First Look: Princess Principal

Anime original by Studio 3Hz & Actas
Streaming on HIDIVE

Premise

In an alternate world, turn-of-the-century London is separated by a massive wall, designating which side belongs to the Kingdom, and which to the Commonwealth. A bunch of cute girls attend a boarding school in the Kingdom as a cover for their lives as spies for the Commonwealth.

Iro’s verdict: What if we put underage girls in?

This feels like a show where someone really wanted to do an alternate world spy thriller, but couldn’t get approval from anyone until they decided to make it about cute schoolgirls. They’re completely opposed to the rest of the aesthetic, and while it occasionally works for sheer shock value – the scene near the end where they just gun down the defector stands out – there’s no reason Princess Principal couldn’t have starred adult women at the very least. The rest of it from a production standpoint is quite good (although Yuki Kaijura’s usual chanting stuff popping up in the middle of a jazz riff made me burst out laughing), but there also isn’t that much substance here. I’m fine with low-commitment episodic spy adventures as long as there’s something to really keep me interested, and high-pitched little girls definitely aren’t enough for that.

Artemis’ verdict: Tolerable Doesn’t Mean Good

I had a dream last week that Princess Principal was the undisputed best show of the season and I was all like, “See? I told you guys.” Thankfully, I told people no such thing. Don’t get me wrong, Princess Principal definitely isn’t the worst new anime out this season, but it’s a long way from being the best (and it’s quite a ways out from being just good, too). It doesn’t take a whole lot to impress me with spy and assassin stories, either – give me some slick action and an even halfway decent storyline à la La Femme Nikita (the 90s TV series that is), and I’m so there. Plus, as potentially awful as Princess Principal sounds on paper, I thought it could end up similar in tone and story to, say Gunslinger Girl (which also sounds creepy as hell but is actually pretty damn good) or Requiem for the Phantom.

However, I will readily admit that dressing characters up in goth loli outfits (which also just so happen to be their school uniforms, OH JAPAN) doesn’t generally spell class and intelligence. Neither does a story that’s much too dumb to take seriously but seems to want me to do so anyway. Granted, it’s not all bad; the camera doesn’t leer over this cast of teen and prepubescent-looking cast of girls anywhere near as much as it might have, and there are one or two legitimately okay scenes here, particularly in the final couple of minutes. The background music, courtesy of composer Kajiura Yuki, is also unsurprisingly good. These things do little to elevate Princess Principal as a whole though. I know we all have some pretty low standards given what we sometimes have to watch for these First Look posts, but let’s not allow those to convince us we’re watching a work of art when actually, something is merely tolerable.

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