Review for Princess Jellyfish - Collector's Edition
They say good things come to those who wait... but I didn’t actually wait when it comes to Princess Jellyfish. I got the first UK release from Kazé via Manga on DVD in the form of review check discs, which were so badly authored that I actually ripped them, broke the UPOPs that locked the subtitles, and burnt them onto DVD-Rs so that I could watch the episodes with access to the dialogue translations, and the screen text translations, so I could find out what was going on. I found out enough for me to place an order for the US release, which at the time was a DVD/BD combo from Funimation. That fixed almost all of the issues that had plagued the UK DVD, but with the annoying caveat that while I could play the Region 1 DVDs, the Region A locked Blu-ray was for me inaccessible. It took only ten years, but All the Anime have finally released Princess Jellyfish on Limited Edition Blu-ray, Region B coded of course.
Princess Jellyfish is about otaku, female otaku. Indeed women can be just as obsessive about trivial passions as men, can be just as fervent when it comes to collecting, and just as withdrawn and unable to engage with society. Tsukimi was told by her mother that she would grow up to be a princess, but instead she grew up to be a freak. She obsesses about jellyfish, the same jellyfish that she used to see when her mother took her to an aquarium, and while she moved to Tokyo to work as an illustrator, she spends most of her unemployed free time illustrating jellyfish. She lives in the ‘Nunnery’, the Amamizu-kan apartment block with a group of similarly isolated women, and they call themselves the Sisterhood. The apartment block is run by Chieko, who has a passion for dolls and traditional clothing. Mayaya is a tall brash girl who spends her time in a tracksuit obsessing about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Banba is a short girl hidden beneath an excessive afro who loves trains, and Jiji is a shy, mousy girl who likes movies and especially older men. Hidden away behind locked doors is the never seen, nocturnal Ms Mejiro, who as a mangaka specialising in boys’ love stories, is the only really productive member of the group.
The Sisterhood have a hard time fitting into society, shy away from the more attractive and outgoing people and have one rule for their lifestyle... No men allowed. Then one day Tsukimi pays a visit to the local aquarium to see her favourite jellyfish Clara, only to find they have put another jellyfish in the tank, a different species that will prove inimical to Clara. She’d point that out to the owner of the shop, but the guy behind the counter is too cute to talk too. Flustered and unable to communicate, she’s about to be in the middle of a regrettable scene, when a princess comes to her rescue. A beautiful girl, the sort of beauty that the Sisterhood shy away from and shun, rescues her, and saves Clara as well. Only this princess is pushy enough to invite herself over, and what’s more spend the night. The kind of girl that can petrify a female otaku is bad enough, but with the next morning comes a greater shock. The princess is actually a prince. Kuranosuke loves to cross dress, and Tsukimi has just broken the Sisterhood’s cardinal rule...
Eleven episodes of Princess Jellyfish are presented across two Blu-ray discs.
1. Sex and the Sisterhood
2. Sukiyaki Western Matsusaka
4. I’ll See You In My Aquarium
5. I Want to Be a Jellyfish
6. Night of the Living Sisterhood
7. Jubaku – Spellbound and Stone Broke
8. Million Dollar Babies
9. Midnight Pureboy
10. Days of Love and Lukewarm Water
11. Jellyfish of Dreams
The Blu-ray release of Princess Jellyfish gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on the two discs. The image is clear and sharp, colours are rich and consistent, detail levels are good, and line detail is crisp. I saw no signs of compression, aliasing or the like. Princess Jellyfish has something of a unique look to it when it comes to its visual style. Recognisably anime, it still eschews the usual character design ethic when it comes to its main characters, its colour palette is a little more selective, going for the gentler shades, and there is a stylised two-dimensional feel to the animation that gives it a rather more comic book feel, with bolder outlines and solid blocks of colour. Against that is a greater degree of freedom and energy in the animation itself, which is actually livelier than the usual anime. While the show concentrates mostly on the comedy of the situation, and the parody of its otaku caricatures, it can also find moments of depth and magic which transcend its design style.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with translated subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. I stuck to the Japanese audio for this watch, and was happy with the experience, the dialogue clear, and the music and action represented well, although volume levels are a little low. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. Princess Jellyfish certainly gets some memorable theme songs, but the incidental music is also eclectic and quirky, suiting the tone of the show well, while making it stand out as something special. They found the time to strip out the Funimation logos and copyright screens and replace them with Crunchyroll imagery, but they couldn’t find time to swap out the thin white subtitle font from the first generation of Funimation Blu-rays, which is so easy to lose against busy backgrounds.
You get two discs in a BD Amaray case, which slips inside a rigid slipcase that has room enough for the blurb sheet that you’ll find between the cellophane and the back of the box when you get it. You’ll also find a 34-page booklet with character info and art, interviews with the show director and the mangaka, setting and contents, and an art gallery.
The discs present their content with jellyfish animated menus.
Disc one autoplays with a trailer for Okami-san and her Seven Companions. The sole extra on this disc is the audio commentary on episode one, with ADR director, and voice of Hanamori, Chris Bevins, Maxey Whitehead (Tsukimi), and Josh Grelle (Kuranosuke).
After a trailer for Fairy Tail: Part 4, it transpires that Disc 2 is veritably packed with extras, beginning with an audio commentary on episode 11. In it Chris Bevins is this time joined by the rest of the Sisterhood, Cynthia Kranz (Chieko), Monica Rial (Mayaya), Leah Clark (Jiji), and Mariela Ortiz (Banba).
The Princess Jellyfish Heroes offer more of the colourful supporting cast of the show, in four bonus animations running to a total of 22:28.
The Go, Sisterhood Explorers are shorter bits of whimsy that are six 32-second animations running to a total of 3:12.
The Tsukimi and Jiji’s Jellyfish Tour runs to 21:32.
The Princess Jellyfish Field Guide offers a text based exploration of the show and of jellyfish, offering a look at the various strange fauna that inhabit the show in both marine and otaku form.
To round off the release, you get 34 seconds of promos for the show, the US Trailer (1:47), the Textless Credit sequences (unfortunately with player locked subtitles), and trailers for other Funimation releases including Black Butler, One Piece, Romeo x Juliet, Hetalia World Series, .hack//Quantum, Sengoku Basara, and Birdy the Mighty Decode.
Just perfect! Well nothing’s perfect, but in comparison to that almost forgotten Kazé release, even the tiny flaws on this All the Anime release of Princess Jellyfish are wholly forgivable. The subtitles are spot on, the on screen text is subtitled as the show needs it to be, and the subtitle script on the Funimation release flows so much better. There were a dozen jokes that I caught the second time, that I missed completely the first time I watched the show. And this third time, having watched a few Hopping Vampire movies in the interim, I got that joke as well. And it is so much fun. Ever episode is brilliantly constructed, and makes wonderful use of the characters, the interplay is astounding, and every moment is a delight. And it’s about as non-anime an anime as you can imagine. That’s no surprise with it being a noitaminA show, that strand designed to cater for audiences outside the usual bracket. It’s about a group of girls, who are obsessive otaku. They aren’t perfectly made up, they aren’t endowed with fantasy boobs, and they aren’t all lusting after the same hapless male. There are none of the usual clichés associated with anime, none of the storytelling short cuts, and the subject matter is so far outside the mainstream anime comfort zone that it would be easy to dismiss the show. I mean, the main male character cross-dresses (but isn’t gay, or camp), and he looks better as a girl than the female characters?
The residents of Amamizu-kan are obsessive certainly, fervent collectors, and detached from society, but they are harmless, and more importantly, they do no harm to themselves, and most importantly of all, have a sense of community, warmth, and friendship among themselves. The comedy comes from seeing them confronted with society, and unable to handle it, retreating to what they know best. But what makes Princess Jellyfish greater than this, and makes it a richer experience than shows like Genshiken or Welcome to the NHK, is that it isn’t just about the otaku. It’s also about the other side of society, the Stylish that are liable to petrify any of the Sisterhood on sight. The cool, smart-set of society abound, and Kuranosuke at first glance appears to be their epitome. She’s beautiful, elegant, immaculately dressed and made-up, but she interacts with Tsukimi, which blows Tsukimi’s theories of Sisterhood and Stylish segregation out of the water. It only gets more complicated when it turns out that Kuranosuke is a man.
We get politics thrown in as well. Kuranosuke comes from one of Japan’s most prominent political dynasties (his uncle is Prime Minister), while he is a product of his father’s indiscretion. Were he not a boy, he would have stayed with and been raised by his mother, but as a boy he’s a potential successor to the family name, even though his older half-brother Shu is on the fast track to political service. Kuranosuke doesn’t want to be a politician, which is why he cross-dresses. He loves fashion and make-up anyway, and if it can get him out of his father’s sights, he’ll do it. Not exactly conventional himself, he eschews the shallow friendship of his peers, only to be ensnared by this passionate, obsessed, and introverted girl he meets one night outside the aquarium. And soon it isn’t just Tsukimi that obsesses him, he also finds much to appreciate about her friends, even though they are petrified at his presence, and he has to conceal the truth about his gender from them.
On top of that, Princess Jellyfish is a love story, with Tsukimi’s childhood dream of becoming a princess at the heart of it. She’s taken with Kuranosuke’s brother Shu, although he sees nothing but the otaku. That’s until Kuranosuke indulges his obsession for fashion, and gives everyone at Amamizu-kan, including Tsukimi a make-over. From that point, Shu becomes smitten with After-Tsukimi, although he thinks she’s a totally different person from the normal Tsukimi. Tsukimi’s self-confidence isn’t high at the best of times, and this doesn’t help any. To make matters more complicated, Kuranosuke starts developing feelings for Tsukimi himself.
And there’s more. It turns out that the whole area is being redeveloped into a hotel, and Amamizu-kan is top of the demolition list, with Chieko’s mother being pressured to sell. Now the residents have to save their home as well, and for otaku to get motivated, and more importantly involved is not an easy thing. It falls to Kuranosuke to come up with a plan. The developer turns out to be an unprincipled woman named Inari, and when she learns that Shu is a scion of a political dynasty, she’ll get him by hook or by crook, which only makes things harder for Tsukimi, who’s quick to jump to self-defeating conclusions at the best of times.
This could so easily have been live action. I could see it as one of the more esoteric sitcoms that get shunted away on BBC3, or late night Channel 4, or an indie movie comedy. But, Princess Jellyfish is an anime, although it’s unlike any other anime. In fact it’s the perfect show to get for someone who isn’t an anime fan. It’s funny, it’s heart-warming, and it’s just perfectly pitched. It’s the kind of show that will be watched again and again. The one problem you might have is if they ask for more, as there’s really nothing else out there like it. The only thing wrong with Princess Jellyfish is that they didn’t animate any more of the story, as while this series stops at an appropriate climax in its narrative, there is more story to tell.
I love Princess Jellyfish, and I love it even more now that I can finally watch it on Region B Blu-ray. But I must say that it’s a little disappointing that All the Anime are simply reusing the original Funimation Blu-rays (albeit with a logo change to Crunchyroll). These masters are 11 years old at this point, and in terms of subtitle font at the very least, could use a tweak, if not a full re-master. That’s the only criticism you’re going to get out of me though...
Princess Jellyfish Collector’s Edition is available direct from Anime Limited, from Anime on Line, and from United Publications as well as mainstream retailers. At the time of writing a standard edition release is imminent.