Anime Review: Princess Jellyfish

So it turns out that even though I love action-packed anime, nothing sucks me in like a potential romance. I watched two seasons of Kimi ni Todoke in a week, but it took me months to finish Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I have a deep-seated love for shows that layer on the unresolved romantic tension.

banner_1577Princess Jellyfish (also known by its Japanese name Kuragehime) is an interesting show that depends on a lot of tropes but also breaks out of them as well. Tsukimi, the main character, is one of a group of five girls who live in an all-female apartment building. Tsukimi and her buildingmates are all poorly-adjusted, socially awkward otaku obsessed with one thing or another, whether it’s trains, older gentlemen, Chinese historical drama, traditional Japanese clothing, or, in Tsukimi’s case, jellyfish.

One night Tsukimi, while visiting the jellyfish at the local pet store, notices that the shopkeeper has placed two different species of jellyfish in the same tank. Aware that one will likely kill the other, she tries to alert the clerk, but he just thinks she’s a weirdo. Then a beautiful woman appears out of nowhere, confronts the clerk, buys the threatened jellyfish for Tsukimi, escorts her home, and falls asleep on Tsukimi’s floor.

PrincessJellyfish-4In the morning, Tsukimi is horrified to discover that her beautiful lady savior is actually a cross-dresser named Kuranosuke, and that she has allowed a man into the virgin sanctum of the apartment complex. Hijinks ensue as Kuranosuke tries to break the girls out of their shells without revealing his true gender. The plot becomes more complicated as we discover that Kuranosuke’s father and brother, both politicians, are championing a gentrification project that will tear down the apartment and replace it with a high-rise hotel.

You’ll remember that I mentioned romance earlier. There’s a bit of a love triangle going on, actually: Tsukimi has a crush on Kuranosuke’s brother; the brother has a crush on Tsukimi but only when she’s “After-Tsukimi”, that is, after she’s been significantly makeover-ed by Kuranosuke (when she’s just regular sweatsuit-wearing jellyfish-otaku Tsukimi, he doesn’t recognize her); and Kuranosuke himself starts to develop feelings for Tsukimi after spending so much time with her and feeling jealous of his brother’s crush.

I also have to warn, for people expecting a really light-hearted series, that this show does have a sinister and trigger-y subplot. One of the employees of the company behind the gentrification is a femme fatale who roofies Kuranosuke’s brother, takes a bunch of compromising pictures of him, and emotionally manipulates him through the rest of the show in order to get her company’s way in the neighborhood. She’s a nasty trope-y stereotype of a sexually predatory woman, and is possibly only there to provide a foil to the virginal heroines.

That said, the show does engage in a bit of virgin-shaming as well, as Kuranosuke is alternately amused and shocked by the fact that his brother and all the otaku girls have never done the deed.

I did like that, although the supporting cast of girls were portrayed as weirdos, they owned their weirdness, and didn’t see fit to change because of society or because a ‘normal’ (for a given value of normal) influence had entered their lives. Maybe their lifestyles weren’t healthy, but the girls were happy living as they were and they didn’t let outside influence change that.

snapshot20101016011929I thought Kuranosuke was an interesting character study as far as gender presentation is concerned. He appears to be straight (or at least an orientation that includes interest in girls), since he has feelings for Tsukimi. He enjoys being pretty because his mother (his father’s mistress and a theatre star) was beautiful and he wants to honor her memory, but it’s never implied that his cross-dressing is some sort of crutch or coping mechanism. He also cross-dresses because he fears that otherwise his family will force him to go into politics, and he recognizes that cross-dressing is considered weird enough by society that it would be considered a stain on his past. He never expresses concern that he will be considered less of a man, or is uncomfortable with those he cares about knowing about his pastime or true gender.

There’s also an interesting underlying message here about how looks grant privilege, especially as far as weird interests are concerned. A pretty girl (After-Tsukimi) obsessed with jellyfish is not as weird or socially unacceptable as an ugly or unfashionable girl (Before-Tsukimi) with an otaku-level obsession is. Furthermore, the girls of the apartment complex are only treated with respect (or, in some cases, acknowledged at all) when they go out post-Kuranosuke-makeover.

Before-Tsukimi and After-Tsukimi

Before-Tsukimi and After-Tsukimi

My biggest annoyance with this series is that it doesn’t really have an ending. Do Tsukimi and Kuranosuke get together? We don’t know. What happens to Kuranosuke’s brother? Does Kuranosuke ever find his mom? There was a subplot about him wanting to meet her, but his dad wouldn’t give up her address, and Kuranosuke never really pressed the issue. Do the girls successfully stop the gentrification project from tearing down the house? We never find out.

I was really looking forward to seeing the answers to all these questions play out, but they never appear. I was especially hoping for adorable gender-stereotype-busting otaku/cross-dresser love, and I never actually got it. I went looking for a second season after finishing the show, but all I got were a series of specials that focused on the supporting cast and never answered any of the above questions.

I still recommend watching this anime, as it’s a meager eleven episodes plus the specials (which are all very short, and add up to maybe one more episode, length-wise). Just don’t get too invested in the characters, as none of your burning questions about them really ever get answered.

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