Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/artist: Tomoko Taniguchi
Truth be told, I groaned as I pulled Princess Prince out of the latest package of review copies. Something inexplicable about this comic made me absolutely dread reading it. Maybe it was my keen distaste for the whole “guys who are indistinguishable from girls” motif, or the fact that the cover is so vividly colored that it looks like it could glow in the dark. Nevertheless, these comics don’t review themselves, so I had little choice but to press on. After getting past the first chapter, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my dark premonitions were unfounded for once. While Princess Prince isn’t a comic of life-changing quality by any means, it’s a fun fairytale with a very canny sense of humor and a surprising amount of heart.
Matthew and Lawrence are the 15-year-old twin princes of the Gemstone Kingdom (named for the huge cavern of magic gems the kingdom contains). At least, they would both be princes, but their father was given a prophecy by an “angel-bird” that one of his sons must be raised as a girl or misfortune will come to the kingdom, so Prince Lawrence ends up being raised as Princess Lori. The story says that Lawrence gets to be the girl because he’s the one that most resembles his mother, but I think it’s because the poor sap looks so much like a woman that not even his dad can tell the difference. Because of this little gender snafu, Lawrence can’t confess his love for the girl he loves. Not that life is much easier for Matthew; through a series of comic misunderstandings, a thief named Brandon Walsh comes to believe both the princes are actually girls, and falls in love with Matt. Romantic and comedic hijinks ensue. Interestingly, a couple of chapters of Princess Prince depart from the main story and become stand-alone “intermission” tales, which are generally more serious in demeanor than the main storyline.
Although it has a few story elements that tie all the chapters together, Princess Prince is best treated as a series of loosely connected short stories than a single, ongoing storyline. If you approach it expecting to see a single story fully told from start to finish, you’re going to be disappointed. The story never really gets into things such as exactly why the kingdom will come to misfortune unless Lawrence/Lori continues to live as a girl (other than the unstated-yet-obvious fact that his going back to manhood would effectively end the comic, which is actually a pretty clever joke in its own way). Even though someone or something is after the Gemstone Kingdom’s crystals, the story has no central villain to defeat or goal to attain. Out of all the major characters, Brandon is the only one whose story gets any real closure. Though I would have liked to see more of an exploration of the actual storyline, none of this really hurts the comic too much. The comic doesn’t feel “unfinished” at the end, but there’s certainly room for continuation or further exploration.
Those of you who are eyeing Princess Prince in search of a serious, straight-up romance should probably look elsewhere. Princess Prince is a fairytale in every sense of the term; it deals in classic “fairytale” romance concepts, such as enduring love at first sight, waiting forever for a lover who may or may not return, and similarly high-minded ideals. Romance isn’t a complex concept in Princess Prince. The book is not interested in dealing with the complexities of love triangles, the down-to-earth trials of maintaining relationships, the issue of sex, or other such things that most straight-up romances thrive on. You can call Princess Prince‘s concept of romance charming, quaint, naive, or whatever, but you can’t call it deep.
If you don’t really go out for romance, Princess Prince does have other qualities to offer. Its sense of humor is varied and actually pretty amusing, references to yesteryear’s teen idols notwithstanding. It constantly makes lighthearted jabs at its own characters without appearing desperate for laughs, and Taniguchi effortlessly manages to make situations appear serious and silly at the same time. Although Princess Prince is predominantly light and comedic in tone, it’s not without its serious moments. The two “intermission” tales are much darker than the main storyline, and Taniguchi shows a very firm grasp of fairytale-style storytelling within them. Furthermore, one of the main stories in Princess Prince makes a surprisingly earnest indictment of xenophobia, racism, and superstition. It’s a standard “racism is wrong” sort of message that isn’t anything terribly deep or profound, but it doesn’t try to oversimplify the issue by making the problem easily solvable or by trying to completely demonize all the people who are being racist (as most are doing so out of superstition and suspicion rather than genuine malice).
Princess Prince has a very light, airy visual style that suits the comic very well, but the character designs don’t have a lot of appeal for me. Many of the important male characters don’t look like they have a single drop of testosterone in their entire bodies. Matthew almost looks like he was inspired by the cover of Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In album, and Lawrence looks more like a woman (albeit a flat-chested one) than most of the female characters. Add in the fact that they also frequently dress like a couple of total teen-idol glam kids, and it occasionally becomes hard to keep from wondering if Brandon really was right about both these guys really being girls. After all, Matthew could pass for a girl much more easily than Lawrence could pass for a guy. The story also makes the bizarre habit of having its costume designs mingle 80s/glam chic with more standard medieval/fairytale clothing. I guess this sort of thing will appeal to fans of this sort of style, but I think it looks bizarre. But then, these characters weren’t designed with me in mind; I’m the wrong age (by a fistful of years) and the wrong gender to comprehend the appeal of the glam-influenced girly-bishounen look. So take my comments for whatever they’re worth.
I ended up enjoying Princess Prince much more than I expected to. There’s nothing terribly original about the comic and it leaves many of its plot elements hanging in the air at the end, but it’s still a funny, engaging collection of short stories that’s worth a read for anyone who can stomach this genre. It’s worth checking out, but I suppose whether or not it warrants a purchase at its relatively high price point depends largely on how much you enjoy fairytales and light shoujo romantic comedies. If you really enjoy both and want a clean, fluffy title to read, this is a no-brainer. If you want something a bit heavier in content or more serious in tone, there are alternatives out there that would better suit your tastes.
Added: Thursday, October 14, 2004
Related Link: CPM Manga