Princess Knight, by Osamu Tezuka (1953-6) E

Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 2.28.2012
Book from: Personal collection, via Vertical, Inc.

(Yeah, the cover design is pretty punishingly cute. And also, classy! Oh Vertical, you know how to win my heart.)

The friend who egged me on in my desire to read this series, which has the proud distinction of siring the “princely girl” anime subgenre (i.e. Rose of Versailles, Revolutionary Girl Utena), described it as “nonstop shoujo bullshit.” Honestly, I can’t add much more to that than “but there’s lots of wacky gender stuff, too!!”

Adapted from the cover blurb:

“A mischief-making angel’s prank goes too far when the newborn princess of Silverland ends up with two hearts — one male and one female. Since the laws of Silverland only allow a male heir to ascend the throne, Princess Sapphire is raised as a prince. Princess Knight is the fast-paced tale of a heroic princess who can beat any man at fencing, yet is delicate and graceful enough to catch the eye of Prince Charming. Filled with narrow escapes, treacherous courtiers, dashing pirates, meddlesome witches, magical transformations and cinema-worthy displays of derring-do, you’ll be swept right along as Sapphire tackles one challenge after another.”

“One challenge after another” is only too right: the plot twists (potions, prisons, a desirous island queen, hellish pacts, Swan Lake references, etc. etc.) are addictive to a point, but past that point get exhaustingly frenetic. My patience was also tried by the fact that Sapphire is actually pretty dull. Apart from intermittent feats of gallantry, she doesn’t accomplish much other than throwing herself into defeatist fits of tears and mooning with disturbing passivity over her square-jawed and also dull main squeeze, Prince Franz. It comes as a relief to those of us rooting for a pluckier hero/ine that Tezuka has Sapphire close out her gender-bending with a bang: even though she ultimately prefers traditional femininity (she declares her desire to just get married in a dress, please), she’s still up for a swordfight even after her “boy heart” has been revoked.

One more photo and further thoughts on characters and gender after the cut:

Incontestably the coolest characters in the series are the tricksters: Hecate, the witch’s rebellious daughter (so much love for her massive blonde side-ponytail and cigarette pants), and Captain Blood, a hawknosed pirate with a secret in his past. Hecate’s narrative has the most provocative gender angle to it, too: her micromanaging mother, who pursues Sapphire over the course of numerous chapters, declares of Hecate, “She’s nothing but trouble. I wanted her to be gentle and feminine… which is why I brought you [Sapphire] here. If I give your girl heart to her, she’ll be a noble, lovely and graceful princess, just like you! How glorious!” To which Hecate says: “Boo! If that happens, I won’t be able to ride brooms, play tag with bats, or kill toads anymore! How stultifyingly dull!” Down with policing of gender norms, indeed.

Sadly, both Hecate and Blood [SPOILERS; highlight to view] end up dead, presumably because otherwise they’d be awkward loose ends marring Sapphire and Franz’s “marriage solves everything tra la la” narrative resolution. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE YOU TRYING TO SEND HERE, TEZUKA? “Being fun and single kills,” apparently. Verily, I was most disgruntled.

All complaints aside, Vertical’s production values can’t be faulted: clearly I’m a fan of the packaging, and the translation is snappy and witty, down to rhyming verse for scenes conducted in song. At the end of the day, the series’ manic cheeriness and drama, rendered in Tezuka’s elastic style, are infectious, and I do love it simply for playing so openly and madly with gender. Check out Princess Knight if you like screwball fairy tales rife with swordplay, mischief, and mistaken identities.

Go to:
Osamu Tezuka: bio and works reviewed
MW, by Osamu Tezuka (1976-1978): review by Emera

5 thoughts on “Princess Knight, by Osamu Tezuka (1953-6) E”

  1. So, basically, Utena-esque? Unfortunately despite all the flashing red warning signals I’m pretty much sold on wanting to borrow it because of Tezuka + shoujobullshit.

    Thank you that was most entertaining!

  2. Despite all my griping I don’t regret having read it for an instant. This is some HIGH-QUALITY CRACK, my friend.

    I’m putting it on your borrowing-pile!

  3. Ah! I don’t know how I feel about how Sapphire has to be… a ‘girl’? I don’t know. It seemed weird that as soon as she lost her boy heart she couldn’t sword fight and stuff and I would have totally prefered if she got together with Blood. Oh well!

    1. I was very disappointed that everyone seemed to take it for granted in the end that of course Sapphire’s boy heart would get taken back. And Tezuka didn’t seem particularly interested in treating the girl/boy heart system consistently, since in Vol. 1 she’s rendered weak and wibbly by the theft of her boy heart, but does fine in a fight without it again at the end of Vol. 2. Maybe this was supposed to indicate the growth of her confidence, outside of what the gendered heart conferred on her? It smelled more of narrative convenience to me. But I suppose one could make an argument that Tezuka was trying to show that women can be confident and more than capable “even” in the absence of explicitly masculine attributes, which is a fine message to be sending. (Backed up, I suppose, by both Hecate and Thisbe, who only have girl hearts but act as boldly as they please.)

      The “she’s really a girl” resolution was especially disappointing, though, given that tantalizing moment early in the story where Tink asks Sapphire if she feels more like a boy or a girl, and she smiles mysteriously but never fully answers.

      And yeah, Blood/Sapphire forever.

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