Princess Jellyfish Review
Based on the manga of the same name, Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime) is an 11 episode anime series aimed primarily at a female audience. The series follows the exploits of Tsukimi, a young lady otaku who adores jellyfish, fears social interaction and lives in Amamizu - a group residence with five other likeminded otaku ladies. Together they enjoy their insular existence, each has a particular obsession and each is accepted for who they are. They have no interest in clothes or appearance, refer to attractive young men and women as the 'stylish', recoil in fear when in the presence of said 'stylish' and have a steadfast 'no men' rule for their home.
One night Tsukimi is walking home and stops to view the jellyfish in the window of the local aquarium store, but to her horror she finds that two different and very aggressive species are placed in the same tank. Summoning up all her courage to approach the young male 'stylish' who works in the store, she blurts out her protest but is paid little attention. To her astonishment a passing female 'stylish' steps in to the fray and together they rescue the jellyfish before returning to Amamizu. Tsukimi politely and repeatedly thanks and requests the young 'stylish' leave her be, but instead she pushes her way to Tsukimi's room and promptly falls asleep. The next morning Tsukimi is horrified to discover a young man sleeping in her room, a young man who introduces himself as Kuranosuke, a cross-dresser who from this moment on just won't leave her and Amamizu's residents alone.
Although I'm not the intended audience, I found much to appreciate in Princess Jellyfish. Throughout there is frequent and quite zany humour as the awkward otaku ladies of Amamizu find their introvert lives invaded by this 'stylish' who continues to visit Tsukimi dressed as a woman. Their natural defence in her presence is that of 'petrifaction', whereby they enter a frozen, stone-like state, literally scared stiff. Initially cold towards 'Kurako' - the name Kuranosuke makes up for his cross dressed guise - he continues to penetrate their armour which it turns out is pretty thin and can be bought with some top quality meat! Kuranosuke's interest in Tsukimi proves intriguing as he sees her as something of a toy at first, which inevitably leads to a make-over with predictable results, but Tsukimi's rejection of becoming that which she hates puzzles Kuranosuke and sees him take a deeper interest in Tsukimi and her friends. To his credit Kuranosuke never intends to change who the Amamizu girls are, just how they appear, indeed he's quite fascinated by Tsukimi's interest in jellyfish and never outright ridicules the others for their interests. He very much accepts them for who they are, and Tsukimi likewise accepts his cross dressing, but as someone who takes pride in his appearance as Kurako he challenges their lack of interest in their own appearances and as the series progresses shows them how they can use their appearance to better fight for that which they love.
That being Amamizu, which comes under threat by a redevelopment project and serves as the main plot point in the last half of the series as the girls are led by Kurako in a fight to save their home. This sees all members of Amamizu undergo a makeover (to their individual horrors but much to the viewer's delight) in order to stand up and be noticed, and their individual skills are also brought out as they seek methods to raise money.
At its heart then Princess Jellyfish is a fairly traditional story of a nerdy girl who is befriended by someone outside of her social circle and finds her life transformed as a result. What keeps it interesting is the numerous little tweaks to the formula, and right at the core is the idea that Tsukimi and the Amamizu residents are not your typical brainy girls with their heads always in books, but instead rather ordinary underachievers who each have a somewhat irregular obsession (jellyfish, Records of Three Kingdoms, Japanese dolls, trains and older men). Their otaku sensibilities combined with their social insecurity makes for light humour throughout, and that they are secure with their particular obsessions in the company of each other only helps matters and sees them start to open up in public. The other obvious tweak to the formula is having the 'cool new friend' be a cross dresser, which leads to plenty of laughs as Amamizu is strictly 'no men allowed' and sees Tsukimi do her utmost to cover up Kuranosuke's occasional slips (referring to his actual gender when speaking). It also allows for some interesting moments in the character development as Tsukimi marvels at this beautiful visage that matches the princess ideal she dreamed of as a child, only for the irony to hit her repeatedly that it is a man underneath all the make up, beautiful dresses and wigs.
Beyond these changes are also some further adjustments to the formula which keep viewers on their toes. Romance is always a variable in stories such as these but here there are no Hollywood endings. There are first loves and also heartbreak, and while the way they blossom is fairly traditional the way they develop is not. This aspect of the show is made all the more compelling by the choice to put considerable focus on Kuranosuke and his older brother Shu as the series progresses. Shu - who is involved in the redevelopment project threatening Amamizu - becomes infatuated with 'after makeover' Tsukimi and vice versa, but an unusual third party is thrown into the mix which leads to an unexpected outcome for all those involved. The subject matter here is certainly more adult in approach than you might expect and complete with a developing jealous romantic angle involving Kuranosuke the series chooses against wrapping things up in a neat little bow, instead leaving the major players in a state that could have a variety of outcomes. This ambiguity is appreciated in the romantic subplots that flare up in the latter part of the series, and continues with variable results elsewhere. Indeed one general complaint I had with the series is how it ends, not because story threads aren't wrapped up (the main Amamizu plot thread is actually brought to a all too convenient close in comparison to other aspects of the show) but because one of the most predictable plot threads given the setup of the show never actually comes to pass. Ultimately I should be happy the show subverts expectations, but given the series is presumably done and dusted it seems like a missed opportunity for some fun and games at the tail end of the run.
Manga Entertainment are releasing Princess Jellyfish on UK DVD as a three-disc set coded for Region 2. This release sees them partner with French distributor Kazé who handle the production duties on the discs.
Episodes are given a 4-4-3 split across the single-layer discs and are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a PAL format release, and there are no obvious signs of a poor standards conversion, leaving us with a very strong image that offers a good level of detail and excellent colour reproduction. The image is a little soft, but this is due to the soft haze that many anime series exhibit these days, and not a fault of the transfer.
When you first pop in the discs you're given a choice between French and English menus, which in turn limits your language options. On the English menu we can choose from Japanese audio with English subtitles (forced and white in colour) or an English dub, while the French menu is limited to just Japanese with French subtitles (again, forced and white in colour). Both the original Japanese audio and English dub tracks are Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and do a fine job of handling the dialogue and musical accompaniment, and they open up quite nicely if you set your amp to a surround mode. The show is very dialogue heavy so there isn't much activity but audio is separate nicely across the left and right channels and the excellent original soundtrack is mixed well across the stage.
Extras are found on the third disc and comprise a number of original shorts. There are four 'Princess Jellyfish Heroes' segments which run five-minutes each and focus on the side characters and their personal otaku obsessions. These include the girls of Amamizu and another side character, Hanamori, the Mercedes Benz otaku driver for Kuranosuke's family. Quality varies but they're generally a fun diversion, as is 'Princess Heroes Safari' which is basically a series of skits with the Amamizu girls on safari. The latter is probably the least compelling of the extras, mostly as it generally made little sense, but the change in animation style is welcome and makes it worth the very short time required to check it out.
Along with a reasonably compelling plot and building of the central relationships there is also much to enjoy elsewhere with Princess Jellyfish. The opening animation sequence is more of a highlight than many other shows, thanks mainly to the way it pays homage to many films and film icons from Star Wars to Bruce Lee, featuring the girls re-enacting famous sequences. This also ties in with the ladies and their otaku tendencies, tendencies which drive the humour greatly, from nerdish rants to outlandish reactions there is a lot of energy in both the animation and the voice acting to hold our interest. This all combines for a solid entry in the comedy drama genre, and one that, while clearly aimed at a female audience - not just the romantic subplots, but makeovers, dress making, fashion elements and a very twee, hyper-cute jellyfish which pops up to give facts about the girls from time to time - also has plenty to offer to everyone. Where it loses points however is the unfinished feeling I was left with, a 'is that it?' ending, one that comes very fast and is gone just as quickly. I suspect it has to do with the anime not wanting to tread ground the manga hadn't yet breached (at the time of broadcast), but that's just an educated guess on how manga dictates anime content.
The DVD release is equally good and features some decent extras but there is one glaring caveat here, and that's with how Manga is selling the set. Looking around you can only buy Princess Jellyfish as a 'Deluxe Collector's Edition' with pack-in jellyfish soft-toy. Current asking price is well over £30 making this a very expensive 11 episode series.