It is the Tezuka Manga Moveable Feast week! Fortunately I have been hoarding the two volumes of Tezuka’s Princess Knight for just such an occasion.
We live in fortunate times, with so many Tezuka manga translated in English, and Vertical has certainly taken on the bulk of the work to produce so many influential titles. I’ve been wanting to read Princess Knight for a long time because I understand that it had a huge influence on the development of shoujo manga. Tezuka titles can sometimes be a bit tricky for me to appreciate. I love the unbridled insanity of Black Jack and appreciate Tezuka’s artistry in general but sometimes the cultural attitudes on display can be a bit off-putting, leading me to appreciate some Tezuka manga more as an important cultural artifact as opposed to a manga that I enjoy purely as a reader.
Princess Knight is the story of a princess named Sapphire who is born with the unfortunate condition of having both a boy and girl heart. Through a misunderstanding as an infant she was announced as a Prince to her subjects and as a result is a boy in public and a girl in private. Sapphire fences and rides horses and attempts to fend off attempts to penetrate her disguise by the evil Duke Duralumin. Many of the early chapters of the Princess Knight read as a fun fairytale mashup filled with Disney-influenced costume design and woodland creatures. Sapphire goes to a ball as a girl and meets a prince from the neighboring kingdom named Franz Charming. But she finds herself fencing with him as a man the next day, and after Duralumin frames Franz for murder Sapphire decides to help him escape. Like Disney’s Snow White or Cinderella, Sapphire finds animal helpers where ever she goes, if she’s in the woods relaxing or shut up in a dungeon after her true nature is discovered. When her true gender is unmasked, Sapphire goes on an adventure to try to save her kingdom and her mother. She dresses up as a knight in a mask, escapes prison, tries to break into her own palace again, and deals with an evil demoness who wants to claim her heart for a demonic daughter.
Tezuka packs plenty of physical comedy into Sapphire’s adventures, and the pacing of the chapters is almost frenetic. Looking back, I tend to single out a few favorite moments or characters rather than a consistent storyline. I enjoyed Hectate, the daughter of the demoness Madame Hell. Hectate introduces herself to Sapphire by throwing fireballs at her, and when confronted with the prospect of receiving Sapphire’s girl’s heart declares that she doesn’t want to become a feminine princess because “I won’t be able to ride brooms, play tag with bats, or kill toads anymore! How stupefyingly dull!” I don’t tend to enjoy Prince Franz very much, as he seems to be insanely obtuse in not being able to tell that Sapphire is the “flaxen-haired maiden” that he’s fallen for. Sapphire does take up with a pirate captain who recognizes her as a girl and promptly proposes marriage, offering to help her overthrow the evil Duke. I have a feeling Sapphire’s sojourn with pirates won’t last very long though.
It was fun to see elements in Princess Knight that still show up in contemporary shoujo. Cross dressing and phantom disguises are common, and Sapphire bears up bravely under an overwhelming sequences of adventures and problems. I’m suspecting that the series will end with her ditching her extra boy heart and masculine characteristics, which would be a bit of a shame since I tend to prefer her personality when she’s in male mode.