March 2, 2014

Review: Princess Jellyfish

Princess Jellyfish is a delightfully refreshing series -- one of those stories with a cast of utter goofs that you just can't take too seriously, but also wind up inexplicably rooting for.

It's the story of five female shut-ins, each socially awkward and obsessive about their own geeky hobby, who reside in a women-only shared home. Their shells are cracked and comfort zones uprooted, however, when newcomer and protagonist Tsukimi unexpectedly brings home a "stylish" one day (these otaku cannot tolerate the presence of a cool, stylish person, turning to stone on sight). And what's more, this particular stylish who has invaded their exclusively feminine space is secretly a cross-dressing man.

I have to admit, this isn't a show I would have thought to watch for myself. It showed up on my housemate's Netflix recommendations, and she mainly threw it on out of sheer curiosity. Her husband and I joined her just to have something to watch over dinner, and by the end of the night we had powered through all 11 episodes in a row. I'm not normally that into comedy anime, let alone female-targeted josei titles, but Princess Jellyfish won me over by being unusual and genuinely hilarious.

This show surprised me in a number of ways. For one, this was an anime that didn't really feel like an anime, and didn't resort to the same tropes I've become cynically used to. No panty shots, no obligatory violence, no blue or pink hair, and no magical elements. None of the central women are traditionally cute, sexy, or particularly marketable (I'm pretty sure the main character spends most of her time in a baggy shirt and sweatpants). The characters are zany, but only as zany as a human being can actually be. No one is superhuman, no one is invincible, no one is a "too cool for school" badass. This is the story of a bunch of vulnerable, weak people who become stronger by banding together in the real world. Sure, there is conflict and complications, with homes and ways of life threatened, but the plot is always grounded in reality and never comes off as heavy-handed or larger than life. Even the blackmailing, de facto "villain" is, in the end, someone with feelings who can be personally affected.

Even the cross-dressing catalyst, Kuranosuke (a.k.a. "Kurako"), is a pretty normal guy. He's actually the most down-to-earth character of all, always questioning the psychological hang-ups the gals and his up-tight brother have resigned themselves to wrestle with. The usual, snap assumption would be that he's gay -- and since this is a Japanese anime, a flamboyant caricature -- but I honestly don't recall that even coming up in the story. Dressing as the opposite gender is just a thing he does for kicks, and aside from the necessity of hiding his true identity from Tsukimi's housemates, it doesn't pose any significant obstacles or complications.

Another thing that surprised me is the quality of the writing. I have been a hard sell on English dubs, though I find some anime lately are doing them rather well. Princess Jellyfish, though, takes it to another level entirely. The English dub in this series is excellent. The voice acting is competent and expressive, the writing is witty, and the localization is masterful. You can tell that the script has been heavily altered from the original Japanese, since it's jam-packed with phrases and idioms suitable for a western audience, but it never feels artificial, contrived, or censored. There's nothing I hate more than an English adaptation that completely white-washes every cultural tidbit out of the dialogue, but it's equally awkward when a translator is overzealous about preserving literal meaning. Jellyfish lovingly retains the pacing and essence of the original, simply putting it in terms that will feel natural to an English speaker. For a comedy that's interested in having its audience laugh with it rather than at it, that's integral -- and this series earns that privilege through impressive virtuosity.

It may be unassuming, but Princess Jellyfish manages to make you care about its characters -- they're just so damned likable and non-intimidating! I think if I went into detail about why this show is so funny and disarming, it might ruin the experience. I'll just say: this is a show about the "uncool" crowd, about their struggles with fitting into society, about finding friends to share experiences with, and about personal growth. Do yourself a favour: get on over to Netflix and keep an open mind, and you'll have a great time with this heart-warming series.

No comments:

Post a Comment