Since I have not covered this particular person since my original column, now seems a suitable time to look back into the anime archives and examine the work at the most influential of all people in the history of anime: the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka.
The first “Beginner’s Guide” covered the series Astro Boy, the first manga ever to be given an anime adaptation back in 1963. But this is just one of a huge range of different works made by Tezuka. He wrote action, drama, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, crime – just about anything and everything, and made series for everyone. For example, Astro Boy is “shonen” series aimed at boys. This week’s column covers a “shojo” series aimed at girls.
Princess Knight is best described as a fairy tale. It began as a manga which went through several retellings between 1953-66. The series was then adapted for television as a 52-part anime between 1967-68 that was directed by Tezuka, as well as a film in 1994. The series is notable for being one of the earliest anime to be made in colour.
The tale begins in heaven, where God is giving out blue hearts to baby boys and pink hearts to baby girls before they are taken down to live in the world. A mischievous angel called Choppy (also known as Tink in some manga versions) gets into trouble when he gives a blue heart to a baby who is then given a pink heart by God. Choppy is punished by being sent down to Earth, wings removed, in order to get the blue boy heart back. The baby, who is a girl, is born to the King and Queen of Silverland. However, in Silverland only men can rule. Therefore the parents declare the baby is a boy, with them and a select few having to hide the baby’s true gender.
The story then fast-forwards several years. The heir to the throne, Prince – or rather Princess Sapphire (often referred to as Prince / Princess Knight in the dub, despite the character being called “Sapphire” in the credits), is a refined young girl and skilled with her sword. She then encounters Choppy but refuses to give her boy heart back. Choppy realises that Sapphire needs the heart and thus decides to help her in all her endeavours on Earth.
Princess Sapphire is constantly worrying about her true gender being revealed because if the people find out she is a girl, she and the King will be deposed and control will be handed over to the next-in-line, the evil Duke Duralumon. Duralumon meanwhile is constantly trying to get proof that Sapphire is a girl so that he can put his idiotic son Prince Plastic on the throne and he himself can rule as regent. The Duke is always assisted by his long-nosed assistant Sir Nylon (for some reason pronounced “Nee-lon”), and often the two are helped by fellow evil fiends, from despotic rulers to Satan himself.
As mentioned before Princess Knight is notable for the reason that it was one of the first anime to be made in colour. It should be pointed out that it was not the very first colour anime. That goes to another title by Osamu Tezuka, Kimba the White Lion, a series most famous today due to constant claims it was the victim of plagiarism caused by Disney. Notice the similarity between the early “Kimba” and the later “Simba”.
The central character and themes are also interesting. The central theme is feminism, with Princess Sapphire trying to fight against the prejudice in her society so that she and indeed any future woman can rule Silverland. She fights using both her sword and her kindness.
Princess Knight also deserves to be noted for its influence. It was one of the first successful anime to be aimed at girls. As a result it influenced women who later made their own anime and manga. One of the first was The Rose of Versailles (No. 18), which like Princess Knight has a period European setting, although The Rose of Versailles is set in a real place (pre-revolutionary France).
The early episodes consist of individual plots, but as the series moves along, especially in the second half, the plots becoming longer and more interesting. There are also interesting relationships with Sapphire and other characters, particularly with the one who becomes her love interest, Prince Frank (Prince Franz) of Goldland – and like a fairy tale prince, this anime is utterly charming.
Princess Knight is available on Region 1 DVD in two parts from Right Stuf, as a dub only. The first two dub episodes can be viewed via the Right Stuf YouTube channel.