At the turn of the century stands the Kingdom of Abilon which holds a monopoly over a radioactive rock called Cavorite. Due to an economic and political divide, the nation was split in two, forming a literal wall between the Commonwealth and Kingdom of Abilon. The Duke of Normandy, who holds power in the Kingdom, is attempting to overthrow and destroy the Commonwealth who vies to do the same. It’s this twist and turn of power that has given rise to the spy game and led to London being a hotspot of activity.
Princess Principal is set in an industrial revolution with the steampunk movement is still at its beginning stages; however, the world doesn’t shy away from electricity, and there is that rock called Cavorite which is a source of radioactive energy. These different forms of power are very important because it shows a form of instability. The region can’t decide what form of power to use exclusively, which likely translates to shifty politicking which, in turn, likely began the initial power struggle that broke the nation apart.
What the first episode of Princess Principal does well is that it’s able to introduce all the characters as well as giving us a look into how they do business. I loved that the girls seem to have some light competition with each other, as well. This gave a little more life to the otherwise untrustworthy girls. The most interesting and focal bit, however, is the long game Ange plays with the potential defector.
After we meet the defector we learn he has a sister that he now refuses to defect without. Ten,, we see Ange meet with this sister, only to discover she has cavorite poisoning- which causes insanity on par with dementia. The poisoning can be cured with a type of surgery, but it’s expensive which is why the defector is planning on defecting- for money to save his sister.
Ange is seemingly shown to have compassion as she walks into a life insurance office, possibly to pull out a policy on the defector or even the sister. Next, after it’s confirmed that the defector is lying, Ange uses the promise of cashing out a life insurance policy to heal his sister to make killing the defector easier. Little did the defector know, life insurance policies are moot if you take them out just before death. The sister dies shortly after the entire affair is complete.
The entire story proves Ange’s passion, dedication, and pure spy craftsmanship- it’s amazing to watch. Furthermore, during the final act of Ange’s plan which serves as the ultimate distraction, her coworkers are able to take out the enemy spy hideout that was controlling the defector in question, thus tying up whatever lose ends were connected with the incident.
This is a sincerely beautiful show that takes advantage of the muted colors to show steam and shadow movement consistently. It has dynamic angles and great quick, streaky fighting scenes. One of the complaints I have about animation is the vapid use of still frames, or only animating one thing in the frame at a time. Princess Principal does an amazing job keeping gears, mist, steam, lights, and so forth moving in the background if these things would be moving in real life. The use of CG is known, but it’s not obvious and it blends insanely well with the hand animation, likely because of the coloring and blending choices.
The show is able to move quickly through plot without leaving the audience behind and confused, and it’s got an uncanny ability to make you think just a little harder about each girl’s action- especially after Ange’s reveal. We are even told by the Princess herself that no one really knows who Ange is or if what she says is true, not even Ange herself, which paints Ange in an even more mysterious light than before.
Of course, while Ange is the focus of this episode, there are a few more girls in the troop that interest me. I am mostly interested in what the princess’ role is in all this since she was the only person not a part of any battle. She was even sad during the final phase of killing the defector, and that shows me that she has some stream of compassion that isn’t present in the other girls.
The ladies in Princess Principal are experts in their field, and all seem to have been raised just to spy. They are an elite troop that the English government is able to not only rely on, but also trust in a variable period in history. This show reminds me a lot of Gunslinger Girls, and if that’s a pedigree we can trust- then we can expect a wonderful show out of Princess Principal that I wholly look forward to seeing each week.