After moving to Tokyo to try her hand at becoming an illustrator, Tsukimi now lives in the Amamizukan apartment building where no men are allowed and every tenant has their own obsession. Unable to find work and scared of social interaction – especially with those deemed stylish – Tsukimi prefers to draw and admire jellyfish, an obsession brought on by a trip to the aquarium with her long-deceased mother when she was a child. When the energetic and stylish drag queen Kuranosuke forces himself into her life by saving the jellyfish she had been admiring at a pet store, she must hide the fact that he is a man from the rest of the tenants of Amamizukan. But as Tsukimi struggles with her feelings for Kuranosuke’s brother and Kuranosuke tries to understand his feelings for Tsukimi, all the tenants must face the impending destruction of the only place they really feel they belong.
I have to say I absolutely love Princess Jellyfish. It probably ranks up in my top ten or even five romances or animes in general for a variety of reasons. It’s a light-hearted and hilarious look at the nature of obsessions and NEET culture using one of the most diverse casts of characters that I have seen in an anime in a long time. Toeing the line of a look at transgender through the character of Kuranosuke, Princess Jellyfish focuses heavily on the nature of fashion and acceptance. While the romance itself is pretty light in that it never really goes anywhere in the end, I think it’s an essential part that allows us to see how the characters grow and find out more about themselves.
The first and last thing you notice about Princess Jellyfish is the opening and ending themes, which are some of the best and, admittedly, catchy songs in shoujo anime. The opening, with song “Koko Dake no Hanashi” by Chatmonchy, plays in conjunction with an animation rife with references and weirdness that really plays tribute to the otaku nature of the show. The characters are inserted into such classics as Marry Poppins, Star Wars, James Bond, and Kill Bill in conjunction with their unique obsessions and personalities. I think this opening really gives us an idea of what the rest of the anime is going to be like especially when the Deathstar is turned into a giant jellyfish and Tsukimi is carried away by jellyfish-shaped aliens. The ending theme, though, is the one that I think is the most related to the themes of the show musically. The ending song is “Kimi no Kirei ni Kizuite Okure” (or “Realize You Are Beautiful”) by Sambomaster. The animation is much simpler than the opening, but it’s the song itself that relates the most to the show. “Realize You Are Beautiful” follows the theme of “everyone can be a princess” perpetuated throughout the series. But other than that, the song is great in and of itself by combining 40s era big band music and J-Pop to create a really unique sound that constantly gets stuck in my head.
All of this is understandable as well when you realize this anime is from Brain’s Base, the same studio that brought you Baccano!, Spice and Wolf II, and Durarara!!, which have all had iconic openings and endings with music that is practically unforgettable. Director Takahiro Omori has has a similar resume of skills, working as Director for Baccano!, Durarara!!, and the Natsume’s Book of Friends series. His experience shows in Princess Jellyfish with great scenes filled with expressiveness and comedy that really makes the effort to bring this award-winning manga to life. I wouldn’t say the animation is up to the same standard as some of those I mentioned, but I think it follows the aesthetic of the story and does a good job showing of Kuranosuke’s over-the-top style and the emotions that each scene evokes in the characters. While only a short 11 episodes, it is packed with comedy and character-driven moments. I do wish it was longer, as there were a lot of things left unfinished or rushed towards the end, but it’s honestly the characters that made this show what it is.
One of the big things I respect about this anime is the diverse cast of characters each with a different body shape, personality, and obsession that really makes them stand out from one another. It’s too often that I get bored or confused reading and watching animes when they consistently use practically the same models for their male and female characters. Princess Jellyfish varies the body-shapes of each character and gives us: a more heavy-set Chieko; a short, tom-boyish Banba with an afro; a tall and lanky Mayaya; the more average height but lanky Jiji; and who I would classify and the “every-man” average body shape Tsukimi. With the addition of the tall and slim Kuranosuke who often wears long and fluffy wigs, it makes for a very unique collection of people. Throw in their unique obsessions and we begin to create more of an impression of the personalities that seem to go right along with their character designs. Though Tsukimi and Kuranosuke are the main focus of the series, I think we really get a good sense of who each character is through how they solve the problems that come up and how they deal with Kuranosuke’s sometimes overbearing personality.
Kuranosuke is probably one of the most interesting of the characters to look at in this anime. In his character, the mangaka plays with the idea of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, flipping it a little to make him a cross-dressing man instead. He comes into all of their lives – much like the character of Mary Poppins that he portrays in the intro – and helps them overcome some of their fears while teaching them about some of their strengths as well. But in a lot of ways, Kuranosuke needs these girls more than I think they need him. In a standard manic pixie trope, the character would come in, teach the guy how to love again, and then leave when she is no longer needed. With him, the Amamizukan boarding house seems like the place he belongs more than anywhere else. It’s a place where everyone has an obsession, Banba has trains and Jiji has older men, and he has fashion even though you wouldn’t normally see that analogous with theirs. But to someone who has been given up by his mother and rejected by his family for cross-dressing, the boarding house is place full of people who won’t really judge him for his obsessions, especially Tsukimi. So when they threaten to tear it down, it’s no wonder that he is the one to get them all organized to save it. It’s also no wonder that he begins developing feelings for Tsukimi, one of the only people who doesn’t judge him and someone who doesn’t feel the need to hide behind fashion. Though his stylish and generally outgoing nature creates this weird limbo where he is both part of and not part of the group.
The tenants of Amamizukan also challenge another trope throughout the series: a woman gains confidence through the clothes that she wears. A trope perpetuated by movies like Pretty Woman and manga that like to use the before-and-after story as the catalyst for their romance, it inevitably leads to discussions of self-confidence being tied to looks and not to things like talents or skills. Princess Jellyfish brings an interesting discussion to the table on this issue. All of the girls show no interest and even physical aversion to being made-over by Kuranosuke, preferring to dress how they want and do what they want. But he makes a point when he compares clothes to battle armor as they get ready to protest the destruction of their home. Just like we have to dress up for job interviews and work, clothes are a way that we interact with people and a necessary way to construct the impression that we want. Over time, I think the girls begin to respect this view as much as he comes to respect their confidence in themselves.
However, this before-and-after plot poses some complications for the romance in this series. When Tsukimi is first made-over she runs into Kuranosuke’s brother, Shu, who falls in love with her on first sight. But, this impression was made on her after-form and not who she looks like normally, so when he meets her again, he doesn’t recognize her at all. It’s only really Kuranosuke who falls in love with both sides of her, coming to appreciate her obsessions as well as her looks. I don’t think Shu ever comes to realize that the before- and after-forms of Tsukimi are the same person, content to fantasize about what they’re perfect life would be like. While the romance in the series takes a back-seat to the more general slice-of-life scenes, there are still a few moments that are touching in their own right. There are also a few moments that are questionable like when Shu gets roofied and blackmailed into believing they had sex by the person who wants to tear down Amamizukan. The whole plot line is almost weirdly out of place in the series though I think it gets an okay – but not exactly satisfactory – resolution in the form of her getting a slap to the face. I definitely think there could have been more done with the romance between Shu and Tsukimi. We hardly get enough interaction between them, instead focusing on her confusion regarding her feelings and Kuranosuke’s feelings for Tsukimi. But I think the constraints of the 11 episode run and the incomplete manga made this a hard anime to wrap up or expand on in a meaningful way.
If you want a light-hearted slice-of-life romance to watch, give Princess Jellyfish a chance. The characters are all pretty unique and the series is filled with some great comedy. Though it seemed like it was wrapped up pretty quickly, some plot-lines rushed to the end, I still think it’s worth the watch. I’m probably also going to check out the manga at some point as I hear it won quite a few awards in Japan and was one of the top-selling shoujo mangas for a while. There’s apparently a live-action movie as well, but I’ve never really been a fan of live-action adaptations. Also this series really makes you realize how awesome jellyfish are.
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