Princess Principal is an oddball. The series takes place in Albion, which is an archaic name for Great Britain. All the political turmoil and distrust cause governments to use spies to keep tabs on people and to split London into Eastern and Western segments. Naturally, the spies are high school girls.
A setup like this can one of two ways: cringingly dark or hilariously absurd. Surprisingly, the premiere walks a middle line and balances the dark with the absurd. The results are mixed, but that adds to the charm and helps the episode stand out in a season of tropes.
Princess Principal‘s core cast revolves around five girls:
Ange is an all-around spy with a penchant for lying and deadpan humor. She constantly reinforces the fact that she is a liar.
Beatrice is the moeblob who is a master at vocal manipulation.
Chise is the loli that likes to stab people.
Dorothy is the erratic getaway driver.
Princess is a princess who is the operator of the group. She sits around and gives orders.
The premiere episode did a poor job introducing the cast outside of Ange. Her colleagues had very little screen time, and most of their lines were centered on how spies lie all time.
Without spoiling anything, the episode centered around the girls attempting to help a scientist defect since his sister needs an expensive surgery due to Cavorite poisoning. Cavorite wasn’t touched on too much, but it’s an element type thing that made Albion a world power and it gives Ange anti-gravity powers.
The biggest sin committed so far is the repetitious and monotonous dialogue. Instead of adding to the character’s personalities or dropping hints about the dangers of Cavorite, we are constantly told that spies, by nature, are liars.
Princess Principal is trying to build a walled world of mistrust by hammering home that our cast could betray one another at some point. The strongest way they do this is through the setting. London is grimy, which gives the feeling that shady characters are hiding around every corner. Their use of shadows and nightscapes also add to the noir vibe.
Creating interesting and intricate worlds has always been a strength of screenwriter Ichiro Okouchi. But his weakness is maintaining a compelling narrative during a show’s run – just check out Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Guilty Crown for evidence.
You can see Okouchi’s eccentric writing style early. Princess Principal tries to balance absurd moments with dark actions. One scene, our girls are having a tea party at the school’s garden, and the next scene is capped off with the drugging of an enemy spy. The fact that moe girls are doing the ass kicking can also seem a bit off at times.
Princess Principle is worth checking out, especially if you love espionage, steampunk, and slick animation. While the cast’s introduction was weaker than you’d like in a premiere, it made up for it with entertainment.