Princess Principal was a real surprise for me, and a show I never expected to like anywhere near as much as I did.
The premise of school girl spies in a steam punk London split by a Wall after a civil war didn’t really inspire me much. However I was seeing good reports, was bored, wasn’t watching much anyway, and gave it a try.
I’m glad I did.
First things Princess Principal is simply a lot of fun to watch, and the steam punk London is vividly realised in the background visuals. The five main characters Ange (the eponymous principal), Charlotte (the princess), Dorothy, Beatrice, and Chise are all well realised within the world.
There’s a shout out to a certain 19th century novel bolted into the characters which is well handles but I won’t spoil it beyond alluding to it.
One nice touch is that Dorothy is 20 years old and masquerading as a teenager, a sort of in-universe Dawson Casting. The other characters comment on it fairly regularly, much to Dorothy’s irritation.
Dorothy is also the only source of fanservice in Princess Principal, at least amongst the regular characters.
Even that is justified by the needs of espionage as well as being something that Dorothy herself enjoys doing. There’s both agency and adulthood there so it was an enormous relief to realise that I was watching a show that was deliberately, and carefully, avoiding the creepier aspects that anime is sometimes prone to.
The story is told achronally to present the complete team, the formation of the team, and Day in the Limelight episodes in a logical structure. Each episode is assigned a case number, and the cases are presented in the following order (according to TV Tropes, which saved me having to look it up): 13, 1, 2, 9, 7, 18, 16, 20, 11, 22, 23, 24.
Without spoiling too much, the structure here is essentially:
- Action Prologue
- Establishing the core team as a two-part episode
- World and character building
- 3 part sequential finale
The structure works fairly well, and most episodes are highly rewatchable. A special shout out should be made to episode 7 Loudly Laundry that makes entertaining viewing of reorganising a steam powered laundry and empowering the female workers to take control of their futures.
The weakest section of the series is the two finale episodes. They work well enough I guess, but are a clear example of a season rather than series finale.
There’s almost more sequel hooks than story in the last 5 minutes or so, especially in the post-credits epilogue.
That said, if a season 2 does get announced with the same team (especially director Masaki Tachibana) at the helm?
Here’s the awesome OP as posted by Bandai Visual which gives you a really good feel for the characters (especially from about 1 minute in):