Story/Art: Osamu Tezuka
Translation/Adaptation: Maya Rosewood
What They Say
Princess Knight is a fast-paced tale of a heroic princess who can beat any man at fencing, yet is delicate and graceful enough to catch the eye of Prince Charming. Filled with narrow escapes, treacherous courtiers, dashing pirates, meddlesome witches, magical transformations and cinema-worthy displays of derring-do, you’ll be swept right along as Sapphire tackles one challenge after another. Princess Knight mixes themes of gender identity and politics with classic shojo-style illustration to create a charming proto-feminist masterpiece by the “Godfather of Manga” that has captured the hearts of generations of readers.
A mischief-making angel’s prank goes too far when the newborn princess of Silverland ends up with two hearts—one male and one female. Since the laws of Silverland only allow a male heir to ascend the throne, Princess Sapphire is raised as a prince. But will the avaricious Duke Duralumin discover Sapphire’s true nature and snatch the crown for his own son?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Volume 1 contains 16 fast moving chapters that offer a creation story (literally!), and combines some Disneyesque art with a rich narrative that takes a uniquely Japanese view of western history and religion. At its heart, the manga offers adventure and excitement as the titular princess tries to decide what gender she should be.
Our story begins where children who will be born the next day stand in line for a heart that will give them gender. A naughty angel, Tink, feeds an unborn baby a male heart and an old angel (or God) feeds the same baby a female heart, so the child will be born with both genders. The old angel sends Tink to earth to remove the male heart if the baby is born as a girl. This baby turns out to be royalty, and she is born a girl, but a doctor with a lisp makes people think a male has been born. Female heirs cannot ascend the throne, so now, Princess Sapphire will spend most of her day as Prince Sapphire so the evil Duke Duralumin will not impose his son Plastic on the throne. Aided by the nasty Sir Nylon, the Duke attempts to find out Sapphire’s true gender. When a plan to kill her ends up killing the King, Sapphire is crowned king and outed at the ceremony when her mother is given a truth potion. From there, Sapphire is thrown in a prison, becomes a masked avenger, is made a slave in the mines, tempted by a demon, and in drag as a blond, wins the heart of a foreign Prince. She does all of this with swordplay and acts of valor.
The artwork seems older than its published date. The characters have cartoony features, including the round-bodied king, the bad guy with a nose bigger than his hand, and the Kewpie style of the cherub angel. Most of the characters have very little detail. The tendency to draw characters with chests out seems to stand in for motion and ignore any sense of naturalism. While some clothes may have hang lines, most are solid with minimal textures. Most figures have simple, solid blacks and whites filling in the outline. When texture is required, a busy series of small circles gives the impression of a pattern. This simple style places more focus on the characters’ expressions, and it also allows for other elements like glitter effects and speed lines to heighten the action.
Some elements seem dated because the narrative has a superficial quality that reminds me of newspaper comic strips, but Tezuka’s style is endearing and the meta-narrative of gender confusion seems well ahead of its time. Heaven worries that the child will not know if it is a boy or girl, and the bad guy thinks he can trick Sapphire into giving away her sexual identity by how she responds to him talking about sewing and cute animals. While Sapphire wants to be girl who can dress up and go to the carnival, she also wants her strength when she needs to fight for what is right or for her mother. In the Art of Osamu Tezuka, Helen McCarthy writes that Tezuka patterned Sapphire on women like his mother who took over male roles during wartime. I will give Tezuka a bit more credit for creating this manga targeted at girls where the narrative directly questions the right of women to be leaders and demonstrates how an individual’s sense of purpose may defy the gender expectations of the culture.
This volume represents several things that might be important to fandom. First, this manga broadened the scope of shojo media, so the historical importance should make it accessible even to those not in tune with its fairy tale sensibilities. Second, those who like swashbuckling stories and like the aesthetic of old Disney and Fleischer cartoons will have fun moving through these chapters. Finally, this book contains an important political statement that looks at gender as culturally defined, so it has a much broader audience than it might have in 1950s Japan.
Highly recommended for diverse and curious readers.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: All
Released By: Vertical Inc.
Release Date: November 1st, 2011