In an alternate reality where England is the Kingdom of Albion and has undergone a revolution that split the country, a group of five girls act as spies gunning to put the country back together.
After the revolution a large wall was built formally separating the country into the Kingdom of Albion and the Commonwealth. Families and friends have been separated but life manages to continue for Ange who has become a spy for the Commonwealth. As one of the main members of Operation Changeling, Ange’s goal is to replace Princess Charlotte and become an insider in the royal family. Instead, the Princess figures out the spies plan and offers a proposal: help her become queen and she’ll work as a spy for the Commonwealth.
The story takes off from here as we see the girls during various spy missions. Each girl is a different archetype; we’ve definitely all seen characters like this before. Ange is the super obvious spy, who speaks in lies and takes her job way too seriously. Her partner Dorothy is the type of spy who uses her womanly charms to get the mission done and likes to drink. Princess Charlotte is a dignified girl who ends up being a worthy team member since she can get the group into off limit places. Charlotte’s friend and aide, Beatrice, ends up working as a spy to protect the princess from harm. And the last member of the group is Chise, an exchange student from Japan whose initial job was to help her country determine who to side with, the Kingdom or the Commonwealth.
Even considering we’ve seen characters like this before, Princess Principal sets out to do something a little different than I’ve personally ever watched. Told in a nonlinear format, Princess Principal scrambles the major plot events and leaves the reader to sort out the meaning and connect each little piece of the narrative puzzle. This inevitably leaves at least some of the viewer base (me included) struggling to remember various aspects of each episode. It’s almost like listening to your grandma or grandpa telling a story. They’ll tell it however they want, even if that means telling you the end in the middle, and all relevant details out of order. But even with the mild confusion this method left, the world and action happening each episode is gripping and kept me coming back for more each week. For every question I found myself asking, I also got to experience the show taking its own time to answer them.
The spy theme also helped set Princess Principal apart from other shows. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a spy themed anime, at least not off the top of my head. I can think of plenty of spy movies in American and British culture (I can’t think of spies without thinking of Austin Powers darn it) but for all the anime I’ve seen, the only other spy based work I can think off without looking it up is Joker Game (and I couldn’t get past two episodes of the show).
But I’ll be honest, even a good show has some drawbacks. One problem I has was honestly the world building. The world in Princess Principal is unique. The show takes steps to create a world similar to ours but with notable changes. England is now a different country that suffers from internal struggles, we have clear Victorian era clothing, but we also have cars and planes and other more modern amenities. While these changes needs no real explanation beyond the introduction, one thing does: cavorite. Cavorite is a mysterious substance that the Kingdom of Albion harvested and used to create a massive air fleet and secure their power in the world. Ange uses a cavorite ball to manipulate gravity during her missions. But cavorite itself is barely ever mentioned outside of an opening scene and Ange’s use. Once we get mention of cavorite illness, contracted by those who mine the substance, but otherwise the series shies away from one of the most interesting aspects of the world. It would have been nice to see them explore how cavorite mining affected the world and country.
I’m also going to find fault with the last few episodes of the series. As nail-biting as they were, I didn’t like the narrative. I just found it very hard to follow. Until this point I hadn’t had too many troubles keeping up with the spy based parts of the show and if I did have trouble is was because of my memory more often than not. However during the last few episodes things just moved way too fast and with so little explanation I found it rather difficult to fully enjoy. This is of course a mild complaint but something I felt needed to be said.
Overall, Princess Principal ended up being a very creative and enjoyable watch. It had excellent art, a unique story and presentation, as well as a nice group of characters to watch. That’s why I’m giving Princess Principal a rating of worth watching.
Rating Scale: Worth Watching – very creative, fun steampunk theme, and legit spy action