Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Princess Knight vol. 1

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Princess Knight volume one (Vertical, 2011).

I haven't had the opportunity to pick up any new domestic releases from the great Osamu Tezuka for quite some time, but a really wonderful reader sent me an Amazon gift card, and I figured the least I could do was pick up something from my wish list that I wanted to read and share with y'all.

Princess Knight, a comic that originally ran over three years in the mid-1950s, surprised me somewhat. I knew that it was a lighthearted adventure series for girls - Japanese publishers categorize it and like-minded comics as "shōjo," although the insistence among American fans of Japanese comics to use the same terminology remains baffling to me - but I had no idea just how whimsically it begins, and how dark and mean it becomes. I was expecting a medieval fantasy, but not really a fairy tale. Frankly, it's probably not possible to read it and not find it charming.

Tezuka's habit was to rewrite and recreate his comics after their original publication, and I understand that Vertical's release of Princess Knight, across two volumes, comes from a 1963-66 version for Nakayoshi magazine. It's the story of Sapphire, the only heir to the throne of Silverland, who must masquerade as a boy to inherit. Complicating matters is that she was born with both a "boy heart" and a "girl heart." Her boy heart gives her the talent to master swordfighting. When her girl heart unexpectedly dominates her, usually as a result of evil, magical intervention, she swoons and goes "ohhhhhh" and has to drop her sword. Not, perhaps, a comic for readers who study contemporary gender politics with great intensity.

It begins as light as gossamer and half as deep, but Princess Knight is a pleasant diversion with real surprises. It's dated, certainly, but the fairy tale mice and angels don't detract from the downbeat avenues that the plot takes. When Sapphire and her mother are imprisoned - Sapphire's deception is exposed quite early on thanks to villains getting the queen drunk, although her dual life continues by posing as two different people - it really does look bleak. The artwork is consistently amazing and, honestly, I enjoyed this even more than I thought I might. Recommended for all ages.

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