Review for Princess Principal: Crown Handler - Chapter 1
This is the second time that this has happened with me, a happy circumstance where low expectations were surprisingly shattered by reality. When first I heard of Girls und Panzer, I didn’t think much of the premise, another “high school girls after school club” show. But the show turned out to be so much more, so brilliant, that I’ve since gone all in on pre-ordering anything with Girls Und Panzer in the title. And then came Princess Principal, which from the blurb looked just another high school anime, but turned out to be anything but, an alternate history, steampunk espionage story. And just like Girls Und Panzer, it’s launched on a six instalment series of theatrical releases. The first chapter, Princess Principal: Crown Handler Chapter One is now here, and I didn’t wait for the check disc to show up, I had this pre-ordered on day 1.
Princess Principal takes place in another history, a world where Albion developed technology based on the mineral Cavorite, an energy source that allows direct manipulation of gravity, and with its vast Air Fleet, it quickly established the largest empire the world had seen since the Romans. But by the end of the nineteenth century, revolution tore the empire asunder, and two states resulted, the Kingdom of Albion, and the Commonwealth of Albion, and nothing signified the division and distrust between the two nations more than the Great Wall of London.
Ten years on, a state of Cold War exists between the Commonwealth and the Kingdom, and the Commonwealth has established a spy network in London to maintain the balance of power, if not nudge things in their favour. Operating from the Queen’s Mayfaire Academy, five school girls undertake missions for the Commonwealth, but they are a diverse bunch. Dorothy and Ange serve the Commonwealth, but the granddaughter of the Queen of Albion herself, Princess is a symbol of the Kingdom, and she’s aided by her maid Beatrice. And from Japan, the warrior Chise completes the group. They are a finely honed group of operatives, but like any spy, they each have secrets of their own.
The espionage business has been getting tougher since the failed assassination attempt on the queen, but for Ange and her team the challenge has never been greater. Retrieving a bookshop owner from captivity is a normal day’s work, if frantic, but when they learn that there is a double agent in the Queen’s household, it turns into their toughest mission yet. Naturally, they can’t let the Kingdom get their hands on this individual, but when they learn that this person knows Ange and Princess Charlotte’s secret, they realise that the Commonwealth can’t get their hands on the agent either. And to add to their troubles, a third player appears on the scene.
Princess Principal gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this Blu-ray disc. The image is clear and sharp, colours are consistent, and there are no problems with compression artefacts or aliasing. Given that it’s such an atmospheric show, with a lot of dark, moody, even foggy (this is London) scenes, it’s nice to see that digital banding is as light as it is in this show. And Princess Principal is a beautiful show, with charming, consistent and memorable character designs, and a detailed and imaginative steampunk world design. The animation is detailed and fluid, and you can see that this is a big budget, high production value show. It’s even better for this theatrical short feature film!
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. I was happy with the Japanese audio, the actors are suitably cast for their roles, and the action comes across well through the surrounds. The music is doubly notable, with excellent theme songs, while Yuki Kajiura provides the score for the episodes. As for the dub... with a show set in England, the US dub is only as good as the worst English accent. All it takes is one Dick van Dyke... The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. The surround audio is really good, nice and immersive and making this theatrical presentation really shine.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case with a reversible sleeve if you are logo-averse. The disc boots to a static menu. On the disc you’ll find the following extras.
Japanese Promos (2:42)
Theatrical Trailer (0:33)
Princess Principal Preview (1:35)
“Busy Easy Money” Short (6:39)
Textless Opening (1:47)
Textless Closing (2:44)
Trailers for NANA, Princess Tutu, Canaan, Girls und Panzer Das Finale ~ Part 2
It’s frustrating to watch a 10/10 show, and realise that I have to mark it down for the most annoying of reasons, although it is logical. Princess Principal Crown Handler Chapter One does not stand alone. You need to have seen the Princess Principal series before you watch the first spin-off movie to appreciate it. But when it comes to the story, the animation, the characters, this film picks up where the series left off and just keeps the sky-high standard, actually getting better when it comes to the animation and production values.
Just like Girls Und Panzer, the six instalment film series (each movie is around the hour mark) is effectively a whole second season of anime. But given a theatrical film production and release schedule, with new films coming out a year or so apart, the studios can put in all the time and effort to make these films as good as they can possibly be, in a way that the straitened TV production schedule could never allow.
Rescuing the bookseller plays big on the sleeve blurb, but it’s almost like a James Bond pre-credits sequence, a way to remind us of this fantastic steampunk world, the story set-up and the main characters in an entertaining, and vibrant way, while minimising the recap info-dump; although the bookseller does play a part in the latter half of the story. The real narrative here is the mole-hunt, the search for the double agent in the royal household, and given Princess Charlotte is a member of the team, and given Ange’s history, they have the perfect in to pull-off their mission. That’s until they learn that the double agent actually knows their shared secret, which complicates matters no end.
The storytelling and the characters in Princess Principal are so good, that this film holds the attention as well as any Bond or Mission Impossible movie. It has a great blend of action and adventure, while keeping the intellect engaged, and the audience guessing, without getting overly convoluted. There are one or two twists along the way, including a last minute plot twist that no doubt sets up the direction that the rest of the films in the series will most likely explore.
Even though by the nature of the story, the film concentrates on Ange and Charlotte, Chise, Beatrice and Dorothy get enough screen time to maintain the ensemble feel, and even if the balance does feel off to some degree, the short episode in the extra features goes a long way to make up for that, an unadulterated soupcon of Princess Principal humour. The production values quite rightly reach theatrical quality in this first Princess Principal movie, and the standard of the disc does all the justice that it deserves. Crown Handler: Chapter One is essential if you bought the series, and quite frankly, now would be the perfect time to get the series if you haven’t seen it yet.