DVD Review: PRINCESS JELLYFISH Exhibits Other Kinds Of Otaku
By now you just need to mention noitanimA and my ears will prick up. Over the past few years there have been so many interesting anime series aired in Fuji television's famed noitaminA slot that it has become some sort of a badge of merit, urging me to check out series I otherwise would not have. Like Princess Jellyfish, a quirky romantic comedy based around otaku girls and crossdressing boys.
It's really, really great though. And this month, Siren Visual releases Princess Jellyfish on DVD, while this title has been out in Europe and the US already. Time for a review!
Tsukimi is a shy, withdrawn 18-year-old girl who really likes jellyfish, and spends most of her days drawing pictures of them. She lives in an apartment building which houses only women, all of which are obsessive collectors. The socially awkward group is generally afraid to leave the apartment, have forbidden any men from entering the building and call themselves "The Sisterhood".
Then one night, Tsukimi gets in trouble but is saved by Kurako, a gorgeous and extrovertly dressed woman. Kurako helps Tsukimi get home and promptly falls asleep on her bed. Too embarrassed and meek to send her savior away, Tsukimi takes the couch.
The next morning, Tsukimi is horrified to see that:
A- Kurako is still there, and
B- turns out to be a boy in drag.
Tsumiki can't wait to get Kurako out of her room, out of the house, hell, out of the CITY if necessary, but the amused and intrigued boy proves hard to get rid off. Worse, he has taken it upon himself to show Tsumiki what a make-over can do for your looks, and tries to get the whole Sisterhood to rethink their self-imposed isolation.
Sometimes it's a bit too easy to dismiss a series based on its premise, or its cover artwork. If it was for those two factors I probably never would have watched Princess Jellyfish. What caught my attention was the combination of director Omori Takahiro and Studio Brain's Base. In the past, this combination resulted in the utterly terrific Baccano! and Durarara!!, two series which are both high on my list of favorite anime series ever. Also, Princess Jellyfish was aired in Fuji's noitaminA slot, which basically does not contain much dross.
Therefore I started watching Princess Jellyfish with high expectations and I wasn't disappointed. Instead, I was laughing my ass off as this is one damn funny series.
"Quirky" is an elusive quality which many filmmakers desperately strive for but is hard to get right. It's easy to see why they try though, for when it works, "quirky" can bring the spark of life to material which would be mundane or ridiculous without it.
And Princess Jellyfish does it right. While several of the supporting characters are pushing the limits of how much quirk is acceptable, the series focuses on the "most normal person" in the Sisterhood group, and the others are effective as a background.
Both Tsumiki and Kurako are just the right kind of quirky, as both are fleshed out well beyond easy caricature, and shown to be hugely flawed yet sympathetic human beings. Tsumiki has a mind-stuntingly low self esteem, but isn't stupid and does allow from time to time to be coaxed out of her misery.
And it would be easy to portray Kurako as a drag queen, a wildly effeminate homosexual, but he isn't. Instead he is shown to be a spoiled rich straight boy who cross-dresses for fun. He just happens to possess a talent for fashions, combined with a pretty visage. Well, AND a strong desire to piss off the conservative people in his family, his father most of all.
Yet he quickly turns from a rude party-crasher into a much needed wake-up call for the Sisterhood, and his motivations for helping Tsumiki are mostly honorable and based on true friendship.
This is a character-driven series and as such it is a boon that it contains such well-developed lead characters. It would be a mistake to dismiss the artwork and animation though, as these are really strong as well. The look of the series is loosely based on the flowery abstract drawings of the manga by Higashimura Akiko, but these have been tightened up considerably to look more rooted in reality. While faces look exaggerated and there is no shortage of cartoonish panic shots, during conversations the expressions are remarkably subtle, and very well done. It looks like real acting is taking place here so kudos to studio Brain's Base for managing to do this.
As for the use of humor: I am not a big fan of "embarrassment" humor so I was glad most of the jokes in Princess Jellyfish aim higher than just taking advantage of Kurako's gender reversal. In fact, most of the gender reversal jokes are actually aimed straight in the other direction: the Sisterhood. Instead of the loner student or the frustrated schoolboy, we now see a group of scared twenty- and thirty-something women behaving as the famed otaku, and the role-reversal is hilarious. We even get female hentai nosebleeds!
At the same time there are some pretty strong running jokes concerning the Sisterhood's general awkwardness. Whenever one of the "nuns" feels threatened, which is often, she will turn into stone. it's an easy visual gag but works wonders in showing just how physically restrictive such extreme anxieties can feel like, in real life.
The story itself, being based on an ongoing (and as-yet-unfinished) manga, gets convoluted and most of the sidelines do not resolve in this series. Thankfully, most of the characters do get to a next level, sort of. This anime ended in 2010, but here's hoping Omori Takahiro and Studio Brain's Base will create a second season sometime in the future. Count me as a fan, and if all anime was this good I'd be a crazed otaku indeed.
Part romantic comedy, part agoraphobic-nerd gawking, Princess Jellyfish thankfully adds up to a delightful contemporary little series, due to its creative approach and colorful characters. The ending may leave fans hanging a bit in the middle of the story but the many brilliant moments keep the overall quality on a high level.
Very much recommended!
On To The Discs:
This review is specifically for the Siren Visual release of Princess Jellyfish, which is aimed at the Australia / New Zealand markets. The set consists of two DVDs which are coded PAL for region 4. Princess Jellyfish is a noitaminA series, and as such it is no surprise that it is part of Siren Visual's catalogue, seeing as how noitaminA makes up a large portion of their anime portfolio.
As is typical for a release of a recent series, video quality is really good and does the artwork justice. This is not a series which depends on cgi trickery, opting for style and pastel colors instead. As such the absence of HD-visuals is not a big issue. Audio consists of stereo Japanese and English soundtracks, and as always with Siren Visual the discs default to the Japanese track and feature stellar (removable) English subtitles.
Extras are limited to commentary tracks on the first and eleventh episodes and this is frankly rather meager. I've given Siren Visual a lot of credit in the past few years because they've managed to release many series which are unavailable anywhere else in the world. But Princess Jellyfish is available in many territories already, and most of those releases have some pretty impressive extras attached. There are a few character shorts floating around and these are on the French-UK discs. The US Blu-ray edition has those as well, AND a documentary showing the voice actresses visiting the jellyfish museum featured so prominently in the series.
Still, I've learned over the years that copyright laws and the local costs of on-disc extras are unfathomable, and I'm sure Siren Visual did the best they could. The series itself has been done justice and is an absolute delight, so for Australia and New Zealand I definitely recommend buying this edition!
To the rest of the world I say: be on the lookout for your local edition as this series is fantastic.
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