"The newly released Princess Knight collection takes us back more than forty years when Japanese animation was still in its infancy."
Osamu Tezuka, oftentimes regarded as the Godfather of Anime, has created some of the most compelling and genre defining animations since the early sixties. Considered to be the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney, Tezuka brought us timeless classics like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Black Jack and countless others. His works carry a perennial quality reflected in nearly every animation we see today and it would be impossible to talk about this legendary virtuoso without discussing his revered Princess Knight series. 3-D animation may have taken center stage in the past decade, but the delicacy of traditionally hand-drawn frames carries an unparalleled aesthetic that remains ageless regardless of how much the medium evolves. The newly released Princess Knight collection takes us back more than forty years when Japanese animation was still in its infancy. While much of the recorded material has either deteriorated or been damaged over time, this latest release proves to be the finest and most complete set to date.
"The show is lighthearted and geared towards very young audiences, although certain scenarios carry slightly more mature undertones."
Like most Anime, Princess Knight was first introduced as a serialized Manga in 1953. While the show’s airing in the west was brief, it had tremendous impact on the genre, particularly influencing female artists behind the Shoujo Manga movement. The story revolves around Sapphire, a young princess pretending to be a young prince in order to inherit the throne. From its opening credits, Princess Knight has a familiar Disney vibe, notably resembling Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with hilarious nods to other classics like Little Red Riding Hood and Peter Pan. The show is lighthearted and geared towards very young audiences, although certain scenarios carry slightly more mature undertones. In most episodes, Sapphire (who is based on the Japanese actress Chikage Awashima) has to overcome evil Duke Duralumon’s attempts at exposing her true identity. Sapphire’s struggles to change the law and prove that a lady can swing a sword just as well as she can wear a dress is an ongoing theme throughout the show and it’s easy to see why she became such an iconic figure amongst female fans.
What’s really interesting is that an earlier episode hints that Sapphire may in fact be a hermaphrodite. In a dream sequence, Sapphire’s guardian angel/sidekick Choppy remembers his time in heaven when god was handing out blue and pink colored hearts to determine the children’s gender. While little Sapphire waits in line, Choppy hands her a blue heart…then seconds later she’s given her official pink heart to become a girl. She ends up consuming both hearts and the god character even says, “Look at what you did Choppy! Now they won’t know if she’s a boy or a girl!” I still can’t say whether I’m just misreading the particular scene, or whether it’s intended to be a veiled clue.
"Princess Knight’s artistic style is as charming as ever, but the video and audio integrity are somewhat inconsistent."
While the show establishes a strong and admirable plot, it doesn’t evolve much beyond its simplistic episodic nature. Even though new characters and conflicts are introduced as the show progresses, the premise never reaches its full potential. It’s entertaining in small bursts, but it’s not something you’re likely to binge watch in a few sittings. It’s a series you can enjoy out of order and never loose sight of the overarching narrative. It’s a typical format of the time, but it also goes to show how much Tezuka’s work matured with his later creations.
Princess Knight’s artistic style is as charming as ever, but the video and audio integrity are somewhat inconsistent. Picture quality can vary from scene to scene with colors shifting back and forth and it’s easy to see how some of the segments were put together from entirely different sources. It’s a miracle that the episodes play out as well as they do considering the poor upkeep of the original film material. This isn’t so much of a criticism since higher quality source material simply doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s something to be aware of when considering the set.
This newly released collection is without a doubt the definitive version of Tezuka’s beloved series. However, Princess Knight isn't for everyone. If you consider yourself somewhat of an Anime connoisseur or simply want to experience the emergence of Japanese animation, this is unquestionably imperative to your collection. But if you’re just looking for some nostalgic popcorn-entertainment, Tezuka’s Astro Boy and Black Jack are certainly more accessible and compelling.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 650 Minutes