Osamu Tezuka is a name in manga that I love yet hate. On one hand he is the godfather of manga,responsible for classics like Astroboy and Blackjack. On the other hand I have a really hard time spelling his name. Joking aside I really do enjoy the man's work and acknowledge their influence on manga as an art form. Determined to be known as the Japanese Walt Disney,he wrote a multitude of different series and stories that spoke to all demographics. He also wrote what can be considered one of the first shojo manga:Princess Knight.
Princess Knight ran in Shojo club from 1953-1956.It 's a classic tale of fantasy adventure with a heavy undertone of romance that is prevalent in stories written for girls. Taking the time to address gender politics,what it truly means to love and that angels can sometimes be really stupid. So lets see if this classic holds up to the test of time or have I just been using ind words to soften the blow.
The story follows Sapphire as she starts the fine tradition of Shojo heroines being menaced by ugly people. Seriously the story starts out fairly happy with some light antics then takes a turn right into horrid town as tragedy upon tragedy is heaped on Sapphire. Just when something finally does go right,there is another villain or event that just comes back to smack her down. It'd be comical if it wasn't handled so well. The awful things are always within in the realm of possibility and there is an undercurrent of hope that kept me going.
Before I go on and discuss the plot in more detail,we need to get a core concept out of the way. The idea is that at birth God(who may or may not be Zeus,more on the later) assigns every child a boy or girl heart that defines their gender. This is where most of my real gripes are found in the book. Disbarring the vastness of the gender spectrum and various gender issues that arise from this idea. I can't really be pissed about that as it was early the fifties when these concepts were not exactly at the forefront of the public mind. It's just not a well explained concept,Sapphire is born with both due to a trickster angel and goes to either extreme of the spectrum when she loses one of them. Yet it seems that everyone else's heart does not cause that affect in them that way. King Plastic is an annoying brat who doesn't truly mature till he swallows Sapphire's male heart. Maybe Sapphire's hearts are special but this is never really established.
This could be a statement on the fact that regardless of what gender we are born as,we all have traits of what would be consider the gender norm for the opposite gender. The book constantly criticizes the idea that only men can rule and women should be in supporting roles exclusively. It's fairly progressive for it's time and does help it avoid the embarrassment that plague some older works. That being said,I believe I get what Tezuka is trying to get at but the heart concept is poorly explained and leads to some possibly unintentional sexist moments.
Princess Knight also has a weird concept of religion. It tends to stick to a general outline of Christian beliefs in that there is a God who watch over us and Satan(who is fabulous by the way). However Venus the goddess of beauty shows up and also controls life and death. She refers to God as father,which would make him either Uranus' private parts,which is unlikely as he is drawn like Sunday school God. More likely this makes him Zeus which explains his pulling a major jerk move during a pivotal fight scene. Either way she's more than perfect to serve as an antagonist to Sapphire and her prince's love. Calling back to Circe the with also from the same mythology. It's not really a mark against it as the whole story never really establish it one way or another, I just though it was worth mentioning.
The villains in the story are all fairly one note and simplistic however it's that simplicity that makes them enjoyable. They all mostly desire power(excluding Venus) and will be as evil as humanly possible to reach that goal. It's entertaining in the same way Dio form the Jojo series is. They are all easy to hate and make Sapphire much more likable.
Not that Sapphire has to try that hard to be likable,as she is a kind heart ed person who truly believes in love and doing good. We could call that mary-sue and to some extent it really is but her purity and goodness comes back to bite her in the rear. Her own naivete and inability to explain herself cause many of her problems.You think she sits back and lets her love interest solve things?Hell no,she's out thwarting schemes and proving herself capable and heroic. You want her to see her triumph over evil and finally ascend to her rightful place in life.
Her love interest Franz is no less likable but could stand to learn to pay attention as all it takes is a wig to fool the poor guy. A noble man who truly does love Sapphire once he wraps his head around the various conspiracies going on. Her secondary love interest is a pirate named Blood who gets what is honestly one of the weirdest adventures (I can't really do it justice)in the plot all to himself. The rest of the supporting cast is nothing special though Sapphire's nurse gets points for being utterly entertaining. Tink,the angel who started this whole mess is one of the more complex side characters. His trickster nature developing into something outside of being a jerk and helping get Sapphire out of many late story binds.
The plot itself is complex enough to be interesting without getting overly dense. It can be broken down into three intertwining plots all involving various factions needing Sapphire dead. The antagonists of each plot tend to come and go as the plot demands. The witch,Hell, leaves the main plot halfway through to pursue her own slightly related plot. It sort of helps the story feel slightly grander as there are these various plots going on while Sapphire is pursuing her own agenda. I'll admit that the third act feels slightly tacked on but includes enough awesome scenes that this hardly becomes an issue.
The art work her is either love it or hate it. It's very reminiscent of older Disney style shorts,with exaggerated features and funny background events going on constantly. Special note should go to the animals,as they are wholly awesome. This series is the gold standard for horse drawing,there is a horse early who is just plain great. I'd put his picture here just for everyone to bask in his glory but the internet lacks his picture and that's a damn shame.