Another video from way down deep in the anime vaults. I was really surprised to get my hands on this material, especially on a commercial English language release. This material is interesting for being taken from a Osamu Tezuka manga, from being a very early title, and for possibly being the first anime aimed at a female audience. In other words this could be argued as being the very first shoujo anime.
Of course the material does not go out of it's way to make this fact clear. Instead this review is derived from two tapes. The first is called "Choppy and the Princess in the Egyptian Adventure" which contains three episodes. Of note is the fact that choppy, actually quite a minor character, gets star billing. Likewise the other tape is called "Captain Blood and the invasion of silverland" even though captain blood's part is not immense. It seems the difficulty of selling an honest adaption of shoujo anime has an awfully long history. This second tape contains two episodes, not very well connected, and is bulked out with some fairly diabolical western cartoons.
The second tape has a short introduction to the story, but the early episodes are not included. The essence is fairly straightforward though. In a fantasy kingdom a child is born to the rulers of silverland, a child who will be the prince of this land and grow up to be its ruler. Clearly there is some urgency to the matter, because the fact that the child is a little girl is not enough to stop the parents presenting her as the new prince. Thus she is brought up as a brave and dashing prince beloved by the people of silverland. Part of the reason she does this so well is because a inattentive angel, named choppy here, managed to give her both a male and a female soul. And as punishment he is sent down to watch over princess knight and atone for his mistake.
It's really a shame he doesn't have much in the way of power though, because like most fantasy kingdoms there's no shortage of monsters and dangers. With some of the most dangerous monsters being traitorous dukes in her own kingdom who seek to win the kingdom for themselves. And behind them lurks the shadowy X union who have money, power and seriously evil uniforms. Fortunately princess knight fears nothing, has boundless energy and is pretty skilled with the sword she carries. Although almost as important is her inner fire and nobility which generates loyal allies amongst both humans and the creatures of the forest.
One of the first interesting elements is that while it is sold as a kids show it remains an anime show. Thus while the intended audience in Japan probably was quite young its got some surprisingly mature content. The evil dukes want her dead and are willing to make pretty serious attempts to make it happen. There are some quite serious fights, scenes and even wounding and death. This is especially true in the last tape which looks to be the last two episodes of the series. As such it sits very uneasily in the childrens section of a video library.
In terms of story it is quite difficult to pin down. As mentioned the story has some nice intensity to it, and the cross gender element gives some degree of depth. However, by modern standards, the story is also quite simplistic in how it is presented. The characters are fairly straight-forward and the events flow in a rather obvious fashion from one to another. As such it feels strangely old style before the animation itself is even considered. It may be that the writing was simpler in those days, or perhaps that we've seen so many more recent variations on these classic stories. Certainly, by modern standards, the character work and interaction seems somewhat lacking in depth and interest. It's still quite watchable, but it is so clearly the product of another time.
As for the shoujo element, well, it's interesting but not truly of great importance. This is because, when the video was made, the various styles of manga were still in their infancy. Heck, many of them were still being drawn by Tezuka himself. As such while this may be an influence on the generation of a shoujo style it doesn't truly share or express it. It is nice to see a strong female lead, although she still spends a lot of time being rescued, but the lack of character work somewhat diminishes this. It is romantic in the wider scope, the dashing prince in a fairy-tale world, but the actual content is considerably more prosaic and adventure oriented.
So is it worth watching? well, yes, it's still pretty entertaining and it really does open the window to a very different time from the current. A more innocent time when stories were full of grand adventure and the characters didn't ask too many questions about the parts they play. There's no angst, and little in the way of character dramatics, or logic, to get in the way of the larger story. Is it something you must track down and find? No, not really. while it does have an important historical position without a lot of context, and interest in anime history, it's likely to just seem `disconnected' from modern anime rather than a progenitor.
Needless to say, for such an old anime, the technical aspects are quite dated. While it is in color, and quite easy to follow, there are many things to remind you about the age of the material. To begin with the backgrounds feel like relatively simple paintings while the characters look quite cartoony. They also have some strange proportions, perspectives and movement patterns which means it looks a little strange and fails to blend into the background. Then again it is pretty clear that motion animation is still very time consuming, and lots of tricks are used to minimize the amount required. Given this it is strange to see occasions of physical comedy in the show, which often seem strangely detached from the story...as if the animators were having a bit of fun. The voices are decent but very straightforward, although princess knight herself is impressively high pitched and super-girlish. I'd feel for the voice actor who had to do it if I wasn't still feeling some degree of pain from having to listen to it. It's almost funny to see how long the problem of finding a western equivalent to `Japanese girlish' has been a problem (whereas the queen sounds fine). The music is likewise fitting, but not memorable, orchestral pieces.
None of my regular sources have a review of this title...and i'm not terribly surprised, this is probably pretty rare by now.