Shamanic Princess Anime Review
US Release By
Shoujo Fantasy Action
6 30-minute episodes
1996-06-25 - 1998-06-25
When a mysterious object called the Throne of Yord is stolen from the magic world by Tiara's love Kagetsu, Tiara must travel to another world to bring it back. This leads her to a town where she takes up residence and lives as a college student during the day. At night she hunts for the Throne of Yord and for her lover who betrayed her. Aided by her partner Japolo and hindered by her rival Lena, Tiara must overcome the events of her childhood in order to achieve her goal.
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Shamanic Princess is a dark, gothic horror story laced with shoujo-style tragedy and spiced up with a variety of creative magical action. The series isn't the most straightforward, however; it jumps forcefully into the story and its world, never fully explaining them and only partially filling out the details in a non-linear fashion where the final two episodes lead up to the first four.
But fear not: the somewhat loose world may be ill-explained, but it is nonetheless creative, detailed, and exotic, making for a rich setting. Backed up by absolutely gorgeous visuals--from fluid animation to richly painted backgrounds to beautiful character art--Shamanic Princess is a pleasure to watch, so long as the story is to your taste.
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Shoujo is still a rare thing in the US, but the fact that the creator of Outlaw Star also created Shamanic Princess surprised me. The two genres are so far away from each other. Takehito Ito was able to create a very moody piece of animation, regardless. I was actually quite stunned at how well Shamanic Princess was made. Barring a few problems that will weigh heavier with some people then others, Shamanic Princess is a very interesting OAV series when all's said and done.
Shoujo has always been an interest to me, mainly because of its wide array of styles. It can come in many guises. From cute, magical girl fare, to grim tragedy, to gothic horror and, occasionally, enough sex appeal to make you wonder why it's under the Shoujo label at all. (Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland anyone?)
The atmosphere was the first thing that struck me about Shamanic Princess. It was surprisingly dark and almost gothic. There were very few day scenes and the particular town the majority of this series took place in was like a European medieval setting. I don't know if that was the specific time period-- they were never really clear on that. In fact, they never said that the world Tiara travelled to was Earth. The fact that the majority of the events took place during the night supported the gothic look and feel. There were also lots of rainy scenes to further the effect and the entire atmosphere was quite dreary altogether. Perhaps this isn't such a good thing for all people, as the gothic style tends to be quite divided--love it or hate it. As for myself, maybe I was in the right mood for it, or I needed a change of pace in my anime viewing. Or both. Regardless I enjoyed that dark aspect of Shamanic Princess.
The characters were a mixed bag however. Not that they weren't likable or didn't develop, but they struck me as taking things way out of proportion, particularly Tiara and her sudden rival Lena. Kagetsu was fine, and I fully understood his motives (not that they were complicated) and was able to feel empathy for him. Japolo, Tiara's partner, provided good comic relief and his (or was it her?) personality was spunky and refreshing even if it seemed to clash against the rest of the tragic characters. And that's really where one of my problems is; the characters were just a tad too tragic for me at times. For the majority of things, this was fine, but I just felt it got out of hand sometimes. Again, that's not to say that I didn't like them. I wouldn't call this group a lively bunch, but they were equally dark and brooding which, of course, helped them to blend into the atmosphere and overall feel of things. Kagetsu and Lena are the apparent "bad guys" in the beginning of this tale, but then Tiara comes along and does some things that make you weary of her as well, despite the fact that she was introduced as the "heroine." While some may feel that these people should make up their minds, I liked how they kept me guessing until the end. Plus I didn't see a lot of the plot twists coming.
That above paragraph is pretty ambiguous, but in order to explain myself effectively I have to get into the story in better detail, and that involves spoilers. Thus, if you haven't seen Shamanic Princess and would like to, I'd recommend skipping all this paragraph until I say it's safe to read again.
When I say the characters took their tragic personas too far, I refer to their pasts. My problem was, frankly, what was Tiara and Lena's real problem? They just seemed so full of spite for one-another for no reason. When they first meet as children, they almost instantly dislike each other for no apparent reason. I know that in real life some people just don't like each other for no reason and perhaps that's what the writers were going for. Lena herself seemed a bit of a tag-along, not having as much focus as she could have used in the story, particularly during her childhood days. Their unsteady relationship was progressed more naturally with their rivalry for Kagetsu (which Tiara won of course) and their rivalry in the magic world (again, Tiara pretty well beat her).
Okay, you can start reading again.
Tiara did at least have one aspect that I was impressed with, and that was the way she dealt with having Kagetsu betray her. The way she acted toward it, both outwardly and inwardly, struck me as surprisingly realistic. Speaking from personal experience (don't worry, I'm not going to start gushing at you) the way she not only avoided talking about it to others--be that Lena or Japolo--but she didn't even talk about it to herself very much. Instead she seemed to bury it inside herself and basically ignored it. This was not only believable but downright natural for many people. Indeed, in the end, Tiara, and most of the other characters to a certain extent, were quite down-to-earth and human and were effective in creating good, dark atmosphere. They just tended to be exaggerated at times.
The plot is... well, not quite easy to write about. The first thing is that the presentation is quite well done. True to the gothic style, the plot is mysterious and weaves itself around quite effectively, giving the atmosphere a fair amount of tension and an anxious feeling. However, the fact of the matter is, the plot is quite a bit more confusing then it should have been. My theory is that Shamanic Princess was a longer-running manga and some story was lost in its transition to anime. Shamanic Princess just didn't quite feel complete. Not that it was unfinished--it did have an ending, but there were a few unexplained occurrences in the plot.
I'm going to talk about these "unexplained occurrences" so, again, skip ahead until I give the green light.
There were two big holes that bothered me. One was Sarah, who I haven't discussed in the general review because I feel that even mentioning her existence is a bit of a spoiler. Sarah was a caretaker of the Throne of Yord, that much is known. But we find out that the head folks in the guardian world trapped her inside the Throne of Yord, or had the Throne of Yord absorb her, or whatever. My one question is: Why? What possessed these people to do that? Sarah didn't do a thing wrong. The other thing would have to be the Throne of Yord itself. What is it's purpose? Why was it made, and why do the heads of the magic world want it back so badly? I didn't see the Throne of Yord do one good thing at all. In fact, all it seems capable of is making a big mess of things. It doesn't look like something I'd want around. Perhaps I missed something? Or I'm missing out by not having read the manga.
Indeed it's not easy to go into the details of the plot without spoiling. What I will say is that, while there was a lot of mystery and build up, the answers and overall results of things are not really confusing. The characters' pasts and relationships and the events with the Throne of Yord that brought them together are really not complicated. I can imagine many people being turned off and disappointed by being left in the dark for so long, having all this build up and suspense for something that is, essentially, not particularly complicated. I, however, was pretty impressed. Maybe a longer, more convoluted story would have been better, but nevertheless, while I was disappointed at the unexplained elements of the plot, everything else was very spot on to me. Not once was I bored, turned off, or otherwise disappointed by the comparatively simple turn out of the events. Any story that can take something simple enough and blend it into a dark, gothic atmosphere has my respect. I must admit to feeling unfulfilled when it came to the existence and origins of the guardian/magic world. There just didn't seem to be much of a point to it. To be fair, that wasn't terribly important to the main plot but I was still curious. Maybe the six OAVs couldn't capture everything that I wanted to know, but it's only a quibble regardless.
Now to talk about what really makes Shamanic Princess stand out and shine. For an OAV series, and even on it's own, this is nearly a technical masterpiece of it's field. Shamanic Princess is gorgeous. The whole gothic atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the sheer detail used. That's not to say this is the ultimate animation on earth--theatrical animated movies in both the United States and Japan naturally beat this OAV series. But taken for what it is, this is a high budget OAV series that had a lot of thought and detail put into it. The art is simply striking. The character's various costumes are both appealing, imaginative and quite exotic. Then there's the backgrounds which are just breathtaking. The gothic, medieval-like world is truly brought out by the painted European-style buildings. They almost looked real. The attention to detail in the backgrounds alone makes Shamanic Princess worth a look. The guardian world, from what we see of it, is not quite as remarkable but well designed and original in some areas. The character designs, done by Atsuko Ishida of CLAMP fame, are quite attractive and lush. The animation is very well done throughout. True to many Shoujo animes, there are a few transformation sequences. These sequences look wonderful and definitely not done in your cookie-cutter Sailor Moon style. It's hard to describe them, but suffice to say you need to see them for yourself. The first transformation scene for Tiara is stunning. Having her dance is front of the moon may seem unnecessary to some, but for those who like the Shoujo style, this is a real treat. The combat sequences are also unique and smooth with very nice choreography. I should probably stop gushing about the technical aspects of Shamanic Princess, but suffice to say it really is gorgeous.
The only thing that didn't really strike me about Shamanic Princess was the acting. Now that's not to say it wasn't good, because that's certainly not the case. It was, however, not terribly memorable in the Japanese. The casting was good, as was the acting. The dark, tragic characters found here were brought out well by the voice actors. The interesting if somewhat pointless speeches used during the transformations and attacks were done quite well also. However, there were really no particular stand outs. Japolo's voice and slightly humourous speeches were well done, and the dramatic acting towards the end and the other times it was called for (which was often) was very good.
To say the acting was the only thing that didn't strike me isn't entirely true. Some of the music wasn't terribly worth mentioning. Most of it sounded too synthesized, and it really could have stood to be more instrumental. The opening and ending themes seemed a little out of place but were well done. Not to mention that there were a few pieces that were really well done.
So when all is said and done, Shamanic Princess is, on a technical level, built on very solid ground. That ground gets a little shaky with the plot and characters. Shamanic Princess is really hard for me to rate. I liked some parts of it a lot, while others I didn't like so much. On the whole I think it's worth watching, if only to look at. I'm still not sure what I think if the series, so my rating is subject to change in either direction. I hate to be fickle about these things and reflectively I think I know where I stand on Shamanic Princess. I liked it, but I thought it could have been better.
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Other noteworthy shoujo stories are the gothic horror tales of Tokyo Babylon and Vampire Princess Miyu (with the latter sharing many elements with Shamanic Princess), the modern fairy tale with a strange plot Revolutionary Girl Utena, and the dark, violent X: The Movie.
Notes and Trivia
The order of the six episodes isn't entirely obvious (particularly in the old VHS release, where USM provide no hints as to the order). The 5th and 6th parts ("The Guardian World"), take place before the first four, but were created and (I assume) intended to be watched after "Tiara's Quest" and "Talisman Unleashed."
US DVD Review
Your standard issue CPM DVD at your service. This disc features a nice video transfer and clear audio in both Japanese and English languages along with a subtitle track. The main Japanese voice actors are reflected on the reverse side of the cover (the case itself is black this time so you have to take it out to see) and in the DVD ROM section. There's also some info about the character designer, Atsuko Ishida, and finally (this one was rather nice) Japanese trailers for episodes five and six.
Contains violence and some mature themes; probaby 13-up.
Violence: 2 - Some violence and bizarre scenes.
Nudity: 2 - Nothing's seen, but there's some skin.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - A tragic romance theme throughout and a scene that reflects the bizarre scenes mentioned above.
Language: 1 - Pretty clean.
Staff & Cast
Lena: Mitsuki Yayoi
Japolo/Graham: Rika Matsumoto
Kagetsu: Kouichi Yamadera
Sarah: Tomo Sakurai
Leon: Hiro Yuuki
Elder/The Throne of Yord: Rokuro Naya
Apoline: Tomoko Marou
Mimi: Yuka Imai
English Dub Cast
Tiara: Tara Jayne
Lena: Suzy Prue
Japolo: P.M. Lewis
Kagetsu: Crispin Freeman
Sarah: Mary Anne Towne
Leon: Alvaro J. Gonzalez
Graham/The Throne of Yord: Tristan Goddard
Elder: Ed Haji
Apoline: Wendy Walker
Mimi: Rachael Lillis
Currently out of print; formerly available in North America from US Manga Corps on a single bilingual DVD, "The Complete Shamanic Princess." The DVD was first released in 2001, and re-released with new cover art in 2003. Prior to that it was available on three subtitled or dubbed VHS volumes, which had no obvious episode numbers or hint as to the order; correct (though not chronological) order would be "Tiara's Quest," "Talisman Unleashed," and "The Guardian World."