What They Say:
Plain, timid and obsessed with jellyfish, Tsukimi is a far cry from her idea of a princess. Her tepid life as a jobless illustrator comes complete with roommates who harbor diehard hobbies that solidify their status as hopeless social rejects. These wallflowers run a tight, nun-like ship, but their no-men-allowed-not-no-one-not-no-how bubble is unwittingly burst after Tsukimi brings home a rescued sea jelly and a beauty queen… who’s actually a guy.
When the threat of losing their cozy convent inspires this glamour boy to turn the neurotic entourage into a portrait of success, will Tsukimi take her chance to bloom, or will she end up a hot mess?
Please Note: This review is of the DVD portion of the combo release only.
The feature is presented with two audio tracks- a 5.1 English track and a Stereo Japanese one. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a mostly solid one. The audio track free from dropouts or other distortions and it gets its point across as dialogue is delivered clear while also doing a very good job of mixing in the background music so that the various elements complement each other without seeming to fight for attention and take away from each other.
Originally starting to air late in the Japanese 2010 Television season, Princess Jellyfish is presented in its original 1.78:1 ratio and is presented here with an anamorphic encode. The encode at large for the discs is a decent one though not flawless due to the medium with some noise, and a bit of ghosting, dot crawl and as well as some color blurring present at points. The video also looks to be a bit on the soft side but given the largely softer nature of the colors used throughout the series this seems like it may have been a style choice to help create a somewhat soothing atmosphere for the show. This choice also works to mitigate most possible encode issues as the more complex a drawing is the more chance for the issues to show themselves.
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases’ review.
As for the DVDs themselves, the first disc uses an off grey background with little silver outlined Claras filling up the disc while the second disc uses a light green background with a darker green bubble motif that fills the disc label.
The first disc’s main menu uses a background that looks like a white page from a sketchbook was torn out as it sits on a purple backdrop of some kind. On this page are sketches of a number of different kinds of Jellyfish in purple ink along with one of the series mascot, Clara positioned above the selectable options which are lined up near the bottom of the screen next to the series title in a grey bubble. The Episode selection menu uses an image that looks like the afro curls of a character in the series and all the items on the screen appear in varying shades of purple and purple/white mix with little Clara images inside the afro image while the episodes are listed to the right. The setup screen uses a similar color feature as it presents some jellyfish sketches in the background with the language options appearing in dark purple circles that appear almost like air bubbles while the extras menu uses the afro image again with the series name being written repeatedly on the right outside the image.
The second disc uses a sketch of the front of the mansion where Kuranosuke lives in a similar style to the sketch on Disc one’s main menu while the other menus resemble those of the first disc with some minor differences in shading and the language menu also uses the mansion sketch as backdrop. The menus themselves are fairly easy to use though some may find the slight bolding purple against purple menu a bit difficult to spot as to what is highlighted. The menus largely respond to selection changes quickly and load the selections with minimal delay.
The extras present on this disc are rather an abundant collection whose strength and depth is fitting for a princess’s entourage. Included are Princess Jellyfish Heroes Parts 1-4, an extra which compensates somewhat for the odd episode count by giving mini animated pieces that give a bit of a different look at some of the other women living in Amamizukan. Together these shorts actually have a longer run time than an episode and give a taste for the characters without disrupting the flow like they might if inserted into an episode. The next extra is Go, Sisterhood Explorers! Parts 1-6 which appears to be an animated commercial series leading up to the airing of the show. A note on this is that each one has to be selected separately which is rather a drag considering their roughly 30 second run time and that they are sequential, a reality which would have been greatly helped with a “play all” feature.
Next is Tsukimi and Jiji’s Octopus Tour where the voice actresses for the listed characters have a just over 20 minute featurette where they visit an aquarium which was used as a basis for the one in the series. As an additional bonus, also included is The Princess Jellyfish Field Guide which is a text guide that uses some images to go into depth behind some of the characters and settings of the series as well as a guide to jellyfish. Another bonus that FUNimation adds is Episodes 1 & 11 Commentary using some of their English voice actors. Finally the extras include Promotional Videos and Textless Songs which have a tendency to be almost standard on a release and at times the only extra present but here serve as the icing on a delicious looking cake.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based off a manga created by Akiko Higashimura, the television adaption of her series ran for 11 episodes in the last quarter of the Japanese 2010 television season. The series follows the adventures of a young woman named Tsukimi Kurashita who has just recently moved to Tokyo to try her hand at illustrating for a living, though at present she still is forced to rely on some financial support from her father back home. Tsukimi has found lodging in a building called Amamizukan and has settled in well with the other (all female) occupants of the building.
The thing is that Tsukimi has had a bit of a hard life. Her mother died when she was young and one of Tsukimi’s fondest memories of the time spent with her was a trip they took to an aquarium. While there her mother talked about how the jellyfish reminded her of a princess’s gown and the memory has made such an impact on her life Tsukimi has become a bit of a jellyfish otaku. OK, actually a lot of a jellyfish otaku.
This isn’t a big problem for her daily life as Amamizukan is populate with other women who would fall under the same umbrella of otaku. One of the other residents is obsessed with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms stories, another is obsessed with trains, another has a thing for rather mature (in age) men and the final regular member is obsessed with traditional Japanese dress. Possibly the most non obsessed member is a famous Boys Love (BL) author who lives in the building, but even she almost never leaves her room.
Tsukimi lives her life in a rather small space as she has no confidence in her appearance and is convinced that and her jellyfish obsession make her an outcast, particularly among the more fashionable (Stylish) or traditional career path people who appear to populate Tokyo. She isn’t alone as her fellow building mates all seem to share her same belief and so they limit their exposure to things that make them uncomfortable. When she finds herself stressed out by events in her life Tsukimi goes to a local pet store and looks at the small spotted jellyfish they have in the window.
One night she stops there to comfort herself and her life changes forever. As she is talking to the jellyfish she calls Clara she notices that another jellyfish type has been put in the same tank with her Clara, and it is a kind that will lead to the death of the jellyfish she has come to love. Summing up all her courage Tsukimi attempts to explain things to the store clerk but his appearing to be one of the feared “stylish” creates a barrier that prevents communication. Just as things are looking grim Tsukimi is saved by a “stylish” who appears to be every bit the princess her mother used to talk about. The “stylish” helps Tsukimi acquire the jellyfish and take all the supplies the creature will need back to Tsukimi’s lodgings. Upon reaching the building the “stylish” falls in love with the retro architecture and winds up falling asleep in Tsukimi’s room, much to Tsukimi’s despair at having a “stylish” there.
Things get worse the next morning though when Tsukimi discovers that the “stylish” turns out to be an even bigger problem in the building because “she” is actually a “he” and having a man in the building is actually an even bigger crime against the sisterhood there than even being a “stylish.” His name is Kuranosuke Koibuch and he has his reasons for cross-dressing which aren’t related to anything of a sexual nature. Part of his reasoning comes from the fact that he is an illegitimate son of a family that is very involved in politics and his manner of dress is a combination of rebellion at his father as well as a way of reminding him of his mother who he hasn’t seen in years. The hobby also helps keep him a bit separate from women as his good looks have lead to him always being pursued and that has caused him to be disinterested in pursuing relationships over the years.
Kuranosuke has in love with the building and when he discovers that it is in an area that the government- including those in his family- are looking to redevelop he strikes out to revamp the members of Amamizukan to help them appear more stylish and thus cause people in power to listen to them closer, a move which has various levels of success. His highest level of success though is in Tsukimi who has no idea just how beautiful she truly is. This leads to some odd complications though when Kuranosuke’s older brother meets the stylized version of Tsukimi and starts to fall in love. Suddenly Kuranosuke is thrust into a position of looking at Tsukimi in a new way, and he may discover there are some feelings there even he didn’t know. With “stylish” people surrounding her, her home possibly facing demolition and the appearance of some new feelings of attraction what is a jellyfish otaku to do?
Princess Jellyfish is a title I walked into knowing nothing about it except having heard some internet chatter about it. This was kind of a middle of the road thing as I have heard people play up things I didn’t care nearly as much about but decided I’d give the title a chance when the opportunity presented itself. And boy am I happy I did.
It might not be wrong to call the series a modern day fairy tale as its main character’s mother told her every girl can be a princess. Instead of having a wicked stepmother and sisters keeping Tsukimi in her place though she has managed to do it herself with the help of some societal stigma. Tsukimi assumes her jellyfish obsession helps put her out of the norm as well as the fact she feels she is unattractive. The problem here is like many young woman she has a bit of a biased take on her appearance, though in Tsukimi’s case it may be because her mother died when she was so young she never got help learning how to dress more feminine.
As a result of this Tsukimi is almost in a situation waiting for a prince to come, but perhaps given her manner of dress it is rather appropriate her prince comes packaged as a princess who can see the things in her she fails to see in herself. Where as in a traditional story this might lead to “happily ever after,” instead the audience gets to watch as Tsukimi struggles with her lack of self confidence as her “prince” doesn’t solve it simply with a kiss. That this prince isn’t without his own issues as well and his contact with Tsukimi may actually do him as much good as her as he has a number of issues and shortcomings he is unaware of makes for a far more realistic tale on the fairy tale like aspects.
With this set up the series is free to play up a number of reactions and personality traits to a rather exaggerated level while still maintaining an eye on its characters and the motivations it is looking to display. It is in this spot where the series shows its true heart as it would be easy to use the characters obsessions to simply mock them and make them incredibly shallow yet the story decides to tread a bit of a different path.
Yes it still plays up their fanaticism, often to comedic levels, but it never feels like the story is doing so at the characters expense. Instead it seems like it is giving a wink at the story’s fanbase who, either because of the manga or anime, likely have been treated like a bit of an outcast at times due to differing tastes of society at large. In this the series seems to treat most everyone as a kind of friend who may have their quirks but still are people you would want to spend time with. This treating the characters with love while also not treating them as some sort of fragile glass objects who will shattered if handled the same way as less obsessed characters allows for a feeling of realism to seep in even during the exaggerated moments and can leave the viewer slowly falling in love with this quirky but well meaning group of characters.
It is this treatment of characters that allows for a breakdown in cynicism and taking the series as it comes rather than breaking down all the different elements and picking apart the bits that are a touch forced and/or clichéd. And while there are some here to be sure, part of the reasons that cliché elements exist is that writers have discovered over the years that if done right they can move an audience in a very particular direction and the series manages to use them largely in that sort of manner and Princess Jellyfish manages to do this with a deft hand.
Princess Jellyfish is an exemplary tale of what can be done with some quirky and slightly odd characters if a series has fun with them rather than just at their expense. This attitude allows the characters to be more than just caricatures of behaviors but to become the kinds of characters that the audience winds up feeling for as they go through their (sometimes exaggerated) ups and downs. Princess Jellyfish manages to incorporate their little flaws and foibles as well as the cliché elements into itself in such a way that rather than detract from the story actually seem to add a feeling of realism as life is never as perfect as the ones found in fairy tales. The story is just a gem of a series and while it is a bit early to place it as a “year’s best release” at this moment, it certainly is going to be one that will be almost impossible to knock out of the running based on what it brings to the table in terms of fun and heart. Highly recommended.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Princess Jellyfish Heroes Parts 1-4, Go, Sisterhood Explorers! Parts 1-6, Tsukimi and Jiji’s Octopus Tour, The Princess Jellyfish Field Guide, Episodes 1 & 11 Commentary, Promotional Videos, Textless Songs
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: February 28th, 2012
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.