[REVIEW | MANGA] PRINCESS KNIGHT by Osamu Tezuka

blog_pk_reviewTitle: Princess Knight
Author/Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Volume(s): 1 & 2
Publisher: Vertical, Inc.
Price: $13.95 (each volume)
ISBN:
Part 1 – 978-1-935654-25-4
Part 2 – 978-1-935654-31-5
Purchase:
Part 1 – Amazon | RightStuf | Book Depository | B&N | BaM | Kinokuniya | Random House
Part 2 – Amazon | RightStuf | Book Depository | B&N | BAM | Kinokuniya | Random House
My Rating: Moderately Good – lovely artwork, a good story, and an interesting concept; story interesting enough to read again, but not interesting enough to consider a favourite.

Recommendation: Fans of Classic Manga, Manga Fans, people interested in gender issues
Summary: Sapphire was born with two hearts — a “girl heart” and a “boy heart”. Since she was born, she was raised as a prince, due to a law forbidding women from ruling the kingdom. As much as Sapphire is fine with being a prince, she also wants to be princess. She does her very best to hide her female identity from her corrupt uncle, who would do anything to take over the kingdom and give it to his idiotic son. She disguises herself for a festival one year and meets a handsome prince by the name of Franz Charming and the two fall in love, but she must hide her identity as the prince of her kingdom.

Review:
Osamu Tezuka is, more often than not, considered the “grandfather of manga”. He’s published so many classics, some so classic that they’ve reached far beyond Japan. He’s the creator of Astro Boy, which I’m sure at least some non-manga reading/non-anime watching Americans have heard of. He’s the creator of Kimba, which I fond memories of seeing a preview of the anime adaption at the end of every Pokémon VHS I ever watched.

He’s also the creator of Princess Knight, a manga series that I understand is another classic of his. It’s one of the titles I see pop up over and over when I see anything about him.

I personally hadn’t read any of Osamu Tezuka’s other manga series before, nor have I watched any anime adaptions of them, so I went ahead and picked up these two volumes of Princess Knight at Kinokuniya sometime last year. I didn’t really know anything about it, other than it was by Osamu Tezuka, it seemed to be a classic, and I really, really like the title.

Plot/Story – The story is essentially a typical fairytale — a princess falling in love with a prince from a neighboring kingdom, a corrupt family member, demons — with the atypical focus on gender. This is primarily a good thing, for it takes something clichéd and adds flare to it…by focusing on even more clichés. The cliché-on-cliché turns it into a somewhat unique read.

I really enjoyed the first volume and about half the second volume, where all the main characters were introduced — Prince(ss) Sapphire, Tink, Prince Franz Charming, Duke Duralumin, Madame Hell, Hecate, and Blood.

The latter half of the second volume began to fall short with me with the introduction to the goddess Venus, who became entranced with Prince Franz and selfishly tried to make him hers. It got to the point where I couldn’t do anything but roll my eyes. It was utterly ridiculous. Venus made my head spin with her blatant selfishness — definitely not something I would expect from a goddess of love.

A lot of the second half of volume two felt like it was just created to fill page space. It seemed rather tacked on at the last minute and just dragged out the story further. I mean, okay, yes, I get that Sapphire died and Franz went into Venus’s garden and the idea of him getting out there without some sort of conflict would have felt too flimsy. However, the execution of the Venus conflict just felt far too forced and boring at times. It should have been much shorter.

Regardless of the latter half of the second volume, the storyline is still really good. It even ends on a really touching note from the mischievous angle, Tink, that’s largely reminiscent of Disney movies.

Dialogue – I’m not quite sure if it’s the fault of the translation and editing or not, but I didn’t really like the dialogue. A lot of times, I felt pulled out of the story because the way the characters spoke were generally too bland and failed to work well with the setting. Most characters failed to reflect their personality in the way the way their dialogue was written, which was quite unfortunate. Even when a character’s personality ends up being shown via dialogue, it’s usually dimmed by another piece that lacks it.

I was also thrown out of the world a couple times with the use of certain words, particularly when they used words like “hell” and “bastard” people speaking when they weren’t either Madame Hell or a pirate.

I’m not sure if this is the fault of the original dialogue or the fault of the translators/editors of the English edition. I would have to see the original Japanese version for myself to see which one is the issue.

Characters – The characters in this manga aren’t particularly unique — which is probably obvious as the entire series is essentially a fairytale — but doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the book. Each character, no matter how clichéd they are, are well executed. Franz Charming is a gallant prince with a knack for fun. Blood is a pirate with a good heart. Madame Hell is a mother with good intentions. Duke Duralumin is a villain who wanted to take over the kingdom. Tink is a mischievous angel hoping to redeem himself.

Sapphire, Hecate, and Venus were easily the most unique characters out of them all.

Sapphire is perhaps the most obvious, simply from her having both a boy heart and a girl heart. This makes her brash, at the same time as fragile. She can take on a thousand men and joke around with the boys, yet she can dress up all pretty and get shy around a boy she likes. I love too how her personality changes when she only has one heart. The boy heart spats at the idea of herself being in love with a prince, while her girl heart feels faint when in battle.

Hecate, who is easily my favourite character in the book, is the daughter of a demon (Madame Hell) who is…nice.

…okay.

So, maybe that’s not particularly unique.

But still.

Hecate’s easily my favourite simply because she IS nice. Her mother constantly is trying to steal Sapphire’s girl heart to make her daughter more graceful, but the tomboyish Hecate doesn’t want it. She has no interest in becoming more graceful and feminine. She has no interest in marrying a prince. She’s fine with being herself and, quite frankly, that’s awesome! I can’t help but love the numerous times she helps out Sapphire and Franz, as well as returns Sapphire’s heart several times!

Then there’s Venus.

Generally, when I think the “goddess of love”, I think she would be very kind and graceful.

Right away though, you can tell that Venus is far more conniving than she’s letting on to Prince Franz. Eros, her horse, warned Franz of Venus’s inherit selfishness, and BOY, was Eros right! (Side Note: I really enjoyed Eros too! Eros was AWESOME! They were super kind, friendly, and wanted to help out.) Venus is persistent and conniving, doing everything she can to have Prince Franz for herself. She’s more of the goddess of jealousy in this story than of love. I couldn’t but cringe whenever she came onto the page because I just knew she was about to do something stupid to try and “win” Franz, even though this crazy “goddess of love” doesn’t even seem to know what love is!

Some of just-as-notable characters include a lot of the minor ones, like the Doctor of the castle who speaks with a lisp and all the maidens of the castle who are super awesome to band together and take out the men with their brooms. Even the demons who attend a forced wedding between Franz and Hecate are fun and quirky!

Overall, the characters are quite a joy to see and experience, despite how common the personality traits are in fairytale characters.

Artwork – The artwork is very Disney-like. I heard that Osamu Tezuka was inspired by Disney before, but I didn’t realize how much until I read this manga. The largest giveaway would be the feet, which have this Disney-Bread plumpness to them, reminding me greatly of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, there’s even more Disney-esque artwork throughout the manga that makes you feel like you’re watching a Classic Disney cartoon. It’s honestly quite pleasant.

One of the things I greatly liked about the artwork too were the panels. They contained the bare minimum of backgrounds, allowing you to get the basic gist of the setting. They were nice, spacey, and clean. They never felt cluttered, even when there appeared to be a hundred guys on the screen. None of the pictures were confusing to look at (especially in comparison to some other manga, where the action is so intense, you have no idea what the heck is going on on the page).

Quite frankly, seeing the grandfather of manga’s backgrounds so nice and clear makes me more confident about drawing my own.

One of the things I thought was kind of funny about the artwork was how lazy the hands seemed at times. A lot of times they weren’t even hands. They were cones with five points at the top. It totally reminds me of how I used to draw hands.

Overall, I loved the artwork! It was clean and simple, allowing it to be easy on the eyes. If you’re not going to read it for the story, I say try reading it for the artwork! Even if the large eyes sometimes seem weird.

Gender Expression – One of the notable things about Princess Knight is the gender expression, which is possibly the biggest aspect of the story. Throughout it, there’s a debate between everyone but Sapphire over which heart she should have — the girl heart she was supposed to be assigned to or the boy heart to match her earthly duty?

With such a heavy focus on gender expression and gender roles, the story resorts to a lot of heavily gender-specific things that make my eyes spin and my stomach want to do a flip. The amount of overused examples of gender are used throughout the story to the point of showing just how ridiculous gender roles are.

Right from the start of the story, we’re introduced to Duke Duralumin’s desire to have his son take over the kingdom (probably because he, himself, can’t). In attempt to have his son take over, he tries to prove that baby Sapphire is really a girl and can’t rule the kingdom because of the laws of the country that states that women can’t rule. In order to get him to believe that Sapphire is really a boy, the doctor and maids quickly remove all the “girl toys” (such as dolls) from Sapphire’s room and replaced them with “boy toys” (like a baseball bat). Insanely enough, this was enough to convince him that Sapphire was a boy!

Just that alone reminds me just how ridiculous gender can be.

Later on in the story, I believe in the second volume, there’s this huge war between the maids and the knights. The knights used their swords and the maids used their brooms. The maids used brooms. BROOMS! The maids threatened the knights that if they laid a finger on Sapphire, they wouldn’t do their laundry.

The gender-role clichés are hilariously implemented throughout the story. Nothing ever comes off as sexist or misogynistic, but rather a underhanded commentary on gender-roles in society. I’m not quite sure how obvious this will be to anybody who falls even somewhat falls into associating each gender with these types of roles, but for anyone who crosses roles at all will probably be rolling their eyes and just get a reminder of the strangeness of such roles.

I kind of wonder if anyone has ever analyzed Princess Knight and used it to talk about gender roles in our society…

Other Comments – As a whole, I enjoyed Princess Knight and was rather glad to have it be the first Osamu Tezuka manga I read. The artwork was beautiful with its crisp, clear, and clean lines and panels, the characters were Fairytale-charming, and the gender-role aspect was just the right thing to make the story unique.

It’s kind of funny — I thought this was published by Digital Manga Publishing, who seems to have a hold on most of the Osamu Tezuka manga, However, it’s published by Vertical, Inc. instead.

Recommendations & Why – I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of classic manga, manga fans, and people who are interested in gender issues.

My recommendation to manga fans and classic manga fans is probably obvious — it’s a manga and it’s a classic. It’s something that anyone who has their foot in the manga world should try reading. A pretty good story (no matter how clichéd it can get) combined with charming characters, and the fact that the grandfather of manga wrote it makes it a high recommendation for that crowd!

People who are interested in gender issues seems a bit different. As I said earlier, the book brings up gender roles throughout the entire story. They’re overused, society-defined gender-roles implemented in such a way for not just a unique story, but a commentary on gender-roles itself. It’s not so often you get a narrative like this and when one comes along, I say grab onto it! I definitely recommend it and encourage those who read it because of the gender-roles to analyze it and figure out how to use it to open the world to just how ridiculous gender roles are.

So, come on manga fans! Get this classic today! Sit down and start reading it! You probably won’t regret it! Maybe. Probably. Hopefully.