A long lost title finally gets its chance to shine.
What They Say:
Once upon a time, in the faraway kingdom of Silverland, a princess named Sapphire was born. Thanks to a mischievous little angel’s prank, however, Sapphire ended up with both the blue heart of a boy and the pink heart of a girl. Thus, the new little princess would be as rambunctious and brave as she was gentle and caring. However, all was not well in Silverland. By law, only a son may inherit the throne. To stop the evil Duke Duralumon from becoming next in line to inherit, the King announced to his subjects that Sapphire was a boy. Now several years later, everyone in the kingdom sees Sapphire as a swashbuckling prince. Very few people know her secret. All seems well, but the Duke still lurks in the shadows, waiting for a chance to make his move… Thus begins the story of Sapphire, the courageous Princess Knight, as she fends off the Duke’s wicked schemes and fights for justice and the happiness of her people!
Originally brought over to be adapted for the US market in 1970, the presentation here is available in English mono only due to the edits that were done to make the series conform better to US broadcast standards or to make the material a little more age friendly (some instances of violence have clearly been excised) and as such the Japanese audio cannot be synced. The audio is a bit inconsistent as the storage of video materials at the time was generally not done looking forward to decades in the future so the quality isn’t what one would expect from a more modern show but it is more than just “serviceable.” Heard on the track are some audio track pops- notably at the beginning and end of most episodes with the occasional episode having one show up within that sound like a record player starting/stopping- and in addition to that there are a few places where the audio tries to give a presentation of depth to the images and so off screen dialogue or sounds may be much lower though this is actually a pretty good sign of the producers trying to accomplish what technologically wasn’t feasible at the time.
The dub itself is pretty representative of children’s animation from the era in terms of music and voice cast as the music has a very fairy tale like bent and the voices are often a bit closer to caricatures than natural sounding which lean toward the conclusion the producers figured the show would play better if it came off as more like a cartoon. For the most part the voice cast works, though Knight is a bit less androgynous her situation probably would allow and one can hear Nylon’s voice practically twirling a handlebar mustache which plays him up as a buffoon but still almost all the voices seem to fit characters -or the character types anyway- though Choppy’s voice is such a high falsetto that his appearances on the screen can be grating knowing what is coming. The only flaw for many viewers outside of what they may think of casting decisions will probably be how many times the dialogue and lip flaps don’t match as there many instances of characters talking with closed mouths to be seen (though there are a few instance where characters mouths seem to be stuck open that suggest the original track may have been a bit loose in places as well) which seems to indicate that the adapting team placed entertainment over complete fidelity to the animation.
The video here is presented in its original 4:3 ratio and it also suffers a bit like the audio did by the lack of care taken to preserve the materials that wasn’t exactly uncommon during the time and so a number of issues do surface such as some film pops, some distortion lines that can cross at the top or bottom of the screen on rare occasion, some other signs of print damage and much of the color seems to be a bit faded. All things considered though I’d rather be in this position as an anime fan of having a flawed (yet still better than many VHS tape quality) presentation than have the series go missing or have a large number of episodes lost as happened to around 100 episodes from first two actors to play Doctor Who.
The film also has the presence of grain but this is more a neutral as it was always present and not overpowering as some other movies and series have made use f it so it is something that is there but not too distracting. On the DVD side though there are a few flaws that pop up as there is some occasional cross coloration, ghosting and dot crawl present at various times. One further bit to bring up is that the series has a number of animation inconsistencies present on occasion which can cause objects to appear and disappear at random as the production team failed to quite keep the checks on the entire project the whole time but the situation isn’t exactly rare in older anime either and this certainly isn’t the fault of Nozomi or the limitations of the DVD format and it isn’t constant enough to go beyond slightly amusing to annoying.
The packaging for the release is one that is works for the release and is a reflection of the times but which won’t have the collector’s who feel in love with some of TRSI/Nozomi’s collector’s releases exactly turning cartwheels as the 26 episodes are spread across five discs and packaged inside a regular sized DVD case. The discs are placed inside with the first two being present inside the front cover with the two hubs separate with one higher and the other lower on the case and at different levels so the discs overlap but not in a Stackpak (spindle) way while the next two discs nestled in similar fashion on a clear flipper insert in the middle of the case while the last disc gets its own hub on the inside of the back of the case.
The cover for the release is a simple one that uses an image of Knight on her horse Opal inside a light yellow rectangle that has some leaf and berry flourishes at the four corners to provide some color to a cover that is overwhelmingly a periwinkle blue color that dominates the space with the title present in white over Knight which all taken together somehow feels less impressive than the colorful world contained within the discs. White and the bluish color dominate the rest of the cover as the spine adds a small golden colored logo (presumably the Japanese licensor) while the back cover is set up similar to the front but the bordered box is larger and inside it is white and it contains the series copy (written in the bluish color) and the tech specs and copyright information appear at the bottom of the cover. The discs themselves don’t have any variances either outside of each having a different number indicating what disc it is as each use the Periwinkle blue color for the left half the disc, then a pale yellow for 2/3 of the right side before it switches back to the same blue with a pair of leaf and berries flourish being present on the right to upper and lower left of the disc while the title and disc information is present on the left in white.
The menus here go for a simple, tried and true approach of having a static image of Knight and Opal from the cover present on the left side of the screen with the title in present in white on the right over a yellow boarder with the selectable options also listed in white and the currently highlighted option is indicated by a yellow sword under the current option as a part of the open plays in the background. What the menus lack in frills they make up in usage as the menus are quick to respond to changes in selection and to implementing them making them very functional if not dazzling.
The only extras present on the release are the somewhat industry standard clean open and closes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on characters and situations created by Japanese manga legend Osamu Tezuka, the anime version of Princess Knight is a 52 episode series that plays off the world created in the manga though given the relatively small run of the comic series the anime adds a lot of original stories as well. The series takes place largely in and around the kingdom of Silverland where the law states that only a boy can assume the throne, a situation that becomes a bit of a problem when a princess is born to the royal family. Faced with a decision to make the king, queen and a small number of trusted advisors all decide for the good of the kingdom they will claim that the child is a boy, name her Knight and raise her as a boy in order to help keep a sense of order in the kingdom as well as keep the scheming Duke Duralumon from attempting to use his status of next in line to the throne to gain power now.
Fortunately for the Prince(ss) Knight, when heaven was handing out what kind of hearts that new born children were to receive a somewhat mischievous young angel named Choppy sneaks in a boy’s heart into the waiting baby in line which leaves the young girl possessing the heart of both a boy and a girl when the creator decides she should get a girl’s heart seemingly making her predicament easier. As punishment Choppy is sent to Earth to retrieve the boy heart he gave out and winds up spending 12 years roaming around until he finally finds the person in question- but the Princess is perfectly happy with who she is and has no desire to lose part of herself and so Choppy can’t complete his mission, though this doesn’t seem to be a great bother to him as he becomes a friend of Knight and joins her on many of her adventures.
From this basic set up the series travels with at least one of the two characters (usually Knight is the focus, though sometimes Choppy gets the spotlight as well) as they go about their day in Silverland, most often with Knight having to face some new and (usually rather cartoonish threat) from either Duke Duralumon directly or his scheming but incredibly inept subordinate Nylon as they attempt their long quest to prove that Knight is really a girl and gain power themselves. Now how it is that the pair began to suspect Knight is a girl isn’t exactly clear in any of the stories in this set (perhaps that is part of why the adaptors went with the vocal choice for Knight that they did) as the series introduces the characters with this already established and so it treats this largely as just a premise to be accepted, much like how other series can set up the existence of either fantastic powers or monsters and just say “That is how it is here.”
In order to keep an audience coming back however it (usually) takes something else that connects with individuals mixed in to help out with a plot that is often very predictable in its set up and this criticism this is by no means limited to Princess Knight as many examples exist of series that run for years and work hard to hide their somewhat repetitive nature behind a hook to keep fans coming back despite knowing how events will play out. The US TV series House for example was guilty of this to a great degree, yet it used some sparkling dialogue and great actors to carry it far further than maybe should have gone. Princess Knight (at least in the first 24 of 26 episodes here) doesn’t quite make use of its cast quite as well as one might hope as the series often highlights the action over some of the character development, though in fairness to the series this complaint comes 45 years after it hit its intended audience and for the time having the main character be a girl who carries the show like a boy could was probably hook enough to work on breaking some stereotypes (even if the show falls into some of them at different points as well, undercutting its message and leading lady’s decisions a bit at times).
The setting of Silverland though allows the creators to play heavily with a vast array of mythology and folklore in creating environments and settings for the characters to travel which is where the show may really capture some fans or turn off others -perhaps at the same time- as some of the adaptations are better than others and some are remarkably more obvious at first glance than some of the more subtle ones but it does help to create some memorable scenes even if from a character standpoint nothing changes for them. The other thing that may be divisive is that the series is very influenced by Western cartoons of the day as one can see the influence of both Disney and Warner Brothers in terms of pacing and antics that appear on the screen and aesthetically some of these things, like a scene of birds fighting with a squirrel, simply may not appeal to a more modern audience if they don’t care to make allowances for that style of storytelling.
The biggest issue with the series as it exists here comes from the edited nature of the materials however as at times one has to watch very, very closely to follow some of the jumps that are made in the narrative because of it and sometimes the viewer will have to piece together what was excised with it. In most of the cases it seems that the removed portions were due to some physical action that probably wouldn’t meet with US broadcast standards (like one place where the video does a freeze frame of a person with a whip over Knight where the sounds of a whip can be heard twice but no motion, or characters moving to make an action with the screen then jumping to the receiving character reacting but the action itself absent) which doesn’t make the material impossible to follow it just causes a hiccup in the flow, kind of like a record skip of a few seconds.
In addition those watching closely will notice how the series sometimes is inconsistent with itself from the dub mixing both Greek and some Judeo/Christian religious elements at time to the series going from having Knight having a secret room for a couple episodes to suddenly having a Batman Begins secret elevator where she can go the kitchen and dress as a girl to cook breakfast in secret for the family members who know her true gender. It is actually this part here that is the most frustrating when it occurs as most of the series takes Knight’s behavior as simply who she is but there are a few places where existing stereotypes are snuck in, such as the king wishing she didn’t have to play prince and she could just learn cooking in the open and Knight kind of agreeing (because apparently gender would have her do that rather than her being excused from such tasks because of being royalty).
While most of this review sounds like complaints it really shouldn’t scare off those who are looking to see a title from one of the greatest of all time that also was historically pretty important for being among the first shoujo anime ever as it had its main character act in a manner much more typically associated with boys was breaking barriers, even if at times it makes a few motions to try to look like it is apologizing or rationalizing such boldness. In addition it is at times fun to see a return to a simpler era in a way where animators and writers were a bit freer to play with reality and take chances, be it a horse engaging in fisticuffs (hoofticuffs?) or Satan throwing a party for his daughter and having a Fantasia inspired musical number involved. Beyond that though while the whole may not appeal to all due to storytelling quirks there are still episodes within that are able to elicit an amazing emotional reaction, one of which had me feeling indignation and wanting (cartoon) blood in a way I haven’t felt in many modern series and which shows that at its heart Princess Knight can still packs a punch even if a fair amount of its power overall seems to have been a bit muted with age and other series building off what was pioneered here and the ending episodes of the set have me less than patiently waiting for the next volume to see how things play out.
The release of Princess Knight is probably one that is going to appeal to an audience that is more in tune with the history side of anime as well as those who enjoy some of the same late 60s period work from Disney and Warner Brothers than find a loving embrace from the broadest group of anime fans because of the changes that have occurred in both storytelling and character development (though not always) in the four and a half decades since the series first aired. As one of the first shoujo series in Japan one can see how the series impact helped to establish that market leading to many of the fan favorites of today, though at times some of the events of some episodes seem to be trying to mute its bold approach a little on a couple of occasions. Overall it is a fun trip that has some fantastic moments and is well worth the time for those who are able to appreciate it for the pioneering work it is rather than judging it by a modern standard that it isn’t.
English Language, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B*
Video Grade: B*
Packaging Grade: C
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: C
*indicates taking age and other factors related into account
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: August 20th, 2013
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.