I was struggling with what I wanted to say about Princess Jellyfish until I saw this news item announcing a kickstarter to reissue Otaku no Video. That crystallised the core of Princess Jellyfish for me.
Otaku no Video is just MEAN.
For those that don’t know, Otaku no Video is a pseudo-documentary of several forms of Japanese fandom loosely linked to a sort-of animated history of GAINAX.
According to my fairly dim memories it is a show that laughs at fans, rather than laughs with fans. I remember laughing and flinching when I saw it at JAFWA; now I suspect I’d only flinch at the nastiness.
Therein lies the difference that makes Princess Jellyfish so oddly endearing, so… adorkable.
The set up
Tsukimi Kurashita has only recently moved to Tokyo and wants to become an illustrator. A jellyfish fangirl for reasons that I don’t want to spoil, Tsukimi is well on the way to becoming a hikikomori, or at least someone who doesn’t interact with normal society well.
To a greater or lesser extent that’s true of all of the residents of the Anamizukan apartment building.
Then, late one night, Tsukimi sees a spotted jellyfish in the same tank as another species, a combination that Tsukimi knows will kill the spotted jellyfish. Her desperate attempts to get the shop keeper to separate the two are in vain until one of the Stylish intervenes.
The only problem is that this member of the Stylish isn’t the beautiful girl she appears, and the rules of Anamizukan forbid the entry of men into their self-chosen “nunnery”.
Oh, and the cross-dressing Kuranosuke is something of a meddler who sees the “nuns” as a challenge for an extreme makeover or five.
There isn’t really much of a story in Princess Jellyfish to be honest. The manga had 5 volumes out when the series began screening in 2010, and is currently up to 15 volumes as of January 2015. So the 11 episodes of the anime couldn’t really do much more than introduce the characters and some of the longer running themes of the manga.
That said, what the anime does cover it covers very well. There’s a lot of good character work going on, and a number of hidden depths that the show teases out surprisingly well. The ending is, as you’d expect, mostly open ended and a little bit pat to ensure that the basic set up remains in place.
Again though, there has been some character development along the way, and a new future is opening for Tsukimi as the series ends.
The traps avoided
Whilst there’s a fair degree of humour in the treatment of the “nuns”, it never feels mean. There’s a real sense that these characters should be respected by the viewer, even if the world they’re in doesn’t respect them. It would be easy for a show like Princess Jellyfish to take the easy route and make the characters figures of fun; that this never happens is one of the strongest elements of the show.
Similarly, and as a friend and I discussed at SwanCon one year, the cross dresser trope can sometimes be used in a misogynistic manner. This is another trap that is deftly avoided; for all that he’s straight Kuranosuke has genuine reasons both for cross dressing and taking an interest in the residents of Anamizukan. Similarly, the situation isn’t exploited for fanservice or in any gross way, which is something else I appreciated.
On the other hand…
There are a few elements of Princess Jellyfish that are perhaps less successful. There is a large dose of She Cleans Up Nicely, particularly with respect to Tsukimi, running through this show. This risks a message of the “nuns” changing who they are in order to better deal with the world (or recommending that they should). This isn’t overdone, but there’s definitely elements of it present.
There’s also one utterly cringeworthy scene, albeit possibly intentionally so, in one of the later episodes where one of the Stylish is obsessed with Afros and feels up Banba’s hair without permission. Meanwhile poor Banba and Mayaya are basically turned to stone in the presence of the Stylish that they just can’t deal with.
If it wasn’t the intended reaction, then this is probably the one time where Princess Jellyfish really messed up.
Overall Princess Jellyfish is a strong 11 episode series that deals with the fringes of society in an understanding, gentle, and amusing way. There’s some real character development along the way, it’s generally as endearing as the Shout Out laden opening.
 To be fair, if I must, I have only seen Otaku no Video once and have no desire to see it again.
 And the eponymous Princess Jellyfish (in case that wasn’t entirely obvious).
 The name given by the residents to the fashionable people who scare them to death.
 Which it doesn’t.