childhood friend and princess of the Kingdom of Albion Charlotte. Certain episodes will skip ahead and see certain characters on the team and on the following episode, we see that same character getting recruited.
As each passing episode, we glimpse on what Albion is like, its people, its government and secret organizations defending or dismantling the kingdom. We get to see key locations like the London Wall separating the kingdom from the rest of the world, and serve as a backdrop for the upcoming final conflict. We get to see a few flashbacks on the Revolution that caused the split of Albion and a key event for Ange becoming a spy.
1.) Well Fleshed-Out Main Characters
Ange and her Black Lizard Planet antics, Dorothy’s mature personality and insecurity as an adult posing as a teenager, Beatrice’s (over) admiration towards the princess, Chise’s experience and how she adapts to a foreign land and culture, and Charlotte’s addicting enthusiasm and her desire for a better Albion are all fun and interesting to watch. Each girl has unique personalities so they don’t blend with the rest and you can’t help but love and support them in their objectives as spies. And for those with an eye for Yuri, you’ll find a handful of them when watching Ange and Charlotte together.
2.) Intriguing Stories
Each episode contains self-contained stories involving Ange and the gang sabotage, steal information, or locate their targets. In some episodes, one of their targets are people they know in the past and it challenges their resolve to see their objective completed. And in order for them to that, they pose as maids, commoners, nurses, students to get past security and be near their targets. Ange is the most enthusiastic when it comes to disguising as she changes her personality from a stuttering klutz to a bitchy tomboy.
3.) Very High Production Values
Princess Principal is one good-looking anime with detailed backgrounds, well-animated movements, and attractive character designs. Art style remained consistent throughout and there’s not one episode the characters look all weird or badly drawn. And this consistency helped with the immersion of the murky and steamy city of London.
1.) Missing Episodes Leading to Fragmented Stories
As we progressed through the episodes, we then notice Princess Principal’s episodes are out of order and are represented as case numbers. Episode 1 is case 13, episode 2 is case 1, episode 3 is case 2, episode 4 is case 9, and so on. The random order of the episodes may be confusing at first, but thankfully, each story is self-contained so you won’t see an episode that is heavily referencing an event of an upcoming story.
However, the random order can be problematic because how they are structured. For one, the anime ends at case 24. This is a problem because the anime is only 12 episodes long and it skipped 12 episodes. Princess Principal is sequel-baiting by airing the remaining episodes in season 2. Now, this is not a bad thing in practice, especially if you plan to marathon seasons 1-2, but since Princess Principal is so character and story-focused, and season 2 is not out yet, you can’t help but notice the many gaping holes surrounding the anime.
2.) Lack of Motives and Elements
There are certain figureheads of the Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Albion, but we don’t get to see them much or know their motives. Without the proper episodes being shown to the viewers, these characters ended up being one-dimensional and uninteresting. The other parts were the exclusion of the background story of the element Cavorite and its properties to defy gravity. How are they made? Where do they come from?
There is one episode about the Commonwealth getting this precious element used in the Kingdom’s massive air fleet, but nothing much else was fleshed-out, especially how Ange got a hold of it in the form of a compact device called the C-Ball. But the worst part is the main villain of the anime. They briefly appeared in certain episodes and they’re so underdeveloped compared to the protagonists, you won’t see them as relatable nor understand their motives.
Princess Principal is an interesting series about spies fighting against an entire nation that is all set in steampunk Victorian-era London. The art and animation are beautiful and consistent, the main characters are superbly fleshed-out and the main plot has some interesting twists and turns that you’ll keep on wondering.
It’s certainly not perfect with its odd decision to sequel-bait the series by arranging the episodes out of order and saving the rest for season 2. But if you don’t mind the missing episodes because you’re gonna watch season 2 anyways, Princess Principal is recommended to anyone looking for mystery, steampunk and cute girls in goth dresses.