Take one girl who’s obsessed with jellyfish, add a cross-dressing rebel, his virgin big brother, and an over-sexed landshark. Sprinkle with random otaku, mix well, and enjoy the resulting series: Princess Jellyfish…
What They Say:
Follow the lives of the otaku women who live in an apartment building in Tokyo where the only tenants are women, and where no men are allowed. The protagonist is Tsukimi Kurashita, whose love of jellyfish stems from memories of her dead mother taking her to an aquarium. Tsukimi hopes to becomes an illustrator and is an awkward girl terrified of social interaction, attractive people and the prospect of formal work. Tsukimi soon meets Kuranosuke Koibuchi, the illegitimate son of a politician, who cross-dresses to avoid the obligations of politics and to feel closer to his mother.
Audio comes in Japanese, English and French version (the French and English tracks are only available through their respective-language menus), each in 2.0 stereo. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. It’s a fairly standard 2.0 mix, with no opportunities to really show off thanks to this being a dialogue-heavy series. But it’s perfectly serviceable, with no obvious issues.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect, enhanced for anamorphic playback. The visual style of the series is rather ‘old school’ and not the easiest on they eye, but there’s plenty of detail in both characters and backgrounds; Again, there were no obvious issues with the encode.
No packaging was provided with our review copy. Which is a shame, as I would’ve quite liked to have gotten my hands on the Clara plushie that’s included with the retail sets…
Menus come in French or English, selectable when the disc first loads. I didn’t bother looking at the French version, and stuck to a language I can actually understand. The main scree has Clara and a few of her jellyfish friends, floating in their aquarium tank with a montage of clips form the show barely visible through it. Direct access is provided for language optiona and episodes, along with a Play All function. It couldn’t possibly be any quicker or easier to use. Extras are available on disc three, also linked directly from the main screen.
Not as many extras as the US release, sadly, with just the Princess Jellyfish Heroes (4 short clips looking at the heroes of the various members of the Sisterhood; and Jellyfish Safari, a fun little omake series with the Sisterhood taking on the roles of jungle explorers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Tsukimi Kurashita’s been obsessed with jellyfish ever since her mother took her to an aquarium when she was a little kid – the filaments of the jellyfish looked like the frills on a princess’s dress, and that was enough to get her hooked. Now she’s in Tokyo, trying to make a living as an illustrator – but somehow she’s ended up living with a bunch of otaku, each as obsessed with their own interests as she is with jellyfish. In a wry observation on their communal lack of a love life, they’ve become known as The Sisterhood, and their home as The Nunnery – none of which seems to stop her enjoying life, at least. But a chance meeting with a Stylish Princess is about to turn her world upside down…
The Stylish are, of course, those with considerably better fashion sense than Tsukimi and her Sisterhood brethren, but even amongst them Kuranosuke Koibuchi is unusual: by outward appearance a flamboyant young woman, he’s really just a male college student who’s remarkably good at pulling off drag – something he inherited from his showgirl mother, who meant enough to him that he’s still mimicking her appearance, years after the were separated by the dread force of politics. Kuranosuke quickly becomes involved in the affairs of the Sisterhood, through a series of chance occurrences: his meeting with Tsukimi; his step-brother Shu’s involvement with land-shark property developer, Inari, who has plans to demolish the Nunnery as part of some grand (and hopefully profitable) redevelopment plans; and a sudden desire to impress Tsukimi, who in turn seems to have developed quite a crush on Shu.
Follow all that? Good, as it does become quite the tangled web. A warning at this point: at only 11 episodes, Princess Jellyfish doesn’t remotely reach a conclusion. Instead, it settles for reaching the end of a story are – the battle to save the Nunnery from falling into Inari’s clutches – and leaves the more romance-oriented side of things open for you to decide for yourself what you believe happened next (I’m not aware of any plans for a second season at this point). That’s a bit of a disappointment – there’s quite an undercurrent of rivalry built up over who Tsukimi would eventually choose, Shu or Kuranosuke (should he ever get around to expressing his feelings), and it’s a damned shame that that doesn’t get followed to its conclusion.
What we do get, though, is witty, charming, and thoroughly entertaining stuff anyway. Each episode’s title is a play on a well-known movie or TV series (and the show’s opening credit sequence is a 90-second game of Spot the Homage), that hooks into the events of that episode. It’s the characters that drive the show, though. Tsikimi and the other “nuns” are high-end otaku, each devoted to their own area of interest: Tsukimi with her jellyfish, afro-sporting Banba to trains, tomboyish Mayaya to all things Three Kingdoms-related; Chieko to her traditional Japanese dolls; and more besides. While their interests vary wildly, they all suffer from the same problems: a complete lack of social skills when dragged outside their comfort zone, a positive fear of the Stylish – and an admirable determination that no developer will tear down their beloved Nunnery that eventually forces them to overcome their social problems in the name of facing down the greater threat.
That threat comes in the form of Inari, who, besides being a landshark as already mentioned, is a highly-skilled manipulator of men – a talent she’s only too happy to use to advance her business interests. Across the series, it’s Shu that she focuses her attention on, unaware that he has some, uh, issues that make him less susceptible to her feminine wiles than most men would be. Add to that some growing feelings on Shu’s part for Tsukimi (at least when she’s in “princess mode”, courtesy of Kuranosuke’s fashion skills), and there’s a lot of interpersonal drama to follow.
The triumph of the series is that, in between 1,001 comedy moments which make a heavy contribution towards the show’s tone, the drama never becomes DRAAAAMAAAA!!!!, if you follow my meaning – there are major emotional things happening to the lead characters here, and you get taken along for the ride with that, but it never crosses the line into over-emotional angst or the sort of reactions that you might expect a teen drama to slip into. It’s a more mature, measured affair – and so much more enjoyable as a result.
It’s also gut-bustingly funny on occasion. There are lots of visual cues and gags dotted throughout the series for the observant, and plenty more genuinely funny lines of dialogue that keep you at the very least chuckling along for most of each episode. The nuns’ reactions to most problems is gloriously over-the-top (in the comedic sense, rather than the dramatic), and it’s all just so much fun to watch that you can’t help get pulled along for the ride.
The only point where it possibly falls down is with the visuals. Character designs could be charitably described as “challenging”, and even scenery / backgrounds have a rough, almost unfinished feel to them a lot of the time. Put it next to a lot of other recent shows, which are positively dripping with CG gloss, and it looks primitive. That’s maybe with the intention of forcing you to pay more attention to the characters and their development, as opposed to going “ooooh, pretty….”, but it does quite literally take a little of the shine off the series. But not by enough to stop me recommending the series highly.
It’s fun, charming, and clever, with a great cast to carry it and very little in the way of failings. It was one of the surprise shows of its season for me back when it was being simulcast, and watching it again now has only reinforced just how enjoyable it is to watch. Well worth picking up.
Japanese Language, English Language, French Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Princess Jellyfish Heroes Parts 1-4, Jellyfish Safari parts 1-6.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK / Kaze UK
Release Date: 3 September 2012
Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-22 5.1 speaker system.