Shamanic Princess

shamanic princess

SHAMANIC PRINCESS

Watched via DVD/Crunchyroll

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Tiara is a hot headed wielder of magic, recently come to “our world” to regain the stolen magical item, the Throne of Yord. Shamanic Princess came out in the ‘90s and therefore harkens back to a day and age of teenaged magical girls and thieves. This series seems to awkwardly fit just between these two genres. Just like with any other series featuring a teenaged character, the show begins with Tiara traveling to a new world and beginning school. Here she unexpectedly runs into her “rival” and “enemy”, another teenaged magic user from the Guardian World. Upon first glance it seems that Tiara, just like the viewer, has no real idea of what’s going on and the total depth of her visit from the Guardian World. Sure she is supposed to take back the Throne of Yord, but she doesn’t really seem to understand why it was taken in the first place. This seems ridiculous to me, since it slowly becomes clear that she does understand, she just doesn’t empathize with the situation. Well that is, until she suddenly does.

Right from the bat we are thrown in mid-plot line and left to piece together the narrative. This OVA series begins with four episodes which act as the “main” story arc, and two following episodes which act as a prelude of sorts. In all actuality, there is no real benefit to having the episodes aired in a non-linear fashion. It adds absolutely nothing to the final reveal, and if anything deters from the flow of the series by unnecessarily distracting the viewer. The complexity of the character interrelations doesn’t become clear until after the climax of the series, when it hardly seems to matter anymore.

I’d hate to spoil the ending, but I felt that it copied way too much from other series of the time. Magic Knight Rayearth, which featured the same character designer just two years previously, had nearly identical plot twists at the end. In comparison, Shamanic Princess seems like a poor attempt at a highly derivative work. It also doesn’t help that the ending seemed to negate all of the efforts of the cast throughout the series.

Most series have an interesting reason for presenting events in a non-linear fashion, but with Shamanic Princess it feels completely haphazard. Maybe the animation studio didn’t finish those last two episodes in time to air them first. Maybe they went back to make them because the story made no sense. Who knows?!

PLOT: Alongside the real world exists the Guardian World in another dimension, where people who can use magic live. These people are divided into two groups: most people can use magic to call on beings from another dimension to help them, while Neutralizers can negate magic. Shamanic Princess dumps the viewer into the story in medias res, with a girl named Tiara going to the real world in order to regain the Throne of Yord, a painting that gives the Guardian World its power and was stolen before the show begins.

While attending a school as part of her disguise, Tiara and her ferret-ish partner Japolo discover the presence of another magic-user, Lena, who Tiara knew growing up. The two end up fighting at night in melodramatic ways, and eventually Tiara learns that Lena is helping the Neutralizer who stole the Throne of Yord, Kagetsu, who is also Tiara’s first love. Of course, Tiara is unnecessarily mad at Kagetsu for reasons that aren’t explained right away, and Tiara’s best friend, Sara, is apparently in the Throne and Kagetsu wants to get her out. After a few nights of fighting, Tiara realizes that she should join the fight to save Sara, and then the show shifts villains to face off against the Throne’s twisted personality.

After this plot line is resolved, Shamanic Princess jumps back in time to provide the backstory that would have made the first four episodes much more interesting. The last two episodes cover Tiara calling her first partner, Graham, from another world and then the events that led up to Kagetsu stealing the Throne and killing Graham. This jump creates problems with the show’s resolution, as the show ends with Tiara going after the Throne, right back where it all started at. This might have been considered neat when the show was written out, but really it just makes me feel like everything happened for no reason. On top of that, I would have liked more time spent in the Guardian World and less time on repetitive battles, making the show very uneven and unsatisfying.

Usually stories are developed to fix problems. In this case the “problem” would be returning the Throne of Yord, or getting Sara out of it. However, neither of these issues is really resolved in a way that feels satisfying. If anything, like Crystal says, it’s more unsatisfying because they give us more backstory to explain just how big of a problem it really was.

SETTING: Shamanic Princess features two, or you might argue, three different worlds. The first of which would be the Guardian World. This is the world that Tiara, and her rival Lena come from. In this world there are individuals, like Tiara, who can summon creatures from other worlds to be their familiars. Here there are also people who are neutralizers, who can cancel out the forces of magic. Tiara’s ex-boyfriend is one of these latter individuals, and also happens to be the one who has stolen the Throne of Yord. The Guardian World relies upon the Throne of Yord for its magical potential, so Tiara and Lena travel to another world (possibly one like ours) to retrieve it.

This other world is rather badly explored. There is a “college” which the girls attend, and a seemingly unoccupied village where the two girls battle each other under the cover of night. Once you understand the way the magic works, it seems rather futile. The two girls are fairly well matched, and Tiara’s ex, Kagetsu, is able to nullify their powers anyways by just being around. Really it’s all rather pointless, but it gives Tiara time to actually talk to these people, who happen to be her childhood friends, and to finally hear them out.

The third world is within the Throne of Yord. I’d also argue that there is a dream world, but it seems to go hand in hand with the Throne of Yord. Here the trio get sucked in and are forced to battle with the Throne in order to save Sara, Kagetsu’s younger sister, who is trapped within it.

Maybe it’s a sign of how much anime I’ve watched, but I found the fight scenes in Shamanic Princess to be unbelievable on many fronts. For one thing, how do you hear each other that far apart?! And why is there so much posturing and drama? It all just feels like an excuse for lazy writing.

SETTING: Though the Guardian World is pretty much an anime cliché, it’s still an interesting premise. Unfortunately, that premise is pretty much wasted on Shamanic Princess, which just wants to have a lot of battles between attractive women. The Guardian World only ever gets developed in the last two episodes, where we get to see a little of the actual culture and governing structures. These cultural elements are filtered through Tiara’s storyline, which means nothing’s actually explained—Tiara summons Graham without much exposition, there’s a festival without much exposition, and Kagetsu flees with the Throne without much exposition. The Guardian World seems more interesting than the show’s fights, but the show never gives that world the attention it deserves.

The rest of Shamanic Princess is poorly thought out and relatively boring if you’ve seen any magical anime from the ‘90s. Tiara’s school is full of the standard classes and students, while Tiara’s battles all use summoning magic ripped from other anime. The visuals may all be original to Shamanic Princess, but none of its ideas about magic are, which makes it a frustrating watch. I kept hoping for a shred of originality, but the show had none to offer.

What I did like about the settings was how the soundtrack worked well to set a tone and place. Sure the battles may have been redundant, but the musical score to accompany it ramped up the energy and emotion of the action sequences.

CHARACTERS: I don’t necessarily like Tiara, but as a “magical girl” I find her quite refreshing. Unlike most magical girls who are full of pure happiness and naive well wishes, Tiara is cold and self-centered. It is unfortunate that it takes us the whole series to learn why she is so harsh towards her old friends, but it ends up helping to round out her character eventually. I really enjoyed seeing her rebuild her lost friendships and work together with them in the end. It’s too bad all of this was lost on the viewer until the prelude episodes are watched. Until that point she really just seems like a jackass. Once it’s all watched, I found the ending rather disappointing with her easily falling for Kagetsu all over again with no second thoughts.

The next character with the most camera time would be Tiara’s partner/familiar Japolo, who is some sort of talking ferret mascot-like character. He’s not your typical cute character, and actually ends up being rather annoying by constantly withholding information. I never really felt a connection between the two of them, which left me wondering why he needed to be there at all.

The remainder of the cast left hardly any impression at all. Lena, Sara, and Kagetsu remain a mystery until the prelude where they finally begin to become developed. Only then is the friendship/rivalry between the three girls really explained. The prelude also shows Tiara as a young magic wielder, and introduces her first familiar, Graham. This poor boy was ripped out of his own world and disfigured in the process. Over the years he becomes obsessed with his “master” and tries to do anything to guarantee her happiness. This ultimately leads to his downfall. I found the complex relationship between him and Tiara to be the only real relationship that was emotionally compelling. Even the relationship between Sara and her brother seems a bit forced and just like characters going through the actions.

CHARACTERS: As a main character, Tiara is not very likable. She’s brash and thinks she’s doing the right thing without questioning her actions, meaning it takes her several episodes to realize she should be helping Kagetsu and Lena instead of fighting against them. Tiara does a lot of yelling and complaining and assuming the worst of people, which is not what nice people do. Her history with Kagetsu and his killing of Graham explains her actions some, but none of that fully comes out until the last two episodes. If there had been integrated flashbacks, Tiara could have been much more likable, but instead I can’t stand watching her on screen.

Shamanic Princess’s other main characters aren’t much better than Tiara. Lena, Kagetsu, and Sara (spelled for the first two episodes as Sarah) all have cookie-cutter personalities and point out their “true motives” from the first episode. These character archetypes might have been fresher and more interesting when Shamanic Princess came out in the late ‘90s, but by now they are tired and boring. Lena might be the most interesting because she plays the flute, but everyone’s just really not interesting to watch.

The partners aren’t very interesting, either, though they at least get a little inventive. Japolo is your straight-up mascot character, complete with an annoying personality, while Lena’s partner Leon is composed and keeps a tight rein on his emotions. Graham, though, has physical and mental disabilities due to Tiara’s inexperience when summoning him as a partner. These disabilities make Graham struggle to talk and to relate to Tiara, though he eventually comes to fiercely love her. Unfortunately, Graham is very unlikable due to the direct way he pursues his feelings for Tiara, and he never seems to learn when to leave well enough alone with Kagetsu. It’s hard to feel bad about Graham’s death when he kind of brought it on himself.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The real reason to watch Shamanic Princess is for the animation. The art style is horridly ’90s, complete with gigantic eyeballs and awkwardly jutting cheekbones. The stunning palette and fluid action shots, however, well make up for the evil reminders of ’90s character designs. Like I said before, the character designer was the same as Magic Knight Rayearth, and in the couple of years in between production you can see the art style has gotten a bit more refined. Honestly you can tell the series was created primarily for fan service. Tiara’s costume leaves little to the imagination, and the battle sequences with her rival Lena constantly throw her into awkwardly revealing situations. Fan service aside, the rest of the cast is rather plain. Lena is a complete foil to Tiara, with a long white gown. If Tiara is hot-headed and feisty, Lena is calm and angelic. Kagetsu and Sara are rather plain and seem like standard childhood friends. I think the most interesting designs came in the prelude with Graham’s disfigured design, and the interesting quasi-religious costumes of the mentors in the Guardian World.

As for animation, there are a lot of cheap low budget shots where characters chill out in a nondescript place, but that is made up for in the battles which show dramatic angles and flashy colors. For an OVA it looks rather stunning. With that said, it still is a yawn fest in comparison to shows made today.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Shamanic Princess looks pretty good for the time it came out. It was released as an OVA, so it has a high animation budget that shows in the details of characters’ features and magical abilities. Some animation is reused in subtle ways, like with Tiara’s magical summoning rituals, but these reuses are handled well by changing backgrounds to make them feel different. Certain effects, like the vines of Lena’s magic, stop moving after a time to save budget, but the battles show a surprising amount of detail in the movements and creatures that get summoned. Visually, Shamanic Princess may not be inventive, but it’s definitely pretty.

The character designs are exactly what you’d expect from a male-focused, magic-centered anime from the late ‘90s. All of the women fit within character types, with Tiara being the feisty one and Sara being the quiet one, and they tend to wear clothing that shows off their bodies. The men clearly aren’t as important for fanservice, meaning they cover a wider range, with Graham’s design being the most interesting. Even Graham with his iconic ugliness can’t save the series’ designs, though, leaving them overwrought and pandering in an overly obvious way.

If anyone is ever curious how well received the costumes were, check out the cosplay for this series. A lot of fans seemed to enjoy the costume design of the characters immensely.

OVERALL: I first watched Shamanic Princess back in the 2000s when anime was reaching its peak production in the US. The first time I watched this short series I didn’t quite know what to make of it since it seemed highly derivative, but didn’t quite fit into any specific niche. This go around I enjoyed Shamanic Princess a bit more, in particular I appreciated the art and abstraction of the plot. As far as the narration goes, it takes more effort to understand and is harder read. With that said, I liked the level of abstraction that the story goes into. You get more of a feel for the characters and plot that you wouldn’t get from a totally straightforward storyline. In this regard the airing of episodes doesn’t make or break the series. Ultimately the series has some great qualities, but only enough to even the show out to a steady average. If anything, I wish this had be just a regular full length season, so that there would actually be enough time to develop the cast. As it stands it feels unsatisfying and rushed.

OVERALL: Shamanic Princess is interesting because I first watched it over a decade ago when a friend gave it to us, and even then I knew it wasn’t a good show. The cover art says it should appeal to Clamp fans, which we definitely are, but I still never liked the show. Perhaps it’s targeted too firmly to a straight male audience to appeal to me, with the gratuitous character designs, but the pacing is uneven and the characters are also thoroughly unlikable. Shamanic Princess copies other shows with its magic system and character designs, bringing nothing of its own to the equation and utterly failing as a result. There’s a hint of an interesting show in Shamanic Princess, with the Guardian World and its rules and traditions, but that never gets truly explored. Instead, the viewer is left to deal with Tiara and her complaints about Kagetsu and the Throne, which don’t make for compelling viewing.

FINAL SCORE: (5/10) FINAL SCORE: (5/10)
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