Elf Princess Rane Anime Review
Fairy Princess Rane
US Release By
Hyperactive Fairy Comedy
2 30-minute episodes
1995-10-27 - 1996-01-26
The setting is a pastoral town in the near future. A pastoral town with a mecha-equipped fire department and a powerful corporation trying to convert the town into an elaborate amusement park.
Oblivious to all this as well as most of reality in general is young Takarada Go, who from a young age has been fascinated with treasure hunting. His parents are off on an archaeological dig overseas, but he's forced to settle for the mystery and riches that he can get to on his bike. Despite the fact that he manages to see ancient treasures in the most unlikely places (whether they're there or not), his luck suddenly changes when he runs across Rane, a fairy princess who has come to the world of humans with a mission: recover the Four Hearts and save her people! She doesn't speak the human language, but that's not about to stop Go from assuming that she's the key to the adventure he's been seeking.
And with all the mayhem that follows Go around, who knows--maybe there is something special about him other than the ability to totally misinterpret any predicament he's in.
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Something like the manic fever dream Indiana Jones might have if he fell asleep watching Tenchi Muyo, Elf Princess Rane is chaotic, dizzyingly-paced, so stupid you can feel your brain cells screaming, and doesn't just nail the mark that so many other whacked-out comedies aim for, it drops a tactical nuke on it. In essence, it takes a nonsensical string of misunderstandings masquerading as a plot, loads it with anime references, and runs through it as fast as is humanly possible, with the fever-pitch dialogue and rapid-fire jokes occasionally broken up by moments of quiet (but still humorous) reflection before launching back into the chaos.
Elf Princess Rane is a masterpiece of hyperactive comedy and brilliantly erratic timing, but it is so extreme that only fans of this sort of thing will want anything to do with it.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Something like the manic fever dream Indiana Jones might have if he fell asleep watching Tenchi Muyo, Elf Princess Rane is chaotic, dizzyingly-paced, so stupid you can feel your brain cells screaming, and doesn't just nail the mark that so many other whacked-out comedies aim for, it drops a tactical nuke on it. It's a very specific kind of funny, but in that way it's funny like nothing else.
Fact One: If you like silly, hyperactive comedy then you must see Elf Princess Rane. Period.
Fact Two: If you don't like hyperactive humor, don't even get near Elf Princess Rane--you might have some kind of allergic reaction.
Personally, although it kept threatening to be so silly that it annoyed me, and I was never gasping for breath, I ended up chuckling out loud through every minute of it... and for quite a while after it was over as my brain continued to pick through the comedy it had been force-fed.
The plot technically involves the fire department and a major corporation repeatedly reading conspiracy into the weird events set into motion by our entirely clueless hero, that hero completely misinterpreting everything and anything going on around him as grand parts of his self-inflicted treasure hunt, and poor Rane hoping in vain that all the chaos somehow relates to the epic quest that brought her to the world of the humans.
Technically, that's the plot. In reality, it whizzes by so fast most people are unlikely to even notice it on the first try, and it wouldn't make a shred of sense even if you did.
The characters are about the same--from our reality-deprived, brain-dead hero, to his short-tempered would-be-girlfriend, to the hero's seven (at least) identical twin sisters, to the unintelligible anime-stud-genius who makes up the third corner of a non-love-triangle, to another competing fairy with a short temper and even shorter memory, to poor, cute, innocent Rane herself, they are a collection of weirdoes with every personality quirk you can think of. With the exception of Rane, who seems to be stuck in the wrong series (that's her quirk), I had no empathy for any of them, but they're too funny to care.
There are lots of scenes that poke fun at all manner of anime standbys: Guys with cool hair, massive corporate plots, young love, dramatic quests, hot springs... and rap. But you'll have to keep alert to notice any of that, because what defines Elf Princess Rane is the absolutely frantic pace. This is epitomized by several scenes in which a minimum of two (usually three or four) characters are railing at each other at near-auctioneer speed, not paying the slightest bit of attention to what anyone else is saying.
It's hard to explain just how much nonsensical dialogue gets crammed into such a short period of time, but to give an idea, the subtitles sometimes cover more than half of the screen and the text from at least three conversations is visible at once. Even better, scenes like these are framed by impeccably timed jokes of the exact opposite sort--a beat or two of total, awkward silence or should-be-dramatic dialogue.
Like a seemingly out-of-control roller coaster that slows down once in a while to let you catch your breath and look at the scenery (which, in this case, consists of yet more jokes) before careening down another hill, this violent stop-and-go style of humor is pulled off perfectly. Elf Princess Rane, despite its chaotic appearance, shows amazingly solid construction for a piece of downright stupid comedy.
On the technical end of things, this series would be more or less standard for a newish OAV, with generic character designs, bright, nicely drawn art, and above-average animation (the character animation in particular). Would be, because the visuals actually manage to keep pace with the chaos and match the comic timing, and that's pretty darned impressive. Despite a handful of cartoony touches it even manages to maintain a remarkably firm grip on its "reality," all things considered.
The visuals do more than just keep up, though; there are a few little artistic touches (split screen action, some slightly unusual camera work) and a number of very funny, almost throwaway, visual jokes that stand on their own, adding yet another layer to the humor.
The acting is the one spot that's a hard call. On one hand, there's the Japanese dialogue, which despite a total lack of any drama is brilliant. The fun and cuteness are infectious, but it's worth hearing if for no other reason than to experience the speed with which the actors speak (especially Go's dizzying monologues), and I am truly in awe of both the control that it must have taken to make the chaotic interactions seem so effortless and the dead-on timing of every single punchline. Versatile veteran Kouichi Yamadera as Go is the brightest star--manic, likably idiotic, and infectiously ecstatic about his incredible "luck."
The catch is the language barrier; a few plays on words and similar jokes go entirely untranslated, quite a bit of the humor relies on essentially nonsensical dialogue that a non-Japanese-speaker won't catch, and it's almost impossible to keep up with the barrage of subtitles in some scenes (though it's mostly nonsense anyway). Basically, you're trying to read a more or less literal translation of humor that is based entirely on things that just sound funny. I do give AnimeWorks' subtitlers credit for a valiant effort in the face of impossible odds, and in any case there are still dozens of jokes that survive the translation. Also, you can still enjoy some of the preposterously fast dialogue even if you can't understand a word of it (actually, even native listeners will have trouble following the most extreme scenes).
One thing is for sure: If you're going to watch the sub, you should watch it at least twice; the second time try to ignore the subtitles (switch to the dub or just turn them off) so you'll catch some of the many visual jokes that could easily get lost if you're trying to keep up with the text.
On the flip side there's the dub, which, despite being well cast, is an equally mixed bag. It's definitely funny, but as hard as they try, the rapid-fire dialogue rarely manages to hit the frenetic cadence that makes the original as funny as it is. Shane Callahan as Go is the exception; he has a properly hyperactive, whiny voice and several of his speeches build up enough steam to hit the sweet spot of stupid-fast language. Overall, though, the dub never quite has the timing or frantic quality of the original, and quite a few jokes (even ones that come across in the subtitles) fall by the wayside. Still, the dub is plenty funny and you probably won't have to pause it every ten seconds just to finish reading everything.
On a side note, cool-haired would-be-stud Zenshuuin is an interesting case. He of course has the problem that only he and one other character have any idea what he's saying. But, where in Japanese Ryo Horikawa mumbles his mostly-unintelligible lines with confidence appropriate for a guy as cool as himself, in the English dub it just doesn't sound like Michael Brady means... whatever it is he's saying. It also includes a higher percentage of understandable phrases.
Bottom line: You won't go wrong with the sub or the dub, but on balance I think the Japanese dialogue is just more fun, particularly since so much of it is unintelligible nonsense anyway. The music, incidentally, is sufficiently peppy and the catchy end theme appropriately devoid of meaning (there's no time for an intro).
In summary, Elf Princess Rane is three wacky anime comedies shaken together violently and put on fast forward. The plot is confusing and nonsensical, the characters are shallow and numerous, and it all zips by at a dizzying pace. But thanks to brilliantly erratic timing, an absolutely overwhelming volume of jokes, and some quirky cleverness, it's also a tour de farce of frenetic stupidity and a heckuva lot of fun. Way too hyperactive and silly for a lot of people, but this is high-speed comedy at its finest.
A final, sad note: As the aptly titled "Evil Preview" for the third episode implies, only two parts of this series were ever made, and even though most people won't care how the story turns out, it's a crying shame that there isn't more of it.
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For outright weirdness and manic humor, the obvious choice is the notorious Excel Saga, but that series is more focused on crazy than hyperactive (yes, you read that right--Elf Princess Rane is more hyperactive than Excel Saga). The little known Dragon Slayer is probably a closer match--not as good, but a cheesy fantasy epic with a similar rapid-fire sense of humor. The comedy that most closely matches Elf Princess Rane's irregular and quite brilliant comic timing is Jubei-chan: Ninja Girl (which is even crazier in its own way); the similarity shouldn't be a surprise, since they're both directed by the same fellow. All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku and Wild Cardz are both somewhat less clever and not nearly as hyper, but have a generally similar feel. If you want a much milder take on the cute girls from another world idea you might check out Oh My Goddess, Legend of the Last Labyrinth, Girl From Phantasia, or any of hundreds of similar series.
Notes and Trivia
Elf Princess Rane is an anime-only original concept, apparently developed by director Akitaro Daichi. It was planned for three episodes, but only the two (plus the "evil preview" of the third) were ever finished. Daichi was apparently working on Nurse Angel Ririka SOS at the same time.
Picking apart the dialogue, jokes, and references in this too-short series could fill a book. I'm not obsessed enough to even try to do that, but since AnimeWorks, as good a job as they did with literal translation, didn't make much of an effort to translate any of the (surprisingly sparse) puns in the dialogue, and the dubbed dialogue is much different, I'll point out the major translation oversights.
To start with, there's the tile; "Elf Princess Rane" probably isn't the best translation, as the word "yousei" really means something more like "fairy" than "elf." Traditionally elves were, of course, a type of fairy, but due both to the modern fantasy connotations of "elf" and the fact that even in the traditional sense "fairy" seems to more appropriately describe what the little folk in this series are, I wouldn't have translated it that way.
On the pun front, the main character's name is one; Takarada Gou sounds like the sentence "There's treasure. Go!", which is of course perfect for his character. A related joke comes from mispronouncing his name; where Mari calls him "Gou-kun" (a normal way to refer to a friend of his sort), Leen keeps mangling that into "Gokkun," which roughly means "gulp." Among Leen's several other mangled phrases is an onion-related pun that was translated literally in the subtitles. Go's line about going home and flat frogs (also translated literally) is a play on the fact that "kaeru" can mean either "to go home" or "frog" (the flat part just sounds funny, and may have been a reference to an old anime show about a kid with a flat, talking frog on his shirt).
There are other things that don't quite translate, such as the Fire Department Chief, whose dialogue is extremely feminine in Japanese (he's a bit effeminate in the dub, but there aren't female-only words in English). Also gender-confused is the quick shot at the end of the first episode credits featuring the standard cute-girl line encouraging fans to see the next installment, which sounds downright wrong coming from a man, and an old one at that.
Also on the language front, the big-haired stud's dialogue is much funnier in Japanese than either the subtitles or the dub make clear. In the original Japanese there are a handful of words that make sense (those are translated in the subtitles), and some complete garbage, but a lot of his dialogue is made up of bits and pieces of various strong dialects from around Japan--Okinawa, Northern Japan, etc. This makes it marginally more understandable, and at least if you ask me somewhat funnier on account of the hodgepodge.
Last is a semi-mistranslation, probably chosen for simplicity. The "One Inch Priest" that Go keeps referring to is actually "Issunboushi," a character from a Japanese fairy tale. The one inch part is correct (issun refers to a short unit of old-fashioned Japanese measurement), but the character was actually the tiny (non-priest) son of an old couple. He traveled to Kyoto to find work and was hired by a nobleman there as a companion for his daughter. Issunboushi eventually rescues her from an ogre, who drops a magical mallet that she uses to make him normal size.
US DVD Review
AnimeWorks' DVD is a basic but solid production; the cute menus give you access to an small gallery of production stills, a few trailers, and the well-indexed feature. The video transfer is quite nice, and although the Japanese stereo audio track is a bit soft (and I could swear that in several scenes with multiple characters talking simultaneously the side that the audio was coming from was inverted), it's still clear and the English track is very crisp. The subtitles, though commendably accurate (and entirely different from the dubbed dialogue), suffer from the fact that they are all the same color; even with the limits of DVD soft-subtitling technology, they still could have had at least two colors (as they did in the VHS version, in fact), which would have helped pick out who was saying what in some of the particularly chaotic scenes. They also failed to translate the Japanese cast, but at least the original credits were left intact, so you can find a translation on this page.
The basic idea is clean, but quite a bit of nudity push this one into the 13-up rating that AnimeWorks gave it, and depending on your standards that may have been generous--I would call it 16-up.
Violence: 1 - Lots of yelling and smacking around, but it's bloodless and silly.
Nudity: 3 - A couple of scenes in part 1, and a lot of bath-related nudity in part 2.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - One ambiguous same-sex kiss.
Language: 2 - A few strong words, a few more in the dub.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
(Note: this is an AAW translation, so there may be errors or omissions)
Rane: Takahashi Miki
Leen: Hisakawa Aya
Gou: Yamadera Kouichi
Mari: Kourogi Satomi
Natsuki, Haruki, Mizuki (ep 1), The Natures (ep 2): Iwatsubo Rie
Takuma: Horikawa Ryou
Manzou: Komura (?)
Konishi: Ishii Yasutsugu
Chief: Takagi Wataru
Additional Voices: Bandou Naoki, (?), (?), Shocker Ohno, Daichi Ryoutarou, Suzuki (?), Asada Yohko, Shimakata Junko
Gou's Mom: Shimakata Junko
Cameraman: Daichi Ryoutarou
Female Staff: Suzuki (?)
Red Phoenix: Shocker Ohno
Female Announcer: Asoh Kahori ("Friendship Appearance")