What They Say:
Confined in the castle tower by her father, Princess Arete spends her days watching the world outside her window. Sometimes she sneaks out. Prospective suitors are sent on quests to collect magic treasures to win her hand in marriage.
Reviewing the DVD version which was set up in Stereo 2.0 in both Japanese and French (Anime Ltd release, also no English dub) instead of a 5.1 release is still an acceptable quality (especially as this was first released in 2001) but a bit of tinkering of the volume was needed to make it of an acceptable quality, though there weren’t any issues in terms of the sound being out on sync with the subtitles or the video. No issues with the subtitles synching also helped out a lot as this is good in both languages, the way the show takes the acting is quite deep, and being a traditional show despite being quiet in places, the fact the narration is done with music (and really catchy tunes and vocals to boot) seems to give it an extra oomph that you don’t see in more modern anime.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format (which is superb in full screen especially considering the age of the series you wondered if it would be in 4:3 but unlike the Nadesico release has transacted fully) – with DVD releases nowadays the effect definitely seems more grainier compared to HD (especially again, the age of the movie) but here it is very good, the contrasting colours coming full screen, no slowdown or grain effects when pausing or synching issues, very colourful and as this is fully traditionally animated it really flows well. At times there is not much action but it is the story being told and it contrasts well in this type of scenario.
There was no packaging for this test release; however, the Blu-Ray release will have rigid box packaging and four art cards.
The menu is pretty basic – you have clips of the movie in the centre of the menu in a box that feels like a story book with the menu below it on a basic white background. Your options are Play, Scenes, Set Up and Credits – all easily selectable and no delay, and can return to the main menu from the movie easily – basic but functional.
There are no extras with this release.
Princess Arete is a classic movie following the tradition of a lot of movies that have been done as anime where originally they were books (Howls Moving Castle, When Marnie Was There, The Borrowers, etc). Whilst a lot of those movies were Ghibli related, this was a Studio 4C production (Animatrix, The Berserk movies, etc) and the book is based from a little known British book called The Clever Princess.
Reading the book, I will say the movie does take a few liberties as the theme of the movie is pretty much a kick in the teeth to all the traditional princesses trapped in a castle waiting for their prince to come rescue them – whilst the girl is a little more damsel-fied it still is an adaption which makes the heroine strong, intelligence and independent (considering the original book was published by a company called Sheba Feminist Publishers, that should give you an idea), the Japanese version called Princess Arete released its film over a decade after the book came over to Japan, and considering it is 17 years after its initial release it gets a UK release, how does it hold up in today’s market?
I’d say considering the changes in society, it holds up incredibly well.
Our lead, Princess Arete is a young girl, waiting in a lonely tower waiting for a suitor for her…but she basically goes ‘nope’ and often escapes the tower, escapes and looks around the world, wanting to see what is outside, often in disguise and discovering the wonders that are there. He has helpers in this, but most of them are basically looking for brownie points in favour of the King (though the witch character has a few good moments, including giving Arete a ring which becomes important later). It is clear she has been missing out on life and doesn’t want the life of a princess just ready to marry into royalty. Not helping is the suitors are all pretty chauvinistic (which she slams the castle windows on one) however they do have one use – they bring the King and her gifts as a way to see if any of them are suitable for her. Arete is interested in some of the gifts, specifically, a book telling about wizards and witches and this combined with the suitors being constantly annoying, she makes up her mind to escape the tower and go into the wide world.
Sadly, whilst this would have been a good set up for a story, it doesn’t end well and she is caught by the guards this time and returned to the King (as said, the Japanese version does take a few liberties with the original story and she is a little damselled but fortunately not to an extent that it hurts the flow…) – where a new suitor comes up who is a little bit different to the others…
His name is Boax, a wizard who has arrived on a flying machine to claim himself as her betrothed. His age is a lot older but of course, as a wizard he literally has a few tricks up his sleeve, and manages to enchant Arete into becoming a more traditional princess, which of course the King approves compared to her adventurous nature. However, instead of hosting a wedding at the castle he insists of doing it at his own castle, which should cause suspicion especially as none of the guards or family follow them…
It is revealed that he has basically kidnapped her, and doesn’t love her at all – instead there was an ancient prophecy that the wizard’s life (which is seen to be immortal) would be removed by a princess named Arete, so he has mind controlled her and looked her in a dungeon to make sure that the potential prophecy cannot come true. Along with his comic sidekick Grovel, he begins to relax and come up with plans what to do with the princess…
At this point, it seems like the traditional someone must rescue her, and indeed there is some-one…however it isn’t a handsome prince, it’s a village woman who works for Boax named Ample. She brings him food in exchange for Boax giving her village water magically but is also plotting against him in trying to dig her own well so no longer has to rely on Boax. Through encouragement and force of will (and the ring that the witch gave her, similar to the book, allows her to grant wishes) she manages to break out of the enchantment and fools Boax to thinking she is still enchanted as he intends to send her out on an impossible journey…
…which of course is exactly what Arete wants. She actually returns to the castle to find the source of Boax’ water (in a funny segment, Boax and Grovel use his magic to try and see how she is doing, and see an image of her in the castle disguised looking for the water…which they assume the staff is faulty ^^) and when Boax finally discovers this, his buffoonery continues when he accidentally destroy the castle and releases the water into the land – which indirectly also destroys the gem that he had which gives him immortality…thus the prophecy came true.
This leads to the town recovering, Arete now free and ready to explore the world with Boax wondering if she influenced him more than he would admit…
The start of the movie really gives you the idea of what the movie and our heroine is about – we see her bored in the tower in a dress, and then 2 minutes later, we see her in disguise in the market area, seeing children her own age making a craft and wondering how to do that or wanting to do that. Little things she does makes her more and more likeable because whilst not physically impossible she is intelligent and sees through all the stuff that goes on (her suitors for example – one tries to charm her with a rose, she points out it was a rose stolen from the castle gardens, another tries to charm her with tales of adventure, she points out that his skin hasn’t hardened from doing things he claims to do, etc) and has a need for adventure. Her father is just a statue figure, only serving as a means to marry her off, and clearly has no care of her interests and just to expect her to live a life that she considers boring even if her increased importance. Her reading of books of magic and discovery give her an inquisitive and excitable nature and you really cheer her on every time she does something which is considered against the norm in this fairy tale esque land.
The little things (Ample’s encouragement, the ring the witch gave her as an aside) all add up when she breaks free of the spell – almost like a metaphor as it is female figures which make her back to being independent – and whilst the movie can be slow paced and leisurely, it is still a smart way of storytelling. The villain Boax, has a reason for his actions, but half the time he’s threatening, the other he is like an old buffoon which comes full circle as he doesn’t know what to do when Arele is defiant. It is pretty much mostly a one person movie with Arele, but her character is so well defined that is all you need considering the movie is just over an hour and a half long.
It is definitely a story that has feminist reaches (apparently they toned it down from the original – not sure due to Japanese values or wanting a more fairytale nature) and whilst the idea of magic and tradition is there, Arele (literally) breaks through both and by the end of the movie is a success story of her own. The movie at times can be slow and even quiet, but that is also because of its intelligent storytelling and making sure all the little things together can eventually lead to her break out, Ample’s story being concluded and Boax’ prophecy being foretold. Not saying that the development is slow because the rest of the cast are largely forgettable (though Boax has his comic moments) but Arele alone makes this a worthwhile story to be told.
Princess Arete is definitely a non-traditional approach to the tales of princesses in fairy tales, and considering when it came out it actually holds up incredibly well in today’s social media. There is a lot of ideals in the movie, the heart, respects, being your own person, and whilst it still has the cliché of princess in a castle, it is told differently, cleverly, and thanks to the lead being very likable, it carries the worth of the movie. Whilst definitely slow paced and not perfect, it is still very much worth watching.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: February 26th, 2018
Running Time: 105 minutes
Video Encoding: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.